Historian and critic Ted Gioia brings up hard hitting points that highlight the current state of jazz in an article aptly titled “Jazz (The Music of Coffee and Donuts) Has Respect, But It Needs Love.” In the article, Mr. Gioia briefly references a study by the University of Arkansas that indicates thatjazz makes your food taste better (“Cornbread” anyone?), how Peet’s Coffee Shop launched a “Jazz Giants” station on Pandora, and how at any given moment Kind of Blue could be playing at any of Starbuck’s 20,000 outlets worldwide. But this wasn’t just a nonsensical article about the relationship between Kenny Gorelick‘s evil empire blasting straight-ahead albums to sell coffee. Ted Gioia – who has penned several notable books like The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire, West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California 1945-1960, and The History of Jazz – isn’t writing in order to harp about coffee and jazz. The article hits at a much deeper level.
Having grown up in a society where colleges offer performance degrees in jazz, it’s difficult to imagine a time when jazz was considered the devil’s music. I’ve conducted enough interviews with enough notable artists from Ambrose Akinmusire to José James to tell you that they don’t feel that being a jazz musician is a social taboo. What is striking in Mr. Gioia’s article is how he reflects upon “a deeper attitudinal shift among the general public.” The esteemed historian goes on to say, “Jazz music, I suspect, is perceived much differently nowadays than it was a generation ago.”
Jazz’s association with sophistication isn’t surprising. The music of Mozart and Bach are usually associated with sophistication. But this wasn’t always the case. A waltz – before it became piano music repertoire – was a form of dance and was usually performed at parties. A gigue wasn’t just a piece where we can marvel at Glen Gould‘s technique, it was for dancing.
Likewise, swing wasn’t just a phrase that dudes at jam session use to vibe each other if someone wasn’t “swingin’ hard enough.” It was a form of dance. I’m reminded of an interview I once conducted with trumpeter Etienne Charles about the importance of dance in jazz and in music. Charles had this to say about his thoughts on dance music:
“If you’re talking about Count Basie‘s music, that’s dance music. A lot of Duke Ellington‘s records—that’s based on dance rhythms.”
So what’s the connection between Kenny Gorelick’s evil empire, Ted Gioia’s article, Bach and Mozart, dance music, and jazz have to do with Revive? As stated in an article written earlier this week about the late Horace Silver, we are in the business of generating the feel-good and bringing the stank face back into fashion. It is this ethos that drives us to do what we do from concert promotions and presentations, to artist interviews, and articles like these.
The core of the Mr. Gioia’s article comes at the end when he writes:
“Let me be blunt: I don’t want the next generation of music lovers to associate jazz with Frappuccinos and frosted donuts.”
Bill Kirchner, another notable historian who I had the extreme fortune to study with at The New School, once told our history class that he feels uneasy whenever he goes to jazz concerts and sees more people around his age group. Mr. Kirchner is a man rife with stories about the greatest jazz legends. Listen, the man can probably tell you the color socks Coltrane was wearing during the Giant Steps sessions. But out of all the many things that he imparted to us in the three semesters of classes I took with him, his concern about jazz’s listening demographic struck a chord with me – a very, very altered chord with all sorts of extensions and sorts.
Like I’ve said, Mr. Gioia’s concerns aren’t new and the museumification of jazz is what happened to the music of Mozart and Bach many years ago. While Mr. Gioia’s concerns about the dwindling record sales and the association of jazz with fraps and donuts are commendable, I’m also reminded of another great music thinker who once rapped these verses in a song called “I Am Music” from an album titled Electric Circus:
“You can’t categorize me, my mind’s a art
Inside my heart, it ain’t about climbing charts
I’m the one you roll with when your ride is smart
The change that came, the change that comes
I change with chords and I kick it with drums
Get blow with horns and did it on the one
Riffed for guitars, for the Lord I sung
Spun around the world at parties and weddings
Wherever I go I create the setting
You know me from lessons or your pops collections
Whether whole or half stepping I’m a blessing
Yo I am music.“
Rest assured Mr. Gioia, as long as we at Revive are around, the next generation will never associate jazz with Kenny Gorelick’s evil empire.