THIS IS AN ADDENDUM TO AN EARLIER POST ON DECIPHERINGCULTURE.COM: Regenerating Jazz
Is the future of jazz in its past?
There’s a lot of talk lately about why jazz has been losing its audience despite decades of efforts to build infrastructure. There is hardly a university music program that does not include a jazz studies program and jazz festivals (and affiliated community programs) abound. The place of jazz in musical histories is secure and the tension between the “classical” and “revolutionary” approaches to jazz historiography seems no longer relevant with the revolutionary voices having left the field (or at least become as absent from the media landscape as jazz itself seems to be — who’s carrying on Frank Kofsky‘s work now that he’s gone). The deep rooting of jazz in the African American experience has been subverted by its widespread acceptance as America’s classical music, its one true art form. I think this has implications for the survival of jazz as a vibrant part of America’s soundscape. The classicizing of jazz has been going on for a while.
The publication of Grover Sales’ Jazz: America’s Classical Music in 1984 sparked an intellectual and cultural frenzy. Sales not only transformed jazz from a cultural product rooted in the African American experience to a cultural product rooted in the American experience, but he also reclassified jazz (an urban folk music) as a national classical music. Whether or not Sales was the first to meAntion jazz as America’s classical music is not as important as the amount of publicity the idea received from the first printing of his text…. Today, jazz is more highly regarded as America’s classical music rather than America’s “rare and valuable national treasure.” In my opinion, these are two diametrically opposed concepts. (The Non-Classical Nature of America’s Classical Music by Emmet G. Price III in All About Jazz, 2003).
In my opinion, there has been a big downside to the success of the classicizing of jazz. Like European classical music, there is a general perception that the best jazz has to offer is firmly entrenched in the past, and not in the sense of a tradition and roots to draw upon but dead masters to venerate. This approach stultifies symphony programs and pushes innovative music to the margins. It seems to be doing the same to jazz.