Monday, July 03, 2006

degeneration X part 3

Final thoughts on the subject, for now... (see parts one and two first)

I did finish Jenkins' book Decade of Nightmares last week, and recommend it. I found myself agreeing with the big opinions in his book, even if I found some of the details a little redundant, and if sometimes he may overstretch some of his arguments. In many ways, he reads the conservatism of the 80s as a counterreaction to some of the big ideas- sexual liberation, drug culture, and a strategic detante with Communism- of the Sixties. The push was exacerbated by the misery of outside circumstance in the seventies- major inflation, oil crisis, upswing in violent crime, and terrorist crises- combined with very shrewd political calculation on the American political right, and equal ineptitude on the political left.

Without pushing the analogy too hard, the move towards conservatism and traditionalism in jazz in this time fits with the bigger picture. And to some extent, all history has a pendulum quality to it- swings one way, then the other. (In music, it's interesting to note that there was a big, popular Dixieland revival in jazz just as bebop was beginning to rear its head.) However, how hard and how fast it swings can certainy be influenced by the parties involved, which I think is why we are still living with a Bush White House, and why we're talking about the jazz neoconservatives of the 80s twenty years later.

I think I hit the big connections between Jenkins' theory and jazz in the previous posts, but one more hit me as I finished reading "Decade". He notes a marked change in rhetoric in the late 70s and early 80s, a move (back) towards big good vs. evil, us vs. them talk in politics. JFK referred to the Soviets as "our adversaries", Reagan as the "the Evil Empire". With that was a new wave of bogeymen in the American imagination- Commies, terrorists, serial killers, child molesters, etc. Which further facilitates a return to the language of us vs. them. Again, the language used by the jazz neoconservatives coming up at that time neatly fit that trend. Rather than try to understand all the changes that were happening, it was a lot easier to just write them off, and try to create an enemy. (Miles, notably)

Also, I've directed a lot of the attention in this post to Wynton Marsalis, because, well, it's easy. And I fear my tone towards him is very harsh, which may not be quite fair. Personally, I owe a lot to Wynton. When I was a teenager learing to play, I saw him a few times (I was definitely a fan), and as he was with so many young musicians, he was very encouraging, taking time out to talk with me, recommend records, even at one point giving me a lesson (where he absolutely took me apart). A lot of his advice and criticism made me a much better player, and I know there are literally hundreds of musicians who can say the same thing. Many of whom are certainly making interesting, creative music now. Obviously, I've grown up since then, and I'm no longer willing to give as much brain space to his vision as I was then- quite the contrary.

One final qestion- I mentioned earlier the diminishing of the "jazz market", at least measured by record sales. (One could also use the shrinking number of American jazz festivals and clubs, less grant money, etc.) Did the neoconservative movement in jazz accelerate that trend, keep it from being worse, or none of the above? I for one am not sure- I can see cogent arguments on both sides. Thoughts?

No comments: