First, my sincere apologies to Doug Ramsey for spelling his name wrong in my last post. I'm embarrased, but the error is corrected.
I thought about the quote below when I read Vijay Iyer’s piece “Uncertainty Principles” last week. Vijay's article has really been really making the rounds in the blogosphere. Below is an excerpt from an less recent (1997) interview with one of my mentors, pianist Michael Cain, for the site jazzonline.com. (The full interview is no longer there, sadly) Michael has toured and/or recorded with Jack DeJohnette, Stanley Turrenting, Bobby Previte, Robin Eubanks, Carlos Ward, Steps Ahead, Meshell N’Degeocello, and many, many others. He has released several CDs under his own name, notably Circa on ECM in 1996. He has taught at CalArts and Eastman, and is currently on faculty at New England Conservatory. Some has changed since he said this, but a lot hasn't
Jazz Online: How would you describe the American attitude towards jazz?
Michael Cain: I don’t know how to answer that question for several reasons, but first would be because I don’t exactly know what jazz is… I wander through the “jazz” section of my local record store. I often wonder what binds all these different kinds of music together. Kenny G is in the same section with Cecil Taylor, who is also in the same section as Dinah Washington, John Zorn and Fats Waller. What is there to have an attitude towards?
However, if by “jazz” you mean young males playing music which sounds, on its surface, similar to black American music of the 1940s, 50s and mid-60s, I think America is fine with that. I don’t know if that’s “jazz” or not but it seems to have been the defining paradigm for the last fifteen years or so. In my thinking, the associations I have of jazz contain some qualities such as inventiveness, courage, uniqueness, etc., qualities which I tend not to associate with what’s often marketed as jazz these days. For me jazz requires some personal statement beyond a cliché. It requires the musician be willing to enter into unknown terrains. It means not just having a sense of what came before you but who you are now, at this very moment. It means following the creative impulse wherever it goes and really no matter who digs it or not. If we are talking about jazz having those qualities I would say that America is very hostile towards that… Creativity seems to provoke hostility and fear in people who have not themselves connected with that element in their own lives. That is not just an American condition but a human one.