An American Art Form

Jazz has had quite an amazing journey this last hundred years. It is no longer the music of the downtrodden and uneducated lower classes. It has graduated to the esteemed stature of, dare I say it—art.

Of course there is inherent irony in this, and all of artistic expression; that once it is accepted, and elevated, it often no longer contains the relevance that made it important and groundbreaking in the first place. (In other words, if your parents are into it, it ain’t cool anymore.)

Hot Jazz Jubile

And the tragedy of it all: far too many artists and musicians have died poor, only to then have their work accepted and elevated for generations, if not centuries, to come.

And jazz is no exception. This music is now hailed (and rightfully so, mind you) to the status of an American art form; and this art is performed in prestigious music halls worldwide for elites and cognoscenti; places that, ironically, its originators wouldn’t have been able to afford the price of a ticket to attend.

It’s the age old struggle: should you be true to your expression, even if the world is not ready to understand your work, or do you give in and “sell out” to pay your rent? Is it better to die with Mozart’s talent, or Kenny G’s money?


But I say bugger all that. I’ve got a plan: I’m gonna die a rich artistic genius. I’ve done a little research, and I think I’ve cracked the code. And I’m going to share it with you so that you too, from the comfort of your own home, can become a great artist. And with any luck, your ungrateful grandkids can spend years embroiled in legal disputes fighting over your estate.

Firstly, some background about making groundbreaking art. When asked about whether he set out to be an innovator, Count Basie said: “I never thought innovation as such was very important. Not when you have to think about it… If you’re going to come up with a new direction or a really new way to do something, you’ll do it by just playing your stuff and letting it ride.”

To further the point, author Douglas Adams wrote: “I tend to be suspicious of anything that considers itself art while it’s being created.”

So here’s my step by step plan:

Step 1: Make something. It doesn’t matter if it’s good—just make sure it’s not art.


Step 2: If, while you’re creating it, you suspect it might be art, don’t tell anyone and for God’s sake don’t post about it on Facebook.

Step 3: Develop an addiction. I know I know… that’s frowned upon these days… but I recommend broadening your addictive horizons beyond substance abuse. Shoe fetish, anyone? You get the idea…

Step 4: Wait for society to catch up to your genius. Now, this is the tricky bit. You can’t make society appreciate you, but you can start acting eccentric and then attract attention to your genius. But shoot for eccentric, not crazy. Just weird enough so that when you die, people can say you were “complicated.” Or just “misunderstood.” For example, go shopping for your groceries while naked. Or wear a dress made out of raw beef (Lady Gaga has all the fun).


And there you have it. Sure, it’s not an exact science, but that’s because it’s art. Good luck, and let me know how you go. I’ll see you at the Guggenheim or Carnegie Hall.

But if becoming an artistic genius is not your cup of tea, why not try your hand at being an art investor? Hunt down those geniuses before the world realizes their value. Imagine buying a Van Gogh while he was still alive? So my advice: secure your future for you and your children, and go to Arbors Records and buy all the Adrian Cunningham CDs. Trust me, I’m a good investment. After all, I’ve just come back from the butcher with a brand new suit.

Reedman extraordinaire Adrian Cunningham is the leader of Professor Cunningham and his Old School Jazz Band, based in New York City. Adrian Cunningham was voted in a 2017 Hot House Jazz Magazine readers’ poll the Best Alto Sax Player in New York. His most recent album is Duologue, issued on the Arbors Jazz label. Visit him on the world wide web:

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