What is wrong with jazz today? This is a broad question that can be discussed through numerous lenses, yet right now let’s only look through one or two. Jazz in it’s current form seems to be popular with musicians, yet there is a disconnect with the youth growing up today. It is not to say there are not amazing things happening in the jazz world every day, even with the 25 and under crowd, yet the scene today differs vastly from the times of Dizzy and Bird, or Miles and Trane. Aside from the obvious answer of budget cuts in school music programs, there are a few things that have changed since jazz travelled through it’s initial forms. For instance, take your two largest influences in the jazz realm that have been playing since at least the ‘80’s and trace them back. It is more than likely they have played together on at least one occasion, but more likely have completed projects together. Collaboration and mentorship were the building blocks of jazz as a form of popular music, and moreover nurtured the very essence of the hip-hop scene today. You go to any hip-hop concert now and you can expect Mos to bring out Talib, or Tip to bring out Jarobi. There is a sense of community onstage all the way up through the biggest rappers on the scene today. Remember Eminem and Jay-Z working Yankee Stadium in September? Now remember the line-up of special guests brought up that included the likes of Drake, Nicki Minaj, and Kanye West among others. The best in the game are out rapping with each others on a regular basis. It seems as if jazz musicians today are more interested in defining themselves through solo projects, something dually inspirational and disappointing. It’s great for everyone to have their own “quintet” or “experience,” but give us something to tell our friends about. Aside from certain exceptions you can’t regularly expect to go to a concert at Blue Note or Village Vanguard and see a Jaco Pastorius walk through the crowd and onstage to join his friend for a tune. It doesn’t have to be a jam session for there to be spontaneity. Jazz has become too proper and respectful almost. For better or for worse, it has lost it’s gritty edge that made people like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis our heroes. Here’s to some great collaborations in hopes that we see a project to match Watch the Throne in the near future.

Return to Forever “Romantic Warrior” (Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Al Di Meola)

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“A Night in Tunisia” (Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker)

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“They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong)

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“In A Sentimental Mood” (Duke Ellington, John Coltrane)

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“Sanctuary/Spanish Key” (Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Airto Moreira)

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The Miles Davis Quintet (Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams)

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Jay-Z & Kanye

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“Scenario” (ATCQ & Busta Rhymes)

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Words by Eric Sandler


11 Replies to "Jazz: Where Are We Going Wrong?"
Ryan Mals says:
February 24, 2011 at 7:14 pm

I agree to a certain point, but I also think the music industry climate has a lot to do with it. Both jazz and hip hop artists have adapted to this, but in different ways.

First of all, jazz musicians just aren’t pulling the same numbers ($) that hip-hoppers are. I remember a few years back when the airlines enacted stricter guidelines on luggage, Dave Holland decided to relinquish his upright for a smaller (IMO less adequate) travel bass, since this saved money. I can’t imagine this would be a minute concern for a hip-hop artist of the same high profile (think Kanye of jazz).

What I’m trying to say is that, when the music industry takes a plunge, musicians reacts and adapt.

For hip-hop, this might be branding yourself, along the lines of Jay-Z advertising cologne, clothes, and working Roc Nation. This doesn’t necessarily play into the music as much, since the music remains constant. But for jazz, this is not an option because it is (a) a much smaller market, and (b) appeals to a different demographic. So rather than form collectives a la Kanye/Jay-Z/Nicki Minaj or Mos Def/Talib, they market themselves as independent units because it is more profitable. Yes, this might decrease their musicianship but it is a necessary evil. They can make money off teaching, there are more gigs available if they play with many different groups, not to mention each member of a larger “collective” as I believe you are imagining receives a smaller cut of the already insulting compensation provided by restaurants and the usual city gigs.

OK, I’m kinda starting to branch off thinking about a bunch of different things so I better stop the tangent train before it derails. But thats kinda my thoughts.

    Meghan says:
    February 25, 2011 at 7:42 am

    No keep going! This is why we write these pieces and bring up these discussions… it’s important to talk about…..

February 24, 2011 at 11:07 pm

1. There is nothing “wrong” with jazz.

2. I wasn’t there, but I’ll bet you the audience for Bird and Diz and Miles and Trane was NOT made up of the under 25 set either.

3. The kind of collaboration you speak of is happening all the time. In fact, your very own publication, on the same day this was posted, also posted about Robert Glasper at the Blue Note with guests (http://revivalist.okayplayer.com/2011/02/24/224-227-the-robert-glasper-experiment-ft-guests-at-blue-note/). I have seen countless shows, both here in Seattle and in NYC, where unexpected guests have been invited up to the stage. I do it at my gigs, and so do all my peers here in Seattle.

