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Jazz is Dead (Warning: long and boring)

post #1 of 186
Thread Starter 
Don't get me wrong because I'm not here to criticize the vast musical spectrum which is Jazz but simply come up with a single reason on the demise of Jazz, especially after 1970s.

I think, Jazz stopped 'speaking' to the people. Jazz didn’t address the social issues in a time of great social upheaval which was 1960s. Jazz turned into an elitist music, played in posh night clubs with mostly well-off attendance. Jazz also being an essentially African American music made no contribution to Civil Rights movement or echo their concerns, except some personal attempts on the parts of musicians, like Louis Armstrong but nothing musically (the song “Strange fruit” by Billy Holiday” is a small excption). There were a few attempts by some Jazz musicians who tried to fuse in African music with Jazz, but most people could not associate with that sort of music for its 'black power premise'. On the other hand other music genres like rock, heavy metal and R&B stepped in – while Pop became the music of masses. These other music genres, rock in particular addressed social issues, the psychedelic crowd of 1960 and 70s and most importantly focused on the young people, the most important demographic since 1960.

Great Jazz musicians like Miles Davis mistook the rock phenomena as simply a good way to make money. Hence Jazz fusion was created. Bitches Brew, more conspicuously with its cover is an overt attempt by Miles Davis to attract the psychedelic crowd, but musically I feel Bitches Brew is pretensions, hollow and lacks the magic which was the acoustic works of Miles Davis. It is also not surprising that not only Miles Davis failed to gain popular acceptance for his fusion attempts, but he was also branded quite correctly as ‘sold out’.

Then, there was the Latin Jazz forms like Bossa Nova which to put it simply is a 'happy' and 'relaxed' sub genre of jazz; however, totally out of tune with the masses of Latin American people, and their poverty and brutal existence with many dictators and social injustice abound at the time and still in Latin American countries. How come those great musical geniuses like Antonio Carlos Jobim failed to connect with Latin American masses is beyond me

Perhaps an art form dies when it stops speaking to people. That is exactly what happened to Jazz.

These days Jazz is the music of Audiophiles and ‘baby boomer’ men (once head bangers of heavy metal concerts, quite ironic). Diana Krall and Nora Jones are ‘hot’ among the above mentioned crowd, and dare I say Kenny G is also very popular among most people. Diana Krall is talented but then again is she truly the inheritor of the Jazz legacy, unfortunately not. Nora Jones is a carefully marketed product to the middle aged baby boomer men (with all due respect to her fans).

The main reason for writing this long and boring post is my frustration with lack of quality contemporary Jazz musicians and the music itself. It’s all good and dandy to listen to old classics, and their rebirths in different forms (Kind of Blue in 5.1, I can never get over that), but like the digitally created Dinosaurs of Discovery Channel, they might amaze and look real; nevertheless, it is not hard to know that they’re dead – for a long time now, and you will never see one in real life again (clumsy analogy but that’s the best I could come up with it).

Don’t flame me, reassure me and let me know what you think. If you love Jazz, I’m sure you’re quite opinionated about it like I’m.
post #2 of 186
I lived in TO for quite a few years. I thought Jazz was alive and well there when I moved in 1996. With the commercialization of music and everything else, you are never going to have the very talented musicians just play for the music- free flow jamming-which essentially Jazz is. Then there is the question of egos. With money comes ego-and that is what is destroying jazz.
Thank God for CD reissues- Jazz is alive and well for those audiophiles who prefer great music with great sound. I was at the Montreaux Jazz festival a few years back and had a chance to talk to Al Jarreau and he was quite surprised by the fact that college kids were into jazz and felt there was a resurgence in interest in Jazz with all kinds of Jazz clubs opening up, albeit small ones near the large universities.
Jazz might have had its heyday and it might not be coming back to its former glory but it is not dead. Like they say ' it ain't over till the fat lady sings' and for jazz that is the greatest anomaly.
I was inspired to write this as I am listening to Waltz for Debby by Bills Evans Trio. This kind of music never dies. Everytime I listen to it its like hearing the cuts for the first time -Jazz music is forever fresh!
post #3 of 186
I love jazz, too, but I also think it's dead (or at least long past its prime). It made the transition from 'popular' into 'timeless' long ago.

I don't think anyone thinks Kenny G. is jazz except for himself. I heard he's a great bop player (or what in high school), but I'm sure he knows that he doesn't really play jazz--even though the way his music is marketed implies that. He simply doesn't improvise or really bare any likeness to jazz whatsoever. Playing the saxophone and syncopating regular songs doesn't qualify his music as jazz--and anyone who claims it does is ignorant in my humble opinion.

As a jazz musician myself in high school (lead alto sax), I've learned to appreciate jazz for so much more than its 'audibly-asthetic' value--commercial music has, by far, superseded jazz in this area. Jazz to music is like poetry to writing: it's entirely about the form, not necessarily the sound. Once you realize what the musicians are actually doing--even if it doesn't necessarily sound as pleasing as commercial music--you begin to really love it. I have to admit though, as much as I love jazz, that popular music just intrinsically sounds better on an instictual level.
post #4 of 186
You're way offbase about fusion, Wali. Miles became incredibly popular for his fusion experiments, playing venues like the Fillmore East/West, Isle of Wight, etc., alongside such acts as the Grateful Dead and Santana; the only people who considered him a "sell-out" and a "failure" were conservative jazz critics who were uncomfortable with change. Saying he went "mainstream" is a cop out; his music in this period was completely uncompromising and more challenging than his earlier, more popular work. If you want to hear Miles sell out, listen to any of his 80s stuff.

Because you don't enjoy Bitches Brew you label it "pretentious" and "hollow." You seem to think that it was entirely commercial posturing on Miles' part but you're not giving enough credit to either Miles or rock music in this case. Miles wasn't just trying to "appeal to the psychedelic crowd", he was part of the psychedelic crowd. The evolution came slowly and naturally through listening to records by popular artists of the time like Sly and the Family Stone and Hendrix. The "rock star" persona appealed to Miles, most defiinitely, but so did rock music's energy, vitality, and capability to reach a much larger audience.

Talk to a jazz musician about Bitches Brew and they certainly won't label it pretentious: most would rightly call it a revolutionary record and possibly one of Miles' greatest as a musician, and especially as a bandleader.

To me your opinions on this music indicate the real problem that jazz has faced since the late 70s: conservatism and closed-mindedness. You hear something that doesn't appeal to you and you label it as outside what you consider to be "true jazz." You have a rigid definition of what might be considered jazz, and a rigid definition doesn't allow for a whole lot of progress to happen in music. That's why neo-conservatives like Wynton Marsalis came along and were able to sell their vision of what was "true" jazz, which actually sounds pretty similar to your definition, Wali. He went back to late 50s Miles Davis for his inspiration instead of looking for newer, fresher means of expression. The fact that he became the next popular jazz musician, to me, forecasted the true end of Jazz.

p.s. Bitches Brew is one of my favorite jazz records of all time, and I tend to get pretty disgusted with people who write it off too quickly.
post #5 of 186


Edited by holeinmywallet - 9/3/11 at 2:16pm
post #6 of 186
I also want to add that Miles' fusion experiments not only appealed to the masses, but fused african elements with jazz in an inclusive way that was completely reflective of the time. You, like most white jazz critics of that time, probably feel a little threatened by this.
post #7 of 186
I don't think jazz is dead, just far different than it used to be. We all have the choice of listening to what we like nowadays, so genre distinctions become less relevant with fusion, the internet, and multiculturalism. Yes, jazz music performed by impoverished urban American players is over, but the entire world enjoys jazz now, in many more forms.
post #8 of 186
“I really liked Wynton when I first met him. He’s still a nice young man, only confused.” - Miles Davis

On the serious side of things, I'm too young to know how jazz used to be but I know that I love the jazz that is coming out everyday. Look at Scandinavian jazz which is very popular in Europe at the moment, jazz corporations with hip hop, acid jazz, funk, dancefloor jazz and many more. Today's jazz might not convey a political message like the blues or bebop did but it's great music nonetheless.

There are lot of young people who listen go to jazz concerts, are inspired by the music and carry on the tradition of jazz. Take the example for Norah Jones for example. People who have never listened to jazz are starting to get interesting in this genre. They start with Norah Jones, get to know Diana Krall and from there on the possibilities are almost endless.

Jazz is still talking to the people and I have seen this at various festivals. It might not be the same jazz as it was years ago, which must have been a very exciting time, but jazz appears in so many forms today that the border between jazz and non-jazz aren't as clearly outlined as they were before. Take St.German for instance, is that still jazz? For me it is and St.German reaches out to many people.

There are always new artists emerging such Brad Mehldau for example. His recent live CD "Live in Tokyo" featured an interpretation of "Blue Monk" and "Paranoid Android" originally by Radiohead. I think this is an excellent display of how jazz combines both tradition and the present. Channelled through Brad Mehldau's unique style, this is jazz at its best.

There's also jazz emerging from South Africa which combines their traditionally melodic and highly rhythmic approach to music with the ideas of jazz. I've seen live performances in Cape-Town that show that jazz still has that magic connction to the people. They were clapping their hands and singing along the original melody of an apparently famous tune while the pianist improvised on it. In Cologne, Germany, the "Leverkusener Jazz Tage" is a huge event for which high school students skip school for so that they can see artists such as Esbjörn and Svensson or Bugge Wesseltoft live. Jazz is also starting to grow in Asia, obviously with Japan being the biggest proponent. I've personally met Chinese jazz musicians who have combined Chinese folk melodies with jazz rhythms, which I found to be odd but interesting.

