To be clear…

April 30, 2011

So, I’ve had quite a bit of unexpected response to my blogging. So I just want to be clear, because it seems as though people are misunderstanding. First, I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. And secondly, I wasn’t reared on Jazz, so I’m not playing “favorite genre or sub-genre” here. I listened to lots of music growing up, but I didn’t get to Jazz until 6th grade. Before that it was all classical, rock and roll, and Johnny Cash.

I am not saying that I think Bebop itself destroyed Jazz. I don’t think Jazz today is dead. I am not discounting anything musical any musician did after 1960. I am not saying that the Swing Era is the only era in Jazz that created honest music. I am also not saying that ONLY musicians can understand Bebop.  What I am saying is that some musicians, SOME, not all, had an ego problem and pushed the audience away. And there was enough of that to create a environment where someone could easily think that all Jazz musicians play music that doesn’t make sense to anyone. Of course, people have opinions on all kinds of musicians, but I do seem to hear that same generalization over and over again. I don’t think the audience is stupid, but I know that lots of people have a hard time with change. I think there was a short period of time when bebop started, where the audience didn’t matter anymore because of the intense focus on the art form. Obviously, it didn’t stay that way. But I also think that definitely helped Rock and Roll take off. It also had a lot of things going for it that Jazz had going on in the 20s and 30s. It was catchy, sexy, easy to understand, and high energy.

Look, I really like Bebop. When I started listening to Jazz I was listening to Bebop. I started with Diz and Bird, Bill Evans, Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane…I’ll always love those guys. Evolution is important and inevitable. I’m just saying that music went from being hot to cool. Everyone wants to hang out with the cool kids, but it’s still a clique.  Doesn’t mean I think the music is bad. I’m not planning on writing a book about how I feel attitude affects the audience. Nor am I trying to ostracize a whole sub-genre. That would be silly.

Just something keep in mind when you’re reading; I’m not making blanket assumptions that cover many, many hundreds and thousands of musicians. I am still aware of the many exceptions.

Bebop…Part 2

April 29, 2011

I’m not saying that it was all bad. Of course there were still people who were entertaining. If there weren’t, we wouldn’t know Bebop or Jazz today. Not only were people pouring their love of music out to us, but new musicians were being influenced by Jazz and musicians who really cared. Just a few good examples of these groups are The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elvis, Muddy Waters, and Led Zeppelin. All of these people knew what it was about. They loved music too, and brought it out where the audiences who were starving for a real connection could eat it up. They even kept the blues alive with some of their tunes. And it wasn’t just showmanship or musical ability; they were drowning people with their passion, and everyone wanted to die that way.

Frank was keeping it real, and so was Ella

What I am saying is that Jazz wasn’t honest anymore. It became a vehicle for bragging. There was too much ego involved. I have seen bands where there is no audience connection. It feels like the band is sucking all your energy away. Nobody wants to go home exhausted after a show. You want to go home excited, inspired, filled with joy and desire. You want to feel like you were a part of something. Especially if you have no musical ability yourself. When you play music at a jam with a bunch of other musicians, being totally involved in what your doing is fine. You’ll have more fun if you’re using your passion, but it isn’t required. Showing off is probably fine, too. But you don’t need to be a jackass about it. If you are playing in public and you don’t give a piece of yourself to the audience, they’ll leave feeling like something is missing, even if you are the baddest player in town. We are all people, no one is better than anyone else. Music brought people together in the beginning, and now it’s driving people apart. And keeping people from discovering true gems in our nation’s history. I’m an American, and I don’t think we have anything to brag about. Whatever this country is supposedly great for is nothing compared to the one thing we can claim and be proud of. Jazz.

I don’t think Bebop is bad. I love it, actually. What I think is bad is the attitude it fostered. The canyon it dug between those who played and those who listened. Music is for everyone…period. Why would anyone want it any other way? So, we have a lot of work to do, my fellow players. I’m doing my best to share my love with everyone, but I can’t change the world’s view of Jazz on my own. Remember that tune you used to play that always made you happy no matter what? Bring that one out the next time you have a gig. Share it with your audience. Play a song people know and do it the way they want to hear it, not the way you think it should be played. Tell a story. Make people laugh. Life is hard enough without all of us pushing our egos on others. Relax. It’s just music. It’s only the closest we can get to Heaven on Earth.

Share that joy, you have no idea how you might change someone’s life.

     I’ve realized there are hardly any people in my age group that actually care about Jazz. Most people are into Lady Gaga and Jay-Z. Why is this? I think one of the biggest reasons is Bebop actually hurt the genre.

I was very fortunate to have parents that exposed me to all sorts of music as I was growing up, and there was something about the truth of Jazz that sucked me in. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE classic rock. I love classical music, I love show tunes, I love Middle Eastern music, and there is something about the music that comes out of Spain that will always make me cheat on Jazz. There’s a life-long affair for me there. But here’s the thing: Jazz isn’t afraid to admit it’s blue all the time. I’ve heard some fantastic classical music that starts out dark and never fails to have a happy center or ending. It drives me crazy! Can’t it be dark the whole time? There is more total darkness in Jazz than there is in any other genre I have listened to, not including Spanish music. I like it’s darkness, but I also like the honesty.

     Let’s start a little before the origins of Jazz and get to the meat of it. In the 1920s Charleston and the flapper took over the world. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was listening to Jazz. It was the developed world’s most popular form of music. It was catchy, sexy, easy to understand, and redefined American society’s outlook on how people should interact with each other. Girls were doing the Charleston on airplane wings, women were flooding the workplace, free love was becoming vogue again, and an underground of nightclubs was created when Prohibition hit. It wouldn’t die, no matter how hard our Puritan forefathers tried to crush it. And why should it? It was and still is America’s only purely original art form.

Everyone loved Jazz. This continued throughout the Depression, and even Europe went crazy with it. When recording bans in America put a damper on the music making business, they could travel to Europe where they were greeted by thousands of people who couldn’t get enough. Today, Jazz is more loved in Europe than it is appreciated in its homeland. Into the 1950’s people were still listening to Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Rock and Roll had taken the mainstream crowds, but it seems to me that they were co-existing quite comfortably until Bebop really exploded. And that’s when it died. Completely. Why? Because no one besides a musician really understood Bebop.

Don’t get me wrong, Bebop needed to happen and was going to happen no matter what. And, today musicians and non-musicians alike enjoy/understand Bebop and Jazz. It changed the music for the good. And everything has to evolve, or it will die. But, in this case, the evolution was too quick and mishandled. When something changes that quickly, you have to keep in mind that the only way to keep it going is to make sure that the people who like to experience it can follow it. But the opposite happened. Musicians stopped caring about the audience. We forgot what we played for. We’ve always played more than just our own love of music. We played for other people’s love, too. And, to share that love with the world. But, Miles Davis was notorious for turning his back on his audience. The music became an elitist head trip that anyone without some serious music education and appreciation skills could follow. People came out to experience it, but the appreciation dropped drastically and people started making assumptions about Jazz and the musicians who played it. Someone told me the other day, when I asked them about getting a gig, that the owners didn’t want  to hire Jazz musicians because they were snobby old guys who bring in their own scotch, treat the bartenders crappily, and play jam music that doesn’t make sense. Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like the kind of music I play.

To be continued…

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