Thursday, July 14, 2011

"Grace Kelly and Walt Kelly" By Steve Provizer

Maybe I should don the churl's mantle for this.

19-year-old saxophonist Grace Kelly has been voted Best Boston Jazz musician for the 4th year in a row.  As I have often said, there are no Golden Ages and that includes a Golden Age of jazz audiences.  However-and I hope the talented and charming Ms. Kelly doesn't take it personally-this development bespeaks an Age marked by a baser metal.

Boston voters have made their priorities clear: Entertainment over artistic challenge; standards sung and played, audience by-play and mini-skirts. Believe me, I'm a long-time advocate of relating to the audience, love standards and have absolutely nothing against mini-skirts, but the fact that these have been "privileged" over musical originality and daring by Boston jazz audiences for the last 4 years is not heartening.

It feels to me like the cuddly prodigy phenomenon in full swing, deftly promoted. Good grief, Grace has been getting significant ink and showing up on Youtube for years, with the likes of Frank Morgan, Phil Woods and Russell Malone, playing at all the major festivals.

This isn't quite the hoary "selling out" discussion that follows Chris Botti or, say, early-versus-late George Benson. Nor is Grace, in her sylph-like fashion, a 900-pound jazz guerilla, as she is not really displacing other young musicians-and that's part of the problem. Lacking her demographic appeal and effective promotion, no other musician is likely to contend for her spot-on the bandstand or in the polls.

Maybe this is wolf's elitism in sheep's clothing. No one's being swindled here. This isn't the Hunt brothers cornering the silver market. But there are so many great (albeit admittedly scrufulous) jazz musicians in Boston, that it just doesn't pass the smell test.



6 comments:

Dean Minderman said...

Steve, these kinds of polls almost always measure name recognition as much as, or even more than, musical quality.
In our local alt-weekly's just-announced 2011 music awards poll, the "Best Jazz Artist" award was won by Dave Black, a very good guitarist who plays a lot of local gigs but isn't well known outside St. Louis. The other nominees included Hamiet Bluiett, whom I presume you know, and Peter Martin, a fine pianist who tours with well-known musicians including Dianne Reeves, Christian McBride and Chris Botti.
I don't think anyone, Dave Black included, would try to claim that he's objectively "better" than Bluiett or Martin, but they only play in town 4-6 times a year, and thus are not as familiar to the average alt-weekly reader (who's not necessarily a serious or well-informed jazz fan).

Steve Provizer said...

Dean-thanks for your comment. The issue of familiarity doesn't really answer the question-at least in Boston. Although many jazz musicians move to NYC, many stay here and play around town. Yet, Grace Kelly seems to have risen well above them in recognition.

As you say, this poll was in a general interest weekly-the Phoenix-and the results would probably differ in a specifically jazz-centric publication. (Of course, one wonders why people who don't listen to jazz would vote in a jazz poll. I might vote in a category i knew little about if I had a friend in the running, but this seems a small factor).

I want to be clear that I'm not blaming any particular artist. I doubt Grace would claim she's "better" than these other people. I think what I'm groping toward in some of these posts is a better understanding of how and why jazz moves toward and away from the zeitgeist. We know that when times are tough, people want to escape, not be asked to think too much. Still, people used to dance to the Basie band and not to electronica. It's hard to look at that phenomenon and not try to figure it out.

I Witness said...

I happened to meet old Walt on a Southie street just yesterday. "By the Grace of Kelly," he said, "we have met the fan Emmy and she's a bust." But, then, he never did forgive her for swapping Jazz for that Princess pizzazz, anyway. (Hey, Monaco, Boston, a surfeit of Kellys... it's all the same General Delivery, right?)

Steve Provizer said...

General delivery is only reliable around here at Yuletude, when Boston Charlie delivers the mail...

rob chalfen said...

that's 'scrofulous', Pal

Steve Provizer said...

All hail, Pope Scrofulous.