"Is There Jazz After Ken Burns' Jazz"

"Is There Jazz After Ken Burns' Jazz"

by Howard Mandel
copyright © 2001 Howard Mandel

"Is There Jazz After Ken Burns' Jazz" was a really good panel co-produced by the JJA and the New School Jazz and Contemporary Music program last night, with many different points of view expressed by all the panelists (and not quite the usual bs, but well informed, impassioned and engaged, uh, discussion), including pov's of diverse members of the audience at the about 60 (all demographics covered except under 18).

There was a due amount of bashing of the documentary for its evident flaws, but also testimony to its great outreach into audiences typically not aware of jazz. Some little anecdotal evidence that the promotion/marketing of Jazz is doing anything for anybody except KB and other "800 pound guerrillas" (Bill Kirchner's term for the big players) soaking up what there is for jazz to live on -- but yet, some. And lots of expectation that jazz will go on -- tastes change -- artists come and go -- very much at an organic pace that can't/won't/shouldn't be co-opted by any single commercial or non-commercial force.

The most fierce criticism of the series Jazz was Kirchner's, who felt its flaws were too all-encompassing to be dismissed, and indeed must be regarded as worse than misinformed, to the point of intent. Kirchner, whose hats include editor of the Oxford Companion to Jazz & the Smithsonian's Miles David Reader, a saxophonist and bandleader, NPR jazz documentary producer, asked how, particularly, could Burns' wipe out, deny, the music and era (in race relations, too) of the '70s, '80s except for Wynton. John Szwed, author of Jazz 101 and Space Is The Place, also a lecturer at Yale, agreed, noting that Africa's dismissal as essential was also starting on the wrong foot. (No one spoke up for European music much -- but the overall hierarchies Jazz repeats were noted). Rufus Reid, eminent bassist, felt the music of the '70s, and some thing from even before that are just coming to fruition now, had been denied, but maintained that the thing about musicians is, they just play. It's not they who write about it, talk about -- he's glad we do, but it doesn't much hit him.

No, jazz clubs have not promoted coming out to hear jazz live as a response to KB's tv Jazz. Rufus also reported that the promotion/marketing behind Dexter Gordon's return to the States in the '70s was great -- resulting in 8 months of on-the-road work in 1976, and the Columbia record career of Woody Shaw, too. Szwed told some stories from his research about how Columbia had supported and marketed Miles, but begun to dump later electric albums when they felt he'd gone further than they'd wanted him to (Jack Johnson, On the Corner, for instance). But how marketing's focus, as it was practiced intelligently then, has waned now.

The poor representation of the Latin-jazz world was decried, especially by Bobby Sanabria and Richard Bourkas, both New School faculty (Bourkas is also a JJA member), his history theory by Don Palmer, etc. and then there were the positives, "collaborate, work with your wisdoms together, advance your own missions on whatever momentum you find," from radio/fest producer Jim Luce (JJA member), and similar encouragement (with realistic considerations) from panelists Ashley Kan (JJA'r author of Kind of Blue, multi-faceted freelancer), Helene Greece (publicist, Third Floor Media, who also mentioned Ken had downplayed potential involvements of older musicians), Original Marketing director and trad jazz clarinetist (JJA member) Dan Kassell. Martin Mueller, director of the New School JCM program, suggested we keep perspective on our jazz world's position within the world, and keep a focus on youth, on jazz ed., as leading forward.

We kept trying to move the topic towards what can we offer, who is open for now for pitching, and made some gains. Larry Blumenfeld said from the floor that he'd been able to have conversations with mainstream editors about topics other than "what's the new record" or "who's the new star" for the first time, behind Jazz. He also suggested we'll have to wait years for the musicians to come up in its wake, but that it will happen. . . .

There is going to be a more detailed report on the panel -- in fact, the transcript will be posted at www.jazzhouse.org, I hope, by the time of the next New School "Jazz Matters" -- the Critics' Blindfold Test. We have one panelist firmly in place -- Ted Panken-- and I'm trawling for two more pro record reviewers brave enough to check out music they may not have already heard in public, and respond to each other about it . . . That's Feb. 21.

We got to work on the Jazz Awards, a committee comprising Ashley Kan, Larry Blumenfeld, Don Palmer, Steve Smith, myself, Wendy Oxenhorn from the Jazz Foundation of America -- Jimmy Eigo and Penny Tyler were in abstentia -- that's another whole missive, though --


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