Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Jazz is not a music genre!

The year 2019 was exciting in many ways and there were a lot of thought-provoking jazz subjects which did not quite exactly come to the open for discussion. I suspect it could be largely because most people may have not given them some serious thought.

Well, this is 2020 and why not start it with a bang and probably something controversial! I know that there are some jazz purists out there who probably might hold strong views about their position in jazz. But this topic is not about views on jazz but the fact that jazz is not a music genre. Of course, we are not going back to the old argument about what jazz is and what it is not. I have already declared my position and, that is, I am never going to be involved in such a debate.

Here is my point of departure! Music genres or classifications simply box music into particular compartments. I believe that in itself poses a serious challenge because the majority of those who did not study music tend to think of genre ONLY within the musical context. They do not necessarily see music in a different context, for example, social context.  Besides, there is a lot of unclear information about when the word genre was used in the music industry; let alone its intended purpose. There is, however, one explanation I can live with and, that is, the word came into existence for marketing purposes.

As to whether the introduction of genre in music did more good than bad or vice versa, we will not be able to determine that until research findings are available. However, there are interesting pointers about some jazz purists who held back their views on the introduction of genre, especially on social media platforms. These purists see music as just music with no boundaries. The first example that comes to mind is the argument about jazz musicians who feature on other genres besides jazz even though they are originally known as hard core jazz musicians and composers of note. Miles Davis is a typical example. Nduduzo Makhathini did some work with Black Coffee. How can we forget Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson?

So far, genre has only categorised specific sounds for ease of reference and marketing. There is a lot more to jazz than meets the eye. Therefore, you cannot look at it in isolation or as a genre. I do not believe in jazz being classified as or under genre but rather a compound of life experiences which are then communicated through different media, for example, the concept of care. May I elaborate! Originally, jazz (using the word with caution) musicians travelled from city to city for gigs without the privilege of hotel accommodation. Whichever city they travelled to, there were always families ready and waiting to welcome them. It is interesting how little the arrangement with families has changed in centuries.

Right from inception, ‘jazz’ has always dealt with prevailing social issues first and then translated them into realistic solutions such as accommodation, meals, music etc. To this day, jazz musicians spend far more time dealing with social issues than actually playing music or maybe dare to say composing it. Even those who are not musicians continue to play a critical role and/or contribute to the solutions.

I guess you are wondering if ‘jazz’ has changed or evolved over time. Its various components such as music have but the concept of jazz has never changed at all and there will always be social issues that need addressing. This suggests, like Wynton Marsalis once said, jazz is more of a unifying common denominator. Well, he stretched the point further by using jazz as a reference point. I guess when one is lost, as he correctly indicated, you have to go back to the basics and that is jazz. All one has to do is look at social structures and relationships. Jazz musicians form incredible bonds with specific individuals that go a long way in helping each other. This can be as simple as an album collaboration where services are exchanged instead of money, for example, where one plays in exchange for the time when they need others for their own album. As to the benefits of such an exchange, it is a topic to be discussed another time.

Is there a future for ‘jazz’? As long as there is life and societies, there will always be social issues. And as long as these social issues exist, undoubtedly, ‘jazz’ will. Do we have to do something about it? I personally believe we should let ‘jazz’ take its course.

So, why did this topic make the It Has To Be Jazz® project? 2020 is about thought-provoking discussions which will eventually lead to great ideas and solutions. Thinking outside the box, especially for those who believe in ‘jazz,’ is the key to future solutions. We wish you a great start to the New Year.

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