Terry Teachout - "Can Jazz Be Saved?"

Terry Teachout - "Can Jazz Be Saved?"

Mike
Mike

August 10th, 2009, 6:45 pm #1

From today's Wall Street Journal:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142 ... 50572.html
"Jazz has changed greatly since the 30s, when Louis Armstrong, one of the ­supreme musical geniuses of the 20th century, was also a pop star, a gravel-voiced crooner who made movies with Bing Crosby and Mae West and whose records sold by the truckload to fans who knew nothing about jazz except that Satchmo played and sang it. As late as the early 50s, jazz was still for the most part a genuinely popular music, a utilitarian, song-based idiom to which ordinary people could dance if they felt like it. But by the 60s, it had evolved into a challenging concert music whose complexities repelled many of the same youngsters who were falling hard for rock and soul. Yes, John Coltranes A Love Supreme sold very well for a jazz album in 1965but most kids preferred California Girls and The Tracks of My Tears, and still do now that they have kids of their own.

Even if I could, I wouldnt want to undo the transformation of jazz into a sophisticated art music. But theres no sense in pretending that it didnt happen, or that contemporary jazz is capable of appealing to the same kind of mass audience that thrilled to the big bands of the swing era. And it is precisely because jazz is now widely viewed as a high-culture art form that its makers must start to grapple with the same problems of presentation, marketing and audience development as do symphony orchestras, drama companies and art museumsa task that will be made all the more daunting by the fact that jazz is made for the most part by individuals, not established institutions with deep pockets."
Some good comments after the article as well, including one from Jim Landers who writes about the popularity of the annual Bix Beiderbecke jazz festival in Davenport.

Is traditional/classic jazz dead? On life support? Are things different here in the US than in Europe or Japan? What do the Forumites think?
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Ken BristowB
Ken BristowB

August 10th, 2009, 11:12 pm #2

Jazz has always had a minority interest. On that reckoning everyone is agreed. One problem is what do people mean when they use the term "Jazz?" Can any two people agree? I always go along with Jelly Roll Mortons's description of what qualities real Jazz has to have, and that is "plenty rhythm, plenty melody". This Forum deals almost exclusively with the life and music of Bix Beiderbecke. Therefore our interests usually cover the music and times of the years 1903 to 1931. But to your next door neighbor, "Jazz" means Miles Davis or Charlie Parker. Across the street another neighbor goes for Latin/Cuban Rhythms. It's all Jazz, yet all these styles appeal to a different minority group. From time to time on the Forum, film clips are available where Bix tribute bands are to be seen and heard playing numbers associated with Bix. Sometimes solos and arrangements are cleverly and faithfully recreated. But take a careful look, when the camera pans around the audience, nearly everyone appears to be over the age of sixty. Some very much older. This is the question being asked. In this world of instant pop music, very few persons under the age of 30 have any interest in any form of Jazz. Especially sad is the absence of any knowledge of the history of Black Music among young Black people. I know that here in Britain, if you stopped on the street and asked a group of Black youngsters do you know who King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington or Dizzy Gillespie were, none would say 'yes' to the question. They would be hearing those names for the very first time. One might comment his Dad sings a song called 'What a Wonderful World'. Wasn't that Louis Armstrong? With each generation that passes, the eras of Vintage Jazz, Swing Bands, etc. fade further back into the distant past. Today's and future generations will have even different interests in music. Most kids today regard Jazz as "Grandad's Music". I know that because I've heard them say so. I find that very sad indeed.
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hal smith
hal smith

August 10th, 2009, 11:26 pm #3

From today's Wall Street Journal:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142 ... 50572.html
"Jazz has changed greatly since the 30s, when Louis Armstrong, one of the ­supreme musical geniuses of the 20th century, was also a pop star, a gravel-voiced crooner who made movies with Bing Crosby and Mae West and whose records sold by the truckload to fans who knew nothing about jazz except that Satchmo played and sang it. As late as the early 50s, jazz was still for the most part a genuinely popular music, a utilitarian, song-based idiom to which ordinary people could dance if they felt like it. But by the 60s, it had evolved into a challenging concert music whose complexities repelled many of the same youngsters who were falling hard for rock and soul. Yes, John Coltranes A Love Supreme sold very well for a jazz album in 1965but most kids preferred California Girls and The Tracks of My Tears, and still do now that they have kids of their own.

