Top 50 JAzz Blog

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Jazz for the All-Saints Jim-Jams

Art Tatum, Lonesome Graveyard

ODJB, Skeleton Jangle

Clifford Brown, I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance

L,H&R, Halloween

Mickey Mouse, The Haunted House

See next page for Albert Ayler, Hot 8 BRass Band, Wynton Marsalis, Bessie Smith and Lee Morgan.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Jazz Musician: Entertainer or Artist?

Ask improvising musicians whether they would rather have an audience sitting and listening intently or up on their feet dancing and I'd bet the majority would choose the latter. Does this make the musicians in the first case "artists" and "entertainers" in the second? No. In each scenario, they are both, but current jazz dogma might have us think otherwise: For about half a century, most conversations about jazz (including "the death of jazz") have been informed by a tacit yet overwhelming identification with the ethos of personal expression over communication; i.e, artist over entertainer.

Common wisdom is that the shift from entertainment to art in jazz took hold with the boppers. Well, Dizzy Gillespie managed to wear both hats beautifully. And, both Diz and Bird said they loved playing in Detroit, because the people danced more there than in any other city.

 In fact, Jazz oral history-not critical history-shows that musicians identified themselves as entertainers, not artists. As to what words they use to describe each other, the question is moot: "Cat can really wail," or "He don't play shit."

Music has always been a tough racket and part of the deal was understanding what the audience wanted and delivering it: costumes, dancing, jokes, knockabout, occasional schmaltz and the right tempos for dancing. And there was little stigma attached to developing a successful solo and pretty much sticking with it. Certainly, a gentleman named Armstrong thought it was ok. 

I'm not saying that all the fancy talk is mere critical cant. It goes without saying that great jazz musicians are worthy of the same respect accorded the best in any musical genre. 

But listen up, jazz people-in an an economic climate where support for both classical and jazz is drying up, jazz can be freer to muster more creative responses than anything that is branded as "high art," and may be burdened by all the psychic trappings and expectations and affectations that go along with that.

But to do that, we need to be aware of the biases we bring to the table. Let's embrace the glorious history of jazz as entertainment, confident in the knowledge that the musical core is so strong that the art will always take care of itself (but that the audience may need some attention). 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"The Amazing Story of Strange Fruit" is posted


I’m very pleased to tell you that my radio theatre piece “The Amazing Story of Strange Fruit” is being released. I won’t overly blurb it, but will say that I think the story is compelling and was well rendered by a cast of ten excellent actors.

The program is available for streaming on is the place that radio stations go to acquire the right to broadcast programs. So, I’m asking you to think about whether you can think of any stations or especially people with radio programs, who might be interested in airing it. Or, if you know teachers who can use it in their curriculum.

It’s about 14 minutes long and apart from being entertaining in itself, can act as an excellent launching pad for discussions about race and culture on America. If anything occurs to you, please either contact me or, if you have a personal connection, contact that person.

I truly believe this is a story worth being told and you can help to tell it.

All the best,

Steve Provizer

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.