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No More Lines in the Sand

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

"We need all the aspects of it [jazz] and that’s okay. We need the Wynton Marsalis and we need the Anthony Braxton and we need a Chris Botti and we need Christian Scott. We need a Ledisi and we need a Rachelle Ferrell. We need everything... We need it all because that word doesn’t belong to anybody anymore. It’s become so broad that to me the only element of that word that has any meaning universally is just improvisation. Jazz can be anything but maybe the only element that’s there across the board is that people are creating it in the moment." Esperanza Spalding, [April 2, 2010]

We here at Nextbop tend to often draw a line in the sand regarding things we like, dislike, and define as fruitful in this genre we love so much. Often, we’ll take an ideological stance on issues in the genre. We may take part in the rifts and infighting that plagues music criticism. To alleviate that, our management usually doesn’t speak for all of us so Nextbop isn’t always on the forefront. Still, the three of us agree on things more often than not, and we’ll often agree with others around us.

[Seb] and [Christian Scott] have the same foul mouths (and it’s starting to rub off on me to the point that I’ve lifted my “I don’t curse" stance). [Seb] and [Justin] agree on a lot of album preferences whereas I may be on the outs for a couple of artists’ works. [Seb] and I seem to have an eerie hive mind 90% of the time. It’s sort of cool to work with folks who are so amiable and passionate about the genre and this particular subset of the genre.

It’s also pretty cool to take part in discourse with other folks on subjects like the credibility of a particular genre “game changer", the stodgy nature of Marsalis campers, or how the blending of genres in live shows gives the genre a new audience à la Search and Restore and incorporating opening acts. But at the end of the day, we have to admit that we are only a few guys who have our limited opinions on a wide spanning artistic movement.

We may not be right in drawing our lines in the sand as it relates to the overall jazz industry and press. Our stances, while periodically bombastic, may not be helpful to the discourse, and certainly not helpful to the newcomers to whom we’re trying to appeal. Perhaps the Marsalis campers (ahem, traditionalists) are the barometer for modern jazz enthusiasts to measure their craft.

Maybe we should stress expanding our horizons instead of constantly drawing our lines in the sand. Maybe this with us or against us mentality isn’t as beneficial as we may thing. This house of jazz that is so clearly divided is fearful of no longer standing. We should hold to the stance that we really do need everything in this genre, whether we as individuals like it or not.

Perhaps it’s time we in the jazz community became as open minded as Esperanza Spalding.

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].