Even if I could, I wouldnt want to undo the transformation of jazz into a sophisticated art music. But theres no sense in pretending that it didnt happen, or that contemporary jazz is capable of appealing to the same kind of mass audience that thrilled to the big bands of the swing era. And it is precisely because jazz is now widely viewed as a high-culture art form that its makers must start to grapple with the same problems of presentation, marketing and audience development as do symphony orchestras, drama companies and art museumsa task that will be made all the more daunting by the fact that jazz is made for the most part by individuals, not established institutions with deep pockets."
Some good comments after the article as well, including one from Jim Landers who writes about the popularity of the annual Bix Beiderbecke jazz festival in Davenport.

Is traditional/classic jazz dead? On life support? Are things different here in the US than in Europe or Japan? What do the Forumites think?
I used to love going to jazz concerts but since Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, Artie Shaw, Eddie Condon, Lee Wiley, ect ect have died and I'm not into the tribute there no one to see and hear. .
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Brad Kay
Brad Kay

August 11th, 2009, 7:52 am #4

From today's Wall Street Journal:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142 ... 50572.html
"Jazz has changed greatly since the 30s, when Louis Armstrong, one of the ­supreme musical geniuses of the 20th century, was also a pop star, a gravel-voiced crooner who made movies with Bing Crosby and Mae West and whose records sold by the truckload to fans who knew nothing about jazz except that Satchmo played and sang it. As late as the early 50s, jazz was still for the most part a genuinely popular music, a utilitarian, song-based idiom to which ordinary people could dance if they felt like it. But by the 60s, it had evolved into a challenging concert music whose complexities repelled many of the same youngsters who were falling hard for rock and soul. Yes, John Coltranes A Love Supreme sold very well for a jazz album in 1965but most kids preferred California Girls and The Tracks of My Tears, and still do now that they have kids of their own.

Even if I could, I wouldnt want to undo the transformation of jazz into a sophisticated art music. But theres no sense in pretending that it didnt happen, or that contemporary jazz is capable of appealing to the same kind of mass audience that thrilled to the big bands of the swing era. And it is precisely because jazz is now widely viewed as a high-culture art form that its makers must start to grapple with the same problems of presentation, marketing and audience development as do symphony orchestras, drama companies and art museumsa task that will be made all the more daunting by the fact that jazz is made for the most part by individuals, not established institutions with deep pockets."
Some good comments after the article as well, including one from Jim Landers who writes about the popularity of the annual Bix Beiderbecke jazz festival in Davenport.

Is traditional/classic jazz dead? On life support? Are things different here in the US than in Europe or Japan? What do the Forumites think?
- - before 1955 or so, jazz was part and parcel of, and integral to, the greater world of popular and dance music, and of show business in general. It was possible to go to a night club, theater or dance hall with no other purpose in mind but partying, seeing a play or musical, or stepping out - and accidentally hearing some first rate jazz in the bargain. I am sure that nobody went to the Cotton Club in 1928 expressly to hear Bubber Miley play cornet or Johnny Hodges play soprano sax, but there they were, and they played and got heard nevertheless and made a decent living at it.

It isn't jazz that has disappeared or that needs "saving." What has disappeared for ever is the whole environment that produced this music in the first place. Without that environment - i.e., the theaters, restaurants, night clubs, hotels, ballrooms, cabarets, broadcasting, etc. - and the pull it exerted on everyone in it, the music - the first thing to go, the canary in the mineshaft - is doomed.

There were two hundred thousand full-time, card-carrying professional musicians working in the United States in 1925. This was no accident. There was a trememdous pull, a persistent demand for so many players, having nothing to do with "art," which made it possible for an impractical genius like Bix to get as far as he did, and for a canny, ambitious and brilliant player like Benny Goodman to become a mogul.

I have to report that the environment for music today is DIRE, and has been so for many years. I can't think of any reason why a talented young person would want to pick up a saxophone or a trumpet and make it his life work. There are no glitteringly successful role models - no Louis Armstrongs or Jimmy Dorseys - that might inspire anyone to go that route. All the highly accomplished pro musicians I know and work with are scuffling and consider themselves lucky to make a bare living.

