By Devon (Doc) Wendell
So April is Jazz Appreciation Month. I don’t know exactly what this means but I hope it will have a positive impact upon jazz and the jazz community.
Jazz has really taken a beating from the outside world; from the false representation of jazz education in last year’s award winning film Whiplash, to a report by David La Rosa of The JazzLine News in early March stating that “jazz has become the least popular genre in the U.S.”
This report was solely based on Nielson’s 2014 end of the year totals. Of course these statistics don’t count independent label sales and releases, which renders it an outmoded means of learning what’s truly selling and not selling for any genre of music today.
We in the jazz world are used to dealing with disrespect on a constant basis. From ridiculously untrue stereotypes portrayed by Hollywood; from the historically inaccurate Bird directed by Clint Eastwood, to Bertrand Tavernier’s ‘Round Midnight with its cheesy romanticized clichés that give the non-jazz educated viewer the impression that jazz is a old man in exile in Paris.
Anti-jazz propaganda is everywhere. One blogger here says John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” was the “last true jazz recording”; another one there says “jazz is dead”; and on and on. Some of us might complain about Whiplash (which portrays a supposed “jazz instructor” who resorts to physical violence and humiliation in order to inspire his students to greater heights) or some disrespectful comments about Wayne Shorter. But the jazz world moves on fast.
There’s music to be made and we knew the odds were stacked up against us from the very start. But none of it will ever be as potent and as focused as the music, which keeps on growing and swinging. Sure we struggle, but that moment when everyone is playing beyond themselves and challenging one another on the bandstand or in the studio is the true reward and enough to drown out all of the bullshit.
Jazz is about being in the moment. A perfect moment even born out of an imperfection or two, depending on the day and the many moods of the players involved. Jazz, at its best is total honesty and clarity. No images of violence, junkies dying in Paris street alleys, or uninformed blogs can take that away from the music.
With all of that said: I truly hope that Jazz Appreciation Month will support and encourage more positive images of the music and the musicians. With or without the negativity, jazz will last forever.