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Despite obstacles, jazz retains staying power | Ovation | columbiatribune.com

Despite obstacles, jazz retains staying power | Ovation | columbiatribune.com

Despite obstacles, jazz retains staying power

I never have been a fan of year-end “best of” lists. And even polls, especially readers’ polls that choose the best player on a certain instrument, seem like a pointless exercise at best, a popularity contest at worst.
There are simply too many exceptional players out there, crisscrossing the land moving jazz around the planet, doing so with such vibrancy that it makes the heart sing.
As we enter a new year, a year filled with political uncertainty, if not insanity, it gives me pause to reflect upon where jazz fits in and why, to many of us, it continues, as it always has, to play an important cultural role. I don’t believe, as some do, that jazz, America’s gift to the world, is on the downside.
I actually prefer the phrase “gift to the world” to calling the genre “America’s classical music.” That’s too Eurocentric, vague, bloated, inconsequential, superficial and, quite honestly, too staid and dated.
Such a phrase represents the antithesis of what is so wonderful about jazz and what makes it a special art form: creativity, spontaneity and improvisation.
There was a tremendous amount of fantastic jazz produced in 2016, and I’m betting the same will be true in 2017. Judging from what came across my desk, not only was there a great deal of high-quality stuff that hit the market, but there was simply a voluminous amount of music created, much of it self-produced because of the demise of the record industry as we know it.
Sure, some of the music was lousy, formulaic, pretentious, not particularly interesting, etc., but I’m not going to pass judgment. The bottom line is people continue to make jazz at a prodigious rate, reinventing it, almost on the fly, as well as finding new ways to deliver it to the public.
To quote my good friend Marty Ashby, executive director of MCG Jazz in Pittsburgh, “Jazz is life.” Around here, we like to say, “jazz never sleeps.”
The music always is moving forward, always washed anew; the phrase also refers to our work habits — as if we’re always on the job or there’s no time to rest, because there’s so much to do when it comes to getting the word out about this music.
Jazz has not only survived, but thrived in an American culture that has to a great extent dismissed its significance from the day it surfaced. The extent of that dismissal has fluctuated, but if we stick with what’s going on in today’s information super-highway world, it’s pretty remarkable that it hasn’t been buried altogether.
Consider that while there are more quality musicians coming out of more outstanding jazz programs at universities across the country and around the world, there are far fewer places for them to perform. This doesn’t mean jazz is less in demand; it just means there’s a greater supply.
As far as I know, the Village Vanguard, that most hallowed of basements on Seventh Avenue South in Greenwich Village, is now the only club that hosts the same artists six nights a week. That used to be the standard for jazz clubs around the country. Now, performers have two, three and a few four-day runs, but the six-day run is beyond an endangered species.
When it comes to jazz on the radio, there have never been fewer stations broadcasting extended hours of music. The last bastion for full-time jazz radio sits within the walls of National Public Radio; however that avenue has dried up considerably of late as NPR stations trend toward more talk, less music and/or a more eclectic approach to music rather than a single format.
What is it about jazz that makes it a significant part of American culture for the past century plus? Here is what Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. said at the opening of the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1964:
“Jazz speaks for life. The blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph. This is triumphant music.
“Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument. It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by jazz musicians.
“Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls. Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.
“And now, jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith.
“In music, especially this broad category called jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.”
Wishing everyone a Happy New Year — come 2017 and beyond, may the jazz be with you.
Jon Poses is executive director of the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series. Reach him at jazznbsbl@socket.net.


Jim Eigo Jazz Promo Services T: 845-986-1677 E-Mail: jim@jazzpromoservices.com



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