Friday, September 2, 2011

Does Jazz Stink Today? What Are You Listening to?

Hey, Jazz Sucks. In case you didn't know that's a "controversial" statement made by a musician on "his or her" FaceBook wall lately. It's really not a new story but it always sells. "Jazz is dead," somebody who will remain nameless said around 1965. Yet here we are.

How do we decide if one form of music sucks, right now, once and for all? We use the evidence of our senses? Then, what, have we listened to every jazz release in the last few years? Or just some? Or just a few? And which ones?

It's a bit dicey and probably ingenuous to come out and say that the music you make for a living sucks. Everyone sucks that plays it. Except you? Or do you suck too?

I think it's probably a truism to say that the business of playing jazz for a living (or writing about it, for that matter) has increasingly gotten tenuous. It has started to suck. But if I sit down and write up a list of 100 musicians playing jazz right now that I think are excellent, 20 labels that are consistently releasing interesting jazz, ten or twenty regions in the world where there is a good jazz scene in terms of musicians, if I wrote up just those things I know I would think that jazz was very much alive and vibrant. Now if I started eliminating items from this list based on an arbitrary critereon or two--swings in the manner of Horace Silver, plays the blues most of the time, or whatever it might be, I could whittle the list down bit-by-bit until there was . . . nothing, nobody left.

Hodier once claimed that nothing Duke Ellington did after the Blanton-Webster days was any good. How did he get to that? Drew up a list of things he didn't like about later Duke, then used that as his reason why Duke "sucked." It's easy enough to do. Try this (and I've heard it): "nothing significant has been done in electric jazz/fusion since Miles' Bitches Brew." OK now all you have to do is figure out how to negate everything that came after with a list of things you don't like. You can do it. Easily. But that doesn't mean you are right.

But where are we at the end of such an exercise? We are like the bird that flies in circles so fast that it ends up going up its own ___ and disappears. We refer to self-imposed criterea. We ignore what is out there.

I find it mindless to claim that [all manner of] jazz today sucks. If that were true, then shut down all the radio stations that play new music, stop publishing the periodicals, shut down all jazz digital music sites, stop the labels, close the clubs. How ridiculous. Not everybody is great. Not all releases are classics. And that has always been. If the "lay" public thinks you are serious, that in fact no jazz being played today is any good, they will abandon the living form of jazz for good and you will be left to. . . do something else with your life. This sort of statement is an end-game that draws attention to yourself, isn't it?

Jazz is not dead, nor does it sleep. You want I should draw up those lists? Well then how about paying me? Jazz doesn't suck. But it sure sucks trying to be involved with it and also survive. But crying out that jazz is lousy is like deciding to play football only after amputating your legs. Stupid move. Sorry.

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