“The future of the music is growing out more than up. It may or may not be getting better, but it is getting everywhere. Growth is horizontal more than vertical. There appear to be no more Coltranes on the horizon – no giants with the required combination of humility, strength and intelligence to lead a movement are emerging. On the other hand you can now go to just about any city in the developed world and hear a world-class rhythm section. (Thirty years ago there was only one outside the US, in Paris, and that had an American drummer.”
I had read an article, back in 2001, written by a writer i would later come to admire but at the time i was not familiar with. The article was called, “The Future Of Jazz Is Not What It Used To Be” and the writer, Mike ZwerinDuring the first few years of interviews for “Icons Among Us,” I almost always used to read this quote, and other segments, for the musicians i was interviewing. It wasn’t my intention to quote from the article but it seemed like a mistake not to poll them for their take on Zwerin’s words. How did the musicians feel? I wanted to know. We never used to rely on any critic’s album reviews for the interview process or any articles at all. Yet this excerpt from Zwerin’s article seemed to become more of a curiosity for myself, as well as Lars Larson ( who was the director of photography / co-director beside me in every interview.)
In my mind, the article was about this generation of jazz musicians that we had set out to document. If anyone were to answer Mr. Zwerin’s grim forecast on “America’s only native artform” and it’s lack of potential for any new “icons” to emerge, it should be the musicians.
“In the future, a film-maker like Ken Burns will no longer be able to justify the subtitle “The Story of America’s Music” for a documentary called Jazz. Not that its history will become, in the American sense of the word, “history;” meaning forgotten. With African ancestry and some European elements added, the music has remained African American from Jelly Roll Morton through the Marsalis brothers. That foundation will remain while the superstructure moves and evolves. So be it.
As a strictly “American art form,” jazz is beginning to grow fat. Other continents and colors are insisting on a say. There are many more good people playing it now in many more places, but less great ones. Direction is lacking. The fight defending the image of jazz as the smartest branch of popular music around is getting tougher. There’s competition, and a brain drain. Talented, motivated young instrumentalists learn to play Brazilian, African and Indian music, among others, as well. Conventional jazz formats – play the line, solo, take the line out – are getting seriously tired.”
This was an article in 2001 and yet i have never met Mr. Zwerin, I would like to think that he has changed his mind about a few things since that article. Much has changed since the new millennium and i am all positive thinking regarding where jazz is at currently… and where it might be headed. Yes, there are more “Coltrane’s among us.” His name is Ravi Coltrane. I always thought that was an unfair example to use in a time period that John Coltrane’s son was actively among the new generation of musicians. I knew what he really meant and i disagreed then and i still do now. Even more so after documenting the jazz world since the article was published.
Once again, we could all go back and forth about what is what and where is where but one thing Zwerin’s article gave us, the filmmakers of “Icons,” was a chance to hear a diverse and beautiful response from the only people that really mattered. The musicians themselves. From the very first interview that i did deep in the rainforest’s of Costa Rica with Avishai Cohen. I only have the audio portion but Avishai and Diego Urcola patiently waited for me to stumble through the Zwerin quotes , then responded to them with two different emotions. Then, Frank Lacy listened in our interview in New Orleans, as he went on to say to me that he would like to nominate himself as having chance to be the “Coltrane” here among us. Jeff Ballard in Vancouver, B.C. would agree with Zwerin and say he was most likely right.. there were no leaders because there was no call for someone to lead a movement just yet. Russell Gunn would almost take offense to the article in our Jazz Alley interview.. asking me “who was he to say anything about anybody?” ( of course he said that not yet knowing any authors name and more of a general challenge.) Robert Glasper would laugh and say many things but one of them being that Coltrane “was not god and that he could be just as bad ass as Coltrane and he hopes to become better.” …and he has every right to say so.. and i believe Robert can. I believe they all have the potential to…or i wouldn’t have spent the last 8 years of my life trying to make a case for it i guess.
Either way, my point in all this was to kick off one of what could potentially be a series, or maybe just a podcast, of the “Zwerin responses.” I still have yet to meet Mr. Zwerin but i still intend to. I have gone on to read most of his writing and i deeply admire the man. I understand what he wrote then and he was right in more ways than he was ever wrong. Not that i have any place to say which is which. I’d like to think i have the proper credentials to make that call on this current movement in the music but i just feel it’s important that all those beautiful responses from all the musicians i bothered with having to listen to me read the damn thing or try to at that. It became an important question. ” Was there a revolution happening? ”
I am happy to say with confidence that the overall consensus is “Yes.”
This entry was posted on Sunday, September 6th, 2009 at 1:12 pm and is filed under Icons Among Us, Random Rants and tagged with future of jazz, jazz, jazz lives, jazzlives, jeff ballard, mike zwerin, teachout. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.