The End of Jazz

Today’s topic is also the title of a recently published article in The Atlantic.

Now I saw the title and just had to read the article to find out why the author thought this wonderful, vibrant musical genre is dead.  Basically, I discovered the unfortunate Atlantic has become the vehicle for Benjamin Schwarz’s claim that jazz has dried up because its source of musical material, the popular standards written in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s, has ceased to provide new inspiration.  What Mr. Schwarz doesn’t seem to realize is that not only do those songs still manage to find new life in the hands of young artists, but also that jazz has evolved past the songbooks and branched out in many directions.  In fact, I would argue what he really means is that the type of jazz personified by the songbook era, including swing, big band and early bop, is no longer the heart of the current jazz scene.  But the nature of jazz is to constantly morph and change, and it wouldn’t—and couldn’t—be what it is if it stayed locked into one strain of thought.  In declaring the end of songbook jazz’s golden age, Mr. Schwarz has thus presented us with a piece of information that is embarrassingly late.  The bop and “classic” jazz era ended in the ‘60’s, and the early ‘70’s heralded the crash landing of fusion jazz, just one strain that has carried the genre from there.

For a nicely biting and highly informative rebuttal, see the following, published in the Washington City Paper.  This article also makes the important point that even though the claim that jazz is over is unfounded, the perception of jazz as such is harmful to the life and enjoyment of the art form.

One thing I did like about “The End of Jazz,” however, was the mention of some lovely recordings I hadn’t yet heard.  It’s probably evident by now that I like comparison studies, so I present my dear readers with another, this time on Billy Strayhorn’s classic “Lush Life”:

Try Coltrane first.  Meditative, mournful and thought-provoking.  Emphasis on the “bitter” in bittersweet.

I especially like Stan Getz’s take.  A little more tongue-in-cheek, I think.

Carmen McRae is not a vocalist I would have sought out for this song, but her version is just wonderful.

This was not included in the Atlantic lineup, but is an unexpected and fabulous recent discovery.

And I can’t resist adding this last little jewel courtesy of the critical Mr. Schwarz.

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