Tuesday, September 01, 2009

This is not another post on Terry Teachout

Really, it's not! I'm sure he's a nice guy and all (go ahead and follow him on twitter, and get frequent updates about his vacation with "Mrs. T"). But sweet jebus am I ever tired of hearing about this man and his infamous article. (I'm not even going to link it. You know the one I mean.)

Sorry to lead off with a rant. I mean no offense, really. I've enjoyed following the various smack-downs (and smack-ups), and have even posted a comment here and there myself. It's just that, at this point, for me anyway, it feels counterproductive to spend any more energy on the "death of jazz" musings of a single drama critic writing for a right-wing newspaper.

Like "Ken Burns," "Terry Teachout" seems to be an incredibly stubborn flashpoint. Why can't we just strike that essay from the record? Ignore it, going forward? (Didn't mother always say that was the best way to make a mean kid go away?)

Even if I did feel compelled to mount a full-on objection (at this late date), I wouldn't know who to address my complaints to.

Teachout himself? (As if he would give a shit! What -- is he going to print a retraction?)

Other jazz musicians? (Who among us would disagree that there were flaws in the assessment presented in the article?)

The people outside of the jazz community -- in my view, the very people needed to "save jazz"? (Well, maybe it would be worth it to address that group. But I think I'd rather make the case that jazz has a viable future by trying to create some viable, future-leaning jazz.)

Instead of continuing to reference the Teachout article, I agree with DJA: it's time to start pondering (in a much more proactive way) how jazz (in particular) is going to make the transition to a new economy of music. Because that transition is not going to be easy or obvious. There are bound to be some false starts. (Really: we're making it up as we go. Do you know exactly how it's going to happen?)

Consider the curious case of Nextbop, a freshly-minted Canadian jazz website that seems hell-bent on getting the word out about younger jazz musicians, and is geared, presumably, toward younger audiences. (Why "hell-bent"? $5000 to start a website -- that's dedication!)

Nextbop seems to have a very specific flavor of new jazz in mind (the well-dressed, high-class, and, um, male flavor, I guess). Of course, the site proprietors are entitled to their taste -- and anyway their selection of artists may be a function of exactly which ones have given the legal "go-ahead" (more on that in a second). In any case, even from my perspective well outside of the sub-genre of jazz that the Nextboppers are attempting to represent, a site like this appears to be manna from the heavens. Just the sort of thing that the Terry Teachout article (which I promise I won't mention ever again) seemed to decry the absence of.

And yet, as Peter Hum notes, these guys are actually getting grief for the love they are trying to show. From the site's blog:

I’m going to be brutally honest in saying that the results have been extremely disappointing. First of all, we’ve received very little recognition from the artists we are trying to promote. Most never answered our e-mails, we received very few words of encouragement and one even went as far as to tell us that we had no right to take the bio and the pictures from his website. I don’t think they realize that we took two years of our time to create a website with the sole purpose of promoting them and their music. On top of that, we’re full-time University students (one in Finance and one in Asian studies, if you’re curious) who not only have no money, but who had to borrow some to make this project possible.

We’ve also had a ton of problems with record labels. Being the good law-abiding citizen that I am, I felt it was important for us to obtain the permission from records labels to stream their music on our website. Most of them haven’t answered our e-mails or returned our phone calls, but I was completely stunned when some of them started refusing. We aren’t even allowed to stream songs which are featured on the artists’ MySpace pages! How are we supposed to promote jazz artists and to create a new audience for jazz if people cannot listen to the music?

We’re trying to help the record labels and the artists and not only are we not being paid for this, but it also uses up most of our free time. [...] I’m starting to believe that jazz doesn’t want to be saved. Jazz is barely surviving and it is content with the way things are. Jazz is a music made by jazzmen for jazzmen and this is why the audience is dwindling.


Jazz needs to change its image. People don’t realize that the music has evolved since Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis. Jazz is thought to be either old and corny or complicated and intellectual. That’s one of the things we’re trying to achieve with Nextbop. We want to show that all these preconceptions are wrong. We want to show people that anyone can find something they like in today’s jazz music as long as they are a little open-minded.

So unless I'm missing something, here's the summary. In response to you-know-who, we in the jazz community (not a monolith, but still) say we are in fact all about the kids. And yet when some young whippersnappers want to use modern tools to bring this music to a modern audience, they run into some very real resistance.

What gives?

[Photo credit: JOE M500]

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By the way, did you know that we are currently going all out with our fall fundraiser, in order to support our October tour? You can find out more, and contribute to the cause, here. Thank you!

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