What’s happened to Jazz?

Jazz is dead? This question has been in my mind for a long time as new music comes out from various artists. Awards are given, reviews and praise are showered upon pop, rap and contemporary artists. As a musician, I see the absence of jazz and wonder: where has it gone?

Taking a look at modern times, music has changed drastically. From the rock revolution fusion, Latin, acid and smooth jazz have emerged as significantly different genres. In these genres, there is a larger focus on electronic instruments as opposed to traditional acoustic jazz.

There is no denying that jazz music’s fruitful and strong years as the world’s source of popular music has passed. After the Bossa Nova, Hard Bop, and the Free Jazz movements, its focus traversed from popular dance music to intellectual listening. As jazz became less marketable, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and The Jackson Five shifted into the popular music of the times. Rock music inadvertently focused less on musical complexity and more on lyrical and rhythmic appeal. Jazz, previous to its final intellectual changes, had focused just as much on beautiful lyrics as its musical tastefulness.

In a way, rock abased itself in change to drive a larger focus on lyrics and emotional appeal. This is why an instrumentalist can’t play a pop tune without sounding the same after a chorus. A jazz standard, however, can be played with or without a singer and still move a crowd to tears.

Jazz and its musicians constantly search for new and creative ideas. In doing so, jazz sacrificed its popularity moving against pop culture and towards a classical standpoint of appeal for a thinking listener.  It is, however, false to claim that this is true for the entirety of jazz itself.

Throughout the constant progression of its music, jazz has left musicians in certain genres at different times. I myself have been left in the times of the 40s and early 50s. Primarily Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins keep their music harmonically complex but still retain the simple beauty of sound. Their music fuses with me like nothing else short of my faith.

I’m sorry to say that today’s modern jazz will drive away youth and adults alike who haven’t grown accustomed or trained to handle its advanced forms and techniques. Unfortunately, labels have been placed on jazz from its present state to apply to all previous styles and genres that it created before modern times. Jazz is claimed to be for the old, distant and intellectual. This is false. The beauty of this music is that it has rhythms, melodies, and sounds that would reach to all, in one way or another.

Jazz has certainly changed, and if you can’t see how that’s okay, maybe you have some growing up to do. In the end, the message of jazz has not been to exclude, but to welcome. Pick the style and times you love, perhaps even play some of it. Jazz has everything, for all, and will always be here.

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