Jazz: For all, or the few?


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Let's face it... Jazz as a musical force is not what was back in it's heyday. Yes, Jazz continues to evolve with it's never ending strive for innovation. Jazz radio stations remain very popular, and as I hear from Voice of America's Jazz America program every Saturday morning (Kuwait local time), the amount of new Jazz that comes out is phenomenal, given it's dwindling sales and lack of promotion.

I usually do not write on this blog, mostly because I do my writing in music instead, but I felt I have to get something off my chest.

Jazz has always been not just a music genre that looks to be sophisticated in it's technicality, but it's also a social movement. From the late 20's swing era, commonly associated with speakeasies where alcohol in the US at the time was illegal, to the 30's with movements led by Louis Armstrong, 40's with Bebop legends Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, 50's Hard-Bop from Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, to the avant-garde 60's of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Sun-Ra and to the 70's & 80's with Jazz Fusion, and the revival periods with Wynton Marsalis, to today with Nujazz and chill out DJ's worldwide etc.

Almost every era had a social impact and aspect to it. Mainly it was a movement of the African-Americans and is associated with their struggle, to how Jazz was significant in teaching freedom concepts in the former USSR and the other socialist bloc countries for example. It's not just art but a form of expressing the inner self.

Due to Jazz at this point in time being mostly for nostalgic fans and “heritage" supporters, and the new-thinkers who want to move forward with this music (the never ending debate within the Jazz community), we get a new divide, which is, is Jazz for everyone, or an elitist group of individuals?

The Gulf Jazz Fest, due to happen in Kuwait & Qatar this month's end, which has happened every year and is in it's 6th year now, to me was a sort of an anomaly.

The performers who come here in the past were classical ensemble pieces, mostly from East European countries. This year looks to be more promising, as the talents are more “Jazz" oriented than before. I'm not into vocal Jazz but I'm interested in the Jarek Smeitana Trio.

Here's the catch... the ticket is KD 22/per person. That's about $80.

Right... so a movement were New York club tickets were going for $2, musicians lining up Paris subways playing for all for spare change, and where the music mattered, we have to pay a lot of cash for an upscale dinner at a hotel.

I understand that inflation, high costs, etc come into play here.

But in February, the Chris Byars/Ari Roland jazz ensemble, played for FREE, a real New York sound. You can see my review here.

So was it because of music subsidies by the US Embassy they played for free?

I consider Jazz to be the music of the people ... musicians gotta make money (I know how it is... being a musician). But if I were to create a Jazz quartet and play, I would be doing it for the love of the music and spreading the word.

In comparison, the New Orleans Jazz Festival (April 28-May 8, 2011) costs $60 (about KD 17) for each 3 days. But it's a real festival with hundreds of bands for the whole day over 3 days and is not meant to be for a group of individuals who are in the socialite region of the community. In day one alone, there are 12 separate tents (one for each style of music including Blues) and over 50 bands.

Maybe I'm overreacting here, and call me old fashioned, but the music that is Jazz is not meant to be a social status or an elitist high class of music. It started by the people, and it is for everyone. Jazz is a free form art in improvisation, displaying talent and showcasing skill, but also expressing the feelings of the moment.

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This story appears courtesy of Speakin' the Blues.
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