Jazz Is Dead. Long Live Jazz.

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Art and life co-habitate, informing, imitating, and enriching each other constantly. Each week in Better Living Through Music, RFT Music writer Ryan Wasoba explores this symbiotic relationship

When I read "Vijay Iyer and the Outreachification Of Jazz" by Chris Kornellis on the Seattle Weekly's blog, my immediate response was something like, "Aw, hell no, you don't mess with Vijay." Maybe because Accelerando, the pianist's album released earlier this year, the same one that Kornellis used as a springboard-slash-target, might be my favorite jazz record to come out during my lifetime. If you are reading this and haven't heard the album's immediate title track, I encourage you to do so even if you hate jazz as much as Paul F. Tompkins.

See also:
-Vijay Iyer is Excited to Return to St. Louis, Where a Track from The New Album Was Born
-Vijay Iyer and the Outreachification of Jazz
-The Six Strangest Crossover Attempts By Jazz Musicians

This essay is neither a defense of Vijay Iyer nor a criticism of Chris Kornellis, but the article brings up my own tumultuous relationship with jazz. I went to college for jazz guitar performance for three years, where I realized I did not really love the music as much as I loved being able to major in playing guitar at college. This is a common problem among my peers, many of whom practice Charlie Parker tunes by day and listen to metal or bluegrass or reggae at night hoping that nobody is watching.

Jazz is almost harder to like than it is to love. When you love music, you give it some slack. Just ask yourself, is King Of Limbs actually good or are you just predisposed to like Radiohead? Very few people have a romantic, mind-blowing introduction to John Coltrane in which a single song changed their lives forever. People more often learn to love John Coltrane, like it or not.

Kornellis' article spoke about Vijay Iyer's "Jazz Outreach" workshops, where he teaches kids about jazz. Chances are, these kids will have to learn to love this music, since a twelve year-old whose older sister just introduced him to dubstep is unlikely to have his world turned upside down after hearing "So What" by Miles Davis.

Some bash on jazz because of its relative inaccessibility, but I find this somewhat hypocritical given the tendency for the modern music lover to dig into inaccessible music. I am firm in my belief that people are listening to weirder music more often than ever before. Shit, dubstep is pretty weird.

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I enjoyed reading this, as I do all your essays.


I think that the role of jazz has always been as the counterpoint to lyrical song-driven music.  For decades, those who didn't care for lyrics or "songs" could turn to jazz, where simply the sounds made by instruments could be appreciated.


However, these days I think electronic music has stolen a lot of jazz's thunder as the counterpoint to lyrical music.  It offers an almost unlimited sound palate, and doesn't require many expensive instruments.  


When I decided to venture into non-lyrical music as a youth in the 90s, I didn't turn to jazz.  Instead I turned to Aphex Twin's "I Care Because You Do" and The Orb's "Orbus Terrarum" albums.  These were my versions of jazz.  These albums opened me up to crazy sonic landscapes, the same way that Coltrane did back in the day.  Once you start on electronic music, I think it's hard to go back to other forms, because they are all constrained in some way.  Even jazz is constrained by the sounds of the instruments involved.  I dig going out and seeing an awesome live jazz band, but chances are I'm not going to listen to jazz CDs in my spare time.  


I appreciate you sharing that Vijay Iyer track.  I enjoyed it and will definitely explore more of his stuff  The way I see it, the same thrill you get from that song, I get from listening to Squarepusher's "Iambic 9 Poetry"




I urge you to listen to the song, not just because it's awesome, but that you'll better understand what I'm getting at.





@rftmusic @RyanWasoba There's a Norwegian grindcore group called Psudoku whose album Space Grind is jazz-like in form.


 @YoungReezy Good call on the Squarepusher track. I think Four Tet and Tortoise are functionally jazz to me, so I know what you're saying. Thanks for the nice words.


 @RyanWasoba I agree...I think the spirit of jazz is what fuels a lot of the good electronic music coming out these days.  That Squarepusher track is obviously very jazz-influenced.


These days I think jazz is associated a lot with live instruments/instrument-playing prowess.  Musicians who play instruments are probably the ones who are really keeping it alive and relevant.  Generally when one says "musician" one assumes they play an actual instrument.  But nowadays with 13-year old kids making tracks on their computer we're going to see a lot more computer musicians alongside instrument musicians. 


Jazz will also always be infinitely more fun to experience live.  Watching some dude press play on a laptop with some visuals behind him will never replace the visceral experience of live jazz.


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