Sunday, December 04, 2011

Jazz Died in 1959

For me, Coltrane is the best of those who pushed jazz music beyond the jazz label.

Trumpeter Nicholas Payton has gotten attention with a post called "On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore . . . ." Payton's piece is not so much about the coolness of jazz as it is about what defines jazz as a genre.

I like pieces like this because the challenge is enjoyable. I happen to love jazz. I love Miles and Coltrane, Monk and Ornette, Art Tatum and Keith Jarrett, Wayne Shorter and Tomasz Stanko, Bobo Stenson and Marilyn Crispell, Mingus and Avishai Cohen, Evan Parker and Charlie Parker. And many others. I love the music, that daring improvisational music.

So Payton has written something daring. In sprawling, swirling fashion, he says:
Jazz is a brand.

Jazz ain’t music, it’s marketing, and bad marketing at that.

It has never been, nor will it ever be, music.

Here lies Jazz (1916 – 1959).

Too many musicians and not enough artists.

I believe music to be more of a medium than a brand.

Silence is music, too.

You can’t practice art.

In order for it to be true, one must live it.
I agree with Payton on the main part of his argument, that the name "jazz" no longer has any useful or meaningful resonance for working artists who are placed under the jazz umbrella.

In the 1960s, Miles Davis started to place "Directions in Music by Miles Davis" on his albums. The term "jazz" no longer described what he was doing, according to his own conception. The contemporary artists I listen to, such as the Esbjorn Svensson Trio and The Bad Plus, do not consider themselves jazz artists, although they clearly love and respect jazz.

I part company with Payton on at least one distinction. I don't see why he separates musicians and artists as groups of people. This seems a self-serving and doctrinaire classification.

I like better the salvo Payton gives in a follow-up post:
The music was just fine before it was called Jazz and will be just fine without the name.

There is nothing to be afraid of except yourselves.

I am Nicholas Payton and I play Black American Music.
I appreciate that he stands his ground, that he defines his own music and makes it available to us. Maybe one day, Payton will decide he no longer plays Black American music but rather plays Nicholas Payton's music. That will be good, too.

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