by Antonio Sanchez
In response to the article: Jazz Has Become The Least-Popular Genre In The U.S.
which was posted on TheJazzLine
There are a lot of good points in this article but I think a lot of the blame goes partly to jazz musicians themselves when they make our music inscrutable for the average listener and the concert goer feels left out because what they're listening to is too complex for the sake of complexity and lacking in melody and lyricism. This turns me off about a lot of modern jazz because even I feel left out sometimes. I can't generalize because there are great musicians out there doing it the right way and giving jazz a good name but I can't tell you how many times I've heard people saying they don't like jazz because it sounds weird to them and it's boring. Well, a lot of times it does sound weird and it is boring...No good and concise melodic material is the killer of a lot of jazz nowadays. EVERYBODY loves a good tune (instrumental or not) and a lot of modern contemporary jazz lacks this quality.
I think it's our duty to keep the listener involved and not just write and play music for other musicians. We can make sophisticated music that will be palatable without it being egocentric and exclusive. We have to remember what jazz music used to be and what it meant to the people.
Another aspect of jazz that sometimes drives me crazy is how musicians present their show. When you go to a rock concert it's not a gig. It's an event. When jazz musicians play most of the time it's just a gig. The difference between an event and a gig is not the venue or the amount of fancy lights, the size of the PA or the amount of people in attendance. Its the attitude and preparation that a paying audience deserves to witness. They took time out of their evening, got a babysitter, got into the subway or car and paid money to see something good. We have the obligation of making it feel as something special and not like a bunch of musicians getting together to jam. I can't tell you how many gigs I've done where the bandleaders wing it and have no intention of putting a good set list together so that the set will flow nicely. They have no idea of when they're going to talk or what they're going to say and most of the time it backfires with all the momentum from the music being lost in a heartbeat. It's not that hard to figure out but it requires some thought.
Some musicians talk about how audiences nowadays have attention deficit and get restless very easily. They do. That's why we have to take EXTRA care to not bore them to death with extremely long solos (that are mostly amusing the musicians who are playing them) and with unprepared and lame set lists.
A lot of people think they're so good that anything they play will be exciting enough to keep the interest of the audience but they complain when nobody jumps to their feet after their solos or their tunes and harshly label the audience lame and dead. Even if the audience doesn't understand what is going on they do know what makes them move. A lot of modern jazz doesn't have the elements that make people move.
If we want to sell more records (or have more streams) we have to be more conscious of what we're up against. If you listen to timeless rock or pop albums you'll find that the production value is immaculate. They spend months and sometimes years recording, mixing and producing a single project. I know we can't compare popular music budgets against jazz but I will say that A LOT more can be done to make our records sound better and be better produced. Nobody likes listening to bad sounding albums. We should take a cue from rock and pop and do better with our product.
Another thing: why is it always that the only musicians you see with sheet music in "popular music" (not so popular now I guess) are the ones who play jazz? I understand music can be complex and sheet music is necessary sometimes but a lot of people just don't care about learning the music. I've seen way too many jazz gigs where everybody is scuffling to find the right chart and then scuffling to play it. Why would anybody want to see that? I certainly don't. Try to imagine any good rock or pop band reading music onstage. You can't imagine it because it doesn't happen.
Why should we be an exception? Yes, the music is easier but jazz musicians should be very well equipped to do it.
We can turn it around. We just have to be more conscious of the times, trends and our audience and be smart enough and hard working enough to try to read the signs and incorporate them into our music in a sophisticated but palatable way. It's doable. Some people already are on it . Are you doing it?