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More Chairs and Clarifying Satire

Anthony Dean-Harris
anthony.deanharris[at]nextbop[dot]com / @retronius

Satire is a tricky thing. It's a remarkably difficult type of writing that circumvents the Amoian hermeneutic circle. It involves the author hyperbolizing his/her intended point in the work to directly appeal to the reader, hopefully relating the actual, less intensified point to the audience if the audience could pick up on the fact that the point was blown up in the first place. It's pretty hit or miss (which is why the furor Jonathan Swift faced for publishing "A Modest Proposal" is so funny in retrospect). I say all this to clarify a point: while I am loving the discourse that has taken place in the last few weeks, I honestly don't want every jazz concert to eliminate chairs. I mean, really-- did you seriously think I was taking that rash of a stance?

My piece was largely intended to make you, gentle reader, reconsider jazz concert conventions. True, I would like more jazz shows to eliminate chairs, but we are already making strides to do so. The highly lauded Search and Restore shows already do this, finding interesting new venues to throw standing room only jazz shows. While I maintain an unwavering chip on my shoulder for New York City, I still think this is a model to consider (when appropriate) outside of jazz's gilded Petri dish. There should be a difference in the setting of a Herbie Hancock concert and a Robert Glasper concert (although, lately I've been hearing a lot of similarity in their phrasing which I find sort of cool). If we are making so many distinctions about the music itself and its range within the genre, it's only logical that how the music is presented and the conventions of the concert experience would see that same kind of range. I not only want to see more jazz shows without chairs, I want to see more jazz shows with light shows and trippy projections on the walls (like how Austin Peralta and the Brainfeeder crew are doing with Strangeloop). I'm still looking forward to the day when jazz acts are billed in non-jazz festivals (as Marco Benevento has done on occasion). Adding new innovations does not do a disservice to the music, but it does add variety to the concert experience. These innovations don't imply that the standard jazz concert is boring, but it does say that more can be done if it befits the act and the crowd.

It is this thinking with which I respectfully disagree with Marc Antunes’ aforelinked (“Aforelinked” instead of “aforementioned”. I’m going to make that a thing. Eh? Eh?) piece in response to my own. The idea that an artform should not take the audience into consideration is rather foolhardy. Art, like any other product, is made for mass consumption. It is as W.E.B. DuBois and George Orwell have said, all art is propaganda. It has an intention and an agenda that is to be parsed by an audience. For this reason, the audience must be taken into consideration when art is created while still not being held captive by the audience’s expectations. It’s a precarious situation to straddle when creating, especially in the realm of jazz when the artwork is created in real time, but it is crucial to the effectiveness of the artform. This is one of the essential ties that bind the Amoian hermeneutic circle. Considering the medium in which the music is presented, as we have so passionately done lately, is merely another factor in the creation of the artwork. Casting aside this factor exhibits a closemindedness that could harm the genre overall (which is yet another topic we seem to discuss quite often).

However, I stand by Antunes in stating that jazz continues to live and thrive. Jazz is not what it was a hundred years ago and it likely will not be now as it will be a hundred years from now. As Chuck Klosterman has said, culture cannot be right or wrong, it just is. Every aspect of it will progress as people will allow it to do so. The questions that we ask of the genre and its development, whether we agree with one another or not, are good for the maturation of the genre. The future of art is not a topic exclusive to jazz music. Refusing to innovate on one’s turf, if such innovation is true to the spirit of the artist and the art, is antithetical to the nature of art. It cannot die and at its core it cannot be rendered unrecognizable, but change is not necessarily a bad thing. And standing up every now and then because a trio is playing free jazz in an art gallery isn’t worthy of our derision.

Anthony Dean-Harris is a co-editor of the online magazine, SunDryed Affairs, 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.