Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What is the Next Big Thing in Jazz?

The music scene changes and at what point do we wake up and say, “things are different?” Probably a few years ago. In strictly musical terms however, the hundreds of jazz releases coming out every month, some produced in quantities of 300 or less, make for an almost impossible task for one person to evaluate. None of us can hear all of them, nor I suppose would we want to. The possibility of missing something seminally important is real, but there is also no real trend if you take everything as your compass. Imagine being here back in 1958, let’s say? Hundreds of jazz releases every month like now, yet looking back, there were really important trends in the music—but those were exemplified in only perhaps 30 albums that year--of the 5,000 give or take--or even less. For the most part certain labels were where you best looked for the breakthroughs. You wouldn’t have expected Jubilee or ABC Paramount to be the ones, and they weren’t.

So many more almost non-label releases today though, so many more players spread out over the world, so decentralized a means to disseminate the music, so many gigs gone, so many teaching, it IS a different world. It’s hard to be totally certain where the “new thing” will come from, if it is coming.

And maybe it will stay where it is for a while, many styles existing side-by-side, nothing and nobody taking over the reigns of control. Perhaps that’s better anyway?

Mingus called jazz a folk music. Really, ALL music is folk music. What does that mean? Lots of contributions from lots of people making a music what it is, not some over-towering genius calling all the shots. Does jazz need its next Wagner? I don’t know if I am sure it does. Of course it’s nice from a marketing standpoint if people can say, “Right. So and so is the next big thing. Buy the person’s music and make money for us.” Is that a good thing? It is for that label. For the music? I don’t know.


  1. Dear Greg,

    I like your writing. It has this honesty that seems to stare itself in the mirror at times almost as if you are having a conversation with yourself and arguing with your own thoughts. Yet after I feel that my perspective widened because there are so many clichés about music that all of us try to overcome and it seems you try to twist them a little, turn them over, even for musicians.

    I agree with everything you say above. It is of course a topic that any creative artist would consider and you point out the difficulty of evaluating this music in the wide void of dispersed small labels and limited production. Of course artists don't like the word "style" but of course we don't create in a vacuum so any resemblance can be attributed to the word "style"

    In my opinion the same things that were important to creative players in the past areas of black music will continue today. If swing was about the melody and bebop was about the chord....that doesn't go away...Of course The avant garde has been made classic by many groups and done in a way that in my mind is sterile, especially Ornette's work. I'm afraid to give examples. I dont' want to slander anybody. I have seen this in my tours throughout Europe. But there are always new people who continue to play the instrument with enormous drive, impact, sound color, vibrant intensity ,"incandescent" was a word you used, as all the players we have admired. I could continue with these long lists of details and of course that is every important. These people are few because to play this way with that kind of power and drive (and of course sensitivity) alienates the player to eternal defamation and such artists are lauded and isolated for their primitivity complexes by esteemed academes.(one recent example is the story of Linda Sharrock) I said in a recent interview that these are hard times.

    "I won't go into too much boring detail but these are very bad times for the music; the rise of nationalism in the EU; the politics of the strong and the weak; kicking to the down and praying to the up; the speculation on the efficacy of the product; and the collapse of financial markets. It has greatly undermined the quality of what is produced and promoted. Leadership has its own taste. It seeks to decorate its own ambitions to control its market. It becomes a breeding ground for nostalgia and schizophrenic disturbances. We are all herd animals. Musicians can be bet on like horses. We can all be surrounded by many writers who boast of our importance. Some record labels have teams of writers who they pay to write for them."

    But the players I speak of are of course defined by their energy and personality. Despite the lessons of the 60's(because ignorance is not necessarily bliss) we still have to find out what we can do. That is something we have to work out together. This is the ensemble. I call it 'empathy in action'. Perhaps that is the human warmth that I want people to hear. And I believe it can change the world.

    thank you for all your thoughtful reviews

    peace and love,

    Eric Zinman
    Studio 234
    234 Columbia St.
    Cambridge, MA 02139-1532

  2. Dear Eric,

    Thank you so much for your insightful comments and your kind words. The problems and distortions in the current scene that you point out are very much a reality alas. You highlight them in a way that helps make explicit certain complexes that are festering under the skin of the body of creativity to be had out there, which I only hint at in my posting. I do believe that the music continues to have incredible vitality in the right hands. Of course I know you believe it too. That's what keeps us going. I can't disagree that everything that has followed the "new thing" has not been equally inspired. I suppose that is inevitable as time passes and a certain way of going about things becomes routinized. For all of that though I do hear sparks of real musicality striking the tinder (and like you I don't think this is the right context to name names). If I am in the end optimistic--it is not about the way the scene has devolved from a nuts and bolts perspective so much as in the belief that those with great music in them will be heard sooner or later. If it wasn't for love of the music and hope for the future I don't think I could continue doing what I do. Again, thank you Eric for your appreciation and your wise words. Feel free to chime in here anytime you feel the urge.
    All the best,

  3. Reflecting a bit further on Eric Z.'s comments I have a couple of thoughts and amplifications. He made several interesting points that I did not react to explicitly. One is that the melodic innovations that came out of the Swing era and the harmonic ones from Bebop still apply and remain with us. Yes, that is very true. Rhythmic ideas throughout the history of the music are also still an integral part of the music as well in varying degrees of transformation. It gets us into the idea that jazz is a kind of musical language, with its own vocabulary, its alphabet, its grammar and whatnot. If that's so, and I think it is, then the speakers of that language would tend to innovate from within the language itself. Like a great writer uses the language he or she speaks and writes in ways that are looked upon by others as especially expressive in a particular way, so a great artist within improvised music takes what is already there and uses it in a way that seems well-put, moving, whatever. Of course the language of words and the language of notes are two different things, so the analogy doesn't necessarily work in a mirror-like way. There is a jazz "tradition" so to speak, of how notes are joined together, and there are other ways that characterize other musics. Baroque counterpoint has a certain way of putting together notes; Tibetan Monks another. And there is the level of sound itself too, so important to jazz. Anyway there is much leeway in how notes can be put together and still be considered a jazz dialec,t so to speak. The "free" part of later jazz, as Sam Rivers so aptly put it, can be seen as the freedom to put things together the way an artist sees fit. Anybody new coming along or anybody whose playing is evolving in time should be free to tinker with whatever he or she sees fit. Change may in part come from the creative reworking of the language by individual artists. But the second point that Eric Z. touches on implies the singular primal nature of an artist--the big sound of Hawkins, the sharp cry of Bird and Ornette, the airy sound of Lester Young's tenor, the multiphonic blasts of Texas tenors and Albert Ayler....The expression within the language and the cultivation of a sound are both key to anything that IS or will be in the music I would think. Eric Z. touches on that and I wanted to bring out the implications. We can only keep listening, keep playing, keep talking about it, and see where we end up in 100 years.