gen – re \ ˈzhän-rə
1: a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content
In the past several years, there seems to have been a rash of buzzwords and phrases used to determine where a particular type of music should or should not be placed. Ironically, the buzzwords and phrases seem to be defying the very thing that they represent. In virtually every article about jazz, the same phrases continue to pop up: “genre busting”, “this artist refuses to be placed in a category”, “there’s no genre that can define his/her music”, or any variant thereof. Immediately my “BS senses” flare up. Without reading any further, I can say with nearly 100 percent accuracy that the music being (misre)presented here is, well, how can I put this – NOT JAZZ!!!!!
Once I get to the next part of the article, which describes the artist’s music, it turns out to be someone so far away from jazz that it’s laughable. The artist being spoken of may be a rap star who claims to have been enticed by the awesomeness of jazz, while somehow sticking
closely to rap. Sometimes, it’s an R&B singer who says they listened to jazz when they were a child and its influences have “grabbed hold”. Unfortunately, merely listening to jazz does not make one a jazz artist. I think that the thing which bothers me most is that it’s a waste of my reading time, as I rarely take a liking to said artist’s music (with that word, “rarely”, being outrageously emphasized). Why? Because I thought I was about to be introduced to a new or up-and-coming jazz artist. Not.
I might have let it roll off my back like mere words, but it doesn’t stop there. I am from Philadelphia, PA. There are two cities that lie about 63 miles Northwest of Philadelphia, which are side by side – big city Reading, flanked on the left by small, suburban West Reading (and, no – West Reading is not the western part of Reading – it’s a completely different city). At any rate, they are both part of an area called Berks County. An annual jazz festival takes place there called (among other names) The Berks County Jazz Festival. The festival takes place in most of downtown Reading and spreads out all over West Reading and its western and northern suburbs. Memory escapes me but I believe that it was once a week-long event. Now, it is spread out over a two-week period. The first time that I attended, I went daily, then returned home. The second time that I attended, I stayed at a hotel for two back-to-back weekends, during the two-week period. For a jazz lover – this was jazz heaven!!!
Unfortunately, due to the advent of “genre busting” music, that jazz heaven has nearly crumbled into a jazz lover’s den of misery. To be fair, what saves this festival is that, unlike events such as The Newport Jazz Festival, each event at the Berks County festival is held in separate locations – tickets are purchased for individual shows. Therefore, one can buy tickets for just the artists that one wishes to see, still leaving one with a week/weekend of jazz. The Newport Jazz Festival (and others that are similar) has one stage, in one arena, with all artists appearing on that stage at some point. That may be different now, but I’ve only attended one time, and at that time, that was the setup. That means, in such a setup, one will have to sit through all types of music before finally being able to enjoy the jazz that one came to hear. But, let’s be reasonable – why have all jazz at a jazz festival? Don’t be silly.
Take a close look at the next “jazz” festival that you see advertised, and pay close attention to the scheduled guests. It would not be unreasonable to expect that out of twenty artists, five will be jazz, and the remaining 15 will be “other”, as in “not jazz”. There has been an uptick in jazz cruises over the last ten years or so, boasting 20-30 artists. Out of that number, it is not unreasonable to expect that more than half of the artists have absolutely nothing to do with jazz. You know – at a jazz festival.
I guess I should stick to trips to The Berks County Jazz Festival, and make peace with a changing world. Or, perhaps, stick to streaming my jazz via TIDAL, where I can hear what I want to hear, when I want to hear it.
Jazz, jazz, and nothing but jazz.