Foreword: I’m going to jump headlong into this post without going too deep into the history of jazz and the dozens of subgenres contained inside (for those of you who would like to read a condensed historical caption of jazz and its relationship to the blues see below. For all you well informed jazz nerds, skip the italics):Jazz, as a style of music originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States from a confluence of African and European music traditions. It was a new style of music that brought together music traditions from West Africa and Europe. Some of the West African musical influences it uses give it its unique sound: improvising, “swinging,” using blue notes, and combining different rhythms. Blues is a music genre that originated in African-Americancommunities of primarily the Deep South of the United States at the end of the 19th century from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shoutsand chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The entire idea behind jazz revolved around the freedom of expression and the constant quest to push the musical boundaries on what was considered the ‘norm’. Jazz, in its earliest forms, was born not because musicians were searching for what they thought would be popular but because they were looking for an outlet to express how they felt (thus we have the Blues). So it follows, that most of the early originators of jazz were not exactly attempting to win a popularity contest. Ironically enough, Jazz did have its time in the spotlight. Unfortunately, that time has come and passed. The beauty of this, is that regardless of that fact, jazz is still evolving and transcending many different musical boundaries.
Recently, I came across a musician, one whom I am very much a fan of, criticize the creativity and ingenuity of jazz music today. He stated that jazz today just wasn’t as inspiring as it used to be. Sure, I’m sort of biased being that I am a part of this younger/up-in-coming generation of jazzers, but I still have to politely disagree. This is an unfortunate trend that I have begun to witness among many prominent musicians today. By constantly blasting your negative opinions over the air waves, you are only contributing to the problem. Who are you to judge what is inspiring? The particular musician I am using this post as a response too carries a large amount of weight in the jazz community and it deeply saddens me to now see him discredit younger musicians in such a public fashion.
Inspiration comes from the heart. It’s something that one person may feel while another may not. Just because something isn’t necessarily inspiring to you, doesn’t mean it isn’t inspiring to someone else. Don’t criticize something for not inspiring you. To me, listening to Gerry Niewood is far more inspiring than any Charlie Parker record. Yes I know, Parker literally revolutionized jazz, and I don’t mean to take away any of his accomplishments. He took the ‘norm’ and went to places that no one even thought were possible. For those of you already seething with blind rage over this remark, relax its my opinion. I’m just trying to make a point. Remember, you can’t tell me what I’ll think is inspiring.
The one thing I will state in response to this particular musician is that in your time, your idols were also criticized for many of the same things that you are now criticizing us for. Bebop and other forms of jazz were not well recieved when they originally came into existence. Shockinly enough, these same people who were criticized before for overstepping the line when it came to what qualified as jazz are a lot of the same people who are now criticizing us. If we look at the 1940s, the younger generation of jazz musicians forged a new style out of the swing music of the 1930s. Musicians Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk had all been influenced by the preceding generation’s adventurous soloists (Art Tatum, Earl Hines, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldrige – who were both liked and disliked by many of their precedents). These forerunners of the new music began exploring advanced harmonies, complex syncopation, altered chords and chord substitutions. The bop musicians advanced these techniques with a more freewheeling, intricate and often arcane approach. For a while, there was a large divide among jazz musicians. Some wanted to stick to swing, while others preferred to push the envelope with bebop.
Regardless of what side you’re on, the one thing that never should come out of a musician’s mouth is that “something just isn’t as inspiring anymore”. As I stated above, inspiration is something unique to everyone and often, inspiration is frequently found is some of the most unusual places. What I have learned out of all of this, is that it’s just part of the process; some guys are just more hip to it than others.