Can jazz survive Generation F? The "F" here stands for "flighty," and anyone who has watched people in their 20s listen to music today knows what I'm talking about. Songs in iTunes libraries and on iPods serve mostly as white noise for this demographic group. Music is what you put on while working, organizing photos on your computer, i-Chatting or texting...
But the way music is consumed today among young people doesn't bode well for jazz. In addition to treating music as sound rather than art, Generation F rarely listens to an entire track, let alone an entire album. The record industry has been grappling with this album problem since the arrival of the digital download. Buyers cherry pick what they want for 99 cents rather than purchase entire albums. Which means most personal iTunes libraries are vessels for thousands of individual songs. Melody fatigue sets in fast and fingers commonly click for the next song before a track is through...
Jazz is listening music. You need to pay attention and become absorbed by what the musicians are doing, how they're communicating and why what they're doing is special. Jazz has never been mass market music—it's not ideal for dancing, its melodies are complicated to listen to, and its history is too deep for a casual relationship. Now add a generation that hasn't been trained to concentrate on what they're listening to and it's hard to see how jazz will be perceived as meaningful going forward by a large percentage of this group.
First of all, people have been listening to individual songs for a lot longer than they've been listening to albums. The 78 rpm record had one song per side. So did the 45. Only with the advent of the 33 1/3 rpm LP in the mid-1950s did listening to an entire album become a common practice—because albums were specifically sold to consumers for that purpose. And throughout the early history of the LP, and all the way into the '80s, people still bought a whole fuckin' lot of singles. It's also worth noting that the formula for albums, until the mid '60s, was "hits and filler"—labels would put the band's big hit singles as the first track on each side, then fill up the rest with whatever other material was available.
Now let's walk through that third paragraph, which is what's really pissing me off at the moment.
• "Jazz is listening music." As opposed to music you taste, or smell.
• "You need to pay attention and become absorbed by what the musicians are doing, how they're communicating and why what they're doing is special." No, you "need" to respond any way the music induces you to respond. If the music makes you want to sit quietly in a chair, pipe to lips, and contemplate the specialness of the musicians' communication, super. If it makes you want to dance (the way Ornette Coleman or Thelonious Monk make me want to dance), that's fine, too. It's up to you how you respond. Which brings me to...
• "Jazz has never been mass market music..." Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and pretty much the whole swing era pantheon, and all those who came before them, would beg to differ.
• "it's not ideal for dancing..." See above.
• "its melodies are complicated to listen to..." Sometimes, but there are fistfuls of counterexamples, from Art Blakey's thick, bluesy grooves to Albert Ayler's melodies, which were practically nursery-rhyme simple. Hell, how about "A Love Supreme"? Can't get much more simple than four notes.
• "...and its history is too deep for a casual relationship." I could say the same about heavy metal. But I wouldn't, because I'm not a snobbish idiot. Music is music. Each work should be taken or left on its own merits. This is the single thing I hate most about jazz people—their fixation on the idea that jazz is a course of study, not a world of music there to be enjoyed. Not studied, though you can do that if you want to. Enjoyed. Jazz musicians, like all musicians, make music in the hope that it will give people pleasure, not in the hope that it will give people subjects for monographs and symposia decades later. This is why I say that if you want to convert a non-jazz listener into a jazz listener, don't say "You should listen to jazz." Instead, figure out what they already like, and say, "You should listen to [specific jazz album]."
It's a good thing Myers' complaining is mostly directed at people his own age or older. If people in their twenties read his whiny bullshit and reductive generalizations of their generation, they might wind up turned off to jazz, rather than mostly unaware of it, as they are now. (Here's a hint, Marc: most Americans, regardless of age, are pretty much unaware of jazz. Try making a positive contribution to the discussion next time, rather than griping pointlessly about "these kids today.")