Thirty-two-year-old nostalgia rules my brain this week, in anticipation of Saturday's reunion for alumni of CKCU-FM and the blast of publicity surrounding next week's release of Bruce Springsteen's re-packaging of one of my seminal albums, Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
The fall of 1978 was a turning point for me. Out of school for a year, I'd put in nine months of work at a small arts magazine, learning the magazine business from the ground up, and had landed my first serious job in journalism (as dedicated as I was to the arts magazine, it was hard to view those nine months as anything more than a paid apprenticeship). At the end of the summer I got a chance to attend the reunion of The Allman Brothers Band in Macon, Georgia, which inspired what I considered my first substantial piece of music writing, and led to me selling a small article to Rolling Stone. In the fall, I began volunteering at CKCU-FM—landing several on-air shows that dominated my life for the next several years. This was heady stuff; it seemed that it might actually be possible to make some kind of living in arts journalism.
But, enough about me. What really has my thoughts occupied is how radio seems to have failed to keep pace with developments in jazz.
A casual look at the state of jazz in the late '70s/early '80s makes it appear that it was a relatively fallow time. Fusion had burned out and simultaneously turned in on itself and outward toward smooth jazz. The young Marsalis brothers were about to move out of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and launch the neo-conservative movement that would dominate the music for 20 years.
That much was true, but bubbling beneath the surface was a tremendous amount of great—albeit non-commercial—music by people like Henry Threadgill (as the leader of the trio Air), Arthur Blythe, David Murray, James Blood Ulmer and Ronald Shannon Jackson. What's more, exciting new bands like the Lounge Lizards and The Contortions were using elements of improvised music, and artists like Neneh Cherry were bursting out with dance hits that melded easily into playlists alongside Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis.
At CKCU and other radio stations these sounds were swept up and intermingled with smart pop bands like The Jam, Public Image Ltd., and DEVO.
Is that same thing happening today with artists like Vijay Iyer, Jason Moran, Steve Coleman and Mary Halvorson? If it is, I'm not hearing it.
I'm trying not to let my 30-plus years of distance affect my thinking, and simultaneously hoping there's some young broadcaster out there who is mixing from Iyer into MIA, or from Lil' Wayne into Moran.