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Jazz War, What Is It Good For? (Absolutely Nothing)

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

A few weeks ago, I extended an olive branch to the jazz internet community that Nextbop would [no longer draw lines in the sand]. This proclamation was rather well received and we’re very appreciative to you, dear reader, for loving what we’re doing here and our new position of not taking a stance in what [Lucas Gillan] is aptly referring to as the “Jazz Wars.”

Ever since that article, I’ve been rather concerned about something. The arguments we’re having about the proper direction of the genre (which should not be a rather lockstep process but as varied as other genres of music in order to promote its rich growth) is certainly captivating to watch. The fact of the matter is everyone is drawn to watching a car crash.

The “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality is all throughout journalism, music commentary included. Conflict draws folks, but more folks have been coming to Nextbop in the last week than ever before. Apparently, with this newfound veneer of peace, we’re still bringing the public what it wants to see. But it would probably bring in more readers if we were to comment in such a one-sided fashion as others in the community have.

This type of discourse, while having nuances of truth to them, is still largely a characterization of the “modernist” approach to jazz that others, particularly Nextbop artists, have championed for some time. Yet [as David Ryshpan has noted], much of the genre isn’t on one side or the other, but really an amalgamation of both stances.

[Jason Parker], currently wrapping up his West Coast tour, recently [tweeted] on the matter, “I can state first hand that out here on the road the jazz wars are meaningless. [The] tour has confirmed that people respond equally to standards, originals, [and] pop covers, as long as we play with passion and conviction from our hears. If you give the audience permission to enjoy themselves, they will!”

I must say, it’s extremely difficult not taking a side on this issue when I know what kind of music I like, but I know it doesn’t benefit the genre or its public perception to continue the infighting on a matter like this. Beside the fact, what does this fighting accomplish? Will traditionalists finally come up with that spectacular argument that’ll make The Bad Plus break down? Will Ethan Iverson come up with some blog post stating, “We’ve had enough. Wynton, you’ve been right all along. We are no longer jazz musicians, we’ve just been having a problem with nomenclature. Until we come up with a name for what we’re doing, Reid, Dave, and I will take a sabbatical from music.”

Will the reverse happen? Will one of Brad Mehldau’s lengthy liner notes finally make Jason Marsalis admit he wasn’t playing with irregular time signatures because he just didn’t want to exert the effort to play like that all the time?

Like how many people who share my Christian faith are adamant about intermingling modern science into the mix (Needing psychiatry isn’t a sign that you aren’t praying hard enough, geez! God gave man the brains to figure stuff out, too.), two sets of ideologies, in this case, these two main warring sides in jazz discourse, can peacefully coexist without seriously infringing on the core set of beliefs. Art needs to move forward and innovate while still holding onto its roots. Respecting all ideas in the community is crucial to the growth and proliferation of the genre.

But as a guy who holds the reins on a site dedicated to promoting one of those viewpoints of jazz, it’s hard for me not to bash one ideology to promote my own, especially when such talk is in vogue. Still, I am a man of my word, so I refuse to keep fighting just to increase hit counts (and we really do like steadily increasing our website’s hit count). Besides, there are times when I feel like playing more traditional jazz music. I’m not against that whole aspect of the music, neither are many other jazz fans and musicians.

When we recognize this, we can then focus on our actual forward movement. Rubbernecking isn’t truly beneficial, even if it is entertaining. It’s better that we stay on the highway, focused on getting where we’re trying to go.

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].