Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I stand corrected

Turns out I was wrong (I'm happy to say). Some people do dance in New York. Here's the evidence:

That's (fellow New Jersey native) Marco Benevento (and trio), performing as part of NYC's recent Winter Jazzfest. In case you missed it, various writeups and responses have been helpfully catalogued by Peter Hum (who, like me, was unable to attend, due to a hellish commute). I was particularly struck by the stories of sold-out shows and standing-room only crowds on Saturday evening. Not bad for a lineup that was decidedly not dominated by international-headliner, household-name, jazz-legend types. Ben Ratliff even referred to the event in terms that some of us have been dreaming about for a few years now, as "a jazz equivalent of South by Southwest."

In other words, a very strong way to start 2010.

Of course, it's not like that sort of thing had no precedent in the aughts. The Bakersfield Jazz Festival, for instance, has consistently (and successfully) managed to present a small but compelling sampler from the broad spectrum of jazz, for an audience of thousands. Still, reading the exuberant WJF live-tweets on Saturday night, I got the impression that something that has been building for a while, in furiously-spinning but disconnected eddies, finally had a chance to coalesce somehow.

Maybe this will be the year that the prospect of being an "up-and-comer" in jazz no longer seems like an exercise in futility. Maybe the music will even become broadly relevant again. (Is that too ambitious? You may be surprised to learn that I do in fact have a very stubborn Romantic-idealistic streak. No worries -- check in with me again tomorrow and I'll be back to my cynical self.)

Did something change in the last year? And if so, what?

Are we merely looking at the best-case-scenario impact of the social web? Of the new bloggers that appeared almost daily in 2009? Of improvements to the delivery of digital music? Of the #jazzlives campaign?

That all seems probable, even obvious, but does it explain things fully? The social web, after all, has been around for awhile. Perhaps something deeper has shifted.

Perhaps the music is finally benefitting (in a broader way, and somewhat counterintuitively) from the fact that we are now several generations into its institutionalization. Maybe that's time enough to allow for a bit of self-reflexiveness about formerly tempestuous subjects like the "jazz wars." And for the emergence of a critical mass of work that is neither slavishly enthralled by "the tradition," nor hell-bent on trashing it. Maybe we're even in for a new period of synthesis in the jazz dialectic.

I wonder.

The real test of this (admittedly half-assed) hint of a hypothesis will be whether something like WJF 2010 is broadly and consistently replicable going forward -- as opposed to being a geographically-limited, one-off fluke.

I'm sincerely hoping for the former.

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