Sunday, October 19, 2014

Whither Jazz Mojo?

The online conversation around jazz, BAM, improvised music, whatever you want to call it, seems to have shifted. I see far fewer pieces that dig into the marrow of the music and many more conversations reacting to mainstream perceptions and/or acceptance of jazz. 

Declining CD sales and "I can't get a gig" anecdotes speak to an uncertain financial future, while the recent proliferation of mainstream "humor" pieces at the expense of jazz point to a deep attitude shift. The intense response to all this diss seems to reflect an erosion of the idea that our efforts will somehow-maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but someday-impact the wider culture. 

I get the un-ease. There's a lot more than just money riding on the weight jazz carries in the zeitgeist. There's a mythology at stake and the shift in jazz mojo is the canary in the cage.
Sonny reacting to the New Yorker Piece
Jazz Infra dig, the cachet of hip-ness, meant that the squares would, of course, not "get it." That was the point. But how did it really work? It worked because the insider could always sense from body language and voice tone that there was a sort of grudging respect on the part of the squares; at least a small sense of regret or guilt that they were not hip enough to dig it.  

That tension was recognized and seized on by Madison Ave. as part of its strategy of leveraging rebelliousness to increase sales; i.e. Chet Baker-Miles Davis archetypes cradling horns with smoke curling up over their tailored chinos. I don't see that strategy in operation anymore. Yes, I see Wynton in the NY Times modeling an expensive watch, but somehow, that's not the same.
That cultural push-pull is pretty much gone, replaced by squelched yawns and the kind of confidence on the part of former-might-once-have-been-squares that comes from knowing that jazz is the music of people who themselves don't get it.

Doesn't matter very much to me. Even though my bumper sticker reads "Self-delusion is my Chosen Religion," I'd rather accept the limits of my cache(accent over the e) and just enjoy communicating with people who speak my language. If I bring any buoyancy that helps keep the good ship Jazz PR afloat, it will come through my natural excitement discussing the relative merits of Lee and Freddie on my little radio show, or having a friend turn me on to a musician saying something new on the alto.

But, lest you be cast into a fit of gloom, my dear jazz people, bear in mind the potential spiritual side benefits that will arise for us in the wake of this cultural shift: we will have the chance to burnish the gleaming halos associated with those who have taken to monasteries and cloisters, uninterested in worldly success and the cultivation of the ego, dedicating ourselves to preserving the ancient illuminated texts.


Veni Creator Spiritus
Mentes tuorum visita
Imple superna gratia,
Quae tu creasti, pectora.


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