My good friend, Williard Jenkins, has a blog he has had for many years, called Open Sky, and one of the open discussions he has been having concerns the music of jazz and it’s lack of a Black audience. Here are a few comments from that discussion and some emails and from my point of view.
The reference to the question of where the term ‘jazz’ is relative in today’s world and where has it gone and how we can recapture it is one that is elusive not only today but in years past. Recalling an article many years ago in a Down Beat Magazine interview in where Betty Carter remarked that she saw less and less Black people in her audiences. That awareness has been evident not only in Black audiences but in White audiences as well. White audiences I had conversations with became aware of it especially when they were attending performances years ago with Black performers, like Harry Belafonte or Sammy Davis. Many remarked to me, why don’t we see more Black people in audiences where major artists like Harry and Sammy perform? So, I think there are many answers rather than just a few.
Natalie Bullock Brown sees it as an integration of audiences. An argument can be made that could be an answer, but I don’t think so. That’s too easy. Sure, our involvement with other races may make us change our habits and our tastes as well, but what has that got to do with our music? And, who influences who when it comes to listening to jazz?
There has been much discussion about how and where that audience hears jazz, creative music, or Black American Music. There are night clubs, a disappearing breed, concert halls, and other media outlets like Television. And where are the audiences going to hear these concerts. There are community outlets, museums, local community halls and venues, where not only local musicians perform it, but name artists are brought in as well. This effort is to make artists performances affordable and to give them an audience that they don’t usually have.
I think that the reason jazz has lost much of its audience, and remember, jazz has not gone away and never will, it just has to find itself and a new place, a new venue. There is a new approach to how jazz is marketed, performed, produced and exposed today. There are no mangers per se in the music business today. Jazz artists produce their own recordings, whether they are producing themselves or others producing and recording them. In todays world, jazz artists and musicians and singers market their own recordings, selling them at performance venues, and wherever the audience is at their performances. So, where is jazz as we knew it? It’s in a different place, not available in many local record shops as we know them, because there are no record shops in todays marketplace.
Then there are the artists themselves, who are a mixture of ethnicity, and who are influencing the music from their own ethnic backgrounds. The exposure to jazz as we know it has changed. Therefore, we, the audience has to learn to change with it, to grow with it. But, it needs to be exposed to a general audience, and it needs an outlet.
Jazz music in the hands of a Dizzy Gillespie or a John Coltrane had to grow. It had to grow because its evolution depended on the masters that created that music. Sure, those of us who were dependent on that music thrived on it because Dizzy, Miles Davis and John Coltrane were continuously creating it and improving on it. It was fresh as a new haircut, and it was exciting. It still is.
A comment that Allyn Johnson stands out, in her reference to attending a public event, where a local farmer gave a LARGE dinner at a pig pull in South Carolina, and “not an ounce of music was presented” at the event where there was a large audience. Case in point, that event was for all the important people as a thank you gesture for their support from the farmer. And while the food was delicious having music should have been a part of it. Maybe even a performance by a local performer or band. Maybe a jazz band?
Many comments in the mail bag related to past experiences with the use of classrooms, colleges and the like. The fact that past generations failed to expose their children to jazz, well, that may be true, but the time is now. There are wonderful and many jazz artists that are performing in as many venues that they can. Expose your children, your friend, your co-worker, and whomever is in the sound of your voice, to the jazz you love. The older generation of jazz artists that are still with us are continuing to make great music and the young people who are out there alongside with them are doing the same. All they need is the support from you and to make whatever contribution you can provide, and whatever it is called, Black American Music or just jazz, is less important than what is being played. Jazz is, alive and well.
Moving on, I will continue my review of the letters and my response to Williard Jenkins’ blog to the subject of jazz and it’s place in today’s world, especially as it pertains to the Black audience.
Here is a comment and response to my blog, rongill-sings.com, that I promised, from a white South African friend of mine, singer and guitarist, Mel Green, who resides in Boston, MA.
Subject: Mel RE: my new seeingthingsblog 20/26
Date: Tue, 28 Feb 2012 11:39:01 -0500
Thank you Dear Ron!
I especially agree with your blog regarding jazz and its audience(s)…As an observer from another place/world/time I could give you my “take”on the evolution of jazz, that truly American art-form… in South Africa,a country that was influenced in many ways by America.
When I became aware of all things cool in my formative post teenage yearsit became apparent to me that the very hip musicians who played at barmitzvah and wedding receptions were playing a form of music I never heard at home or even on the radio, (a medium that was very limited in my home country.)
When I visited my more affluent relatives they would occasionally play LPs and occasionally one would hear one that was remarkably different.Louis Prima, Nat King Cole, Oscar Peterson, Brubeck the Gershwins and many Broadway musicals of the day. That would mostly be jazz. More recently, I began to hear old recordings out of the Gallo Africa archives…the early recordings by our artists of colorwere very definitely influenced by American jazz.
As a young man I visited the rare Jazz club in Durban or Cape Town… and was exposed to the avant-garde side of that musical medium, and truthfully I can’t say I was very impressed with the noodling and non-melodic noise …but, if they played the well-recognized music I had heard at those barmitzvahs and weddings, and then I realized that was what jazz is.
Later, the Beatnick coffeehouses in Johannesburg’s hip high-rise suburb of Hillbrow progressed from jazz and folk to just folk music, which encompassed bluegrass, ballads, blues and so on, which was typical of the 60s, I guess. You had to be hip to appreciate these forms of music, which were never played on the radio.
Now I am fortunate to live in a household with my beloved Adele, and my ears have been re-opened, while a lot of jazz plays during her treatments and office hours. (Very few vocals though.)
I must remark that since the demise of record stores there seems to be a wasteland we are forced to wander in as we older folk seek “newer” music that we can relate to.
And your remark about the pig roast where music could have been played, well I am sure that is not an uncommon occurrence these days. Too bad, because at least a captive audience would surely have appreciated some music. Good music, that is. Like jazz.