Predictions (and possibilities) about what’s next for jazz
Predictions, dreams, fears and fancies about upcoming jazz and new music are springing to mind as we leave the ’00s behind. These things may not all happen at once—or even at all—but then again, they could indeed occur during 2010 or the decade that follows.
The return of girl groups. One of the major jazz trends of the past 10 years has been the surge of women singers, with newcomers including (to name a few) Norah Jones, Esperanza Spalding, Pyeng Threadgill, Fay Victor, Kendra Shank, Jennie Scheinman, Gretchen Parlato, Lisa Hearns and Leena Conquest, mid-careerists Cassandra Wilson, Judi Silvano, Claudia Acuña, Shelly Hirsch, Lisa Sokolov, Karrin Allyson, Daryl Sherman, Roseanna Vitro, Dena DeRose, Maryanne de Prophetis, Mossa Bildner, Luciana Souza, Diana Krall and Jane Moneheit. Plus, prominent veterans include Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jay Clayton, Annie Ross, Sheila Jordan, Manhattan Transfer’s Cheryl Bentyne and Janis Siegel.
Stylistically, their voices range widely, but wouldn’t it be fun and, time-wise, economical to hear them sing together in harmony and contrast? Betty Carter and Carmen McRae recorded something along these lines—duets—in 1987, with mixed results. So instead, think of Odysseus’ sirens, Wagner’s Rhinemaidens and the Pointer, Andrews and especially the Boswell sisters. A glee club of male vocalists? Thanks, but I’ll pass on that.
American Idol, Jazz Edition. Aren’t the Thelonious Monk Institute’s annual instrumental competitions ripe for reality-show treatment? Wouldn’t jazz neophytes and devotees alike flock to watch hopeful musicians worry, boast, rehearse and let off steam in the run up to their big moments onstage? Imagine scenes from the judges’ deliberations—and the Monk competition judges have regularly been the best current professional practitioners on their particular axes—becoming as drama-packed as the thumbs up/thumbs down voting of Simon Cowell and his panel—yet much more aesthetically educational.
Stretching out what has so far been the Monks’ weekend of performances to fill an entire television season will require some imagination, but how about dispersing finalists to perform for local fans and disguised officials in obscure venues across the U.S.? That way the program could exploit the comedy and chaos of road trips. Sponsorship might be available from instrument manufacturers, liquor companies and whoever’s selling tour buses these days. I envision manifold publicity opportunities for everyone involved, employing the social networking sites and maybe going viral as the pressure builds for young improvisers to come up with indelible choruses and daring new concepts.
Digitalization unites pure pop, primitivism and the avant-garde. With laptops increasingly being used in performance by experimental musicians and hardware and software developing at a rapid pace, I am confident that the long-suffered gulf between what sweeps the nation, what momentarily intrigues people exploring their gadgets and what excites the most musically sophisticated iconoclasts, innovators and pioneers may basically disappear. Who won’t want their personal blip, beep, bop to compete for the income derived from the better-selling ring tones? Harmolodics, 12-tone composition, musique concrete (i.e., samples), microtonality—all will be subsumed by the groove, the pulse, the rhythm.
Farfetched, you say? Perhaps these notions have been inspired by the dreadful holiday music blasting from every store’s soundsystem since the week before Thanksgiving. Or they emerge from my deep desires to hear everything (except the eternal verities, those songs Louis Armstrong called “the good ol’ good ones”) not simply refreshed but revolutionized. The second decade of the last century was when ragtime came to full fruition, the blues percolated all but unnoticed in remote precincts, the first “jass” band recorded and Charles Ives established dissonance, grandeur and collage-like mash-ups of hoary tunes with orchestral distortion as distinguishing radical American “classical” composition. I mention these accomplishments—which seem so remote and all but irrelevant today—only to emphasize that in music really anything can happen.