Why Jazz Matters: Exploring the Impact of Jazz on Music, Culture, and Society

Jazz is a genre of music that has the power to shape our character and give us courage, prepare us to improvise, innovate, give others an equal voice and listen. It is an important form of education for both young and old minds. Jazz has always sought a popular audience with varying success, but since its inception, it has been a genre that is often performed by musicians for musicians. This has made many listeners impatient with it, feeling that if one practically needs a degree in music theory to appreciate it, its practitioners should not expect the untrained or casual audience to be bothered by it. On the other hand, its technical pretensions have made jazz a kind of status music with some audiences.

Jazz has always been intertwined with race in the United States, not only because African-American musicians were so central to its creation and the African-American public was so important in their creative responses, but because whites played such a dominant role in its dissemination through records and performance venues and their ownership as intellectual and artistic property. Whites also played jazz from their earliest days and always constituted an important part of their audience. Whites, both in the United States and in Europe, were the main critical performers and writers on jazz as well. Jazz has generated an international and influential lifestyle, an attitude towards life — the hot, the modern and the cool — that is secular, obsessed with youth, obsessed with the marginalized and detached but passionately egocentric. This attitude of cool and modern has influenced literature, including the production of the so-called jazz-novel and jazz-poetry, as well as art, speech, dress and anti-bourgeois habits of indulgence, such as the use of illegal drugs such as marijuana and heroin.

Even interracial sex, considered rebellious by some and deviant by others, was associated with the demi-monde of jazz. Each dimension of jazz described above is the subject of academic and critical study in a variety of fields, including English, history, American studies, musicology, African American studies, Americas studies, and cultural studies. In fact, jazz studies as an interdisciplinary field of research and pedagogy formally exist and have their own magazine, Jazz Perspectives. What's all this about anyway? And why should those who have no interest in jazz worry about all this? Regardless of how much jazz has lost today in terms of its audience size compared to popular music forms with higher market shares, it has gained in terms of high esteem in which it is held in business and art as a sophisticated artistic expression (it is often used as background music in business luxury establishments, museums and galleries). It is also used in commercials that promote exclusive products) and in the institutionalization that it has experienced as a formal course of study in many colleges and universities. In fact, if it weren't for colleges, universities, and high school jazz bands; institutions like Jazz at Lincoln Center and SF Jazz; it's quite possible that few young people in the United States would play or listen to jazz today. The rise of jazz-R&B-hip hop fusions in contemporary Los Angeles offers an opportunity to reflect on the ways in which jazz matters to today's black audience.

Drawing on recent Afrofuturist art and theory; as well as Amiri Baraka's analysis of “the same changing” in black music; this essay traces the importance of the work of artists as diverse as Kamasi Washington; Flying Lotus; Thundercat; Robert Glasper; postulates that their music tells us that jazz matters not only in itself; but also in its continuous capacity to engage in cross-genre dialogues for musicians; and for the audience who listen to it; as part of a rich continuum of Afro-American musical expression. In January 1960; white jazz pianist Dave Brubeck made headlines for canceling a twenty-five-date tour of colleges and universities across the southern United States after twenty-two schools had refused to allow their black bassist; Eugene Wright; to play. This cancellation became a turning point in Brubeck's career; forever marking him as an advocate for racial justice. This essay follows Brubeck's commitment to the first protests of the civil rights era; examines the moments leading up to Brubeck's cancellation of his 1960 Southern tour. In doing so; I discover new details in Brubeck's steps toward racial activism that highlight the ways in which Brubeck leveraged his whiteness to support integration efforts; even as he simultaneously benefited from a system that privileged his voice over the voices of people of color. While Brubeck has been hailed as a civil rights defender simply for canceling his 1960 tour; I argue that Brubeck's activism worked on a deeper level; one that inspired him to adopt a new musical and promotional strategy that united commercial interests with political ideology. Brubeck's defense relied on his power and privilege within the core music industry to create albums and marketing approaches that promoted integration into the segregationist south. Ultimately; this period in Brubeck's career is significant because it allows for an in-depth consideration of who Brubeck spoke for; who listened; for whom his actions as a civil rights defender were significant. In the 1970s; pianist Keith Jarrett emerged as a major; albeit controversial; jazz innovator.

He managed to make completely improvised solo piano music; not only critically acclaimed as a fresh way to mix classic and jazz styles; but also popular; particularly among young audiences. This essay examines the time when Jarrett became an international star; musical and social circumstances of jazz music immediately before his arrival; how he unconsciously exploited those circumstances to make his success possible; what his achievements during the 1970s meant for jazz.

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