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No Genre Is An Island

November 28, 2011

I want to add a few thoughts on why a blog devoted to the Vancouver Island and Coastal BC jazz scene would run a piece on a vocalist from New York performing in a Vancouver night club (see No Club Is An Island).

Forty or fifty years ago, largely through the work of performers like Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, and Stan Getz, jazz was comfortably in the mainstream.  Turn on a popular AM radio station and you would hear Take Five, It’s a Raggy Waltz, Desifinado or The Girl from Ipanema.  Tune into a variety TV show and you would see Count Basie or Nat Cole or any number of jazz greats performing.  They even had their own TV shows and specials.

We all know that has changed and that jazz is almost a dirty word in the mainstream media. For evidence, just count how often you see a jazz album review in our self-styled national newspaper.

It’s also a poorly defined word. Ask the average guy on the street what jazz is and he’ll probably tell you it’s weird music with ten-minute long drum solos and no melody.

Guitarist Martin Taylor doesn’t even tell people he plays jazz anymore. When asked by a stranger, he’ll say he likes to play songs from the American songbook and Brazilian tunes. He’s found that folks will then listen and discover they really like what he does – which is play jazz.

We need to find other ways to break down the barriers. One way is for composers to write music that bridges musical genres. Another is to open up performance venues and programs.

As saxophonist Monik Nordine pointed out in a recent interview on this site, jazz has always welcomed and integrated other forms of music into its fold.

And so when a new artist comes along who can deliver a believable version of a jazz standard and write original music that connects with the worlds of hip hop and soul, that to me is a good thing even if he does wear a sideways baseball cap and sneakers when he performs.

And when a club devoted to dance and DJ music is willing to take a risk and bring in a jazz musician, that’s also a good and should be supported.

We’re making progress. Here on the Island we’ve got jazz happening in churches, art galleries, and restaurants. But there’s lots more we can do to bring in new audiences and break down barriers.

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