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Interesting view of jazz and black culture

RayB

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I read an interesting article in latest Harper's magazine (December 2022), "WHEN BEALE STREET WAS HOT". It's an excerpt from an interview with critic and historian Greg Tate, taken from book titled, "Ain't But a Few of Us", a collection of conversations with black jazz critics (edited by Willard Jenkins, Duke University Press).

"With jazz...so few educated Afican Americans even support it, preferring black pop.
The real problem with jazz is that it's no longer a form of expression where what black musicians do or don't do matters to most black Americans. Jazz has more meaning for black Americans as a history lesson than a living, breathing cultural experience . It's not on black radio or on black TV programs; it's not in black schools, neighborhoods or churches. The question is how much longer contemporary jazz will even be considered a "black" art form in America. If culture is defined as what people do, then we can say that, in significant numbers, black people don't do jazz anymore."

Mr, Tate goes on to say his parents are from Memphis of the Forties and Fifties, when Beale Street was hot. People considered jazz musicians as part of the community, not remote stars on a pedestal. They could go to see six or seven acts for a dollar. He contrasts that with going to see Beyoncé in a stadium for two to three hundred dollars a ticket. Tate recalls that the jazz of Coltrane and his contemporaries was considered an integral part of grass-roots black politics. It's been a long time since jazz was significant to the black community. As for jazz popularity, when do you see young black people heading to jazz clubs?

Mr. Tate's thoughts resonate with me as a drummer and life-long jazz lover. For many years, the audience for the musical styles of Muddy Waters and great Chicago blues men from late 1940's through 1960 has been almost exclusively white. B. B. King said it broke his heart when the black audience at the Apollo Theater booed him in the early 60's. Fortunately, the popularity of blues with white audiences proved to be very lucrative for these great blues artists.

I've witnessed jazz becoming an increasingly intellectual music for white audiences. I heard firsthand the frustration of black people confronting expensive cover charges only wealthier white people and tourists could afford in NY jazz clubs, even though they felt total affinity with the black jazz musicians playing inside. The progression of culture takes unexpected turns. There was a time in the 1920s where jazz was not considered respectable music. Now it's taught at universities and conservatories, a music for discerning audiences. I read in this Forum drummers referring to "bop" gigs and the drums/cymbals required. What is a "bop" gig these days? I know when manufacturers market bop kits, it's synonymous with 18" bass drum.

I do not bring up this topic as a criticism of musicians who love playing jazz. Indeed, it takes a lot of skill and dedication to perform any type of jazz. But sometimes I watch a jazz group and while I respect how good they are, it also feels like it's a tribute band to a past era. As with classical music, the cultural link is not to any community anymore. Jazz was born and nurtured by African Americans, the truly greatest contribution to music that emerged from this country.
 

JimmyM

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I think jazz musicians since the glory days of jazz have done a very poor job of relating to the people, with a few exceptions. Jazz has become the music for musicians, not the people. Don’t blame the people for abandoning it…blame the musicians for abandoning the people. I can’t speak to why Black Americans have abandoned it by and large, but I can tell you that I have zero interest in hearing musicians run scales really fast as they lecture me about why I should appreciate them.
 

mtarrani

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The same can be said of jazz and white audiences. Listeners have moved on. Folks like myself who love jazz will keep it alive as a cult, but it is never going to become mainstream again. Personally (and, yes, this will spike the blood pressure of some folks here), I consider early rap to be a branch of jazz based on the incredible improvisation of that genre. Rap spawned other branches, so jazz isn't dead (nor is it even smelling funny as Frank Zappa once quipped), but is living in disguise. My opinion, of course.

As far as those of us who consider ourselves to be jazz musicians, I view my role as guarding something sacred and creative that was created by African Americans, and one of the defining (US) American gifts to the world.
 
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thenuge

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It’s very interesting to me that Biggie and Donald Harrison were very close early on. You don’t hear the jazz influence in Biggie’s music literally, but I think it’s there figuratively. Or maybe it is literal..

This begs the question then: why does anyone young hear jazz and say yes. Whether they are a player or listener, black or white, what is it? The sound of it, ok. But under it, the thing that inspired it, I think that’s it.

If freedom or equality has been the goal all along then now is no different. If anyone black or white listens to jazz and hears or listens to rap and hears it or listens to nothing at all and still..’hears it’. That’s what matters. It’s a fight, and it ain’t over.
 

JazzAcolyte

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The community of jazz musicians I am part of in New Jersey is quite diverse, as are the audiences at the jam sessions. And the Black musicians are not just older - I regularly see Black teenagers and college students on the bandstands at North Jersey jam sessions.
 

Steech

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I’ve heard and seen a variety of bands calling their music jazz and to me what they do sounds nothing like Miles or Coltrane or their influences. In my opinion it’s still jazz though. If we are lamenting the possible fact that a specific form or style of jazz has lost popularity, then I think that is a bit of a pointless discussion, as art forms evolve over time. I don’t listen to Buddy Holly or Bill Hailley (sp?) and the Comets but I do listen to and love rock n roll.
 