The only way to retain one's integrity as a musician in 2009 is to forgo all hope of even modest fame and fortune (once a powerful incentive). One must play strictly for the love of it, while vigilantly eschewing situations that might kill that love. Any other motivation is just a recipe for insanity.

-Brad K
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Richard Iaconelli
Richard Iaconelli

August 11th, 2009, 12:48 pm #5

I do not understand why Mr. Teachout seems to welcome jazz into some sort of sophisticated art music. Modern jazz--to a modern audience-- is like a sophisticated crossword puzzle. The sort of thing where you need an academic to tell you how "good" it is, because you, the unhip public, is not sharp enough.

One writer once wrote about pop singer Tony Bennett-- his secret was not good looks, nor the best vocal instrument, but the ability "to let you in," to feel joy, to feel a part of what he was doing. So it was with early jazzmen. How many of today's jazz performers... let you in?

I think jazz died as a popular art when it detached itself from the great American popular song, which provided both audience accessibility, and wonderful raw materials.
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

August 11th, 2009, 1:13 pm #6

- - before 1955 or so, jazz was part and parcel of, and integral to, the greater world of popular and dance music, and of show business in general. It was possible to go to a night club, theater or dance hall with no other purpose in mind but partying, seeing a play or musical, or stepping out - and accidentally hearing some first rate jazz in the bargain. I am sure that nobody went to the Cotton Club in 1928 expressly to hear Bubber Miley play cornet or Johnny Hodges play soprano sax, but there they were, and they played and got heard nevertheless and made a decent living at it.

It isn't jazz that has disappeared or that needs "saving." What has disappeared for ever is the whole environment that produced this music in the first place. Without that environment - i.e., the theaters, restaurants, night clubs, hotels, ballrooms, cabarets, broadcasting, etc. - and the pull it exerted on everyone in it, the music - the first thing to go, the canary in the mineshaft - is doomed.

There were two hundred thousand full-time, card-carrying professional musicians working in the United States in 1925. This was no accident. There was a trememdous pull, a persistent demand for so many players, having nothing to do with "art," which made it possible for an impractical genius like Bix to get as far as he did, and for a canny, ambitious and brilliant player like Benny Goodman to become a mogul.

I have to report that the environment for music today is DIRE, and has been so for many years. I can't think of any reason why a talented young person would want to pick up a saxophone or a trumpet and make it his life work. There are no glitteringly successful role models - no Louis Armstrongs or Jimmy Dorseys - that might inspire anyone to go that route. All the highly accomplished pro musicians I know and work with are scuffling and consider themselves lucky to make a bare living.

The only way to retain one's integrity as a musician in 2009 is to forgo all hope of even modest fame and fortune (once a powerful incentive). One must play strictly for the love of it, while vigilantly eschewing situations that might kill that love. Any other motivation is just a recipe for insanity.

-Brad K
....  big bands music as a form of jazz.

From the mid 1930s through Word War II, swing was king, in radio, in movies, in ballrooms, in juke boxes, etc. Most big bands -Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Harry James, Gene Krupa, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Chick Webb, Jimmy Rushing, etc., played swing/jazz, at least in part. That was the popular music of the times, the only time when jazz was, indeed, <strong>the </strong>popular music in the US.







Albert
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Richard Iaconelli
Richard Iaconelli

August 11th, 2009, 2:57 pm #7

On a related topic, could anyone enlighten me as to how well Bix's records sold in his lifetime?

For example, how well did those now famous early Wolverine titles sell? How about "Singin The Blues" or any record issued of the groups identifiable as being Bix-led? Are there good sales numbers on this titles?

Did Whiteman record sales spike upward--if there was an identifiable Bix solo? Most importantly, how would Bix's record sales compare with other popular performers of the day?

Sounds like a good subject for an IAJRC article (: )
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Emrah Erken
Emrah Erken

August 11th, 2009, 4:52 pm #8

According to Terry Teachout, as late as the early 50s, jazz was still for the most part a genuinely popular music, a utilitarian, song-based idiom to which ordinary people could dance if they felt like it. This statement of the author is actually the whole point of the discussion about if jazz is dead or not.

