30 April 2008

Jazz Appreciation Month

Today marks the end of Jazz Appreciation Month. I did not know that Jazz Appreciation Month even existed until my brother mentioned it to me the other day (he himself did not know until it was mentioned on one of the jazz stations on XM Satellite Radio). The fact that Jazz Appreciation Month, brought to you by the Smithsonian, exists brings a few questions to mind:
  1. Why is it necessary to promote jazz as "a national and world treasure," in the words of the Smithsonian's FAQ page? Are Americans so culturally illiterate that they need to be told that jazz is a national treasure, or are they aware of this and simply apathetic towards jazz? I believe the answer lies in a combination of both factors; it is easy to find someone who has never heard a Charlie Parker recording, but that person would not necessarily be moved by listening to a recording. For many people, jazz does not resonate, especially if the jazz in question was recorded more than half a century ago. Therein lies the challenge of promoting art to the masses: If no one wants to listen to jazz in the first place, telling them that they are missing out on this "treasure" may not make them any more likely to embrace jazz. This does not bode well for Jazz Appreciation Month.
  2. Plenty of musicians and critics have called out other musicians and critics for fostering a definition of jazz that makes it seem like a dead art, whose greatest practitioners are long-gone and whose momentum has stagnated into a maintenance of tradition, rather than the creation of new art relevant to the current day. By promoting Jazz Appreciation Month under the auspices of the national museum, are the American people reinforcing the idea that jazz is a museum-piece, to be studied as a relic of the past?
  3. Could the Smithsonian have picked a worse logo for Jazz Appreciation Month than the clip-art-inspired dreck at the top of this entry? Clearly, the Smithsonian needs to hire a new graphic designer.
While I would not go so far as to suggest that the Smithsonian's Jazz Appreciation Month is a fruitless endeavor, I do think that there is a better way to promote jazz, which could be undertaken in tandem with Jazz Appreciation Month. For one example, see HR-57 Center for the Preservation of Jazz & Blues, a privately-funded cultural center and jazz club in Washington, D.C. that hosts educational programs, brings in established performers for performances, and provides an environment which fosters young musicians wanting to hone their craft, in the form of thrice-weekly open jam sessions. Perhaps it is misguided to suggest that a federal institution should support such grassroots-level programs as these. However, considering the fact that jazz is an oral tradition which, from its infancy, was primarily disseminated through live music in local clubs across the country, it is difficult to ignore the potential of a localized promotional and educational organization.

1 comment:

Ted said...

The Smithsonian works on a tight budget. I only got paid $20 bucks for that Microsoft Publisher graphic I made for them.