The more things change, the more they stay the same…

    esandler says:
    February 25, 2011 at 12:21 am

    Although Robert is collaborating with these planned guests, he admittedly likes to bang with hip-hop guys. Lupe Fiasco isn’t a jazz cat. I think what he’s doing is some of the most fresh stuff on the scene today. But what about these guys who aren’t adapting to the times, sticking with only the standards and that type of stuff. Even Miles wouldn’t be into that. I don’t know, I may be completely off, but I feel like the jazz community is relinquishing certain traditions that could be relevant today (such as these collabs and such) while at the same time trying to be too pure and true to the older music. It it stays too stagnant, nothing good will come of it. Glad to hear what you guys are doing in Seattle though. Sounds great!

    Meghan says:
    February 25, 2011 at 7:51 am

    There is something wrong with Jazz…. and it’s not the music, its not the musicians …. it’s not really the audience… Jazz has a great audience however, the audience is either musician or older generation folks…. go to a jazz show, a regular jazz concert, gray hair everywhere… why is that? It is rare to see a young non-musician at a Jazz concert…. there was definitely a difference of the way Jazz was perceived back in the Miles & Trane days…. it was popular music back then…. all ages and non-musicians related to the music.. it’s not like that now… the mass audience / non-musician and younger audience does not relate – Jazz is foreign language to many… and i think the bigger question is, what can we do to help change that ….

      February 26, 2011 at 9:11 am

      Hey Meghan,

      Thanks for the reply, but I still beg to differ. First, jazz was NOT popular music in the days of Miles & Trane. Jazz hasn’t been popular music since the swing bands. I really don’t think the audiences as their shows would look much different than the audiences at shows today.

      Second, as Jon Wertheim points on in his great post in response to this one (http://adevoutmusician.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/personality), the problem is one of perception. Here in Seattle there are 3 or 4 clubs that cater to a younger audience, and just happen to play jazz. They don’t make a point of looking, feeling or acting like a “Jazz Club”, they are just cool places to hang that happen to feature live jazz. I truly believe, because I’ve seen it with my own two eyes, that young folks WILL dig the jazz that is being played today, if it is presented at a place and in a way that makes them feel comfortable. Stuffy rooms, dinner service, $25 cover charges and “please keep your table conversation to a minimum” are not the way!

      It’s really not as dire as all that. We just have to go where the audience is and play the music that’s in our hearts.

      “If you build it, they will come”.

        Meghan says:
        February 26, 2011 at 9:48 pm

        Hey Jason,

        I definitely here you and agree to a certain extent ! Meaning also Jazz being way more appealing / popular back then hence Miles being on the cover of Rolling Stones rather seeing a Jazz musician on the cover today, which could happen soon considering what happen with the Grammy’s … Anyway, Here in NYC we have been producing shows for the past 4 years that bring together jazz audiences and non-jazz audiences… combining jazz with other elements, like hip hop for example…. introducing jazz in different ways. The normal Jazz club policy has a small part to do with Jazz appealing to larger audiences but yes, it does affect it in some way…

Bas Clark says:
February 25, 2011 at 2:31 am

I have seen many a Jazz musician collaborate on stage in some impromptu situations. The Houstonians in NYC was one example of a mosh of Jazz artist collaborating that probably never had a studio session with each other. To pin point one specific thing that is happening with Jazz collaborations is a greater conversation that could and should include record labels, touring obligations, lack of solid booking venues, family responsibilities etc.

Jozen says:
February 25, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Yeah, I think the Houstonians show was a great example of high musicians collaborating together spontaneously, but not entirely because that whole bill was carefully curated by Moran.

In any case, I think the death of the jam session is definitely correct if that’s the point you were making, but I’ve been to plenty of hip-hop shows and trust me, very rarely is that jam session type of feel happening. Matter of fact, it only really happens in NYC.

The fact is, the bands who are touring today are doing just fine. I can’t think of one musician I want to see drop in on a Charles Lloyd set. Can you? I mean, I suppose it would be cool if Christian Scott just dropped by and did a number with Lloyd’s band, but to demand that makes me feel spoiled.

The under 25 musicians are coming together and working together and supporting each other in all types of ways, equal ot their hip-hop counterparts. For those who can recall, this very website’s jazz showcase at the Winter Jazz Fest was a great example of this type of collaboration. I can’t think of a hip-hop show that could carry as many artists on one bill and it be well put together.

Danilo says:
February 25, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Swing, sense of the blues, improvisation. The three elements that cannot be missing… imho!

JuliousBass says:
February 27, 2011 at 3:54 pm

This is what i have been saying for a long time.
Most jazz players can’t handle the truth.
Miles Davis called his music Social Music and the Social Music of our time is Hip Hop because you don’t have to learn an instrument to be creative.

Why not play music and not pigeon hole your talent under the jazz umbrella. Nowaday’s jazz player’s are calling what they do jazz to camahide there lack of talent.

real always recognise real which is why “jazz” is not a popular music anymore.


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