I’ve just returned from an inspirational weekend trip to Toronto, my first time North Of The Border. I was there to take a look at the posthumous collection of the recently-deceased Jack Teagarden scholar Joe Showler (discussed in my first post.) My host was Showler’s friend and fellow Toronto-based record collector John Wilby, who runs the Jazz Oracle record label.
By a wonderful coincidence, that same weekend, my favorite Canadian jazz blogger Peter Hum posted some exerpts of an e-mail conversation that we had awhile back in Part II of his piece on younger jazz fans (Part I here.) On my trip to Toronto, I also had some very interesting conversations along those same lines with John, who is Peter’s age but has had a different experience as a jazz fan, having discovered the music through his father’s collection of 1920s 78s. John is an example of a non-musician with an excellent ear for the music, proving Peter’s point that you don’t have to play jazz to dig it.
This confluence of Canadian-inspired events has brought me back to Blogland after a couple of weeks away from the keyboard. Later, I’ll post more about my experience poking around the ridiculously exhaustive Teagarden collection that Showler amassed during his lifetime; first, Peter’s observations deserve a response.
My inital response to Peter’s take is: “yeah, man!”
What I find as I read Alex’s work, or interact online with Lucas Gillan, the 20-something programmer of accujazz.com or with 20-something Canadian pianists/bloggers Chris Donnelly and David Ryshpan, is that the generational difference is not so significant when we are down to jazz brass tacks. We dig many of the same things, are excited about many of the same people, and are on similar or at least sympathetic esthetic wavelengths.
This is so true. My conversations with John this weekend led me to a similar conclusion, despite the dramatic differences in our formative experiences with jazz (John came into jazz fandom through his dad’s 78 collection; I came into it as a school-aged trombonist listening to Sonny Rollins and JJ Johnson and playing in the school jazz band.) Our topics of conversation ranged from Tommy Dorsey to Ornette Coleman but there was always something interesting to say and, best of all, something interesting to learn from each other’s diverse experiences.
My weekend in Canada gave me a glimpse of the hard-to-articulate higher truth that gives jazz fans stuff to talk about, musicians a tradition to riff on, and “Jazz” a thread of continuity. Terry Teachout’s WSJ article suggests that jazz is dying and needs “Saving,” but my experience with people like Peter, John, and my colleagues in the Rutgers Jazz MA program suggest the opposite trend (I also read the NEA survey Teachout cites, and came to a slightly different conclusion a month ago.) Of course, Teachout isn’t the first person to cry wolf over the death of jazz — I just read a 1964 Jack Teagarden obituary from which Teachout might as well have copied and pasted. Jazz will always be changing, but the core element of it that gets fans excited about it has existed for over a century. The question ought not to be “Can Jazz Be Saved,” but “How Will Jazz Fit Into The New Musical Landscape?” The latter was Hum’s approach in his first post, and there’s a lot of food for thought there.
Hum opens that article by quoting Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, describing the global audience for jazz and his preference for younger crowds. This is another angle that Teachout ignores: that although the US audience is aging, that’s not so everywhere around the world.
In addition to my recent connections in Canada, I have a number of friends in South America who are passionate jazz fans. The Club De Jazz De Santiago was my home away from home during my time in Chile. Rehearsals, jam sessions, visiting artists — the place is the unquestioned hub of Chilean jazz activity, and has been since its inception over 60 years ago. The first time that I checked out a show there, I was absolutely stunned by the age diversity of the club’s patrons: literally ranging from 8 to 80. Since this was one of Santiago’s only jazz clubs, fans with an astounding array of diverse experiences came together to hear the music.
I expect that those who want to see jazz live — not “be saved” — will begin to find each other all over the world. My vision for jazz when I’m John and Peter’s age is one in which those who “dig” will be even easier to find, and communication will travel across a wider range of cultural experience. I’m seeing the seeds of this being planted today, in the thoughtful work of my Canadian friends and also in events like WBGO’s live webcast/chat/radio/NPR multiplatform extravaganza for Fred Hersch’s recent performance at the Village Vanguard (Full disclosure: I am a production intern working under Josh Jackson, who produced the WBGO coverage and hosted the live chat.)
Also, I just stumbled upon a great bilingual jazz blog written by Fernando Ortiz de Urbina in Spain, Easy Does It. Check it out! You may even learn a little Espanol, while you’re at it.
And whether you’re reading this in Canada, Europe, Africa, Antarctica, or the Good Ol’ U.S. of A., introduce yourself in the comments below or drop me a line and hip me to whatever jazz is happening in your corner of the globe!