Wednesday, January 15, 2014

And about Jazz Connect...

In addition to the blog entry on CP's website, the Local Notes column in today's issue was penned by me, reporting on Pittsburgh's representation at the Jazz Connect Conference. Here it is.

The thing about jazz, especially in this city, is it seems so stuck in the era prior to 1970. If you want to quibble about it, you could probably take it back a few years earlier, to when Miles Davis started spacing out on Filles de Kilamanjaro or prior to Ornette Coleman's arrival in New York. You get the idea, the time was jazz was a steady 4/4 tempo with discernable themes, a few solos, traded 4's and then out.

And that music is good. Great, in some cases. Earth shattering. But that's not all there is. It's like saying you like guitar music and citing the Beatles as the be-all and end all. A performance of Beatles music will probably be more successful than a performance by the band Hospitality, but that doesn't mean we should overlook Hospitality and stick with the Fab Four.

I'm going way off subject here to build up to some things that I heard at the Jazz Connect conference last week. In a panel called "Jazz in the Future Tense: Looking Into the Fractured Crystal Ball," James Donio of the Music Business Association cited a report on  jazz albums sales from 2013*. The best selling artist was Michael Buble, who - I shouldn't need to say - isn't really a jazz musician. The panel also included Kristen Thomson from the Future of Music Coalition (and former member of Tsunami and a driving force behind Simple Machines records).

To make sure that the discussion wouldn't digress into dry stats and projections, guitarist Vernon Reid and pianist Jason Moran were also on the panel. So while Donio talked about strategies that jazz musicians could use to reach a wider audience - which included the idea of recording songs that were familiar to more listeners - Reid and Moran stressed the necessity for musicians to have their own unique voice and to put that out there. One great moment came when Moran recalled, as a 20-year-old, asking his piano teacher Jaki Byard when he should make a demo. "Why do you want to cut a demo, you don't have anything to say," was the response he got. While Moran got signed to Blue Note two years later, he says he came to the label knowing he should not take the opportunity lightly.

I felt like running up to Reid after the discussion and saying, "Thank you," because I grow so weary of people with a limited idea of what jazz is and what it should be. Plus Donio's comments flew in the face of what Mark Ruffin of Sirius/XM said earlier that morning in a panel radio programming: a female jazz vocalist is not doing herself any favors by recording "Good Morning Heartache." "I already have Billie Holiday singing that, I don't need to hear you do it."

It's good to know that there are some people who realize that it's important to shake up the status quo every so often. People tend to forget that it wasn't an easy life for the people who are now revered as gods of the music like Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor. And John Coltrane. Plus Ornette and Cecil are highly regarded by some, but not to the extent that they should be.

(*I left my scoop pad at home, which is why I don't have a lot of specifics from last week. Stay tuned for more.)


Anonymous said...

Love your blog! This won't surprise you but I love 4/4 tempo with discernable themes, a few solos, traded 4's and then out! A agree, everything can be too one-sided. Michael Buble is nice but he isn't jazz. Do you think he is a little like Harry Connick all over again?

Thanks! Tex.

shanleymusic said...

Tex - Thanks for commenting, cousin! Hopefully you'll come back and see this. I've been away for a few weeks obviously. Yes, Buble is Connick-lite.