Monday, September 28, 2015

Jazz Meets Hollywood Squares

Despite being touted as the exemplification of creative music, jazz could benefit from a new influx of outside-the-box thinkers. To a degree, the problem may stem from how jazz is now taught. Young jazz students are indoctrinated into a mindset of revering and emulating the masters who proceeded them. Oddly those same masters bucked convention in their youth. So, here we are, with a new generation of highly skilled players, well-schooled in the music's past, who are seemingly content to play in the style of their predecessors; and jazz (at least a good-sized chunk of it) remains at a standstill.

Ambrose Akinmusire's band has piqued my curiosity,
but they still need to ditch the suits.

The absence of challenging convention extends way beyond musical vocabulary in jazz. No one seems to be questioning why performing jazz quintets still dress like they are living in the mid-1950s. C'mon folks, let's stir things up; it's 2015 for crying out loud! 

Similarly it is rare to see a university jazz program embracing instrumentations other than big bands and combos (consisting of trumpet, sax, trombone and rhythm section).  Since when is respecting the music's lineage more important than artistic advancement?

Even big band seating configurations have become nonmalleable. Whatever happened to Kenton's "flying V" set-up? Ellington and Basie weren't locked into three rows with the rhythm section to the side for their entire careers.

Sure there are benefits and practicalities in setting up as we do, but with mic-ing and monitors, visually appealing, truly creative staging could be realized, that both compliments and enhances the music (like we see in dramatic art and pop music productions). 

Darcy James Argue needs to be applauded for taking the lead here. His most recent set-up, as documented in the New York Observer, resembles a clock face, with the horns seated around its perimeter.


  Equally stunning is the stage plot for his "Brooklyn Babylon" production. 

 The bar has been raised folks! Just think of the countless possibilities which could be explored!  Off the top of my head, I could envision "going vertical", with a variation of Hollywood Squares.


Hopefully others will follow suit in transforming not only the music, but how it is presented.  I'm tired of the same old, same old.  How about you?

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