Despite the occasional pronouncements of the death of jazz, it is still possible in many American towns to find a small but dedicated community of musicians keeping the oral tradition alive. This is especially the case in college towns like Charlottesville, my current base of operations, where jazz studies programs at colleges and universities provide real value to local residents interested in jazz.
Each community has its own share of local legends who do much to spread the word, and in Charlottesville, John D'Earth does the yeoman's work of teaching and gigging incessantly. Last night I finally caught D'Earth in action with his quartet at Bel Rio, a local restaurant that books a lot of live music. It was an enjoyable evening of straight-ahead hard bop reminiscent of the great Miles Davis quintet of the mid-1950s. And though the music wasn't necessarily cutting edge, neither was it a museum piece. D'Earth's quartet swung nicely and offered thoughtful takes on a number of standards. And the audience at Bel Rio (which was nearly full through the first set) was younger than you would have expected in light of Terry Teachout's recent piece on the decline of the jazz audience.
Musicians like D'Earth are integral to the survival of jazz. They promote the development of young musicians (giving lessons and leading ensembles at high schools and colleges) and perform at just about any venue willing to have them. Find out who these figures are in your community, and go see them live. They deserve at least that much from us.
D'Earth photo via UVa