anthony.deanharris[at]nextbop[dot]com / @retronius
I've done it! Our problems are solved. Yes, good folks, you've read it here first. I have figured out the one thing that will save the image of jazz music and bring folks running back to this genre. All too often, we hear the complaints about jazz. It's dead. It's sleepy. It all sounds the same. Too artsy. It's boring. Well, I've figured out how to change our image forever. Well, really Jason Moran did, but I'm stealing credit (Good writers borrow; great writers steal). From now on, all jazz shows will eliminate chairs.
I thought back to every concert I've ever attended. There aren't too many I've attended that weren't jazz shows in which I've remained seated through the whole thing (although I’d like to note that a José González concert sounds exactly the same as a José González album, ho hum). My theory is that the standing helps. In fact, dear reader, think back to all your show experiences. Ignore entirely your own personal enjoyment at all these shows, but just think about which ones you have attended in which you were seated and for which ones you stood. Now divide them by genre. Even if there were chairs, were most around you standing, thus causing you to stand so as to not have your view obstructed (Except maybe by that jerk two rows up with a hat far too large, why is that dude even wearing that here? You make a better door than a window, buddy!)?
When Jason Moran did a show of Fats Waller tunes with Me'Shell NdegéOcello a few months ago to encourage dancing, folks were astounded by the novelty of the idea despite the fact that Moran was clearly saying this sort of thing used to happen. In fact, more often it's supposed to happen. Do you realize we even sit at outdoor jazz festivals? Hold a festival in the park or throw a show at an amphitheater and it's expected folks show up with blankets and fold out chairs. When I go to San Antonio's Jazz'SAlive (Eh, eh, get it? Eye c wut u did thar.), the weirdos are that old couple who get up and dance (or the drunk homeless people who dance, but the title of "weirdo" may be somewhat justifiable in this case). When I went to Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest last year (and I'm praying KRTU can get me tickets for it this year, too. I'm putting out prayers and not so subtle hints starting now), the weirdos were the folks who brought folding chairs (usually also couples, typically placing them far too close to the ever growing standing crowd spreading farther and farther out from the stage. Seriously, like the proximity of Chappelle's rendition of Dylan to Wyclef Jean, you're too close, mon!).
Of course, if we're to start making changes of this nature, no matter how slight the change, we're going to have to weigh out our losses. For starters, old people who take up the largest portion of jazz's current target audience, it's time to cozy up to Sally Field because you're going to have to start eating more Boniva. Maybe only go the first set at the club instead of testing your virility at sticking around for both. Wear those comfortable shoes with the Velcro straps because you're about to stand in a huddled mass for an hour and a half, clutching your $8 beer while listening to a piano trio. If you start dancing, just remember to take it easy out there. More than likely, you'll want to stay along the walls. That's fine but don't expect any respite. I'll allow those tall tables you can lean on, but that's as far as I'll go. Crowd around the precious bar if you care so much for your precious feet instead of taking on some battle scars (i.e. corns) for the sake of jazz, Village Vanguard acoustics and traditional decorum be damned.
Maybe eliminating the chairs will inspire folks to dance (as Moran endeavored to do and I'm sure will attempt to do again, the man is truly living up to the promise of that MacArthur grant with the fascinating shows he's put together since). Maybe it would even inspire folks to mosh or skank (I wouldn’t put it past The Bad Plus to try and make that happen if this takes off, Dave King is a monster). Although as out there as Henry Threadgill can go, I’m not quite sure his shows can handle all that. ERIMAJ is already playing slow jams, so I say grinding on the floor is no longer out of the question (now taking bets on the exact point Jamire covers an R. Kelly song). Let’s get some crowd surfing going at a Vijay Iyer show. There’s no end to the possibilities here, all we have to do is get those pesky chairs out of the way.
Ultimately, we need to know what we want. A genre of life and vitality that’s different every time should from time to time move us to dance, no matter our age, and if it does so, it shouldn’t be odd for that to actually happen. Bringing in a younger audience involves making concessions and moving with the times, but it shouldn’t mean overboard to cater to them (completely devoid of authenticity, this generation can typically pick up on that sort of thing). If we can put smooth jazz on a cruise, it may not be that crazy from time to time for everyone to stand at a jazz show. Something so small doesn’t seem like thinking that far out of the box.
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.
P.S. Here's more on the chairs in the picture.