May 19, 2024

Duke, Q and Metheny – Voices from the IAJE
Regarding the Future of Jazz…
by Mark Ruffin

Anyone who watched Ken Burns’ massive documentary Jazz last month knows that at one point in our history, jazz music accounted for more than 70% of records sold in this country. After single handedly saving the record business during World War II, today, almost every musical genre there is outsells jazz. That includes gospel, and for the first time in decades, classical music.

According to the industry group that keeps track of such numbers, jazz accounts for less than three percent of the music marketplace at the turn of the century. The notion that Kenny G alone represents a full percentage of that was the joke that went around at the 28th annual International Association of Jazz Educators convention last month in New York City. Included among the close to 10,000 musicians, students, teachers, journalists and broadcasters attending the four days of seminars, concerts and panel discussions was Burns himself. He probably couldn’t wait to leave.

Many of his critics forecasted a period of gloom and doom for the future of jazz in America, and cited his project as being of little help. Mostly because Jazz gives a fleeting pass to modern jazz, his film was roasted, toasted, analyzed and criticized throughout the whole event.

Among the famous musicians there who did prognosticate a bright outlook for the music was the legendary Quincy Jones and trailblazing guitarist Pat Metheny, who gave the opening keynote address. Jones, in a spirited, wide-ranging interview, answered questions delivered by keyboardist George Duke, and one of the stars of Burns’ movie, journalist Nat Hentoff.

Basically, these multi-Grammy award-winning musicians had faith in the music, with one important proviso. Independently, they concurred that if the majority of the jazz community continues to ignore new music, including hip-hop, urban and world music, the genre’s numbers could be reduced further. “Jazz has to resonate to this era, not play a slightly different version,” a fiercely adamant Metheny said. “Kids under 25 have a pulse that anyone over 25 can never grasp,” he offered to a packed house. “They have a rare and valuable contribution. The sound of their own generation.”

He admonished the young people that keep the flame of jazz purity strong, emphasizing that many want “a safe return to real jazz. “Most of them attempt to recreate the past,” he continued on about the young musicians who are part of what is called the neo-classicism movement. “Young people should be re-inventing the circumstances as only they can do. Each generation has to put in their own voice.” Metheny’s funniest line may have been when he suggested that at the rate the neo-classicists are recording albums dedicated to old masters, soon there would be “tribute records to tribute records.”

Duke and Hentoff focused mostly on Jones’ incredible history. It is a legacy that Jones revealed would be covered in much detail in his forthcoming autobiography, which comes out in October. Jones, as usual, was extremely light-hearted and funny. He only turned deadly serious when the topic turned to rap, race and the future of jazz. The veins in his face visibly swelled when he pointed out the “jazz is only two percent of the market,” and that “98% of music sold by B.B. King and Miles Davis is to White People.”

An audible gasp rose from the audience when Q reported that one of his six daughters was engaged to Tupac Shakur, and that the murdered rapper died in her arms. He also said that he disliked that the rappers he worked with were way more into the jazzmen he worked with rather than vice-versa. “I am living in hip-hop,” he said in one breath, while promoting his new tribute album to Count Basie in the next. “There is a strong correlation between hip-hop and be-bop. Mainly it’s that they blow for themselves, and can care less about the audience, as long as their peers accept it.” “We need more cross pollinate-zation together,” he continued. “We’re so split up that it’s a disservice to the music.”

He did complain that the rappers, and young people in general are so nonchalant about our culture, insisting that they treat music as if it’s “disposable.” “When they say back in the day, they mean 12 o’clock,” he laughed. Like so many great jazzmen who are covered in Burns, movie, Jones lived in Europe for a while. In fact, in the episode covering Count Basie and Kansas City, there’s a couple of quick shots of a young Q. Today, he admits that jazz is an art in Europe and Japan, and a commodity broken into percentages in the United States.

“They make us look like idiots,” he declared. “What America needs is a minister of culture.”