Obviously, the author has another definition of jazz than other jazz fans. For the great majority of jazz fans (these are in their majority certainly not hot jazz enthusiasts), the most significant jazz in the late 40s and early 50s was the one played by Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie and not popmusic with jazz elements, which has been played in any period of time. Even Bix recorded such pop music by ennobling it with his jazz. Just listen to Sweet-Sue... Isnt that pop music? Later, in the 1940s, Benny Goodman made some great sides with singers like Helen Forrest and soloed in these recordings as good as he did in his early days. Of course, these recordings are not of the same interest that hot jazz fans have for his earlier work.

In other words, Terry Teachouts definition of jazz has something to do with pop music played by jazz musicians who put some jazz elements in that music. This kind of pop music is still in existence. People still like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett or younger artists like Jamie Cullum. This is pop music for adults who want to dance as couples at parties.

However, there is another form of jazz and that form has always been minority taste. It was and is basically played by smaller units with a lot of solo work by the musicians. This music is basically not entertainment or dance music but music with a lot of individualist touch. The musicians play their solos and express themselves through these solos. The purpose of such music is more on an artistic level. You have to listen to it carefully to enjoy it. You cant have small talk and drinks if you listen to such music. Just listen to Humpty Dumpty. I really dont think that this music was recorded for standup parties on rooftops...

The latter kind of music can be found almost in any period of time in jazz history. Only a few people listened to such music. What Richard Iaconelli is talking about goes to the point. How many records of Bix were sold when he was alive. The first pressings of Im Coming Virginia and Singin The Blues were pressed only 3000 times each. 3000 records only and these two recordings are among the most important recordings of Bix! The less pop there was on a recording the less it was bought by the public.

Obviously, nothing has really changed and jazz is still alive. The mainstream pop music has changed and it contains a lot of electronic elements in it and not jazz. For me, this is perfectly normal.

As a student, I used to work as a DJ and due to the fact that I have always been a jazz enthusiast, I spinned records with contemporary party music with jazz elements. Contemporary party music is (some might not like this) electronic music. Its being played in better clubs and these records are never in any hitparade.

Here are some examples:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqyXWw1B1Ds

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCY3I0_Z6Rg






Emrah
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Veniero Molari
Veniero Molari

August 11th, 2009, 5:09 pm #9

Jazz has always had a minority interest. On that reckoning everyone is agreed. One problem is what do people mean when they use the term "Jazz?" Can any two people agree? I always go along with Jelly Roll Mortons's description of what qualities real Jazz has to have, and that is "plenty rhythm, plenty melody". This Forum deals almost exclusively with the life and music of Bix Beiderbecke. Therefore our interests usually cover the music and times of the years 1903 to 1931. But to your next door neighbor, "Jazz" means Miles Davis or Charlie Parker. Across the street another neighbor goes for Latin/Cuban Rhythms. It's all Jazz, yet all these styles appeal to a different minority group. From time to time on the Forum, film clips are available where Bix tribute bands are to be seen and heard playing numbers associated with Bix. Sometimes solos and arrangements are cleverly and faithfully recreated. But take a careful look, when the camera pans around the audience, nearly everyone appears to be over the age of sixty. Some very much older. This is the question being asked. In this world of instant pop music, very few persons under the age of 30 have any interest in any form of Jazz. Especially sad is the absence of any knowledge of the history of Black Music among young Black people. I know that here in Britain, if you stopped on the street and asked a group of Black youngsters do you know who King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington or Dizzy Gillespie were, none would say 'yes' to the question. They would be hearing those names for the very first time. One might comment his Dad sings a song called 'What a Wonderful World'. Wasn't that Louis Armstrong? With each generation that passes, the eras of Vintage Jazz, Swing Bands, etc. fade further back into the distant past. Today's and future generations will have even different interests in music. Most kids today regard Jazz as "Grandad's Music". I know that because I've heard them say so. I find that very sad indeed.
The point is slightly different:the similar problem was afforded towards the end of XIX century, but now concert halls are full of youngsters that come to listen to composers of the past, from Renaissance to Haendel, Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms....DIVORCE: when you come to the "modern" composers (alas preferred by Bix), people start yawning being annoyed.
Same is for jazz:people like me (alas 75), even going to find company like to hear any Dixieland band,good or bad, while coming to more modern styles (Ellington, Gillespie, boppers (for me teou-tao music) find only monotonous ratatta drummers, with a bass walking on my head.
Maybe somebody are tired of the politically correct African American music. Should they listen some good Goofus Five with Rollini, Quealey, Stan King & co.,they will more attracted. Our site is a good example of how attract the study of the real Jazz, irrespectively of the race of players. Take any history of jazz book and you will find poor whites (Caucasian-Americans) relegated after many pages dedicated to the ELECTED new race of the African-Americans, once denominated WITHOUT NEGATIVE implication NEGROES (not NIGGERS).
In the twenties a lot of jazzmen discovered that it was convenient to be a negro, or at least a Creole, ignoring that Creole was not referred to the color, BUT TO THE CULTURE. Excuse me for my too long posting.

