Time to look at jazz with a fresh pair of eyes: Part 2

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The controversial bit!

Clearly there are a large number of very, very talented Jazz musicians out there today, releasing innovative albums, doing gigs, making money and making their fans very happy. I love listening to most of them and hope one day to have the same level of success they do.

BUT, with very few exceptions, the majority of Jazz musicians today are not really pushing the boundaries of Jazz to the next stage in its evolution (Jazz v2.0 to follow on the above list), nor are they taking Jazz back to the mainstream where it used to be for so many years when Miles, Bird and Dizzy were at their peak.

This last point of course has more to do with the media’s view of Jazz, and less to do with the ambition of the individual artists.

7. Time for a game changer?

There appear to be lot of students nowadays being taught how to play Jazz in the same way (i.e. the standard “Jazz in a box” model taught in most music colleges or universities), to the point that most of the artists who come out of a music college to go onto a career in Jazz, all really sound the same. Sure they have different bands and different sounds, but boiling it down to basics, they are all really musical clone’s of one another, generated by the establishment today which has decided how Jazz should sound!

We have a lot of people playing with affects and through electronics, but nothing really any different from what Miles used to do, a lot of folk playing free improv Jazz, but nothing any different from what Ornette or Miles used to do, and we also (thankfully) have a lot of folk carrying on the traditions and keeping the old school style of Jazz going (i.e. in the mode of how Dizzy, Miles, Bird, Coltrane used to do it – Wynton of course is todays biggest exponent of the Jazz traditions and long may he rein).

It is very important to recognise and remember the history of Jazz and never let it die, but if Jazz is to survive long term I feel we also need to reinvent it, so Jazz becomes something new and exciting, something the mainstream of people will want to listen to.

In other words, Jazz needs another game changer, another fresh pair of eyes to pick it up, shake it about a bit and turn it into something the Jazz world has never heard or seen before.

8. The reality of the situation today

I read about and talk to some very talented Jazz musicians all the time who are scratching a living in various jobs, just so they can practice their art. Sure there will be a handful who have made it financially, commercially and musically from their Jazz, but not many I would wager.

Now compare that to all the talentless, manufactured Pop acts in the charts today earning millions, or the constant stream of reality TV starts who make a very lucrative career out of being famous for doing absolutely nothing! Seem fair to you? No, thought not!! Like it or not, the mainstream of music today is made up of pop, rock, hip hop, electronica, emo, grime, or whatever, a lot of which is made by seriously talented musicians, but equally as much if not more by less talented individuals.

One genre that is not included in this list, of course, is Jazz, which is why there are very few millionaire Jazz musicians out there today and lots of millionaire Rap stars, or Rock stars or any other genre you can think of (even Classical is getting in on the act now, thankfully).

9. What to do about it?

Read Miles Davis’s autobiography and you will learn about a musician who always looked forward, never backwards.

The reason Miles was so hugely successful and so well renowned (worldwide) for decades, was because he constantly reinvented himself and his Jazz to become the next big thing at that time, so he always stayed fresh and original.In doing so, he got the fans and the recognition/rewards that go with being mainstream, but without having to sacrifice his credibility as a Jazz artist in the process.

We have had a few key people who have changed/advanced Jazz since Miles died (see above list), but today it feels like Jazz is in need of another refresh.

10. The conclusion

The conclusion of this article is a plea to all Jazz musicians reading this, to ask you to try and imagine what Miles would be doing with Jazz today, had he still been alive. Put another way, how can we/you take Jazz and do 2 key things with it:

  1. Move it onto the next stage of its evolution (Jazz v2.0?)
  2. Take Jazz back into the mainstream where it used to be for so many years, so that Jazz artists can become recognised household names again and be rewarded as such, without having to sacrifice their art in the process.

Achieve the above, and one day we might see Jazz musicians treat with the same respect, earning the same big bucks, playing the same sold out arena’s as the likes of Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Black Eyed Peas, or getting mobbed on the red carpet at the MTV awards or the Grammy’s!!


2 Responses to “Time to look at jazz with a fresh pair of eyes: Part 2”

  1. Ruari Wilson says:

    I remember reading some research on attitudes to jazz from the American general public, which showed that well over 90% would not listen to music without vocals. So that may explain that the jazz with the most popular appeal comes from the American Song Book era. I believe that the great musicians you mentioned often played to very small audiences as a rule and I don’t see any evidence of that changing yet. We are all aware that genres like hip hop, grime etc are vocal/lyrics based with the music content well down the list. Thank you, I did enjoy reading your views.

  2. Paul says:

    Oh please, another panicked essay on the state of Jazz by someone who’s being playing it for all of 18 months and thinks he’s ready to make a go of it. Here’s a news flash from someone who’s been playing the music professionally for all of 35 year – Jazz is advancing at its own rate in its own good time. Perhaps I should say morphing since the concept of any advancement in the arts is problematic at best. What about Miles you ask. Miles was going back to his roots at the end as he teamed up with Quincy to harken back to his work with Gil Evans. To sum up there are no stages of evolution in Jazz, merely personalities who influence the scene for a while to various extents. In the end Jazz is the quintessential american art form that continues to grace the world with beauty, rhythm, and optimism, all in the here and now. And for which we should all be thankful. Dig?

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