Author Topic: Jazz and Popular Music  (Read 3569 times)

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Jazz and Popular Music
« on: November 12, 2012, 07:57:01 AM »
I am someone who makes a clear distinction between blues and jazz.

Blues was a singer's music, usually a solo performer with guitar.
Jazz was played in ensembles with horns, and this made it more likely that they read music, as opposed to guitar.

The electric guitar presents a particular dilemma in this regard. Once confined to the rhythm section, the amplifier allowed the guitar to become a soloing voice. It is a relative late-comer to jazz in this regard, and not associated with the "pure" horn jazz established earlier. Even during be-bop, the guitar was rather crude sounding.

Only by the 50's with the emergence of Wes Montgomery & others did "jazz guitar" really begin to be recognized.

Meanwhile, in the more "popular" blues world, B.B.King and others were using light-gauge strings and using string-bending techniques, unheard of by jazz guitarists, who used heavier-gauge strings for comping chords.
So jazz guitar kept itself separate from blues, by using heavier-gauge strings, with no bending, and a more rolled-off EQ, with fewer high frequencies and more bass; and of course, no heavy distortion or effects.

Heavy rock players picked up on all the blues string-bending techniques, and added more distortion & effects, and played louder.

By the late 60's, "Jazz Fusion" reared its fearsome head, and players like Larry Coryell, Al DiMeola, John Abercrombie, and Bill Connors started incorporating these blues/rock influences into their guitar repertoire of techniques.

Now, in the present, we have players like Scott Henderson, who makes no bones whatsoever about his string-bending blues influence, and even "flaunts it"; Frank Gambale, who uses distortion and his famous "sweep-picking" and "speed-picking" techniques, and who states in no uncertain terms that one must learn to make the guitar "squeal" like a blues player.

Then we have Allan Holdsworth, who consciously avoided all blues-guitar idiomatic riffs, at the behest of his father, a horn player.

So blues CAN influence jazz, but jazz has done without that influence in many instances: Allan Holdsworth's music and technique do not draw on blues;
the "ECM" sound, which included John Abercrombie and Pat Metheney, has never struck me as bluesy, but more European and "artsy" or classical;

So "Jazz" has always aspired to be a genre apart from pop music: it is largely instrumental, and over the years has gradually separated itself from blues, and from its early conventions, by assimilating the influences of Bossa-Nova, world music, and the like.

There have been various times when new "hybrid" forms of jazz have appeared, such as "funk" influence, "fusion", world-music (Shakti), and hip-hop (Scofield's newest stuff with Medesky, Martin, & Wood).

So it seems to me that jazz in its "pure" form will always be a group interaction, improvised music, with no vocals, like classical chamber music; of course, "popular" music will from time to time exert an influence on it, and create a hybrid form.

Some of the "smooth" black singers like Marvin Gaye started a trend which persists til today, with smooth, silky vocal lines over hard-core jazz electric keyboards, playing very contemporary jazz chords and voicings; with sometimes a sax or flute added. This is almost full-circle transformation, in which jazz has finally unashamedly melded with black "pop" singers. But this, too, is another hybrid form.

In the end, it seems that jazz gets transformed by various popular idioms and trappings of contemporary life and technology, but is at its core a skeleton of various more-or-less constant musical factors, which get dressed up in various ways by whoever gets hold of it.
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Re: Jazz and Popular Music
« Reply #1 on: November 12, 2012, 07:58:36 AM »
Guitars, Hammond organs
Neither the guitar or Hammond organ are breath instruments, which allows them to play long sustained lines which horn players are incapable of, which further subverts ideas of "jazz phrasing" being connected with the breath (read: human voice).
Some guitarists, Tal Farlow, construct lines which follow this breathing phrasing, in imitation of singing voices and horns; other guitarists, Pat Martino, play longer, fluid, connected lines which are impossible for the human voice or horns.
I'm sure you can appreciate Joey DeFrancesco. He exemplifies what I mean as far as "long lines". A singer or horn player would simply run out of breath trying to play such long lines.
DeFrancesco's work with Pat Martino on Martino's "Live At Yoshi's" has a blues cut on there, where DeFrancesco plays a continuous line that lasts almost an entire progression.

