For 2013, I hope not to hear any “jazz is dead” arguments. The past few years have been rife with them, from systemic looks at the decline of the popularity to creative attempts at rebranding. None of the discussions really solve anything, but serve a human need to conflate controversy with enlightened entertainment or debate. Jazz isn’t dead, so much as it’s grown up.
No one would consider the over-reaching classification of classical music dead. We are far from the days when composers could overwhelm their fans with Lisztomania. People aren’t clamoring to claim “I was there when” in regards to Alex Ross’ New Yorker columns. At the same time, a city isn’t considered a city without it’s own symphony hall or opera house.
Jazz is about at that level of respectability, with a few caveats. Only a handful of cities really take pride in their jazz districts and club. There are also a number of jazz artists who will proudly proclaim that their stage performance drops the panties or pants. But make no mistake, jazz is music mostly aimed at grown folks, and that’s probably a good thing.
Does anyone really want the current end-all be-all targeted music audience, teens and the twenty-somethings, be the main focus of this music? That audience, while seemingly vast and flushed with a nearly inexhaustible amount of capital for entertainment, is also fickle with their loyalties. The people who fell in love with ‘N Sync a decade and a half ago aren’t buying Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience with the same aplomb.
Nothing stays massively popular forever. No one talks about theatre being dead, despite the fact film and television outstrip its popularity many times over. People still buy private journals and scrapbooks, even though starting a Facebook or Pinterest account are the norm and downright required for some professions.
One of the wonders of the 21st century is the fact that any crowd can be an “in crowd.” Yes, jazz is subsidized by academia, taxpayers, or foundations. But maybe we shouldn’t take it as a sign of an artform’s demise but rather its evolution and acknowledgement into something more than the prelude to a good lay. Not that jazz isn’t still that.
The potential of the genre lies not in its ability to appeal to all comers, but to its capacity to encapsulate a maturity of a lifetime. Leave all the confusing thoughts and feelings of unfocused youth to hip-hop and pop music, eventually they’ll have to grow up, too. And growth isn’t death, just change, and things that change don’t die. And jazz has certainly changed, and if you can’t see how that’s a good thing maybe you have some growing up to do.