Here's an article written by Aaron Johnson, one of the most talented students I've had in the past few years. Aaron recently moved from Portland, Oregon to NYC to study as a Jazz performance major at the Manhattan School of Music.
Here I am, at a world-renowned conservatory in the greatest city in the world. I am sitting in a class with 15 or so other musicians, bright young artists from all over the world. I can't help but wonder, "Who here will actually end up with a career?” It doesn't seem very fair or indicative of the spirit of Jazz that musicians, depending on aesthetics, will starve or headline Birdland. Since I’ve been here in NYC, I've hung out with a lot of true WORKING musicians. The foot soldiers of the scene per se. The players that are out at smalls until the early morning, NYC swing and traditional jazz musicians and other students, trying to hustle a career out of thin air. None of these musicians are playing at the Village Vanguard or the Blue Note, yet they are in my opinion, the greatest that this city has to offer.
It seems like a cruel joke to me, that young, hip 20 year olds are getting GREAT gigs while jazz LEGENDS aren't even touching their horns. Why isn't Bob Mover playing the Vanguard this weekend? Why did Clarence "C" Sharpe (The Genius altoist on Lee Morgan's Indeed album) have to lead a sad life of obscurity? Why was Frank Hewitt living in the freezer at Smalls in his last years?
Because the public is too stupid to realize that Jazz is a cultural treasure.
Instead, young "lions" are sought out by the media to "push the barriers". It's funny, to me, because very few of these young lions will ever find their own voice. Even if they do it will either be excessively modern without any validation or sense of lineage or it will be a sad, lukewarm pastiche of the music of years past (lacking the true essence and spirit). If I don't sound the least bit jaded or bitter, wait until you read what I have up my sleeve next.
The Modern Jazz Scene in a Nutshell (ie. What is hip?)
1. Your website must claim all of your innovations without detailing any of it. *This is especially important if you are young and inexperienced. *
2. You must wear the hippest, most urban looking clothes possible. Skinny jeans, v-necks....anything slightly hipster-esque is adequate. Oversized Nike kicks are a *MUST*.
3. It's very beneficial to have dreds. This means that you have soul.
4. Abandon every American Songbook, standard tune you know. Replace this with rock and classically influenced, odd metered and through-composed numbers. This IS 2009, right?
5. Never, ever mention Louis Armstrong, Lester Young or Charlie Parker as your influences. They aren’t obscure or hip enough for you to land a career from. Mention Bjork, Schoenberg, Aaron Parks, Mark Turner and Ambrose Akinmusire. That way, you might win the Monk competition.
6. Go to a really hip jazz "school" and listen to everything your professors tell you. Do everything they tell you to do, never attend real sessions and let your peers at school influence you more than the masters. Dismiss any musicians that learned on "the street". Chet Baker? Schmuck! (He didn't have a degree to prove his genius.)
7. If your name isn't hip enough...change change change it! Joshua Redman wasn't always his name....
8. Watch the Spike Lee film "Mo’ Betta Blues". It will show you more about jazz than listening to it or playing it ever will.
9. Move to Brooklyn
10. Become a vegetarian and look emaciated. The moodier you look, the more albums you'll sell. Don't smoke cigarettes or use any substances; instead, do lots of yoga and investigate eastern religions (not for any true interest in it, rather, just to be able to say in your liner notes that Tibetan chanting and Buddhism changed your conception of "sound").
If you couldn't tell, that was a little tongue-in-cheek. I'd like to hear some responses from musicians and my peers. Maybe I'm not alone in my thinking? At least I know that I'll never have a career playing the music that truly touches me (Armstrong-Young-Parker continuum).
Aaron's MySpace page