Once again, the Jazz/BAM internet is abuzz–abuzz, I tell you!–with opinions on how the music can grow its audience and remain a culturally relevant art form in the 21st Century. Well, I’m happy to say they’re all wrong! Musicians and fans, just follow these few simple steps, and before you know it, Jazz will be partying like it’s 1959!
Provide iPods at every gig so audience members can listen to their own choice of music during the show
Bring contemporary audiences in by covering tunes by hot new pop bands like like N’SYNC, The BeeGees, and Scott Joplin
Have the band begin the set naked, and offer to put on one piece of clothing each time someone claps
Three words: ZOMBIE LOUIS ARMSTRONG
Play more standards
Take advantage of social media platforms by limiting your solos to 140 notes or less
Build a “Jazzyland” theme park in Orlando, featuring thrilling attractions like Sun Ra’s ArKoaster, the GraviTrane, the Tilt-A-Wayne, Jazz Argument! (with Animatronic WyntonBot), Keith Jarrett’s FLIP-OUT! and the Bitches Brew Album Cover House of Horrors, plus exclusive shopping at The Ahmad JaMall and a hot dog stand run by Anthony Braxton
Reinvigorate jazz by incorporating elements of rock, hiphop, Salsa, polka, Bluegrass, Tango, Death Metal, Tibetan throat-singing, New Wave, Death Bluegrass, Drum and Bass, Drum and Bass and Mariachi, Thrash Electro-Industrial Housegrass, anything with tubas, the “Dukes of Hazzard” Theme, jazz, and Paul Anka
Get every jazz group in the world to play nothing but “Misty” for the next year, over and over, just to cure people of wanting to hear that $@#*%! song (Next year: “When the Saints”)
Accrue thousands of dollars in debt getting a degree in jazz from an accredited educational institution–once people learn how qualified you are, they’ll have no choice but to buy your CDs!
Book non-jazz acts to headline every major jazz festival in the U.S. for several years, until audiences forget what jazz is–just kidding, that would never happen!
Play fewer standards
Make the music more palatable to a wide audience by avoiding unpopular elements like improvisation, swing, acoustic instruments, “blue notes,” syncopation, harmony, melody, and rhythm
Save yourself the time and effort of practicing by just running “Kind of Blue” through the house speakers while your band pretends to play
Start an island colony to raise a new jazz audience from childhood in isolation, exposing them solely to the highest quality of musical influences; watch them grow into passionate and knowledgeable listeners, only to see it all go to hell when a crate of Justin Bieber CDs washes up on shore
Stop playing all that noodly stuff–people hate that.
Somewhere in the middle of a notey solo on “Moment’s Notice” last night I started thinking about the role of virtuosity in jazz. (For those unfamiliar with the tune: that is not a good time to start thinking about abstract concepts, because it can lead to “Did I really mean that phrase there? How about that one? Crap, where am I?”–but we can’t always control what pops into our heads.) (UPDATE: Listen to this happen in real-time below.)
Tunes like that often get me thinking along those lines, though, since their chock-full-of-chord-changes-ness tends to give one the sensation that he or she is being played by the tune rather than the other way around. (The solution, it turns out, is to learn the crap out of the tune until it feels as unconscious as a medium-tempo blues. Check back with me in another 20 years and I’ll let you know how that’s going.)
Coincidentally, the jazzoblogowebosphere offered two interesting posts on the same subject this morning–one from Peter Hum and a somewhat related take at Nextbop, both worth reading–exploring the role of technical wizardry in the genre. I don’t claim to have any universal insight on the topic, but I have had an evolving thought process about it, which is tied in with my development as a player (as I suspect is the case for most players).
The short version: when I started getting serious about playing in my teens, I was focused on the high/loud/fast side of things, mainly because it came easily to me in the early days. But by my college years I had started to reach the limits of that ease, and entered a long period of struggles with my instrument. I think this is true for many instrumentalists, and trumpeters especially. My chops became a harsh and fickle mistress which I could never count on from day to day. I fantasized about the sound my horn would make as it was slowly flattened beneath a steamroller into a large brass pancake more than I care to admit. I felt in those days that if I wasn’t able to play to a certain level, it wasn’t worth trying to make music at all.
This morning, NPR’s A Blog Supreme featured a story about a wealthy music lover who has donated $2.5 million to Drake University’s jazz program, to be used for a professorship and a new facility. Confronted by that number, I started to wonder if there might be ways to spend that money which would actually benefit the music and musicians more–like subsidizing 12,500 gigs at $200, for example.
It was with those numbers ringing in my head that I saw the even more staggering news that SFJAZZ has secured a $20 million donation for a permanent center in the City. (Think about it! $20 million! I wonder whether every single jazz album sale in the past 10 years even made that much money.)
First of all, genuine congratulations to SFJAZZ on the jazz center–that really is incredible, especially in this economy, in this country, in this culture. But again, as a thought experiment here–that money would pay for ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND $200 gigs. Just imagine for a second what kind of a rejuvenation any jazz scene could get from even a smidgen of that.