Janice Jarrett | Chicago Reader

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Re: “The "problem" with jazz, part 343: Chris Kornelis at the Seattle Weekly

Talk about an old chestnut, the old "(Why) is jazz dying/dead/suffering a small audience...?"). But I will try to contribute a little: most of the comments/columns seem to assert that jazz is a small part of the music industry because of how writer personally reacts to jazz, or judges a particular jazz artist. Personal tastes, self-indulgent artists, elitist attitudes of fans/artists - this doesn't answer it. I have taught courses addressing this. It's a complicated issue, not just because, like other musics, jazz has so many sub-styles; there are some deep rooted contradictions in our society that have impacted jazz and its position in society throughout its survival over 100 year history. As another jazz musician put it: 'jazz never dies, it just goes underground.' It is a true art, because the artist just keep playing it regardless of critics, media assessments, etc. And as an educator I don't agree with, Kornelis's response: "And I think that if the education programs employed more of the genres familiar to students, they would get more involvement from students who would rather play electric guitar, emcee, or deejay." First of all, the role of education should be to expand the students' horizons as well as address student needs as they change. Secondly, the proliferation of college programs in jazz over the last 30 years can't be explained merely by investment, certainly not by support from culture in general; they would not exist without vibrant, continuing student participation. (Academia has also added pop and rock courses.) But academia is not like the entertainment media that has evolved into a very cold, impersonal machine where it's assumed that any aspiring musician wants to go platinum. This idea pervades the professional world and our society (e.g. American Idol) and is insidious. I don't want to play for free, but that stardom goal was never my reason for being a musician. But to the issue of likability of jazz: over the years, time and time again, I learned that many people end up "liking" jazz after they heard some, without knowing it was "jazz." The prejudice was laid down, internalized, but when they had accessibility to it, they discovered they liked it. Accessibility. That's what the current commercial climate dictates and denies. Just ask struggling musicians all over the country in a variety of so-called popular styles wanting to play local venues and find (corporate) radio has also locked them out of exposure and support.
Perhaps this issue/question makes most sense if you see it like the nature/nurture argument. When you realize that both forces work on an individual outcome, you get a better perspective. BTW, in the midwest this year a jazz festival had a record 125,000 attendance. Who says jazz is on the "fringe"?
That said, I am happy the discussion is on! Being passionate about art is a good thing. And the support of art in our society has been under attack for some years now. Let it rage.

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by Janice Jarrett on 10/19/2012 at 4:51 PM

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