|Musings on Wynton after the Jazz at Lincoln Center (part 2 of 2)|
|1/30/2000 - But if one reviews the history of jazz and what has made it great, we are, ironically, almost always consistently struck by the fact that with the exception of the swing music of the 20's and 30's, most of jazz's crazy, individualistic "innovations" were the bane of many critics and the general public when they were first created; and that it took a long time for many of these developments to resonate with the public at all; in short, to be "popular", if ever (Thelonious Monk, whom many people still regard as "avant-garde" compared to the more "traditional" bebop fare of his day, is but one example). So the argument that the fact that a music is well-received by the public makes it more "legitimate" is certainly challengable (and I won't even site such "popular" artists as Kenny G :-)).|
And much as JALC is an unquestionable success story, is this really, as Wynton purports, in itself an argument for the legitimacy of their musical values? Or is it, in fact, as I believe, a self-fulfilling prophecy? What if someone with a broader outlook were in charge of JALC, someone who treated the entire history of the music, with all of its crazy offshoots, it's forays into pop, funk, acid-jazz, avant-garde expression, and various conceptual approaches (not just bebop/swing) with equal weight; who welcomed innovation and commissioned some of the most individual compositional voices - Henry Threadgill, David Murray, Ornette Coleman, Anthony Davis, and on and on, to produce yearly large scale works. What if this person were as appealing as Wynton as spokesperson, and who expressed these open-minded views with the same fervor that Wynton does his more conservative ones. Can't one imagine in this instance that this more open-minded jazz philosophy would become the predominant view of what is legit in jazz? Isn't what is and isn't considered legitimate in jazz more, after all, about politics and posturing that some "objective" universals? Can't there, in short, be room for more branches of the "jazz tree"?
In my opinion, in order for jazz to be vibrant and to continue to grow, it is actually crucial that people reflect in their expression innovation; personal expression; that people not be afraid to try something new. Jazz is about innovation. Yes, it's about tradition, too, but as some have said, "the only tradition in jazz is innovation" - ie. you must build upon the past, or the music perishes. And yes, if one is honest in one's expression; if one reflects one's own life experiences to create a personal music, then some will find it "avant-garde", or, conversely, perhaps "commercial", or many of the other generalized dismissives often hurled at any form of jazz-related expression not related to the more narrow definition of jazz with a capital "J". But is this any different than what Monk went through, when he first emerged, with his music? Or Ornette Coleman? Or Miles? Or Coltrane?
It's safe to "legitimize" jazz by equating it with classical music - who, after all, can argue with a music proven by the ages to be great. But jazz ISN'T classical music. It's a living, breathing, art form. And people are needed out there that are courageous enough to forge new pathways, to push for the new; and to see how this relates to what has come before without, however, losing the "now".
Jazz on the Hudson is a small step, and I'm happy to be a small part of it.