2005 was the year Jazz officially became Classical music. Ok, maybe it was just the year that I noticed the change. Maybe the music hasn’t changed, but the culture around the music has definitely changed. There was a point in time where the jazz that was celebrated was the music of change. Bird, Monk, Mingus, Miles and Coltrane all played music that ruffled feathers and confronted the tradition. Now their music has become the tradition, and it is being honored and recreated in the press and concert halls of today.
For quite some time, classical music (or at least the culture around classical music) has been about faithful reproductions of honored repertoire. In 2005, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra released a CD consisting entirely of the music of Charles Mingus. Their previous release was a cover of Coltrane’s classic A Love Supreme. In 2005, all of the albums that rated 5 stars in DownBeat magazine were reissues, except one. The one new release that received a 5 star rating was Clark Terry’s recording of the classic Gil Evans arrangements of Porgy and Bess that Miles Davis recorded in the middle of the last century. In the Globe and Mail Jazz Year in Review article, the sub-headline is “It was a lively 2005 for jazz, but fine work from today’s musicians was overshadowed by the resurgence of a long-dead icon.” Ben Ratliff, the NY Times jazz critic, lists an album with no living participants as the best jazz release of the year in his year end top 10 list.
I’m not saying that we should ignore history or past masterpieces. I play music written by Charles Mingus at just about every performance I do with my quartet, but I do it alongside music that I have just written. Earlier this year, in my Art Diet post, I suggested that we all go back and listen to Kind of Blue again. The great music of the past is still great, but it was great at its creation because it was new.
I’m not really complaining, just observing the fact that jazz has made the turn towards becoming a repertory music presented in concert halls by musicians in concert black attire to audiences that are reading the programs notes about the composers dates and the performers conservatory degrees.
Should we come up with a new term for the music played by searching improvisers with swinging rhythm sections?