Are The Meters jazz?

It was my turn to cook dinner for the family tonight. I had my iPod on shuffle, and “People Say” by The Meters was playing while I waited at the Taco Bell window for our food. The lady (shift manager at Taco Bell) stuck her head out and said, “oooh, you listening to some jazz tonight?” All I could muster in response was, “yeah, well, some Meters.”

Prior to that moment, jazz and The Meters occupied fairly different parts of my genre consciousness, but maybe they are pretty much the same thing to the general public.* That made me wonder, “are The Meters jazz?” What does it mean if they are? What does it mean if they aren’t? Does it matter?

I consider myself a jazz musician essentially (at least when I am forced to chose a side in the genre wars), AND I play in George Porter’s band, The Runnin’ Pardners.** George is one of The Meters, and we play some of those tunes. I don’t suffer any existential angst while doing that, it is actually quite fun. Does the word jazz even mean anything any more (did it ever)? To the lady at Taco Bell, The Meters sounded like jazz, I hold up Ornette Coleman as one of my favorite jazz musicians, yet I am sure it would be quite easy find someone to tell me that neither of those are jazz (or even very close to jazz).

Does genre segregation help us find other music we will like, or does it saddle us with unnecessary (and counter-productive to musical enjoyment) expectations, or both? No conclusions yet, just thinking out loud (or at least in writing).

* I have long maintained that genre segregation is bad, and will write at length about it at some point.

** BTW George Porter & the Runnin’ Pardners are playing Aug 6 in NOLA and AUG 8 near Denver, come say “Hi!”

5 thoughts on “Are The Meters jazz?”

  1. Categories may only be useful if you don’t really know much or anything about the music. I think I know what klezmer is, but klezmer players would most certainly scoff at my delineations. At the same time, they, like us jazzers, would likely have trouble saying what’s truly klezmer and what’s not. Why doesn’t Firefox recognize klezmer as a real word?

  2. As you know Jeff, I agree with you that this issue is rather an important one in terms of the music being made today. In my own musical past, my confusion about genres helped me find great music. When I was in third grade, my favorite music was the Champs, especially their tune “Tequila.” I had gotten it in my head that this music was jazz. So in the fifth grade I traded a friend of mine some baseball cards for two records, “Eddie Condon’s Treasury of Jazz” and JJ Johnson’s “First Place.” My friend assured me that these were JAZZ, so I made the deal. I listened and dug them both, though neither sounded like the Champs! From there I stumbled on Miles, then Mingus, Monk, Trane and Ornette, and dug it all eventually. I never would have heard the music (at least then) had I not had a mistaken idea about the genre. On the other hand, I got exposed to Stravinsky because a recording of “The Firebird” had a cool cover. Had I known that it was “classical” music, I might have shied away. I still love Miles, Ornette, the Champs, Stravinsky and a lot of other things. Genres only seem useful to my present life in terms of where to stick a CD or LP on my shelf, and because everybody else seems to care. As far as making music goes, and its reception, I think the less people try to pigeonhole, the better for the music. If you choose, Jeff, to add a string section to one of your dates, no one should start complaining that such an act is anti-jazz. A trick though is getting people into the music that’s beyond mainstream of pop, and genre labels can be a ladder for people to climb into new and different music. Then, once they get there, like with Wittgenstein, they can throw away the ladder! Just some thoughts.

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