In very early jazz, horns impart a "vocal" quality. The wah-wah trumpet of Louis Armstrong, and laughing clarinets. Mingus carried on that thread, as well as Eric Dolphy.

The conservative "jazz guitar" prototype style, as most people think of it (Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery, Grant Green), does not "talk" in the same manner as voices or horns, in the manner of blues and rock players, who bend strings (this is opinion).
Jimi Hendrix made it "talk", as well as Roy Buchanan, but these players are considered more rock or blues, rather than jazz.
The prototype Jazz guitar, as we know it conservatively, seems to have been "tamed down"; all the highs rolled off, laid-back, subtle, part of the ensemble, while the horn players seem to do all the wilder "talking".
This has always seemed odd to me.
Newer players like Mike Stern are changing this paradigm of jazz guitar, while others seem to have stayed with the cleaner, more subdued model (Metheney, Martino).

Fusion players like Frank Gambale seem to have broken this mold, but his "L.A. Fusion" style seems at quite a remove from the older style most think of as "jazz". Gambale uses jazz progressions and chords, but they are stylized, played on electric synth-type keyboards, and are essentially a newer "hybrid" of jazz with "popular" input, such as electric keyboards, Los Angeles production techniques, and contemporary voicings and progressions.

By comparison to the newer synthesizer players like Jan Hammer & Chick Corea, the jazz organ as it emerged in the late 1950's, as carried on by Joey DeFrancesco, has now gained an aura of traditional "respectability" in the jazz idiom; even though at the time of its emergence, it was a new instrument with a new sound,

It's interesting that some of the greatest organists, Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, and Jack McDuff all have a strong, hard-core blues feel. The blues seems to be associated with organs, as well.

The organ-trio circuit of the late 50's-early 60's seems to me to have been just as "bluesy" as it was jazzy; a lot of it came from Philadelphia, and that's where Pat Martino got his start;
the Willis Jackson recordings "Bar Wars" and "Single Action" reveal a true blues-jazz hybrid, the 'blues' part of which is often times forgotten by the mainstream players like Bill Evans, Dave Brubeck, and more cerebral, sophisticated jazzers.
So the organ, while being modern and breaking molds, was also instrumental in bringing back a much-needed "shot of blues" to jazz.
It's interesting to note that Jan Hammer started out as an organist in the pre-Mahavishnu period of his career. This is a direct connection to the use of synthesizer in jazz.
http://alloffmp3.org/Album/2052441/J.../download-mp3/

Olaf Kubler & Jan Hammer Trio -- Turtles -- Live At The Domicile (Enja) order - www.dustygroove.com
John Abercrombie - Timeless (ECM)

It has taken a long time for guitarists (Scott Henderson, John Scofield, Mike Stern) to be "allowed" to truly integrate the B.B. King blues string-bending, as well as distortion, into a jazz context.
It seems to me that for the longest time, blues guitar (B.B. King type players) developed along separate lines from jazz guitar. Rock players embraced and incorporated the bent strings of blues guitar; and finally, with the emergence of fusion, this blues guitar technique, via the rock influence, made its way back into jazz, thus subverting the older more conservative model of subdued, clean jazz guitar.
This difference in approach to guitar technique, as well as the introduction of new instruments such as the Hammond organ, demonstrates what I mean by blues developing as a separate, popular form, and later exerting an influence on jazz, creating a hybrid form.
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Re: Jazz and Popular Music
« Reply #2 on: November 12, 2012, 08:04:49 AM »
Quote:
Originally Posted by A Critic
What bothers me a little is that Bill seems to be suggesting that string bending is somehow more "modern" or more "advanced" than some "traditional" jazz guitar styles.


I didn't intend to imply that string-bending is stylistically more inherently "modern", although as a guitar technique it was not used until later, when B.B.King tried to emulate the slide players he loved so; and when the trick of using unwound banjo strings to replace the normally wound third string emerged.

Actually, "A critic" has segued perfectly into the next relevant subject. True, there is something "ancient" and other-worldly about slide-playing and bent notes; they are certainly not part of the Western classical tradition.

