It happens often in interviews we are asked whether we are a jazz band or not. The easy and unoffending answer is no, though Im told otherwise often. I usually go on a long winded detour of speech about being influenced by a variety of genres of music, its up to the listener, background as a performer, and settling back at the beginning of the sentence fragments at I don't know.

I can pretend I don't care, my music is what it is and Im unaffected whether its taken or left, or how it is classified. That would be untrue. I care deeply about the music we create, music as an art form, its place in society, and how our music is received. How it is classified, I care less about, though amongst jazzers, the word "jazz" when classifying one's own music has become synonymous with "of quality" and "serious". There is a battle within then that I have, knowing that we are not a traditional, nor modern jazz group in the accepted sense, that is completely nonsensical when looked at from a distance, that tells me if we are not considered real jazz, we are worth less. The opposite could certainly be argued. 

The honest answer is absolutely not, and completely. We are not playing traditional jazz music, nor the kind that is taught in schools now - a phenomenon of just the last few decades - and many have, will and do, perhaps rightfully, state we are not jazz.  All this said, the music we make would not exist without the influence of jazz. We are using harmonies, song structures and melodic elements borrowed from the idiom juxtaposed against rock music, the rhythms I heard growing up - from 90's hip hop to Band of Gypsys, and whatever other abstract textures we feel fit. In the end, its an accurate reflection of who we are as players and who I am as a writer. I grew up as a middle class kid in Kansas City and Minneapolis, until my family profited from the Clinton-era economy. I got depressed and changed colleges. Lots of us did. I now reside in Mexico City. I don't really swing like the greatest have. Listen to Elvin Jones for that. What I do have is a wide palette of musical influences that I am increasingly growing comfortable with expressing, and seeing as valid. Jazz is not the most valid music, nothing is.

There is an argument that jazz's most relevant days have passed, much like the way people view classical music now. That Monk, Ellington, Bird, Armstrong, Ella, on and on could be held in an allegorical sense to Bach, Bethoven, Chopin, up to Stravinsky. I'm not sure whether that is true, that jazz has ceased to be relevant, but jazz culture seems to have had its finest days, go hang at the clubs in what is still jazz's epicenter, New York City. Its not the days of Monk at the Five Spot. The music was new, the culture was new, and the art instruction came from a legacy of folklore as opposed to a textbook.

Jazz is an institution at this point, deservedly so, one to be respected and admired. The brightest young jazz players have a mastery of their instrument and a large vocabulary in music that is inspiring.  Wynton, not quoting, referred to it as America's greatest export of the 20th century, maybe just in reference to the arts, I don't recall, but that would be hard to disagree with. People are playing traditional jazz everywhere now, Monk tunes are being performed a couple hours from the Mexico - Guatemala border. I was just there. Where we are now as a culture will greatly be defined by the arts we create and celebrate. The global reach of traditional jazz music and its influence on other styles of music seems to offer positive possibilities for the growth of the music we as humans create and celebrate. These are the positives I see in jazz, the respect I hold for it, and the gratitude I feel towards the creators of what has become a genre for their contribution to the evolution of music, the arts, and our way of life.

But it is the institutionalization of jazz, the attitude that there is a way it is played, that has come to bother and bore so many that live on the fringes of, or outside the idiom. If seen from the angle that jazz is played a certain way, and you do it right or wrong, we must admit that jazz's finest days are gone.  That we are recreating or imitating. I'm not sure music based in improvisation and using an extended vocabulary of musical concepts has passed, but the new music thats "jazz worthy" might just not be called jazz.


Todd CLouser January 24, 2012 @07:16 pm

Thank you for the comment Marianne, and the reminder that we should be respectful regardless of our perspective, that can be forgotten easily. Hope you guys are great and singing often.

mariannemeyers January 23, 2012 @06:20 pm

I ask you, does it really matter? I know in terms of marketing, you have to fit clearly in a niche for them, but I say, full steam ahead. Music continues to morph, that is the reality. It is like when I used to sing Gilbert and Sullivan - which I really dislike - but talk about being stuck in a time warp! There are people who love it, but it never changes or goes anywhere, some people like same-ness. You could say the same about opera. Jazz is not what it was 100 years ago, we continue to grow and change and become something else. And that is why we're here - growth. I know it is frustrating to try and define yourself to people who ask for definitions, but I encourage you to be respectful (as I know you are)and keep going where you are going, those who are interested will keep listening and supporting and watching.

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