Skip to comments.Annette John-Hall: New Name or No, Jazz is in Trouble (Renaming Jazz)
Posted on 03/08/2012 11:25:10 AM PST by nickcarraway
It's lunchtime in East Mount Airy, and pianist Orrin Evans is working on a killer salad complete with boiled eggs, nuts, and colorful produce - a garden bounty. Healthy eating keeps his blood pressure down, Evans says.
So I'm guessing I'm not helping much when I bring up Evans' life's work, the African American classical music he is passionate about - jazz.
See, these days, just uttering the word jazz is bound to get some people's pressure up. That's because Evans, 36, along with a small group of multiracial, multigenerational artists led by New Orleans trumpeter Nicholas Payton, want to deep-six jazz - the name, not the art form - and resurrect it as Black American Music (BAM).
Why? Because "jazz died in 1959," blogged Payton last year. "Jazz was a limited idea. . . . Jazz is only cool if you don't actually play it for a living. Jazz musicians have accepted the idea that it's OK to be poor."
Ask any musician why they advocate BAM, and the reasons are as varied as a Sonny Rollins solo.
"The fact people find an acknowledgment of black music hard to swallow says a lot," says Ben Wolfe, a white bassist who is one of Evans' closest friends. "The music I play is black American music. It's something to celebrate.
"Why isn't that good news?"
The musicians pretty much agree that marketers have managed to hijack the name to define music that is anything but jazz.
Try Common, Mos Def, and Erykah Badu headlining at the Heineken Jazz Festival a few years ago.
"You've made it so I can't even get a gig at my own festival," Evans argues. "You've polluted my term, so why not drop the term?"
Jazz. BAM. In many ways, preference breaks along generational lines.
"I think there needs to be more discussion," says longtime Philly saxophonist and educator Tony Williams, 80. "I'm very comfortable with the name jazz, and I don't think changing the name is going to make a difference.
"I love Orrin, but I think he may be a little impetuous."
Evans says that when it comes to keeping the music alive, there's little time to waste.
He has always been proactive in engineering his own career. Whether it was teaching at Germantown Friends or playing free jam sessions at the local club, part of Evans' mission is getting his music to the masses. His Twitter and Facebook accounts serve as his personal publicists.
But despite all that he does to promote himself and his music, African American faces are still largely absent from his gigs. And that is Evans' greatest frustration.
"I love black people, and I want them to be exposed to the music," says Evans, the youngest son of opera singer Frances Gooding Evans and playwright Donald T. Evans. "But the music isn't marketing to us. In the last 20 years, I'd like to count the number of jazz musicians that have been on the cover of Ebony. Or Jet. Or Essence, if they're supposed to be reference points to what is hip."
Renaming jazz BAM would draw the desired audience, he says. "If it's about us, we'll check it out."
That kind of rationale doesn't ring so true to saxophonist Lovett Hines, 68, the Clef Club's director of education. Sure, African Americans created the form, but jazz evolved to include many stellar white musicians who contributed mightily: Benny Goodman (who paved the way for Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson), Stan Getz, Bill Evans.
"If you leave them out, you're not telling the full picture," Hines says. "Integration allowed the music to develop."
As a lover of the music, I'll say one thing: Jazz, BAM, or whatever you want to call it, is dying a slow death. Whenever I hear about another jazz-studies program slashed or yet another jazz club shuttered, I wonder what will become of the priceless gift my parents gave me.
The renaissance should come from revival, not name change.
"Beethoven is not interchangeable with anything else," Hines says. "Charlie Parker shouldn't be, either."
I heard gospel music, rags, jazz and MoTown, and loved ‘em, which installed and grew a strong respect and love for African American music.
Then I heard rap.
Somehow I have a hard time considering Vince Guaraldi’s score for “A Charlie Brown Christmas” as “Black American Music.”
Rap and Hip-Hop have destroyed the Legacy of Black American Music.
It is left to White musicians (like myself) to share this beautiful heritage with Black Children.
Oh man oh man will I shortly be in trouble.
A lot of really good white jazz players ... but ...
A handful only of white players have actually changed the language of jazz. You mention Bix, he was an early one. Bill Evans on piano. Maybe Paul Desmond. Probably Stan Getz. Scott LaFaro on bass. A number I’ve missed I’m sure.
