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December 28, 1997

(copied from JAZZ-L mailing list, 12/28/97)

Date: Sun, 28 Dec 1997 12:10:51 +1030
From: Peter Eckersley
Subject: Jazz continues (SF Examiner)

Jazz continues to evolve into next century
But new forms will also be inspired by same blues roots

Philip Elwood

THANKS TO The Examiner's presence on the Internet, I find that a number of national trade papers and recording industry blurbs have picked up on my identification of the 1900s as the "jazz century."

None, however, realize what my Bay Area jazz friends, Examiner readers and a few of my Jazz Journalists Association colleagues have ascertained. Namely, that the 20th has been the first "jazz century" and that, by the 2000s, whatever is called jazz will have little similarity to the styles or stylists that created the jazz of this fading century. "Jazz has enjoyed increased popularity this year," trumpets Billboard magazine, "and jazz album (CD) sales are at an all-time high."

By recording industry standards, this is true. But, wait. Let's look over the two "Top 25 Jazz Albums" charts in Billboard.

They have "Top Jazz" and "Top Contemporary Jazz" separated. In "Top Jazz," we find singers Harry Connick Jr., Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Tony Bennett; and there are reissues of John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and soundtrack CDs, Christmas compilations as well as special productions like Dave Grusin's "West Side Story," Charlie Haden's "Beyond the Missouri Sky - Short Stories," and Joe Henderson's "Porgy & Bess." Other than Diana Krall's two CDs (vocals and jump-swing piano), T.S. Monk's "Monk on Monk," John McLaughlin's "Heart of Things" and, perhaps, the swing-dance stuff by "Royal Crown Revue" - six CDs out of 25 - there is nothing representing this current "jazz renaissance" we're being told about.

"Contemporary Jazz" is Billboard's umbrella term covering soft, smooth or light jazz such as played by Kenny G, Boney James, John Tesh, David Benoit and other big-selling recording artists. Occasionally such respected jazz performers as Pat Metheny find their discs in this category.

Success, meaning high sales, in the recording industry depends to a high degree on which category Billboard and other trade sheets choose to place a disc, because retailers, record clubs and radio programmers use these charts to guide their activities. In other recording categories, of course, TV exposure makes or breaks a recording's chances for big-time sales.

CONSIDERING the state of vernacular music such as jazz, blues, folk, cabaret - any musical form where distinctive individual interpretation plays a major role - an observer must be aware of the increasingly dominant role of recordings, the record industry, radio, TV and, certainly in the 21st century, the Internet and other pertinent audio-visual developments in cyberspace.

Although it is difficult for most veteran jazz observers of the local scene to believe, the results of market research by the San Francisco Jazz Festival's director, Randall Kline, indicate that the Bay Area is second only to New York in its support of jazz - live performances, CD purchases, jazz radio support and so forth.

The S.F. Jazz Festival this year was the most successful ever. Higher attendance resulted in higher grosses, surpluses from which go into jazz education funds, free summer concerts and other activities. The 40th annual Monterey Jazz Festival was also its most successful, as was Stanford's Summer Jazz Program.

The S.F. Blues Festival, Big Sur Jazz Festival, Russian River Jazz Festival, Concord Jazz and Fugitzu Jazz Festivals and the Sacramento Jazz Jamboree also had good years, as did the various summertime sometimes-jazz concert series scattered around suburbia.

AND YET, only three venues, Yoshi's, Jazz at Pearl's, and Biscuits and Blues, continue the time-worn tradition of regularly presenting both touring and local jazz and blues performers year around in a nightclub setting. Pete Escovedo's Mr. E's in Berkeley and Storyville and Boom Boom Room in The City, hopefully, will be able to fully expand their operations in 1998.

Such club settings as the Great American Music Hall, Enrico's, Bimbo's, Pier 23, Cafe Du Nord, Kimball's East, Sweetwater; and spaces like 111 Minna, Noe Valley Ministry, Berkeley's La Pena, Freight & Salvage, Performance Gallery and other venues continue to present some jazz, blues and folk music on a regular basis, by local performers and those on tour.

And for what may become the 21st century's "jazz" sounds, it's a good idea to check out the Elbo Room, Bruno's, Hi-Ball Lounge, Bottom of the Hill and any one of a couple of dozen bars, lounges and clubs south of Market and on Valencia Street that have music blaring out onto the sidewalk.

As the "jazz century" ends, then, we needn't mourn the death of the jazz spirit in American music - it's still there, in abundance. But we older jazz fans should also realize that although the times that created the setting for the early and mid-century jazz were entirely different from those that have created the setting and inspiration for today's burgeoning jazz scene, both have their roots, as always, deeply embedded in this country's richest musical soil - the blues.

Every jazz form in every era has been vitalized by the free improvisational style and spirit of the blues, whether it be the pop-blues of the 1920s, the boogie-woogie of the late 1930s, bebop of the 1940s and 1950s, rhythm-and-blues, soul, or rock 'n' roll and blues-rock of later decades. Such will also be the case in years to come.

Top 10 jazz performances reviewed in 1997 (in chronological order)

1. Wynton Marsalis orchestra and singers, "Blood on the Fields," at Masonic Auditorium, Feb. 2.

2. Joshua Redman sextet - including Wallace Roney, Hank & Elvin Jones, Herb Ellis, Ben Wolfe - at Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, Moscow, Idaho, Feb. 21.

3. Jon Jang Trio at ODC / SF Theater at the Performance Gallery, May 3.

4. Roy Hargrove with his sextet at the Big Sur Jazz Festival, April 20, and with the Christol Band at the Great American Music Hall, June 14.

5. New York Centennial Ragtime Festival with Terry Waldo's Band, Dick Hyman, Bo Grumpus, dancers Andre De Shields and Mercedes Ellington, many others. at Danny Kaye Theater, Hunter College, New York, June 22.

6. Bobby Short and his nine-piece swing band at Cafe Carlyle, New York, June 25.

7. McCoy Tyner, solo piano, at Concord Jazz Festival, July 19.

8. Jim Cullum Jazz Band from San Antonio, at Filoli Gardens, July 27.

9. Diana Krall trio at Monterey Jazz Festival, Sept. 20.

10. Jon Hendricks, vocalist, with band and choir, "Evolution of the Blues" for Bread & Roses, Alcatraz Island, Oct. 18.

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