According to the National Endowment for the Arts, in 2008 jazz fans were less numerous and much older than ever before. Stuffy, stodgy jazz aficionados couldn’t figure out why. I explain.
In his lament for the state of jazz, Terry Teachout began by noting that in 1987 Congress passed a measure honouring jazz as “a rare and valuable national treasure,” which accorded it an “institutional status commensurate with its value and importance”. The resolution, introduced in the House as HR-57 and later confirmed by the Senate, could just as easily have applied to the blues, also “a uniquely American musical synthesis and culture through the African-American experience”.
Blues musicians should be glad they were spared the tribute. It clearly didn’t help jazz, which has been declining in popularity in part due to such well-meaning measures. The move to institutionalise and aggrandise jazz has placed it on a pedestal, far above the innovation and vibrancy that made it great. The effect has been to make the music more rare and less valued in contemporary American culture.
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Photo credit: Tom Marcello (via Flickr)