The human voice is able to slide up into notes, and make use of vibrato, as did many early slide guitar players in blues, and horn players in jazz. It must be the African connection again.

The "blues scale" is a frozen approximation of this bending of notes; typically, blues players will slide up from b7 to root; slide or warble on the b3/maj 3; slide up to 5 from 4 or #4, etc.

Early jazz had a lot of vocalization, growling, and sliding and bending of notes. Eric Dolphy, along with Mingus, was well aware of this connection.

As early jazz evolved into "bebop", which exemplified the new 'refining' and exaggeration of values of jazz up to that point, and the direction jazz was to take later, much of the "bending and growling" had disappeared, replaced by a stricter harmonic agenda which required the outlining of complex chord extensions and lightning-fast single-note lines.

In light of this, it is easier to see why, historically, the electric guitar stayed within the prescribed boundaries which had been set for it:

the guitar, with its dual nature of single-note and chord capability, was made to function as a "piano" of sorts, used to create chord accompaniments, and when soloing, not to bend strings and wail, but to create lines as a pianist would.

It's appropriate that George Van Eps called the guitar a "lap piano"; I'm sure he did not intend the double-entendre 'pomeranian' reference.

Jan Hammer applied the note-bending technique to the Mini-Moog after he had played jazz on pianos and Hammond organs; with his note-bending Moog, suddenly he was less jazz and more rock; Mahavishnu was the obvious vehicle for this technique.

Since then, note-bending has gradually reasserted itself back into "jazz" via Weather Report and players like Jaco Pastorius; and Toots Theilemans, with his jazz harmonica.

YouTube

But for a while there, jazz had no need for bent notes, preferring to create its own Western tradition of be-bop "chamber music".
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« Last Edit: January 03, 2013, 08:25:31 PM by millions »
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Re: Jazz and Popular Music
« Reply #3 on: November 12, 2012, 08:06:07 AM »
The Tyranny of the Piano

I have applied my "politics of jazz instrumentation" to demonstrate how the jazz electric guitar paradigm was created to force the guitar to fill a pianistic role, both harmonically and melodically emulating the piano, and eschewing its inherent ability to bend notes and become a more vocal solo voice;

I have shown how the Hammond organ players of the late 1950's paved the way for the synthesizer players of fusion;

I have asserted that the "bent" notes of blues singers, and early blues slide players, possibly traceable back to African practices, flourished in the "popular blues" genre, with B.B.King being responsible for laying the basic groundwork of light-gauge string bending.

The "bent note" tradition of blues was basically rejected by jazz during its development in a harmonically biased direction, exemplified by the "be-bop" movement, which had more harmonic concerns; melodic lines were constructed in strict adherence to chord changes, and outlined upper chord extensions, always subject to harmonic considerations; there was literally no time to linger on "bent notes" while the changes were flying by.

The piano embodies all that is classically Western: it is incapable of bending notes, and the very structure of the black-and-white note keyboard is biased towards a the diatonic 7-note scale, embodying the whole "key signature" system that all non-pianists are obliged to learn.

Very early jazz started out as a horn-player's music. The piano was ubiquitous during most of the century. It seems that the more the piano asserted itself, the more jazz became skewed in a harmonic, Western classical direction, culminating in be-bop and the forms which followed.

This harmonic tyranny was countered when John Coltrane streamlined his approach, going from the be-bop extreme of "Giant Steps" towards a streamlined, modal approach which used fewer chords, thereby emphasizing the linear and melodic aspects of his music.

Ornette Coleman (and Sonny Rollins) finally escaped from the harmonic confines imposed by the piano, and then finally, fusion allowed the "bent notes of blues via rock" to once again make jazz a music about the expressive potential of melody as well as harmony, allowing melody to re-emerge as a force independent of harmonic constraints and considerations.

The piano, for the time being, had been subdued and placed carefully back into its harmonic cage.
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Re: Jazz and Popular Music
« Reply #4 on: November 12, 2012, 08:08:53 AM »
Sometimes the distinction between blues and jazz is quite blurred, especially in the early period of development when both blues and jazz were popular musics, both selling records and competing for record sales.

The artist that comes to mind in this regard is Bessie Smith. I have all five 2-CD volumes of her complete works.

There is no denying that she had a "great set of pipes" (her voice alone is enough to convince me). The production, on the other hand, is puzzling, and elaborate. The piano is always featured as the main accompaniment and rhythm-generator, with horn players and clarinets adding fills, which adds a jazz element.

Once again, the factor of instrumentation comes into play. At this point in history, the guitar was an acoustic "folk" instrument, whereas the piano was more associated with popular and jazz music.

The chord progressions are more elaborate than simple guitar I-IV-V type changes; many times during the V, it goes to major II-V-I during the last half before the turnaround. Lots of times, it goes to major VI, a very "jazz" change.

This was elaborate production using the best musicians in the grooming of Bessie Smith as a "star". It was "the blues dressed up in a tux", for presentation to a record-buying public.

In this sense, it was very different from the "folk" artists who were around at the same time, with their scant production and simpler arrangements and instrumentation.

I think that hard-core blues started as a "folk" form, usually involving the prototypical solo artist; and jazz had its origins in ensembles and bands which made it more adaptable to popular venues of expression.

I think one must learn to recognize when "elements" of blues are borrowed, used, or assimilated by popular or jazz musicians. Blues can be used as a FORM by jazz musicians, but the result usually stays firmly in the jazz area. Jazz has a habit of assimilating musical forms and elements of other musics, genres, and cultures.

As I mentioned earlier in the case of Willis Jackson, his blues is as convincing as his jazz, and he can go seamlessly from a slow, wailing blues solo into a frantic be-bop exposition, both sounding authentic.

I'm sure that a nice blues arrangement could be written for the Lawrence Welk Orchestra, featuring Myron Floren in a blistering accordion solo, but would it really be blues? Yes, it would be a blues "form", but there the similarity would be superficial, unless I am tragically underestimating Myron Floren.

The blues IS a separate genre, and the hard-core examples Jay Norem mentioned would never be mistaken as anything but. This transcends mere "form" and involves the assessment and history of the artist as a "blues figure".

But the "Blues" as I understand & define it, is more than simply a "form" or set of chord changes. It involves specific idiomatic instrumental techniques, which when taken as a whole, create a blues sound. The Miles Davis tune mentioned is simply a vehicle for jazz improvisation.

Whether or not the artist playing this blues is "sincere", or authentic, is sometimes an easy call, sometimes a closer judgement call. Stevie Ray Vaughan was subjected to this "trial by fire", but with the blessing of John Hammond Sr. (who signed Bessie Smith and Son House for Columbia) and Buddy Guy, I think he can be stamped as "prime cut".

...but are Jonny Lang or John Mayer really authentic blues? If enough people buy the records, probably so. And having Buddy Guy sit in never hurts, either.
« Last Edit: November 12, 2012, 08:18:08 AM by millions »
"In Spring! In the creation of art, it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg
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Re: Jazz and Popular Music
« Reply #5 on: November 12, 2012, 08:16:53 AM »
Quote:
Originally Posted by A Critic 
The reason that Bessie Smith sounds like she does, is not because of Bessie Smith, but because of Clarence Williams...Bessie was a Blues singer. Clarence was a jazz pianist, composer, and arranger. The record company just wanted a hit.... That is why Bessie sounds like jazz. And it had nothing to do with mixing up genres....
Needless to say, it is Clarence on all the tracks, which is why the piano is so prominantly featured....I think theories are better served when there is actually knowledge and facts backing them up.


It's interesting that without consideration of this knowledge of Clarence Williams, and guided only by my ears, I managed to intuit that there was some fancy production going on, and noted the prominence of the piano.

In aesthetics, this is known as formal analysis, where only the perceivable aspects of the work in question are considered, resulting in a visceral response (relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect, i.e. "gut feeling").

Of course, as A Critic is saying, in assessing works of art, it is always good to have access to the historical context, or the "facts" surrounding a work. This can help us greatly in reaching a more meaningful conclusion.

