bar_big image

Insular and Diminishing or Liberal and Proliferating

[Anthony Dean-Harris]
Editor-In-Chief / @retronius

I can’t remember if I ever said this in print (er… pixels) before but I want to make sure people know this: I don’t read comic books. Outside of that period in which my friends encouraged me in college to voraciously devour Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, I never was one to read comic books or graphic novels. My parents never introduced them to me as a kid and therefore I never truly picked them up down the line.

Even now when I talk about comic related things at work or with other friends, I fall silent quite quickly because it’s definitely not in my wheelhouse. I often feel like gaining an interest in comic books is just something beyond me. At my young age, I still feel like such an interest is past my time. Going back to read enough archives to know what is going on would be less like exploring a new world and more like eating my vegetables. Besides the fact, my general misanthropy stops me from ever wanting to have a conversation with some comic book store clerk on some title about which I know absolutely nothing. I am deterred by long archives and knowing masses just waiting to root me out and banish me from their presence. This crowd may be amicable, but I still don’t want to take that risk.

The same mentality I take here is the same mentality that many others encounter when deciding to look into jazz. There’s this overarching vibe that one cannot speak about, indulge in, or show interest in the genre until one studies all the masters who came before us. Holding the genre with such reverence does keep it with a certain degree of posterity, but it also holds it out of reach from the general populace. To that, I must ask, “Who the hell do we think we are?”

It’s been said of over-pious Christians that there are many who are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good. This has been thematic of the genre for years and casting out fresh perspectives on the future of the genre because someone hasn’t read every issue of DownBeat or because s/he doesn’t know [every conceivable element of jazz] does not help the proliferation of the genre.

Who the hell do we think we are to equate disagreeing with newcomers with the possible loss of pedigree of a publication or the destruction of the genre (or at least its nomenclature)? Why do we so often get up in arms when a contradictory idea rears its head when our own fold is floundering for its own vitality? Why do so many of us require a wide breadth of knowledge on the history of jazz before truly accepting new musicians and commentators?

I’m not suggesting we give equal credence to the opinions and talents of the glaringly ignorant, but I am saying it’s equally not as encouraging to newcomers of the genre to say they cannot appreciate the genre until they hear the first hundred years of music and commentary.

What makes this genre so special to make such a requirement for appreciation and discourse? This does not happen in rock. Robert Christgau isn’t holding the keys to the gate saying one cannot criticize whether or not Muse is ripping off of Radiohead until one hears the collective works of Pink Floyd first. No one is pressuring me from not gaining an interest in Flying Lotus without first delving into every nook and cranny of Aphex Twin. Yet, all too often the tone from the jazz crowd is that the masses should implicitly love this music because it’s just so darn loveable.

Positive thinking alone will not help this genre. Business as usual alone will not help this genre. Shouting down opposing viewpoints (and making veiled ad hominem attacks) will not help this genre. No, jazz is not dead, but it’s certainly not on the forefront of everyone’s mind. Jazz is a niche genre in [an era of niche genres]. Decrying outside opinions because they aren’t in the fold is not the mentality we should hold. If other small genres are able to stay financially solvent, we should be doing all we can to learn their secrets.

Even if we were to not agree with the notion that [aired controversy brings publicity] (or at least gets the ball rolling on solving problems), discussing the valid and invalid points and incorporating some of the elements of such an argument is worth exploring. We cannot remain as insular as we are and then question why more people don’t want to join us. We can address people with [civility] and graciously welcome new ideas to revitalize jazz and proliferate its influence, or we can stolidly stay in old models and wonder why our masses no longer grow.

For some odd reason, jazz music has gained the same mentality as the black church: steadfastly holding to conservative ideas, unyielding to younger authority, and wondering why all the young people are “spiritual, but not religious.” Either we stay antagonistic and flounder or we integrate new ideas, both in a musical and publicity sense. But we must certainly not immediately cast out ideas from the unlearned. I don’t know enough about Wes Montgomery, myself, and I’m certainly not stepping into any comic book shops.

Anthony Dean-Harris is a contributing writer for [African-American Reflections] and hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on [91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio]. More of his writing can be found at his blog, [In Retrospect] and you can also [follow him on Twitter].