Jazz Is Dead. Long Live Jazz.



Art and life co-habitate, informing, imitating, and enriching each other constantly. Each week in Better Living Through Music, RFT Music writer Ryan Wasoba explores this symbiotic relationship

When I read "Vijay Iyer and the Outreachification Of Jazz" by Chris Kornellis on the Seattle Weekly's blog, my immediate response was something like, "Aw, hell no, you don't mess with Vijay." Maybe because Accelerando, the pianist's album released earlier this year, the same one that Kornellis used as a springboard-slash-target, might be my favorite jazz record to come out during my lifetime. If you are reading this and haven't heard the album's immediate title track, I encourage you to do so even if you hate jazz as much as Paul F. Tompkins.

See also: -Vijay Iyer is Excited to Return to St. Louis, Where a Track from The New Album Was Born -Vijay Iyer and the Outreachification of Jazz -The Six Strangest Crossover Attempts By Jazz Musicians

This essay is neither a defense of Vijay Iyer nor a criticism of Chris Kornellis, but the article brings up my own tumultuous relationship with jazz. I went to college for jazz guitar performance for three years, where I realized I did not really love the music as much as I loved being able to major in playing guitar at college. This is a common problem among my peers, many of whom practice Charlie Parker tunes by day and listen to metal or bluegrass or reggae at night hoping that nobody is watching.

Jazz is almost harder to like than it is to love. When you love music, you give it some slack. Just ask yourself, is King Of Limbs actually good or are you just predisposed to like Radiohead? Very few people have a romantic, mind-blowing introduction to John Coltrane in which a single song changed their lives forever. People more often learn to love John Coltrane, like it or not.

Kornellis' article spoke about Vijay Iyer's "Jazz Outreach" workshops, where he teaches kids about jazz. Chances are, these kids will have to learn to love this music, since a twelve year-old whose older sister just introduced him to dubstep is unlikely to have his world turned upside down after hearing "So What" by Miles Davis.

Some bash on jazz because of its relative inaccessibility, but I find this somewhat hypocritical given the tendency for the modern music lover to dig into inaccessible music. I am firm in my belief that people are listening to weirder music more often than ever before. Shit, dubstep is pretty weird. I don't subscribe to the theory that people don't like music because they haven't heard the right examples yet, but I do think that there is jazz music that satisfies certain listeners' criteria, and it is often not what you hear on 88.7 (no offense to my alma mater).

Oddly enough, a great starting point for the jazz-curious is Vijay Iyer's Accelerando. "The Star Of A Story" is truly, genuinely funky, and that is a term I do not throw around lightly. "Accelerando" is the heaviest track I've heard all year, and this happens to be the year that I've listened to more metal than ever before. It is not, as Kornellis says, "jazz for people who already like jazz."

With that said, what really draws me to Vijay Iyer is his attitude towards music, one that comes across in his playing and his overall aesthetic. His "jazz outreach" is twofold, trying to bring folks into that world but also to expand the parameters of the genre itself. And he does this without pandering, something many jazz musicians have failed to do when trying to broaden their appeal.

Jazz enthusiasts often express fear about the music becoming a "museum piece." Honestly, some of it should be. Too many jazz musicians are stuck in the 1950s, some are frozen even earlier. For the "outreachification" of jazz to succeed, the music needs to stay vital from the inside. The artists need to be artists, to push their own limits even if it rattles the purists. The kids learning to love jazz need to learn more than chords and scales and bebop licks. I can't think of a better poster boy for these changes than Vijay Iyer.

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