If music genres such as blues and jazz depend upon an artist who has learned the idiomatic (appropriate to the style of art or music associated with a particular period, individual, or group) instrumental conventions and "language" which constitute that genre, and his ability to convince a listener that he is conveying those elements in a sincere way, then who's to say if it is authentic? Art is not science, and there is no objective truth to be discovered.

Bessie Smith was primarily a blues singer, as was said; Clarence Williams was jazz. It sounds to me like a hybrid of jazz & blues was created here, as far as the perceivable, audible elements go; but Bessie Smith is the featured artist and singer, so it could be argued that her work is essentially blues which has been given a jazz treatment, but still remains essentially blues.

As to the statement "I think theories are better served when there is actually knowledge and facts backing them up", in the absence of facts & theories, all we are left with is our visceral response.
I think this is why many people have trouble sorting out blues from jazz elements, especially when the idiomatic expressions of each are both present.

But back to facts: blues and jazz do exist as separate genres of music, each with artists who have developed over periods of time and have come to be known as bonafide practitioners of said genre by a majority of listeners and critics.

If one goes back and examines my post on this, I simply noted the presence of jazz elements in the production of the Bessie Smith recordings:

["There is no denying that she had a "great set of pipes" (her voice alone is enough to convince me). The production, on the other hand, is puzzling, and elaborate. The piano is always featured as the main accompaniment and rhythm-generator, with horn players and clarinets adding fills, which adds a jazz element...Once again, the factor of instrumentation comes into play. At this point in history, the guitar was an acoustic "folk" instrument, whereas the piano was more associated with popular and jazz music....The chord progressions are more elaborate than simple guitar I-IV-V type changes; many times during the V, it goes to major II-V-I during the last half before the turnaround. Lots of times, it goes to major VI, a very "jazz" change...This was elaborate production using the best musicians in the grooming of Bessie Smith as a "star". It was "the blues dressed up in a tux", for presentation to a record-buying public...In this sense, it was very different from the "folk" artists who were around at the same time, with their scant production and simpler arrangements and instrumentation."]

Bessie Smith was one of the first "blues stars", so she was given all the "star treatment" and sophisticated production that the record company was able to muster.

This again proves my assertion that jazz was always seen as more sophisticated than the folk blues genre, as jazz was already associated with, and aspired to assimilate into popular areas, as an upwardly mobile genre of expression; while the blues originated as essentially a "folk" form, which remained basically the same.

Even after blues' migration up the Mississippi River into Chicago, and its transformation into electric form with drums and bands, by Muddy Waters and others, it still retained its "folk" core.

An examination of the Muddy Waters CD "The Plantation Recordings" is the best demonstration of this connection of the "folk/solo" origins of blues with its subsequent transformation into an electric form.
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« Last Edit: November 12, 2012, 08:19:35 AM by millions »
"In Spring! In the creation of art, it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg
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Re: Jazz and Popular Music
« Reply #6 on: November 17, 2012, 07:51:43 AM »
To me, the instrumental vs. vocal distinction is the fundamental one in distinguishing between jazz and blues from the larger historical perspective.

Prior to World War II, black music featured more cross-pollination, and the incessant need to "genre-ify" everything hadn't crept into the music biz yet. Labels like "jazz" and "rhythm & blues" were more general markers and less specific indicators as to arrangements and harmonic content etc. The customer base wasn't sliced and diced into niches yet. There was also an urban vs. rural distinction. Jazz was uptown. Blues was what the dirt poor country cousins listened to. Harlem vs. the Delta.

It was following World War II, when the population of Delta migrants to Chicago, Kansas City etc. became large enough and wealthy enough to plug in and start bands, that blues became a 'real' genre of its own--not just southern folk songs.

One thing I've found interesting is how many of the most transformational jazz musicians in the post-bebop era had backgrounds in gutbucket blues--Miles, Coltrane, Ornette. My theory is that this gave them more of an "Earth connection" and an ability to get past the rigid academic stance that has infected jazz ever since the early '50s. They weren't afraid to get their hands dirty, so to speak, and they sure as hell didn't respect rules.

