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Reflections On New Musical Frontiers

a.k.a. Most Music Sucks Walrus Balls

Alexander Brown
Contributing Writer
relaxandaspire@gmail.com

[Anthony Dean-Harris] asked me to contribute something regarding jazz for the site and I said sure, just let me bone up on jazz for a few weeks. Of course he had to ask for a column within a week.

I may not be as fluent in jazz as the guys who run the site but I am very fluent in music. And I can say in the ten years I've been absorbing music, I was never so bored as I was last year.

2009 was a terrible year or music for me, so I guess in some weird way the King of Pop dying mid-way through was fitting. In December I went to make my list of favorite new albums of the year and found I could only think of two off the top of my head.

All entertainment companies are hopelessly lost in a miasma right now, but none are fighting harder to keep their businesses as profitable as the music industry. Unfortunately until someone creates a device that will replace an mp3 player, the great sums of money that record companies reaped from CD sales is gone, and with it, the business model that came with it.

Plainly speaking, it's about time to stop making music that appeals to the lowest common denominator in the hopes that artist will net enough to make shareholders happy. The Internet is musical freedom. It is the circumference of the world after the age of discovery. If people want to find something to listen to bad enough, they will find it, and more than likely they will pay for it. Hell, Amazon and eBay make it a priority to make sure that you can buy almost everything that's rare, out-of-print, obscure, or just plain not carried in your local Best Buy or Barnes & Noble.

And this is where jazz can make inroads to come back from it's outdated definition, much as country, bluegrass, and folk did in the past decade.

Jazz, unlike most other genres of music is effortlessly formless; Its primary feature is about breaking rules and making the old new again and reinterpreting a song to fit the artist, like griot revisiting the stories of their youth. Hell, the modern musical landscape has proven, through countless producers, that people will buy the same song over and over again if it is tweaked a bit. Last I counted every hip-hop and pop single had at least three official remixes and a couple mixtape releases, one of which is sure to feature Weezy or Drake.

We already have popular musicians that are jazz without being sentenced to the brass and woodwinds ghetto to which mainstream relegates it too. Tom Waits enjoys a following that requires little promotion for his albums or tours or even big screen appearances. Norah Jones is a late night and SNL darling. And hell, has anyone really listened to Erykah Badu sing?

I admit that all of these artists are also examples of how jazz never quite came back into the national stage except a few exceptions, so yes, it will take some unabashed artist and a scene following to get the music from it's 3x3 bin way in the back of the store. And there's no reason this cannot happen sooner rather than later, because jazz is music; it's where indie artists learned rock isn't just "a+b+c=d", where hip-hop learned that just because a song was recorded one way, doesn't mean it has to be performed that way every time, or ever again, and pop learned that because a song was written by someone long dead before you doesn't mean you can't make it your own. Jazz is a lot, can be much more and does not have to be your parents' "I'm thinking" music. Jazz just does not have to be lame anymore.

Alexander Brown is a freelance writer. More of his work is available at his blog, [Relax and Aspire].