In the seventh and final video interview supporting the publication of my book, Why Jazz Happened, I talk about jazz's future. Without a doubt, jazz and jazz musicians have it rough today. But why? What broad trends in our culture are causing jazz to suffer? [Cover photo by Herb Snitzer]
Three reasons: First, like it or not, we're living in a visual era, when performance is as much about entertaining the eyes as the ears. Modern jazz musicians know little about acting or entertaining.
Second, catchy melodies are just about extinct. For decades the appeal of jazz relied on reinventing the familiar—taking what we know to a higher level through swing and improvisation. Today, bass lines and beats drive popular music, not melodies, leaving the well dry for jazz. [Photo above: Paul McCartney at Madison Square Garden's 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief, by Getty Images]
And third, many young people in college aren't being taught jazz's dramatic story, only jazz's series of styles—an approach that's clearly boring them to tears. As a result, jazz is viewed as a chore, not a nail-biter or awakening.
Back in 1967, jazz, rock and blues musicians all hung out together—particularly at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. The rock album was just catching on, and rock musicians needed ways to extend songs and solos. Their role models were jazz musicians, who had been recording long since the mid-'50s, when the 12-inch LP was introduced.
Here's vibraphonist Gary Burton on the Summer of Love, from pp. 212-213 of Why Jazz Happened...
The Gary Burton Quartet spent extended periods in San Francisco, at one point playing for a month at the Trident in Sausalito. "This was the height of the psychedelic scene out there, which was a big influence on our music," he said. "Then producer Bill Graham discovered us. I had known Bill from the early sixties, when he had booked the George Shearing Quintet and I was a member of the group. Bill told me he wanted to include more jazz at the Fillmore. He said his biggest challenge was that most jazz groups were too stylistically removed to be compatible with the rock scene. He said my group was perfect."
Burton's quartet ended up spending eight weeks at a shot playing around San Francisco. "We'd go out to Mill Valley in Marin County north of San Francisco with [rock guitarist] Mike Bloomfield," Burton said. "Many rock acts of the time had homes up there. At parties, we'd hear talk about Jefferson Airplane. We were both on the RCA label at the time. I liked the band personally, but I wasn't a huge fan of their music.
A big JazzWax thanks to Fred Seibert, Mike Hamer and Zoë Barton.
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