Veniero Molari
Last edited by ahaim on August 11th, 2009, 5:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Ken Bristow
Ken Bristow

August 11th, 2009, 5:21 pm #10

- - before 1955 or so, jazz was part and parcel of, and integral to, the greater world of popular and dance music, and of show business in general. It was possible to go to a night club, theater or dance hall with no other purpose in mind but partying, seeing a play or musical, or stepping out - and accidentally hearing some first rate jazz in the bargain. I am sure that nobody went to the Cotton Club in 1928 expressly to hear Bubber Miley play cornet or Johnny Hodges play soprano sax, but there they were, and they played and got heard nevertheless and made a decent living at it.

It isn't jazz that has disappeared or that needs "saving." What has disappeared for ever is the whole environment that produced this music in the first place. Without that environment - i.e., the theaters, restaurants, night clubs, hotels, ballrooms, cabarets, broadcasting, etc. - and the pull it exerted on everyone in it, the music - the first thing to go, the canary in the mineshaft - is doomed.

There were two hundred thousand full-time, card-carrying professional musicians working in the United States in 1925. This was no accident. There was a trememdous pull, a persistent demand for so many players, having nothing to do with "art," which made it possible for an impractical genius like Bix to get as far as he did, and for a canny, ambitious and brilliant player like Benny Goodman to become a mogul.

I have to report that the environment for music today is DIRE, and has been so for many years. I can't think of any reason why a talented young person would want to pick up a saxophone or a trumpet and make it his life work. There are no glitteringly successful role models - no Louis Armstrongs or Jimmy Dorseys - that might inspire anyone to go that route. All the highly accomplished pro musicians I know and work with are scuffling and consider themselves lucky to make a bare living.

The only way to retain one's integrity as a musician in 2009 is to forgo all hope of even modest fame and fortune (once a powerful incentive). One must play strictly for the love of it, while vigilantly eschewing situations that might kill that love. Any other motivation is just a recipe for insanity.

-Brad K
Brad is almost telling us Jazz isn't just dying, it's virtually dead now. But not only have the Jazz greats long departed, but so have the great songwriters. Kern, Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, Rogers and many more. Hollywood musicals, where these songsmiths created all those classic songs, well, sadly, they've all gone, too. Along with Busby Berkeley, Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, Fred and Ginger, Bing, Bob and Dorothy. Add to these your own personal favourites. Much as we'd like to, we can't turn the clock back. Joe Oliver, Louis, Bix, Henderson, Duke, they were all of their time. We keep that music and those films alive because of our love of that era and the art forms they produced. But although it hurts to say so, the decades of the twenties, thirties and forties are gone, and gone forever. As individuals we make nostalgic attempts to keep it going, playing this music at home, and contributing to this Forum. Yet all of us, eventually have to go off to meet our maker. Todays popular music sounds, to our ears, ugly, and the guitar twangers talentless. The demand from our generation for hot music and swing records is on the wane. Here in London, there were always, in the West End, two very famous Jazz record shops, Dobell's in Charing Cross Road, and Asman's in New Row, close to Leicester Square. Both have now gone. And that's in a City of eight million inhabitants.
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