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August 01, 2010


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George Grella

As someone who had their own hissy fit over your remarks, I think you're wrong. Or, at the very least, you offer absolutely nothing to support your assertions that: "people in their 20s tend to consume music less intensively than past generations thanks to new technology and that jazz's future doesn't bode well given the concentration needed to fully grasp the art form and message."

You may feel this way, but you're making a quantitative statement, and you have no measurements. How did you measure the intensity of listening in this generation to previous ones? I'm being serious; maintaining music in a digital database, rather than a shelf of LPs, and listening via earbuds, rather than speakers or earphones (which previous generations have used), is less intense how? The idea is fundamentally counterintuitive. I think technology demonstrates the opposite; there is an inherent physical intensity to listening to music via earbuds, enhanced by the psychological intensity of listening while mobile, and having music recontextualized your immediate environment. I'm not pulling this out of my ass, this is fundamental to psychoacoustics.

Your comment about the concentration needed makes no sense either, and it is again unsupported. Describe this concentration; how does it compare to listening to a symphony, or a piece of abstract group improvisation, or a field recording? Because young people are listening to all of those as well. And for a variety of reasons, it actually takes less concentration to listen to a classic Blue Note recording of Steve Lehman's latest CD than it does to listen to the Mahler 2nd Symphony or "Olu Iwa" because the physical effect of the rhythm is more immediate and more enthralling, and because both the duration of listening (track by track) and the simpler large scale structure of the music means that there's less following along and more plain listening (your mileage may vary depending on your intimate knowledge of the Mahler score).

You may be right and the rest of us may be wrong, but on their face your assertions are senseless, and they are nothing but assertions. Oh, before I forget: hissssssss

Ed Leimbacher

Ka-Blu-ie! Ontogeny regurgitates philogeny! Embryo yields to Image Brio! Stop motion animation will never be the same... Now, Marc, maybe you can turn the creative cats loose on that album jacket; Ms. McDonald had a form that merits live action, ee-yi-o.

Jim Cullum

Lots of good stuff here:
but no audio clips, unfortunately. It does say she sang with Charlie Barnet, though.

Marco Romano

MP3's vs a well mastered CD or LP. Loudness versus volume. Audio compression vs. High Fidelity-Full Spectrum audio. The way in which much music is listened to defines how it is consumed. The fact that many people believe distorted mp3's to be superior in sound quality is an example of how far we have come.

With all due respect, Marc, here is my view on "F" generation:

Eric Hines

1) The digital revolution has changed the way music is consumed. This isn't subjective. The music industry says so. 2) People in their early 20s grew up with computers and digital downloads and absorb music differently than the LP generation. This isn't a put-down. They did and they do. 3) Too much choice breeds distraction, anticipation and the urge to sample rather than consume and digest. No? Try attending the Fancy Food Show sometime.

1. Because the "music industry" says so, it is so? How about some actual evidence that the way music is listened to has changed in any fundamental way. We have plenty of evidence that the way music is purchased (or not) has changed. Your "argument" crashes and burns over the fact that you don't even attempt to show that listening was ever really much different than it is today. Pointing to a bunch of technological changes doesn't tell us anything about actual listening habits.

2. "People in their early 20s grew up with computers and digital downloads and absorb music differently than the LP generation. This isn't a put-down. They did and they do." Any evidence for this?

3. "Too much choice breeds distraction" Yes, but what counts as a choice. Theoretically we can choose amongst everything that is available on the market. We always could have, but certain things don't register as options for most people simply by being theoretically available. I don't really get the impression that young folks as overwhelmed by choice as you imply--they naturally limit their options and ignore much of what is theoretically available, much as we have always done.

Steve Grover

I enjoy your blog, Marc, and read it everyday, but the kind of critical reaction you're getting to the post about listeners in their '20s- mostly from that younger demographic- is understandable. The context of your blog is primarily retro. There is scant reference to current jazz trends, which is fine. But within this context you offer an opinion about how young people don't listen properly anymore and don't concentrate, based upon anecdotal evidence. What can you expect? "They" (those grumpy older jazz folks) said much the same thing about my (your?) generation in the '70s: rock/pop music is crap, the current jazz of the time is superficial or noisy, nobody has a sense of 'history' or knows jazz repertoire,fusion is evil, television has ruined people's ability to pay attention, etc. It is a historical complaint, and holds an element of truth. But after teaching music for 30 years I know that young people can understand jazz if they are exposed to live performance, as well as recorded music. I think we should be encouraging people of all ages to listen to music any way they can, given how devalued music and art are in our society, which is not the fault of younger people.

Ian Carey

Mr. Romano: Audio quality is a red herring. A) most digital downloads are available in high-quality or lossless format nowadays (and the folks to whom that's important are driving that change); and B) if losing a few herz here and there is keeping you from absorbing the spirit of the music, that's unfortunate, but it's never been the case for me. I can get plenty of spirit out of a third-generation copy of a bootleg (or a scratched-up old LP for that matter) if the music is good in the first place.

Marc: thanks for your response--I waver between heady optimism and deep pessimism myself, but lately I think things are looking up (musically, that is--the business is another, sadder, story).


Here is a link to "The Body Sings" at with sound clips:



Thanks for the link Larry. Obviously this is aimed at a 1950s "easy listening" audience, but her intonation is excellent and she has a lovely voice - or is it just the legs that I'm hearing?

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's best blog award.

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