In the guitar world, this is the advantage that the '60s generation had, because guys like Coryell and McLaughlin grew up on blues as much, or even more, than jazz. Earlier jazz guitarists were either evolutions of the big band tradition or had connections to western swing (Barney Kessel etc.). This background outside earlier jazz forms gave the '60s guys the ability to synthesize new forms and adopt the more "singing" quality of blues guitar, like you say.

Beyond vocal vs. instrumental, jazz also has less of a fixed reference point over time. The music has always been a synthesis and continues to be. Blues, by contrast has stagnated into people repeating the conventions of the '50s and '60s, or, at best, adding rock conventions into the mix without really creating something new. People sometimes talk about jazz as a dead art form, but to me blues is far more of a dead thing creatively than jazz. It's just that the creative forces in jazz right now are underground and not playing the Kennedy Center or multi-night stands at the Blue Note.
« Last Edit: November 17, 2012, 07:57:52 AM by profusion »

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Re: Jazz and Popular Music
« Reply #7 on: November 23, 2012, 07:48:38 PM »
Interesting post, I can't argue with any of this.
"In Spring! In the creation of art, it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg
"The trouble with New Age music is that there's no evil in it."-Brian Eno

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Re: Jazz and Popular Music
« Reply #8 on: March 09, 2013, 07:24:43 AM »
I suggest picking up this book:
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Paul Marangoni

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Re: Jazz and Popular Music
« Reply #9 on: March 11, 2013, 01:37:47 PM »
Wait a minute. I've just figured it out. dsop is really Wynton Marsalis! He's trying to infiltrate our ranks, hoping to obtain our secret fusion technology to further his ultimate ambition: building a device that will reverse the rotation of the Earth so he can go back in time, and prevent the last 50 years of jazz from ever happening!
....lame-ass, jive, pseudo bluesy, out-of-tune, noodling, wimped out, fucked up playing....

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Re: Jazz and Popular Music
« Reply #10 on: March 11, 2013, 02:07:20 PM »
FOILED AGAIN!!!  hahahahaha

No, I actually just read that book a few months ago, and it seemed appropriate to recommend it in this topic. I highly recommend it.

Anyway, as far as I can tell, the last 20 or 30 years of music in general have been regressive. I wouldn't single out jazz.
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Re: Jazz and Popular Music
« Reply #11 on: March 11, 2013, 06:52:22 PM »
I'd say there are still some new things happening, but it's very underground.

For example, I saw these guys play a few years ago at Twins Jazz here in DC.

http://www.jcdavis.org/zing/zingybio.html

They were doing some interesting things that I hadn't heard before. So much so, that the club owner told them to tone it down a bit during the set. Sucks to live in such a conservative jazz town. They love their cocktail music around here. :(

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Re: Jazz and Popular Music
« Reply #12 on: March 11, 2013, 07:18:08 PM »
I'd say there are still some new things happening, but it's very underground.

For example, I saw these guys play a few years ago at Twins Jazz here in DC.

http://www.jcdavis.org/zing/zingybio.html

They were doing some interesting things that I hadn't heard before. So much so, that the club owner told them to tone it down a bit during the set. Sucks to live in such a conservative jazz town. They love their cocktail music around here. :(
That's a shame. Where is "around here" approximately?

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Re: Jazz and Popular Music
« Reply #13 on: March 11, 2013, 07:47:03 PM »
I'm not singling out jazz, by any means. Wynton has just been pretty outspoken about his opinion that jazz has basically sucked since the 60s, and I happen to disagree pretty strongly. Then again, at least he gives a reason that has something to do with the music, rather than claiming that jazz's popularity has diminished because of the name, a la Nicholas Payton.
....lame-ass, jive, pseudo bluesy, out-of-tune, noodling, wimped out, fucked up playing....

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Re: Jazz and Popular Music
« Reply #14 on: April 14, 2013, 03:12:19 PM »
That's a shame. Where is "around here" approximately?

Sorry for the late reply. Washington DC. Even 20 years ago, there was a thriving jazz scene, from what I gather, but the local scene has withered down to pretty much just Twins Jazz, which goes more hard-edged, and Bohemian Caverns, which is more about dressing for an evening out with some polite jazz. Blues Alley has good shows, but it's mostly national-level acts and much more mainstream.