Let's face it… Jazz as a musical force is not what it was back in its heyday.
Yes, jazz continues to evolve with its never ending strive for innovation; Jazz radio stations remain very popular, and as I hear from Voice of America's Jazz America program every Saturday morning (Kuwait local time), the amount of new Jazz music that comes out is phenomenal- given its dwindling sales and lack of promotion.
I feel I have to take something off my chest.
Jazz has always been not just a music genre sophisticated in its technicality, but also a social movement.
From the late 20's Swing Era, commonly associated with speakeasies where alcohol in the US at that time was illegal, to the 30's with movements led by Louis Armstrong, 40's with Bebop legends Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, 50's Hard-Bop from Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, to the avant-garde 60's of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Sun-Ra and to the 70's & 80's with Jazz Fusion, and the revival periods with Wynton Marsalis, to today with Nujazz and Chill Out DJs worldwide.
Jazz, in almost every era, had a social impact and aspect to it. Mainly it was an African-American movement and was associated with their struggle. Then it became a significant vehicle that taught freedom concepts in the former USSR and the other socialist bloc countries. Not only was it an art, but it was also a form of expressing the inner self.
Jazz now is mostly supported by the nostalgic fans and "heritage" supporters, as well as the new-thinkers who want to move forward with this genre (the never ending debate within the Jazz community). Hence we get a new divide, which is, "Is Jazz for everyone, or just an elitist group of individuals?"
Case in point: For the past few years in Kuwait, there have been annual "Jazz Fesitvals" that are mostly performed at the Radisson Blu Hotel. They are upscale events that attract the social elite, with tickets costing up to KD25 for a lavish buffet (You can read my review of last year's event here).
This year, Karen Edwards was invited to play at the Radisson again; this time as a solo artist for the same price.
This means that you are paying more to listen to one artist, whereas previously there were at least three performances, and the same concept applies, i.e. a black and white affair, which goes against the very core concept of jazz. How many of those who went actually know the history of jazz, let alone are fans of the genre?
Worldwide, jazz festivals cost much less and have much more things going on. A local example would be the Dubai Jazz Fesitval.
Jazz is not meant to be an art form for the elite. Christian McBride said "Make no mistake, this music is for everyone. Jazz is not an exclusive, elite club." And I agree. From the onset, jazz was originated as a social movement and it still inspires free thinking and forward advancement of the art.
Perhaps no other music form has evolved as much as jazz did.
-Ali Sleeq; Syndicated from his blog Speak The Blues
Image Credits: Dino De Luca