So one distracted morning last week I decided to jump back into the jazz blogosphere by offering a comment on NPR's A Blog Supreme, specifically in response to an interesting post called "Oh, The Kids These Days." The always alert and thoughtful Patrick Jarenwattananon decided to turn that comment into a full-blown post of his own, and here we are.
It was a weird comment to write, though not unrelated to things I have said on JTMoU before. As a bandleader, I am exceedingly frustrated by the idea that art might do better (qua art) -- that it might be more interesting and vibrant and vital -- in a microcosm, because the bottom line of that scenario is most likely less work and less bread for me and my (large and unwieldy) band. And that too is essentially the POV articulated by all of the "con" commenters who responded to PJ's question. (In my original remarks I should probably have made a distinction between "smallness" and "viability." I definitely was not suggesting that it would be better for jazz to lack viability.)
But I am also, as I said, a music fan. And as a fan, I am always tempted by the impulse to run screaming in the opposite direction whenever I know I am being actively sought out as a consumer. And that's probably the point that I should have magnified. Call it the observer-expectancy effect, or late industrial capitalism-induced paranoia, or what you will.
Of course, this point too is kind of ridiculous, if you think about it. The intentions of the boosters are certainly pure. Alas, my fanhood habits were developed as an adolescent, and in some ways I never grew out of the way it felt to love music in that insubordinate context. Unlike most of my friends, whose parents listened to classic rock and roll, and were thus at least tolerant of subsequent forms of youth-oriented popular music, I grew up in a household in which "The Windmills of Your Mind" was unironically considered to be good stuff. The first rock and roll album I heard from beginning to end -- Hey Jude, by the Beatles -- was a true shock in that environment. And from that point on, underneath all the other layers through which I learned to enjoy music, I have always valued it first as an expression of rebellion. (Silly, I know.) Being openly analyzed as a hypothetical customer tends to ruin that effect.
There is an extent to which the debates over jazz's future -- whether of the "jazz is dead!" or "jazz is making a comeback!" variety -- depend and even thrive on one another, and are really just two sides of the same coin. The problem that I was carelessly lashing out over, I now realize, was the sin of excessive self-consciousness, the sort of interminable navel-gazing that is usually symptomatic of decadence and the effete. It is the inevitable byproduct of jazz finding a home in institutions, and on the blogs -- if not in the hearts of a wider audience. (Don't get me wrong -- as a frequenter of both institutions and blogs, I am as much to blame for the problem as anyone else.)
I guess what I was positing was that being satisfied with being "small" (whatever that means) -- or better yet, letting go of (or at least dialing back on) the "whither jazz?" meme altogether -- is a way for musicians and fans alike to escape the oppressiveness of self-reflection run amok. What about the novel idea that we could attract "the kids" (or any neophytes, actually) simply by being hopelessly caught up in the process of unselfconsciously (insofar as that is possible in 2010) creating and adoring great music? Would that not be better than having to talk said kids/neophytes into their attraction? (And is it not ironic that I am articulating this idea so very self-consciously?)
Maybe I'm being uncharacteristically purist here, but isn't it better to have someone love you for who you are, rather than for how well you sell yourself, how well you know yourself, or how much pity you make them feel?