Monday, November 5, 2012

Survival of the Fittest

Poor people of the year 2042. Apparently, they will not swing.

In an engaging post a week ago (here), our friend Plastic Sax posits that jazz in 2012 falls into three categories. One of those three is swing, and that, he speculates, will dwindle to insignificance when those of us born prior to 1960 (I date to 1957) kick the bucket.

Figuring we should be dust in another thirty years, then all vestiges of anyone who lived when music swung will have cleared the earth so hip hop and its descendants can rule the musical world.

Of course, by that reasoning, the Beatles, too, will be forgotten. And The Rolling Stones. And Bob Dylan. And Englebert Humperdink.

Okay, maybe some good will come of this.

Plastic’s post is about musicians taking jazz in new directions. That there will always be, and thank goodness. Because I’m as big a fan of the People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City  (PLBB) as I am of The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra (KCJO). The two are polar opposites when discerning the sounds of big band jazz. Like Mingus and Basie.

Yet both find an audience in Kansas City. That’s because both play music that’s accessible, albeit through different means. KCJO swings a sound that may make your body sway in its seat. PLBB peppers music some could find obscure with wit that draws a crowd in and invites you to listen and understand.

Because while it’s easy to focus on what musicians want to play, the coin’s other side is what audiences want to hear. I’ve written before about finding some of the music of KC’s younger jazz generation overly off-putting and inaccessible. I suspect some of that comes from youthful experimentation and striving for a unique voice. If that voice finds its audience, terrific. But if audiences do not accept it, opportunities to perform it publicly will pass.

A perfect example of an exemplary young group understanding their audience was Diverse at this year’s Prairie Village Jazz Festival. I’ve heard Diverse play tunes which would be appreciated mostly by the jazz literati. But their set this day was dominated by music recognizable to a suburban crowd. It was performed in Hermon Mehari, Ben Leifer and Brad Williams’ unique style. Nothing was artistically compromised. And the audience loved it. The audience heard the wisdom of an emerging maturity.

There’s why traditional jazz will survive. The music is too accessible not to survive. Audiences, some audiences, will want it. So musicians, some musicians, will play it. It’s in our bones. We react to it naturally. There’s why people of the year 2042 actually will swing.

I simply refuse to believe that in the year 2042, nobody will enjoy and want to hear music like this:

I’m not so naive as to believe this music will ever again dominate the culture. Jazz and swing will survive as a niche. Some jazz and jazz musicians will try to merge and absorb contemporary music styles. Miles did it. Others try today. The more accessible of those attempts will stick and through that experimentation, the music will grow.

But in this world breaking down into increasingly tighter niches, swing will survive. Not through nostalgia, but through its overwhelming accessibility.

Because I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to live in a future where nobody loves this (which isn't purely swing, but anything Jay McShann and Al Grey played together in some ways swung):

(The recordings are from the finale of the 1986 Kansas City Jazz Festival, with Jay McShann on piano, Al Grey on trombone, Major Holley on bass and Gus Johnson on drums. Major Holley announces the names at the end of Georgia.)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting these swinging tunes. Nice post and might I add, why fret over 2042? Now's the time.


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