Jazz with Morrie: When will the music return?

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Mainstream jazz is a precious commodity, and the ranks of its players and followers are thinning. That makes the virus shutdowns all the more tragic. I’m optimistic that the vaccine could make indoor concerts possible in time for next season. I suspect we’ll know that by mid summer, in time for planning venues and recruiting artists. I’ve thought about trying something outdoors, but those concerts are a lot more complicated to present, even without virus-protection policies. So for now, stay safe and stay tuned here.
Some people get mad at me when I say mainstream jazz is dying. Jazz takes many forms that can fairly be called legitimate, but the unique, swinging style that I prefer is played by, and appeals to, a certain age group. Our audiences and artists by and large are in the 70+ category. We rarely see anyone younger at our concerts. Some say the colleges are turning out a new generation, but those are all players and there’s no accompanying growth of listeners. We may still have what we call jazz, but its going to be a boutique experience for a select few. If it weren’t for one special man, Art Bock, today we wouldn’t have the precious “West Coast Jazz” recordings of Baker, Mulligan, Rumsey and the rest who recorded in the upstairs storage room they called a studio at Pacific Jazz Records.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I worked in the room where Charlie Parker, Dizzy, Curly Russell, Miles, and Max Roach recorded Koko, the groundbreaking version of chords to Cherokee, the quintessential bebop number. It was on the 24th floor of the RKO building in New York. By then it had become one of the broadcast studios for WOR’s Rambling with Gambling show.
Jim Carlton, a superb guitarist and gifted jazz writer, son of Jimmy McPartland’s bass player Ben Carlton, has some input into where we may be going:
Real jazz has perhaps become elitist by default. And its practitioners are in my opinion the finest the art world has, simply because jazz artists are bound to give us what they have at a moments notice. A jazzer on the gig puts invention on the line with no rewrites. And jazz is the most difficult and demanding of all the traditional art forms because by definition it’s extemporaneous. Jazz musicians often have to decipher an enormous amount of complex information during a given performance. Chords are frequently altered and may have sophisticated voicings and the changes can come at rapid tempos. Point is, a good argument can be made for jazz artists being the most comprehensive of the art world.

Fortunately, like all great art, real jazz will always be with us. It may thrive only among its own and appeal to cults and the cultivated, but it will always, even in various conjugations, transcend time and trend. Hip is as hip does, and those who must play jazz are those who are exploring progressive musical forms and ideas.”
You’ll hear from me when it looks like the music can begin.

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