Over the past several years, there have been a number of composers, performers, and ensembles that have caught the attention of those in the media. It would be very easy to infer that their music must not only be of high quality but of superior quality when compared with the work of those who are not being noticed…and therein lies the rub.
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.”
Almost 35 years ago, Wendy Carlos’s Switched-On Bach album first came out. It’s hard to know exactly why this particular combination of Baroque music and synthesizers became such a popular phenomenon, but to me it seems inextricably connected to a certain optimism about the future. But as society became more concerned with earthly things, the fashion for space age classical synth covers faded. Now they seem a bit like majestic old ruins, simultaneous evidence of great talent and great folly.
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.]
Sculptor Richard Serra condemned Stockhausen’s infamous remarks on the September 11 attacks for what he saw as “the aestheticization of terror.” But violence and terror are already thoroughly aestheticized–in music, movies, books, television, video games, and so on. After the fact, others have come to find a kernel of meaning in Stockhausen’s oddly detached musings.
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?