Back To The Future

by b.c.

There's a story I once heard about a man who goes to a woodcarver and asks to see a sample of his work. The woodcarver picks up a two-by-four and as he's showing it to the man, he says, "Used to be round." The man says, "It looks like a two-by-four," to which the woodcarver cheerfully replies, "thank you."

The woodcarver's attitude illustrates a trend in jazz that is disturbing to me and that is the growing tendency towards re-creating the past and praising it as some "new" movement. This "Back To The Future" Syndrome is nothing more than a re-inventing of the wheel. Jazz musicians and record executives seem increasingly devoted to an attempt to relive the Verve of the 1950's or the Blue Note of the 1960's and while I can listen to one of these groups and admire the technique or wax nostalgic for the old days, that's as far as it goes. There's nothing original in it.

One of the things that makes jazz so beautiful, risky, and even painful, is that it relies on spontaneity and relentless searching from the artist as its sole means of growth. Of course no one has the ability to be spontaneous and original all the time, but many of these players don't even make the attempt. This is partly the musicians fault in as much as we all want success and some people are less able to stick to their guns than others. However, much of the blame must be laid at the feet of the record executives who decide which of us live or die. It is an unfortunate reality that jazz music is beginning to be judged by the same criteria that other areas of the world have had to be judged by for years. Money. Will so-and-so sell? Do people know these tunes? Will this record be upsetting to folks? What are the demographics? How can we market this record? etc... I wonder how often in the board rooms and recording studios the question is asked, "Is this recording searching for, or finding, anything original which will further the Art?" Probably not very often these days. It's sad because money, and the pursuit of it, is slowly strangling the music we all profess to love.

It's time record executives, musicians and listeners stop glorifying this re-creation of the past and start recognizing the past for what it is; a springboard to something higher, a mean to a greater end, a building block, a two-by-four.

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