And this, ladies and gents, pisses me off.

Jazz is tied with classical as the least popular genre in the US.

The sound you hear is my rising blood pressure, but I truly wish I could say anything but that this is not news to me.

Classical music has been enduring for over 400 years, and you know what, it still has an audience. Hell, it has an audience that I’m willing to bet is at least partially younger than jazz – and why? Because parents who understand the value of classical music teach it to their kids, and the kids carry that on.

Jazz is growing to have a similar situation in its New Audience acquisition. Parents, especially parents who themselves have grown up appreciating and knowing the value of jazz, pass it onto their kids, who grow up to be jazz lovers in turn.

Yes, that’s great, but it’s also a hugely dismaying thing to have. While jazz has always been a niche, this basically insulates it from outside fans coming in on their own. Lack of radio doesn’t help, but I’ve waxed analytical about that before. This is crippling.

Why? Because look at what doesn’t require enjoyment by inheritance. Look at the styles of music that are currently popular, and tell me that it doesn’t demonstrate something to you about the general population. What does it say about the audience when they’d rather listen to manufactured Autotune than they would listen to music that, let’s face it, doesn’t require Autotune? Right now, people get into music by having it pushed onto them ad nauseum, and if it takes five writers and three sound engineers to record Nicki Minaj singing “You’re a stupid hoe” or something similar and have that be a hit, but a jazz – oh, no, I’m sorry, instrumental pop as certain committees dubbed it – song can’t even get the time of day in the mainstream, what does that tell you about the state of music?

Let’s not wave it off with “This is the way it is”. It got this way. It didn’t have to get this way. Classical has endured, and jazz – the American classical – needs to endure too.

Perhaps this is my opinion, but I find that people’s ears have grown lazy with this manufactured sound-machine known as “pop music” of the day. They’re getting lazy and they’re getting complacent as a result. If they don’t have to think, they never will. Just like kids in school would ask the teacher, “What do you want me to say?” on an opinion essay, right now people are not even bothering to ask themselves, “What am I listening to?” Their ears are lazy. The music is manufactured and produced in such a way that they don’t have to listen to the message it sends as long as it’s catchy and has a rhythm (hence why music with absolutely despicable lyrics is popular), and they don’t listen into it to hear anything of the person singing it. Chances are the person singing it wouldn’t even come close to sounding like they do on the recording if they were to sing it in person, but that’s beside the point. The point is, people got used to not thinking about their music, and they hear it without actually listening to it.

And you know something? Jazz requires active listening! It doesn’t need “understanding”, or “the right notes”, as one particularly imbecilic video put it (sorry but not sorry), but it requires active listening. It requires someone to not just hear it, but to take some time and listen to it, listen into it, let it talk to the ear. Right notes have never once been a requirement of it, but some participation on the listener part is. It’s a music style that, much like classical, and much like instrumental rock, speaks without words. But you have to actually listen to it.

And when your listeners forget how to listen, then you see a sharp decline in popularity.

Doesn’t help that the advertisers who have previously invested copious funds in jazz stations have taken their money elsewhere because “it’s not popular” without thinking that the radio stations aren’t helping in the matter by homogenizing the lineup into an unpalatable mess, doesn’t help that the radio station formats have flipped en masse because “listenership has dropped” – when they themselves have engineered this drop in listenership – and certainly doesn’t help that too many people in the US don’t even know what jazz is. The video of “just play the right notes!” sums up the average view of jazz succinctly, and it’s the sort of viewpoint that drives me to drink.

Interestingly, if and when I introduce someone to jazz, the reaction is nearly always, without fail, “I had no idea this is what it’s like!”

At risk of sounding crass, no shit!!! This is what happens when you hear something without actually listening to it; you forget what it’s like to actually listen, and you’re amazed at what you hear when you re-discover it again.

Outside the US, we don’t see such an attitude with jazz music at all. Japan is a hugely popular market for American jazz. Eastern Europe is also jumping on the bandwagon. We’ve seen the massive popularity of Mallorca Jazz Fest and Smooth Jazz Augsburg. Don’t tell me there’s no market for jazz; there is. But then again, outside the US, people are taught to actively listen into music, and understand it.

Huge, massive difference in education and, even apart from education, in thinking.

And of course, the R&B dilution at events, to where it’s not even possible to call it a jazz event anymore, is not helping matters either.

Don’t even have to go too far for an example, too. San Diego Jazz Fest is unrolling its lineup, and you know something? My opinion of the promoter completely aside here, the lineup is a perfect example of what I was talking about when I wrote about Jazz Fest West’s collapse, and the importance of having new artists and *gasp* actual jazz musicians on stage at a jazz festival. San Diego “Jazz” Fest is pretty much a classic example of why jazz isn’t taken seriously. Sorry but not sorry, and not mincing words on this for a moment. Where Capital Jazz will separate out the stages and not commingle R&B and jazz, San Diego just throws in all R&B headliners and calls it a jazz event? That does not fly, kids.

Jazz is not “least popular” – certainly, it’s a niche and always has been, but it has never been this cloistered before, and it certainly did not get to this point without outside influences. I assure you of this: had CD 101.9 survived in NY, as well as all the other stations whom we lost in the Grand Shutdown of 2009, then articles like these wouldn’t exist. Nor would the mentality of “just play the right notes” in the general public. There’s more than enough new artists in jazz, more than enough new music all around. Know what there isn’t? The same consideration and PR machine as there is for pop, hip-hop, rap, soul, and R&B.

But, we soldier on. Because where would we be without Our Music?

This is why it’s hugely important to buy tickets to jazz events, buy CDs, finance Kickstarters, etc, so on, so forth. Because right now, jazz is depending on its people. And that means us.

K.G.

Advertisements