It is undeniably a black music form at its roots. I will never, however, call it BAM. It will always be jazz to me.
And BTW, Benny Goodman got famous playing (black American) Fletcher Henderson’s charts. Benny paved the way for having a mixed race band when he hired Charlie Christian.
Somehow I have a hard time considering Vince Guaraldis score for A Charlie Brown Christmas as Black American Music.
LOL. I have a hard time calling it jazz.
Listen to some Monk with Coltrane at the 5 spot in NYC in the mid to late 50s, and then listen to Guaraldi. Doesn’t sound like they are playing the same ‘kind’ of music, does it?
White players playing jazz often make jazz pretty. You’ll never hear the spit gurgling in a white guy’s trumpet playing like you do when you listen to, say, Lee Morgan.
Oh God, please don’t let this conversation move into a discussion about the racial beginnings of blues music. I might get banned.
Now Kenny G, THAT’S not Jazz.
But then I never heard a black piano player grunt while playing, like Keith Jarrett.
Don’t even get me started. Kenny G is hardly even music from where I sit. One step removed from elevator music.
You’ll appreciate this if you’ve not seen it before ... in response to Kenny G laying his saxophobne on top of Louis Armstrong recordings ... Richard Thompson wrote a song called I agree with Pat Metheny.
Richard Thompson’s song:
Pretty funny stuff.
re: “Somehow I have a hard time considering Vince Guaraldis score for A Charlie Brown Christmas as Black American Music.
First of all, not all of the music in the score is “jazz”. Second, jazz is a very eclectic word and can mean many different styles/types of jazz. It all depends on how one defines “jazz”. If one is a racist and wants to exclude all other groups from participating in an art form, or wants to deny any contribution by those who are of a different race from the original “jazz” creators, then I guess “BAM” is the way to go.
What a bunch of crap. The contribution of African Americans to the American religious and pop music scene is well established - loved and celebrated by all Americans - it should not be dragged into this stupid, ridiculous “racial” identify politics - which is all this BAM term is meant to do.
Jazz is not popular with many young blacks - they are into “rap” and “hip hop”. Whitey did not force them into this style. If black jazz musicians cannot draw young blacks into being fans of jazz - whose fault is that? Changing the name may create a momentary interest, but not in the long run.
What is great about American pop music is that it includes everyone - it crosses all barriers - from spirituals, to ragtime, to jazz, to big band, to rock n’ roll, to soul, to rock, to metal, to country, to bluegrass, to crossover country, to Sinatra, to rhythm and blues, to Wilson Picket, etc. I get so sick of the way racial politics has to be vomited onto everything.
We tend to label all music of a somewhat improvisational nature as “Jazz”...there are offshoots, of course, Free Jazz, Avant Garde, Bop, Post-Bop, Fusion, etc.
Listen to more Monk.
Doesn’t grunt like Keith, hums his solos while playing them (but a little out of key).
And let’s not forget the great all-honky Stan Kenton orchestra.
re: “We tend to label all music of a somewhat improvisational nature as Jazz...there are offshoots, of course, Free Jazz, Avant Garde, Bop, Post-Bop, Fusion, etc.”
Exactly right! There is room for all kinds of jazz forms - it doesn’t mean we will like all of them. I don’t like all styles of rhythm and blues guitarists, I don’t like all styles of rock, - everyone has their likes and dislikes.
I’m not saying that there aren’t any standards, but sometimes I get sick of the ones who want to define what “they” like as being the “true jazz” or “true R & B” or whatever. Some of them are just plain musical snobs.
Another shame is most people know Wes Montgomery for the easy listening stuff he did right before his death, and not the classic trio stuff he did. Ditto for Nat King Cole, probably one of the greatest Jazz keyboardists ever, but most people only know him for the easy listening songs he sang.
Or he tries to whisper yell to wake up his tenor saxophonist.
Truth is, the finest jazz contributors were white, dating back to Bix. How about Desmond, Konitz, Kenton, Pepper, Shank, Sheldon, Ferguson, Mulligan, Baker, Evans, Charlop, Woods, Getz, Cohn, Brubeck, Hamilton, Vache, Daniels, Zoot, Pass, Martino, DiFrancesco.....and on and on. These guys took the art form way beyond its primitive beginnings.
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