The Teachout Fallout, Summarized

UPDATE: I've moved this post up again and added a few more responses to the list. Terry Teachout, of course, himself responded to all the heat he's been taking for asking "Can Jazz Be Saved?" Now, I don't mean to persecute the guy — he's been listening to jazz much longer than I have, and knows a lot more about a lot more than I do — but I still think he hasn't acknowledged the actual points of the criticism directed at him. At the same time, I am also a little concerned by those rushing to say "Jazz is fine!" Even if jazz isn't dying, it could be made much, much healthier. So I've attached some final thoughts at the bottom of all this before I go on vacation. Read them if you like.
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I've been in conferencing in Boston this week, and staying at a friend's apartment sans Internet. So no link dump this week.

I did want to compile some of the responses to the Terry Teachout piece which has so inflamed the Jazz Internet. You say anything resembling "___ Is Dead" and immediately everyone with a rectal orifice — i.e. an opinion, per the saying — gives his or her two cents. I'll grant Mr. Teachout this (in addition to being a worthwhile read on many other topics): if he only meant to start up this discussion, he succeeded. In no particular order:

Nate Chinen (plus, a blog addendum)
Terry Teachout's response to the response
Nate Chinen responds to Teachout's response
Howard Mandel
David Brent Johnson
Jason Parker
Marc Myers
Peter Hum
Tim Niland
Doug Ramsey
Chris Rich
David Adler
Jacob Teichroew
David Hill
Ramsey Lewis
Willard Jenkins
Peter Margasak
And of course, me. Send any further comments.

Closing commentary, after the jump.

Let us note that Teachout has a real point which many are overlooking in favor of constructing a slightly off-topic "Jazz Is Dead" straw man. He is citing a disturbing trend in empirical data, and our counter-citing of many positive things does not change the fact that — if the data are to be believed — jazz has declined in its U.S. audience in recent years at a somewhat alarming rate. Even if jazz fans will never completely disappear, much like George Costanza, we ought to be concerned about shrinkage. But Teachout's seeming conclusion that there is little to be done seems to reflect a leap in logic, plus a disturbing blindness to those efforts which are on the ground now.

Not to say that there isn't much work to be done with these efforts. It's my opinion, and I think the consensus opinion of every rectal orifice with a jazz blog, that the presentation of jazz does need to change. Not the music itself: rather, how it's marketed, put on in concert, promoted, talked about, written up, broadcast. Jazz is generally lagging on the Web compared to the other musics which young people actually do get into en masse (though did anyone see that RIP Rashied Ali got picked up by both Brooklyn Vegan and Pitchfork?), which is part of we started this whole ABS endeavor, and why I'm at a Cambridge, Mass. coffee shop typing this out with my so-called spare time. Not all of them will succeed, these initiatives and musicians behind them. But even in my limited years, I have good reason to believe that some will. I mean, it always works out, right?

Enough. Read about some folks who are getting it right so far.

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ADDENDUM: The latest on the "Can Jazz Be Saved" discussion: Nate Chinen in the New York Times. Prompting Terry Teachout's response. And Chinen commenting back.

Seems to me that Chinen makes a point about questioning the NEA data which Teachout doesn't address, but whatever-whatever-whatever. Even the debate about whether or not the youth audience is slipping by a few percentage points or not is beside my point. In the grand scheme, even those who say jazz is relatively healthy know that the current state of jazz isn't exactly as sustainable as it could be, or perhaps ought to be. The real question behind all this is: what good is it to predict such a bleak future for jazz, and not offer any suggestions to improve the situation?

Teachout says he's a fan of The Bad Plus and Medeski, Martin and Wood. Does he not see that these groups and so many other bands (many of which are comprised of musicians under 40) are pointing a way forward? The point made by highlighting the young crowds which do exist is not intended to counter the point made by empirical data — again, if that data is even to be believed. Rather, the existence of such young audiences ought to say, "Look! Here are potential business models and uncompromising musical approaches which are, in fact, working. What can we learn from them?"

The fact that there are already many occasions where large young crowds are being attracted — even if only in New York, Chicago and a handful of other places — ought to say something to all venue managers, festival directors and jazz media. It should say that interesting pairings of jazz with not-jazz or sorta jazz or even just other forms of jazz works. It should say that free or just plain affordable admission works. It should say that scores of interesting artists are flying under the radar of the slow-moving jazz press — but that the adventurous approaches of these artists are somehow being found and made to work. It should say that intelligent online promotion — including, for better or for worse, free downloads and/or streaming — works. It should say that casual, relaxed and unconventional spaces work. It should say that today's youth audience doesn't care for labels of high or low, jazz or not: so long as it's good and people have access to it, it will work.

These are the valuable lessons that anecdotal evidence provides. Highlighting the fact that there actually are many young people out there should be seen as a part of the movement to identify the solutions — not an attempt to deny the problem. In his rush to prognosticate, Teachout ignores this, as if we young folk didn't ourselves provide any hope to possibly remedy even a part of the situation. And that strikes me as less than useful.

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