27 July 2010

The Latest Iteration of the Jazz Audience Debate

In addition to treating music as sound rather than art, Generation F rarely listens to an entire track, let alone an entire album. The record industry has been grappling with this album problem since the arrival of the digital download. Buyers cherry pick what they want for 99 cents rather than purchase entire albums. Which means most personal iTunes libraries are vessels for thousands of individual songs. Melody fatigue sets in fast and fingers commonly click for the next song before a track is through. 
"...and its history is too deep for a casual relationship." I could say the same about heavy metal. But I wouldn't, because I'm not a snobbish idiot. Music is music. Each work should be taken or left on its own merits. This is the single thing I hate most about jazz people—their fixation on the idea that jazz is a course of study, not a world of music there to be enjoyed. Not studied, though you can do that if you want to. Enjoyed. Jazz musicians, like all musicians, make music in the hope that it will give people pleasure, not in the hope that it will give people subjects for monographs and symposia decades later. This is why I say that if you want to convert a non-jazz listener into a jazz listener, don't say "You should listen to jazz." Instead, figure out what they already like, and say, "You should listen to [specific jazz album]."

It's a good thing Myers' complaining is mostly directed at people his own age or older. If people in their twenties read his whiny bullshit and reductive generalizations of their generation, they might wind up turned off to jazz, rather than mostly unaware of it, as they are now.
Myers' logical leap is his assumption that my generation will never approach music listening in any other way. Just because you treat music as white noise at times, or have an itchy trigger finger at others, certainly doesn't mean that you're incapable of close listening. (If nobody ever shows us how to do that close listening, it seems like the fault of music education rather than technology.) After all, the same innovations that Myers believes to encourage bad things in listening — the MP3, Apple's music software, tiny portable players — also make it possible to pay more attention in more ways and means than ever too.
There's not much that I feel the need to add here, except to echo Freeman's and Jarenwattananon's assertions that when discussing the state of the jazz audience, technology is a double-edged sword. Pick a medium, and you can point out advantages and disadvantages over other media. If anything, the rise of digital media has been a net positive for expanding the jazz audience, for these reasons (among others):
  1. Digital media lowered the price of jazz albums. Music that would cost $17.99 at Barnes and Noble in the late 1990s can be purchased on iTunes of the Amazon mp3 store for $9.99 or less. During the CD era, jazz albums were largely priced and marketed as kind of a luxury good, since most of the audience was middle-aged (or older) and relatively affluent. This made it more difficult for younger audiences to get their hands on as much music as possible.
  2. Illegally downloaded music, while bad financially for both record companies and artists, nonetheless put jazz music in more young people's collections. When I was in college, I noticed that more than a few non-jazz fans I knew had some jazz on their hard drives. It cannot be a completely bad thing for more people to have access of the music, even if it took illegal means to achieve that end.
  3. Digital media gave projects like Nextbop a chance to succeed in convincing young people that, despite what preconceived notions they have about jazz, they may actually like it. Nextbop could not exist in the LP era.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

I feel like the nextbop point is so true.... thats part of the reason why you see such a rise in jazz blogs and more people checking it out over the internet. I know a lot of people who dislike "Jazz" but like "", and a lot of it is just from this kind of 'cherry picking' available cause of digital media . . .