The struggle of jazz artists to be recognized for their artistic merit is worth examination. My own sense is that the argument has always boiled down to two issues: one’s skin color and one’s economic status. Paradoxically, popular music has been generally understood to be artistically inferior to “creative” music, even though it makes much more money. Over the course of its history, jazz moved from novelty, to popular, to “creative.”
Every year since 2005, E. J. Decker has produced Heart of Jazz, an assemblage of thirty to forty jazz singers and instrumentalists who get together to honor the memory of those lost in the tragic collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001. Until now, no documentation has existed for these performances. [Video content included.]
Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology, the latest edition of the seminal collection originally released forty years ago, has the most democratic profile of any of its antecedents, but there are still some questionable inclusions and omissions as well as some curious musical pronouncements in the set’s accompanying annotations, e.g. should Ornette Coleman be called a microtonalist?
One of the names left out of my post last week was that of Sathima Bea Benjamin, who passed away on August 20, the same day as pianist Marian McPartland. Benjamin spent much of her time working as a political activist, in addition to serving as the manager and agent for her husband, pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. But she also remained active as a singer and recording artist herself, even though her own artistic accomplishments remained largely invisible.
Pursuing music as a vocation in America requires a sense of dedication and commitment that defies what most reasonable people would consider sound decision-making. The average veterinarian in 2010 was paid $82,000 per year; in 2011 the average mail sorter earned $48,400. Musicians average around $34,000.
As if to assuage my soul’s re-awakening sense of being pilloried by life in the Big Apple (something I forgot I had become used to while I was on the Left Coast), I heard a husky and familiar voice on my radio singing Vincent Youmans’s “Sometimes I’m Happy.” I searched my memory, but couldn’t come up with a name to attach to the voice.
Improvising with complete strangers is really hard, and playing music isn’t always about having a good time. I have found that having fun while playing is a perk, and not a necessity to playing good music. And it should be emphasized that not having fun isn’t a reflection on the people one is playing with—it’s about how one feels at the moment.