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Harrisonburg, Virginia, United States
Professor of Saxophone, James Madison University

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Jazz: We're Doing It Right

If you are a jazz fan, a jazz musician, or a student of jazz, you have probably noticed several prominent articles about the music in the recent press.  These articles have been shared all over social media, and I'd rather not single one out, or drive any further traffic to their sites, as I suspect these articles are mainly "click bait."  However, I would like to put my opinion in writing.

What's Wrong With Jazz?

Good question.  The answer is "nothing."  Jazz is alive and well.  The music is doing what it has always done.  It is evolving with changes in instrument technology, recording techniques, and distribution methods.  Jazz is establishing connections with music from around the world, and reaching back to its roots.  It is vibrant, diverse, and interesting.  If you like jazz, there is something happening right now that you will like.  You might need to hunt a little to find exactly what you are into, but it shouldn't be very difficult.  All sorts of fantastic jazz music is being made, all over the world.  Absolutely nothing is wrong with jazz, unless you don't like jazz, which I believe is the case with some of these recent authors.

How Can We Make People Like Jazz?

We can't.  Make your music and put it out there.  If you are making music for the right reasons, you shouldn't care about what people like.  Make the music that you love.  If you are making art that you believe in, you shouldn't care what people like.  People like crap.  They like things that are smooth and predictable.  They like familiarity and convenience.  Sure, sometimes I like crap too, but I don't want to spend my life making crap!  If you modify your art so that people will like it, you will end up making crap.

Gigs vs. Careers

Sometimes you need to make money.  Gig = job.  A job requires that you provide a service that people want.  A gig is a short-term way to get by.  Gigs mean playing pretty for the people.  I am in no way demeaning pop music, or pop art.  It has real value, and there are first-class artists out there that happen to make top notch pop.  Unfortunately, most pop is motivated by "what people like."  Remember, people like crap.  So, go ahead and play gigs, but remember that they are not going to feed your soul.  In fact, they might start sucking your soul away.  When that happens, quit playing gigs and get a day job.  Or get better gigs.

I make music that most people definitely do not like.  I play multiple notes at the same time.  I play as softly as I possibly can, and as loudly as the physics of the moment will allow.  I like to make melodies, but I also like to make noise.  I like organization masquerading as chaos.  I don't care what you like.  I'm not making music for you.  I make it because I have to - it is bubbling up inside me and it has to come out.  Sometimes I play gigs, and when I am performing in a professional setting, I make the music that is appropriate for the situation.  But when I am playing my own concert, I don't care what people will like.  I make the music that I believe in.

In terms of gigging, I am very good at playing styles.  I can play cocktail music, old school funk, and Bach.  I like all those things, and everything between, but I'm not the best in the world at any of those things.  I might get a gig playing one of those styles, but only on the level that I am offering a commodity.  When I play my own music, I am not only the best, I am also the only.  If you happen to like my strange recipe, you will only be able to get it from me.  In that way, I built a career.  I make honest music that most people find strange, but a few people like it, and they have to come to me to get it.

Like This, Love That

People like crap.  They tend to like things, binge on them, use them up, and move on.  I don't want you to like my music.  I want you to love my music.  Love is different.  It is easy to like something, but love is a commitment.  Love is special.  Love is lasting.  You can be tricked into liking something, but love takes time.  If you make something that a few people love, they will keep coming back.  They will give you their trust, and you will be able to make more of what you love.  When it comes to love, there are no shortcuts.

So, I reject all these silly articles about how jazz is "doing it wrong," and how it should change.  Jazz is doing fine, and as musicians, we should keep doing what we have always done.  Work hard, listen, and create with relentless integrity.  The rest will sort itself out.


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