August 2009 Archives
For the week of August 20, 2009 I'm in Heaven Tonight was #25 on the Roots Music Report's Top 50 Jazz Weekly Radio Chart. Apparently last week the CD was #14!!
I am so honored to be featured as "The Salon Music" interview in the recent issue of Barnard Magazine. Here is a link to the interview:
Karen quoted a comment I made about watching Melissa Sue Anderson singing "Witchcraft" on The Love Boat. I couldn't make up something this ridiculous, and thanks to the endless supply of random stuff online, I was able to find the clip. Watching it now, it's hard to see what I liked about. I suppose I just love standards so much, that I would find something redeemable about it:
As someone who started singing standards and listening to jazz in the 1980s when it had yet to become re-emerge as a fashionable trend, I am very aware of the challenges this genre faces, because I have been living it my whole life. Most people born in 1956-57 going forward are not familiar with standards or jazz. (I use these dates, because these are the years during which Elvis Presley started appearing on national television.) When I started in the 1980s, this group consisted of people aged 30 and under. Two decades on this group is now aged 50 and under. Given this observation, data demonstrating that the jazz audience is aging, and increasingly similar to the generational demographics of other fine arts audiences, is not in the least bit surprising.
As much as I am happy to see an article about this topic in a major publication, I have some issues with this article. Teachout seems to accept the idea of jazz as "fine art," whereas I have very mixed feelings about it. Unfortunately in this country we do not place much emphasis on cultural history, so thinking of jazz as a "fine art" benefits the music somewhat. It establishes the idea that the music is worthy of respect, study, and a certain stature. Institutionalizing jazz through the types of organizations found in classical music - concert halls (Jazz at Lincoln Center, comes to mind here) and conservatories - builds the genre's legitimacy and gives it a physical presence. "Fine art" suggests a certain level of seriousness, and I believe that it is only natural for those within this genre to want to be taken seriously.
On the flip side the idea of jazz as a "fine art" only compounds the notorious insularity of both jazz musicians and jazz audiences. This trend of course gathered steam in the 1960s among jazz musicians rejecting the showmanship of an earlier era, represented by artists such as Cab Calloway. Nowadays I am no longer shocked, but I am disappointed, when I read interviews of jazz artists who openly disdain today's popular culture. It's just not the way to make new friends. I understand what it is like to be passionate about something of which most of your peers and the society at large are ignorant. I know that musicians by and large are anti-social nerds who love to practice, because I am one of them. However, I think that insularity, as a defense mechanism, is really counter-productive.
I disagree with Teachout's acceptance of jazz musicians as artists in a sophisticated art form, but not entertainers. Ultimately, audiences want to be entertained, and that's no different whether its a rock concert or a jazz concert or a classical music concert. I accept the fact that I am both an entertainer and an artist, and consider the entertainment part of what I do to be like audience outreach. I don't think that considering oneself an entertainer devalues the music. On the contrary I think that being an entertainer involves the audience more and makes them more interested in the music. I suppose that I am lucky, because my work is very accessible. What I do has a broad appeal, yet I don't feel like I am compromising my creativity. In my opinion though thinking of yourself as an artist alone, regardless of the kind of music you make, will only limit your audience, not expand it.
Returning to the topic of the music itself, I get the impression that when Teachout talks about "jazz" he is referring to the more traditional, straight-ahead forms of jazz and maybe some of the stuff considered more avant-garde. Based on my experience, I just don't think that this segment of the genre will turn the uninitiated/previously uninterested into regular audience members. Teachout justly acknowledges that the kids who were more interested in "California Girls" and "The Tracks of My Tears" than "A Love Supreme" in 1965, still probably have the same musical preferences. Coincidentally, the New York Times published an article during this past week referencing a Pew Research Center study which found that, "Every age group from 16 through 64 listens to rock 'n' roll more than any other format." As I have previously written, "It's just unreasonable to expect someone who grew up listening to rock or r&b or hip-hop or world music to readily take to bebop or retro standards."