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Jazz is Scary (Just Like Everything Else)

Written by [Anthony Dean-Harris]

I have a tendency to fear large archives. I may run across something I could potentially like: webcomics, television shows, musicians, or whatever, and then I’ll pray that said item hasn’t existed for very long. Works with large archives can be rather daunting because there are folks out there who will overpower you with their large base of knowledge about these sorts of things. To many, this can quite often be a turn off.

It’s because of this that I’ve never caught on to things like comic books or why I never did watch The Wire despite absolutely everyone around me telling me I would love the show. But I’ll look it up and see there are five seasons of it and what began as some brilliant program turns into homework or taking vitamins. It loses its appeal. I can’t help but think this is probably how many people think of jazz.

I have loved jazz music since I was at least four years old, so to try to turn others onto the genre is a rather difficult task because I’ve clearly had a twenty year head start. Add to this the fact that many jazz fans, at least the older more vocal aficionados, appraise this inherent value to the genre in which people should be listening to it but sap all the entertainment value from the music. It’s certainly easier to love a style of music in which your friends are telling you about the Dirty Projectors who serenade you with interesting, but still challenging rhythms as opposed to some alien authority equating Duke Ellington to a bran muffin.

Jazz’s challenge is not only advertising the music in a wider fashion but also making its past less imposing. In that sense, it can learn a lot from other genres. There certainly aren’t people fleeing from rock music because Led Zeppelin seems too scary. Young hip-hop heads aren’t completely unaware of the influence of 2Pac and Biggie Smalls. There are many out there who have a great love of music, in its present and its past. They appreciate the work created today and moreso when considering those works in the context of its past.

New jazz fans may not need to be historians, but it wouldn’t be that bad if they heard all the genre has to offer. They should hear the music of jazz’s past, not because it’s educational but because it’s entertaining in its own right. But many jazz fans today must also recognize the progressions of the genre and note that music of all sorts moves forward. It moves in new directions, some contested and some not. Those directions can have their own validity and in-fighting among a distinct fandom will happen.

The Marsalis vs. modern jazz movement is an important argument to analyze, but it’s not causing the detriment of the genre in any way. The same can be said for the seemingly pure ignorance of Soldja Boy Tell ‘Em in opposition to other mainstream or underground rap. A genre can have similar attributes and be considered part of the same genre but still create schisms. There can be likes and dislikes without invalidation. The music can grow from these conflicts. In that sense, Terry Teachout’s cry for the salvation of jazz is as inspired as Nas’ claim that hip-hop is dead.

The beginning of this sort of musical ideology is to look at the genre holistically. It stems from appreciating jazz in all of its facets. I currently volunteer my efforts at [KRTU San Antonio], a radio station focused on sharing jazz of all sorts, past and present, with the community. Working with the folks here, I’ve learned to appreciate jazz from all times even more and not feel all that afraid if there’s something I don’t know. This is how we learn, and sometimes learning new things can be scary. In that same way, sometimes learning can be exciting.

And in that sense, maybe I should try reading a couple more comic books and give a look at The Wire.

Anthony Dean-Harris is a contributing writer for [African-American Reflections] and hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, on [91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio].