By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
So you'd think that Sony, of all companies, would be madly waving the red-white-and-blue of jazz patriotism instead of breaking the staff over its knee. But in fairness, none of the record companies have a clue anymore. Blue Note hires Rudy Van Gelder to remix its inviolable catalog and people who already own the LPs and CDs buy them again; the new stuff is a harder sell. Young people aren't coming to jazz because there's a cool cat like Miles or Coltrane or Rollins or even Corea drawing them in; they come to hear the cool sounds that Miles, Coltrane, Rollins, and even Corea left some time backmuch as you came to classical music to hear Bach or Stravinsky, not Boulez. That's why Sony's ax didn't make 60 Minutes, didn't raise an uproar like the one that followed the abandonment by other labels of domestic symphony orchestras, didn't even engender the outrage sparked when New York lost its last commercial jazz station. These are the posthistorical doldrums: What's past is prologue, text, and epilogue.
Much of the anticipatory anguish over Burns's Jazz (about which, as a consultant, I will reserve comment) concerns whether it will be interpreted as the celebration of a living art or the valedictory for a dead one. Jazz at Lincoln Center, which, with the secretive brusqueness that has long been its stock-in-trade, recently rendered its leader a nonperson like Aline Bloomgarden (who got the thing started with the Classic Jazz series and hasn't been heard from since), is about to launch the first major concert hall ever built to the specifications of jazz, and the question is, Will it spur new music or memorialize the gloried past? More to the point, sincelet's be realit will undoubtedly try on some level to do both, will the new music be worth memorializing?
Another nonstory big story was the almost total lack of interest in comprehensively assessing the tonnage of CDs released in the previous season by Wynton Marsalisthe most issued by a single musician since Cecil Taylor's Berlin cataract of 1989. Perhaps our smarter heirs will rap the dust of our knuckles for failing to recognize the lineaments of genius in an act of vanity, one that appears to have contributed directly to the tanking of Sony jazz. But right now the receptionan indifferent silenceto an outpouring by the most famous living jazz player seems more noteworthy than the work itself, perhaps because even a consensus of disregard is better than no consensus at all.
Kind of Blue, on the other hand, forged a consensus from the time it was released and has never wandered very far from center stage, even though, until 1997, Sony did not produce an acceptable version on CD (a frantic collector once offered me $200 for my LP). It's not the best jazz record ever madethere isn't oneand its universal appeal is not beyond suspicion. The music, after all, is superficially easy listening, however radical its underpinnings; even Coltrane goes down like mother's milk. Yet it summed up the immediate past, defined the present, and augured the future. No jazz record in recent years has done anything remotely like that. Nor has any forged more than a fleeting (at best) consensus. In compiling my own best-of-year CD list, I perused others and found one topped by a CD I'd rejected as cliché-ridden (clichés will always have appeal) and a second whose winner had seemed to me ersatz and overproduced. I am not suggesting my responses are more enlightened, but they are mine and I am stuck with them. The point is that in the absence of anything suggesting a movement, we are less united than ever beforeeven about what jazz is. In my favorite review of the year, from an Oakland-based magazine, Sonny Rollins is described as "the worst tenor player on the scene today. He is a honker, his tone is very, very flat, in the sense that it is not rounded or full"; what's more, his "execution is that of an amateur." When you leave the big cities, you meetI speak with anecdotal evidencejazz lovers who tell you how great jazz is for aerobics or speak glowingly of Boney James. "I don't know his work," I lied. "But I thought you were a jazz critic," she said. "Well, I'm just beginning," I apologized.