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October 18, 2009

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Michael Steinman

Dear Marc,

Oh, so right . . . and the deluge of "jazz" CDs is full of earnest but sometimes shallow "composing," too. I would add to your suggestion (studying the beautiful sessions of the Forties and Fifties) by adding the decades on either side. Certainly a young singer, for instance, could learn a great deal by listening to Ida Cox, to Lips Page, to Lee Wiley -- and to the great storytellers of jazz's whole panorama on their instruments. I get equally disillusioned and then hear one of my heroes play (Dan Barrett) or discover a new young titan-in-the-making, the altoist Luigi Grasso, who's studied with Barry Harris: he's 23. He gives me hope!

Keep on, my man --

Ian Bradley

Thank you Marc for expressing perfectly how I feel about 'the past'. I often feel a bit bullied and irrelevant in my jazz tastes, since 'the cutting edge' or 'the next new thing' is where real jazz is really supposed to be. The publicity puffs and magazines would have you believe that 'everybody is Bill Evans'. When jazz was the lingua franca of popular music, when it was ubiquitous, there weren't that many 'greats'. How can there be then , nowadays, in our largely jazzless age? It doesn't jusitfy the hyperbole of the press releases and the ever swelling tide of new releases. Thank you for reminding us of perspective - and that honouring the past is a vital part of shaping the future.

Ed Leimbacher

I think it was poet and doctor William Carlos Williams who told us to "Make it new!" But too much of modern Jazz is just old wine in new bottles instead. It's a perfect irony, then, that you have today reviewed still largely unheralded great Bud Shank, who just got tougher and better with age--a saxman who played his best no matter what the circumstances, including his own looming death.

Doug Zielke

Thank you, Marc, for mentioning the last recording of Bud Shank. I'm sure his legion of fans know of his website (http://www.budshankalto.com/), and it's well worth a visit if you're not familiar. Be sure to read his explanation of the dishonesty he suffered at the hands of the Port Townsend festival heavyweights.

Bill Kirchner

Good points! A few of my own observations:

There are way more jazz albums being recorded now than ever before. Therefore, by sheer law of averages, there are bound to be more mediocre-or-worse recordings than ever before.

But there's more to it. More jazz musicians are producing their own recordings than ever before, and many simply don't have the talent or experience for it. Milt Gabler, Norman Granz, George Avakian, Alfred Lion, Orrin Keepnews, et al. had a special gift that is often overlooked--for album concepts, tune selection, pacing, and simply getting the best out of the performers.

And to top things off, the length of the CD (now up to 79 minutes) works against producing a uniformly interesting album. The length of an LP--35-45 minutes--was ideal. The extra playing time of a CD means that many of them go on past their bedtimes. It also means that in order to pay for the additional mechanical licenses of the songs and other increased production costs, the CDs have to be more expensive.

So consumers have rebelled by embracing downloading (both legal and illegal), which means that listeners no longer have to buy tracks that they're not interested in. This, of course, is especially true of young pop listeners.

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  • Marc Myers writes frequently on music and the arts for the Wall Street Journal. He is author of "Why Jazz Happened" (University of California Press). In 2012, JazzWax was named the Jazz Journalists Association's "Blog of the Year."
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