RIDDIM

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The community of jazz musicians I am part of in New Jersey is quite diverse, as are the audiences at the jam sessions. And the Black musicians are not just older - I regularly see Black teenagers and college students on the bandstands at North Jersey jam sessions.
Same here, in Baltimore and DC. It helps to be in an area where it's live, burning and accessible.
 

JimmyM

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The community of jazz musicians I am part of in New Jersey is quite diverse, as are the audiences at the jam sessions. And the Black musicians are not just older - I regularly see Black teenagers and college students on the bandstands at North Jersey jam sessions.
I have seen some of the younger folks who play jazz bringing a sense of fun and adventure back into the process, and if it’s to survive beyond being a museum piece, that’s what is going to make it happen. Make it relatable to the people, make it more in line with the current musical climate, and it will survive and even thrive.
 

RayB

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I think jazz musicians since the glory days of jazz have done a very poor job of relating to the people, with a few exceptions. Jazz has become the music for musicians, not the people. Don’t blame the people for abandoning it…blame the musicians for abandoning the people. I can’t speak to why Black Americans have abandoned it by and large, but I can tell you that I have zero interest in hearing musicians run scales really fast as they lecture me about why I should

I have seen some of the younger folks who play jazz bringing a sense of fun and adventure back into the process, and if it’s to survive beyond being a museum piece, that’s what is going to make it happen. Make it relatable to the people, make it more in line with the current musical climate, and it will survive and even thrive.
I agree with you 100%.
I posted the piece from Harper's magazine because I found it thought-provoking and wanted to hear the response from fellow drummers. I respect everyone's point of view and it's great to hear that "jazz" is indeed happening in various communities.
Of course jazz, whatever the term means to different people, must evolves over time. I don't care what direction it takes. What matters is that it has fresh energy and connects with an audience here and now. And, dare I say, it's fun. I don't enjoy museum piece jazz performances anymore, I welcome the new whether or not it's my cup of tea.
 

Tornado

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Jazz was king in the 30's, 40's, 50's because it was dance music that gave the majority of young folks exactly what they wanted out of music. The huge audience created was winnowed out starting with bebop and the emergence of a new dominant dance music.
Right. People like pop music. Always have, and always will. What is considered pop is what changes throughout the years, but jazz like bebop was never, ever, it.
 

mtarrani

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Right. People like pop music. Always have, and always will. What is considered pop is what changes throughout the years, but jazz like bebop was never, ever, it.
Amen. I think that the authors of the article that the original poster cited were asking the wrong question; i.e., why did African Americans reject jazz. The larger question is why did jazz shrink to it's present state? A valid answer is it was a generational shift. The younger generation will always reject the tastes of the generation before it and find their own way. Elvis and company sounded the death knell for jazz, and the British invasion relegated Elvis and company to the old fashioned, corny bin. Of course there will be "old souls" who seem to be born in the wrong era who will cling to older music that had been relegated to the corny bin before they were born. There will be others like myself who were born in the late 40s, grew up in the 50s and 60s, and changed with the evolving tastes of youth ... only to appreciate our parents' music later in life (music, I might add, that embarrassed me in my teen years when my friends were over and my parents played that stuff.) Great music will eventually find its way into the ears, hearts and passions of a few of us, and will win over those who "discovered" it long after that music becomes passe, but it is never going to find its way back into the mainstream.
 
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mebeatee

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Amen. I think that the authors of the article that the original poster cited were asking the wrong question; i.e., why did African Americans reject jazz. The larger question is why did jazz shrink to it's present state? A vaid answer is it was a generational shift. The younger generation will always reject the tastes of the generation before it and find their own way. Elvis and company sounded the death knell for jazz, and the British invasion relegated Elvis and company to the old fashioned, corny bin. Of course there will be "old souls" who seem to be born in the wrong era who will cling to older music that had been relegated to the corny bin before they were born. There will be others like myself who were born in the late 40s, grew up in the 50s and 60s, and changed with the evolving tastes of youth ... only to appreciate our parents' music later in life (music, I might add, that embarrassed me in my teen years when my friends were over and my parents played that stuff.) Great music will eventually find its way into the ears, hearts and passions of a few of us, and will win over those who "discovered" it long after that music became passe, but it is never going to find its way back into the mainstream.

Ya gotta remember “jazz” at one time was the “pop”ular music of the day....back in the day. Nowadaze it’s not, and it...”jazz”...along with “pop”ular music morphs and changes like the seasons and really never goes anywhere, as the music and hopefully players, will always be there...though sometimes it’s better to be exclusive....;)
Interesting as one can also put any current musical fixations into the above...sub out rock and roll for jazz and edm for pop....same difference....how many times has rock and guitar music been given the death sentence from the latest dance sensation. You could even insert real c+w for jazz and new country for pop, etc etc.
Wait a while....ya never know....is it fizz...pop or pop...fizz......
bt
 

mtarrani

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Ya gotta remember “jazz” at one time was the “pop”ular music of the day....back in the day. Nowadaze it’s not, and it...”jazz”...along with “pop”ular music morphs and changes like the seasons and really never goes anywhere, as the music and hopefully players, will always be there...though sometimes it’s better to be exclusive....;)
Interesting as one can also put any current musical fixations into the above...sub out rock and roll for jazz and edm for pop....same difference....how many times has rock and guitar music been given the death sentence from the latest dance sensation. You could even insert real c+w for jazz and new country for pop, etc etc.
Wait a while....ya never know....is it fizz...pop or pop...fizz......
bt
That's basically what I said. The newer generation was not interested in the older generation's pop (jazz), so they went in a different direction (changes and morphs.) You made my case. Thanks.
 

