This Jazz Ain't Free
Let’s start at the beginning, or at least get close. Jazz has never been “free”. It was and is a music born of suffering, strife, but ultimately also a steadfast unwillingness to give up - of adaptations made not out of desire but out of the basic need to survive. In “Blues People”, author Amiri Baraka chronicles in painstaking detail the trajectory of what we now call blues and jazz. The African slaves, brought to America for one purpose and one purpose only, were not allowed to keep the majority of their customs, rituals, religion or language. But what DID survive was their music, one of the only legacies African Americans could pass on to their future generations for two and a half centuries. From the introduction: “That there was a body of music that came to exist from a people who were brought to this side as slaves and that throughout that music’s development, it had to survive, expand, reorganize, continue, and express itself as a fragile property of a powerless and oppressed People.”
Jazz has, from its inception and by necessity, been in constant change. Jazz artists have pushed boundaries, innovated and reinvented the form so many times you can find over fifteen different subgenres in common use, and there are more brewing. Jazz, unlike the majority of other popular forms of music, staunchly refuses to be boxed in. Jazz IS change, a constant re-evaluation of the status quo, and that’s why Take Five Music Productions will mainly highlight artists who are bringing something new to the conversation.
There’s a lot of focus on historical jazz in Kansas City - as there should be: jazz doesn’t sound like it does today without 18th and Vine, Count Basie, Bennie Moten, Charlie Parker. Our local jazz musicians are deep in their knowledge of jazz history, and even deeper in their respect for the artists that came before them. Some use that history and respect to build something completely new and different in the form of their own compositions, adding their voices to what will someday also be the history of jazz. These new voices, along with the experienced voices making new sounds, are absolutely essential to keeping jazz as an art form alive and relevant.
As a prime example of jazz being alive and relevant, I give you Kamasi Washington. Recognizing that his popularity is due in no small part to his association with Kendrick Lamar, he still attracted nearly 500 people to a $35 cover charge show at the Truman in late 2018. The demographics of the audience was largely 25 to 40 year olds. For jazz. Yes, it was jazz - with a big stage show, flashy lights, and a mystical lead singer - but it was still at its heart JAZZ. Kamasi is pushing the message forward, and whether everyone agrees with the way he’s doing it or not is kind of irrelevant (side note - if you want a really interesting conversation with a local musician, ask them about Kamasi. The dude is polarizing). The crowd was absolutely eating it up, proving (at least to me) that there is continuing, youthful interest in the art form, and they are even willing to pay for it.
So - yes, let’s absolutely honor the history of jazz - all of it, going all the way back to its very difficult roots. Let’s talk about that history as jazz fans, to make sure we don’t forget how it all started. Let’s even showcase historical jazz from time to time - with our feet and our intentions squarely in the present, and a desire to help support those who are paying real, deep homage to the art form - by innovating, changing, and moving the conversation forward.