Jazz always had to meet a two-fold challenge: To preserve its time honoured tradition while recognizing that changes in the world will also mean challenges for the art form. It has always been so because change itself has always been a jazz tradition. Right now, this is a very exciting moment for jazz musicians because it has just started to spread all over the world. Emerging artists will continue to pull inspiration from multiple sources from their own cultural backgrounds or combine efforts from different countires to discover that whatever they need to express, they can say it in the language of jazz. After only a century of age, compared to classical music, jazz is merely standing at its beginning and a lot more is still to come. It's way too early to die. Either that or I'm necrophilic.

Wali, thanks for stepping out and saying out your opinion out loud. Otherwise, there wouldn't be discussions like these.
post #9 of 186
Let's put it this way - I have a "Jazz Vocal" playmix on my ipod where Billie Holiday and Ella go - and I have a "Lounge" playmix where Norah and Krall go. I enjoy them both, and I know in their respective times they were all just "popular music singers" but in my mind one is Jazz, the other is just loungey crooning. Yeah, Sinatra is in "Lounge" too, while Louis Armstrong is in "Jazz Vocal."

Personally I think Miles Davis was very bold in his Fusion movement, just as Dylan was going electric. The old guard hated the move but that was just the Greats refusing to go stagnant against the times.

But I agree with Miles in the 80s. Have you heard his cover of "Time after Time" by Cyndi Lauper, or "Human Nature" by Michael Jackson? Yikes. I know alot of the early Miles stuff were standards, but to apply that idea to 80's popular music was just cringe-worthy. The saddest thing to see was to have Miles being interviewed by Arsenio Hall and making a Basketball-to-Rhythm analogy just so Arsenio could follow Miles' thinking lol.

Honestly, everyone was hoping someone like John Mayer would come around and revive the Singer-Songwriter tradition. I just hope someone comes around and revives even one form of Jazz for the masses, that isn't a kenny-G wannabe.
post #10 of 186
I think because jazz is highly stylised and because it is a very complex musical genre, it has been degraded to a level of constant cliches and snobbery by those that can't grasp the complexity of it.

Whilst I am just beginning to explore jazz in my guitar playing, I also feel that improvising itself remains one of the hardest things in music to retain originality, and because as a popular music form it is accessible to so many people, this also means that except for the great players and composers who really make it and break new boundaries, the general public is happy with playing hal leonard transcribed big band favourites.

Maybe I'm over reacting a bit.
post #11 of 186
Jazz is not dead but it has in many ways become fringe as has classical. This is not to disparage either just acknowledgment that it is not main stream.

There is still important innovative music being made, but not as much or as often. Wynton Marsalis, love him or hate him has done some great stuff like "Thick In the South, Soul Gestures" series or "Blood in the Fields"

As to Bitches Brew, it is the Sgt. Pepper of fusion. It is incorporates great musical ideas from hendrix, clapton and sly and the family stone and comes out the other end with something new.

As with Sgt Pepper for rock, it also brings to the forefront the concept of the studio recording process as an integral part of the song creation process.

It is also very influential today especially in RAP. Every body from Public Enemy to Eminem to Prince to Phish, cite it as influential

Even Bob Mould has said in interviews that he was greatly affected by it when Husker Du was creating Zen Arcade which in itself is a masterpiece
post #12 of 186
and I have a "Lounge" playmix where Norah and Krall go
Sacrilege! What would Les Baxter and Martin Denny think?
Classifying these two as Lounge is worse than classifying them as Jazz. They don't fit in either category. Stick them under Pop where they belong.
post #13 of 186
Interesting reading. Dont forget that the social class jazz view is now over. So many poor artists, often fighting drug addiction and/or mental illness are mostly part of a past long gone. The evolution from the jazz comming from the heart to the jazz comming from the brain is not that new and probably cant be stopped. I have a friend who teachs jazz composition theory in a music faculty.
You dont have to live your jazz anymore it can be found in a classroom. The same place where jazz met, not long ago, a new admirer........marketing.

post #14 of 186
I don't think Jazz is dead nor even close to dying, if anything it is a young late teen early twenty year old olympic athelete ready to try at another gold. There are plenty of revolutionaries going right now, Chris Potter and Jason Moran just to name two off the top of my head, then of course there are the Swedes, some of the best stuff is coming from Europe.
post #15 of 186
Even though I don't really listen to jazz that much (I do like it but I like so many other things as well) I also thought jazz was going away until one day at my school cafeteria there was a jazz trio playing. I was very surprised cause I go to DeVry university which is not music oriented whatsoever. Turns out it was some students from a community college in the area ( I have no idea why they were there). Anyway they made me late to class by about twenty minutes cause they were jamming for an hour + and I jus couldn't get away from them. I think the fact that the drummer was very attractive (yeah a women that plays drums on the fly...that's HOT lol) might have also had a hand in my tardiness. The point is after that day I thought that jazz isn't dead it's just waiting for a comeback.
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