cribbon

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Jazz was king in the 30's, 40's, 50's because it was dance music that gave the majority of young folks exactly what they wanted out of music. The huge audience created was winnowed out starting with bebop and the emergence of a new dominant dance music.
I agree with this except for the inclusion of jazz still being king in the '50s - that was a decade when popular dance music shifted away from jazz to C&W, rockabilly and then to nascent rock and roll.

Tito Puente observed that any music has to be associated with some type of dance if it wants to become popular: no dance, no chance. And bebop was definitely - almost defiantly, I'd say - not a dance music, which swing music most definitely was during its heyday. The mid-90s micro-momentary revival of jazz as a popular music was due to the fact that it was a swing revival and people could dance to it; if someone had tried to sell bebop to the public again, it would have fallen flat on its face.
 

JimmyM

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I agree with this except for the inclusion of jazz still being king in the '50s - that was a decade when popular dance music shifted away from jazz to C&W, rockabilly and then to nascent rock and roll.

Tito Puente observed that any music has to be associated with some type of dance if it wants to become popular: no dance, no chance. And bebop was definitely - almost defiantly, I'd say - not a dance music, which swing music most definitely was during its heyday. The mid-90s micro-momentary revival of jazz as a popular music was due to the fact that it was a swing revival and people could dance to it; if someone had tried to sell bebop to the public again, it would have fallen flat on its face.
Ya, I respect the skill of bebop players but it’s a very hard listen.
 

RayB

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Jazz was king in the 30's, 40's, 50's because it was dance music that gave the majority of young folks exactly what they wanted out of music. The huge audience created was winnowed out starting with bebop and the emergence of a new dominant dance music.
With all due respect, Greg Tate is not addressing how jazz ceased to play a major role in pop and dance music. He's addressing the current status of jazz in the African American community. After jazz ceased to be dominant in the overall culture, black artists Miles, Mingus, Wes Montgomery, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Coltrane and many others continued to shape the direction of jazz. Some of their music directly addressed racism and grassroots politics at the time.
Even at the height of jazz popularity there was a disparity between who created and shaped the music and who gained the most in $$ and reputation. An entire generation of white "swing" musicians were totally influenced by King Oliver, Louis Armsrtrong, Johnny and Baby Dodds and other black artists. While that was going on, Paul Whiteman with his big lumbering orchestra was dubbed "The King of Jazz". Benny Goodman was labeled "King of Swing" in the big band era, making hit records and lucrative live appearances playing great Fletcher Henderson arrangements. Henderson's innovative black band, at one time featuring Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, and other all-time great musicians, never made enough money to survive into the big band era. Goodman brought some Henderson's arrangements for $25 a piece! Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller had hugely successful big bands; they were not in the same league with the creativity of Duke Ellington's orchestra. The fantastic groove of Basie's rthym section changed the entire concept of a rthym section. A drummer on this Forum had the balls to write Benny Goodman invented swing.
There is no era where the dominant (white) culture doesn't co-opt and profit from every art form. I could fill this page up with the names of jazz musicians who created and shaped how their instruments are played. The essential concepts of jazz in every era were guided by Louis, Duke, Parker, Miles, Mingus, Monk, Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and on and on.
When R&B and rock took over as poplar music, gee, who influenced that? Elvis Presley wasn't adapting the music of Pat Boone. Think gospel music wasn't adapted to do-wop? English blues bands and guitarists feeding American teenagers music they copied from black blues bands. If you listen to early Rolling Stones records, they're filled with almost exact copies of Chess Chicago blues recordings. We love it, but one could argue the greatest cultural appropriations of the 20th century were jazz, blues and rock.
From England, Eric Burdon and the Animals made their bones mid 1960s with a cover of "House of the Rising Sun". Burdon was a huge blues fan, so when the Animals made their first American tour, he couldn't wait to visit clubs where they played the blues. He said in an interview when he asked some of his American fans where to see the blues, their response was basically, "we don't go to those places, they're filled with________"
By the start of the 21st century, there's no denying the majority of jazz fans (and blues fans) were white. Greg Tate observes that today, jazz has no significant presence in his community. After a century of creating and developing this brilliant art form, what happened? It was so much more than just dance music, it was a source of cultural pride.
The answer, he hopes, is that once again the music of the new century is being created by black artists: It's Hip Hop. He sees young people starting to merge that with the roots of jazz. He hopes it isn't taken over and packaged by big corporate music. Good luck; unfortunately, it's the American way.
 


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