Let me start by saying that I’m glad there is such a thing as the “jazz blogosphere”. The fact that so many musicians, writers, critics, bloggers and fans are talking and sharing regularly can only be a good thing. The rise of sites like NPR’s A Blog Supreme, Nextbop and Elements of Jazz, to name just three, is helping spread jazz music to a wider audience.
Since my latest “big theory” post about Jazz and Cultural Relevance, and some very thoughtful responses from the likes of Peter Hum, Josh Rager and David Ryshpan, I’ve started to notice how reading all these blogs has effected my own thinking about things.
Before I was immersed in the jazz blogosphere, I would have conversations with my friends and colleagues here in Seattle about music. They would mostly focus on the act of making it, writing it and trying to make a living from it. Sure, every once in a while we would talk about “big picture” topics, mostly brought on by recent listening. Overall, though, there wasn’t much talk about “jazz is this” or “jazz should do that”.
Since the rise of the jazz blogosphere, and particularly since the Teachout Debacle, much of the internet talk of jazz has been about what it is, what it isn’t, can it be save, does it need saving, etc. Granted, this is not a new discussion. Jazz blogs have just amplified and perhaps over-emphasized it.
As I approach the one year anniversary of this blog I’ve been reading over my posts to see what I can learn from a year of my own blogging. What I have found is that as the year went on, I have posted more about “jazz” and less about making a living in music. Much of this has been because of, and in reaction to, topics from the jazz blogosphere.It hit home when I read a reprint of an interview that Leonard Feather conducted with Gerry Mulligan in 1960 in the latest edition of Downbeat Magazine. It was shortly after Mulligan put his new big band together, and Feather asked him a question about whether this was a show band or a dance band. In a follow-up question, Feather elaborates, “The reason I asked is that John Hammond said recently he feels jazz is essentially a functional music and is coming back to that.” To this, Mulligan replies:
I’m really not too concerned about where jazz is going, what it’s doing. I’m concerned about the entity that I’ve tried to put together, which is really quite separate from the entire field of jazz. My answer to John is, there are jazz musicians who have never gotten away from that. Now if you’re talking about jazz in terms of what the avant garde has been doing, or what’s the most influential thing with the younger musicians now, that’s not what I’m basing my ideas on.
Mulligan’s focus on his music, his ideas impresses me. It also makes me wonder if I’ve become distracted by the jazz blogosphere’s self-reflection and constant search for the next big topic. Have I lost focus on the act of making music? Has my blog lost focus on it’s original intent, to talk about how to make a living as a working musician?
As you’ll notice, the three blogs I referenced above are all written by non-professional musicians. They are writers, critics, fans. That’s great. And while I do enjoy reading the thoughts of my fellow musicians, I wonder, as the ever-intriguing Peter Hum does here, whether we musicians should just worry about the act of making the music and leave it up to others to talk about it’s significance, relevance, worthiness, etc.? Has the rise of the musician-blogger given birth to a new animal called the blogger-musician? Has the focus indeed shifted? Should we care?
I don’t yet know the answers to these questions. Maybe you can help me sort it out? Maybe you’ve noticed a similar shift in your thinking? Has the blogosphere made academic discourse about jazz more prevalent, and is this good or bad, or neither?
Chime in with a comment and let me know what you think. For now, I’m going to go practice.