Friday, September 21, 2007

Forecasting The Future

As noted in an earlier post, I'll be taking part next Saturday in a day-long symposium on jazz and globalization being staged at Columbia University's School of Journalism in Manhattan.

The panel I'll be on — along with Bill Shoemaker (top left, Washington, DC), Maxi Sickert (top right, Germany) and Cyril Moshkow (far left, Moscow) — will be addressing the topic: "Who are the new musicians of our time? What are the local and international traditions and aesthetics that inform their work? What kinds of aesthetic, economic, methodological, and cultural alignments are musicians pursuing in the 21st Century?" K. Leander Williams (near left) is the moderator.

As I've also posted, I'm in the middle of putting together a feature-length obituary of Joe Zawinul, and the more I listen to Zawinul's music and talk to people like drummer Peter Erskine and producer Bob Belden the more it's clear that Zawinul could really serve as the model for the modern jazz musician of the world. Many of the people who seem to be changing the traditional definition of a jazz musician — and I would include people like Vijay Iyer, Myra Melford, Cuong Vu, Dave Douglas, Gordon Grdina and John Hollenbeck in this category — are coming from backgrounds other than the standard music institutions and often pursuing musical careers only after other intellectual interests. Their music, like Zawinul's, reflects their diversity of backgrounds and interests, and they are finding new avenues to get their music heard.

Anyway, lots to think about and synthesize into a presentation for next week.

Plans are firming up to have a live webcast of the symposium, which features a wide range of jazz journalists from around the world, and to open the proceedings up to a broad audience through a live blog that Philadelphia-based writer David Adler will be maintaining on the Jazz Journalists Association website. Tune in!


John Doheny said...

I'm a little puzzled by your assertion that people like Myra Melford and Cuong Vu are "coming from outside the standard musical institutions." Vu went to the New England Conservatory, Douglas to Berklee, and Melford to the Eastman School of Music (she's currently on the faculty at U.C. Berkeley and Vu teaches at the University of Washington). Vijay Iyer has a bunch of heavyweight science degrees, so I guess he fulfills the "music after other intellectual pursuits" bit.

Maybe I'm taking you wrong. Perhaps by standard musical institutions you meant the bars, clubs and jam sessions that were, before the advent of a jazz education system, the primary source of instruction for young jazz musicians?

I would think the real story is the incorporation of the jazz study process into the academy. I'm not being critical of that; I am, after all, a benificiary of it (as professor of music at Tulane) and am also of the generation that fought for the acceptance of jazz as serious art music. But I'm also someone who dropped out of high school at age 15 to pursue a twenty year career as a professional saxophonist, before I ever set foot (at age 37) on a university campus as either student or instructor. This affords me a fairly unique and (I hope) valuable perspective on this issue.

In my opinion there is a huge, huge difference in worldview beteen players who are products of the university system and those (generally older) who are not. I in no way mean to suggest that one is 'better' than the other, merely that they are different.

At the other end of the equation, the marketing and perception of the music as high art has also brought about great change.

James Hale said...

Just to use Myra Melford as an example, she was on her way to becoming an environment lawyer when she was drawn back into music (she had been quite interested in blues piano growing up in Chicago).

The point is, a lot of musicians no longer pursue "classic" or "traditional" paths. Time was when you interviewed a young musician, their story was often very similar to many others. Today, it's less and less the case.

Of course, it's difficult to generalize, but in answering the question of "Who is today's jazz musician?" the answer is often: No who you might think.