It’s nothing shocking to say that at this point in history jazz is something of a niche music genre. That doesn’t mean there aren’t many millions of fans around the world, both of classic and contemporary jazz. It also doesn’t mean that there aren’t terrific jazz clubs in big cities around the world, and festivals continuing to draw big crowds, because there most certainly are. But we also can’t call jazz a mainstream genre in 2018. The question is whether it could become one, and if so how?
No one can really answer the first part of that question. It’s highly unlikely that jazz will make a top-of-the-charts style comeback, but stranger things have happened. As for what an avenue back to mainstream popularity could be for jazz, here are some possibilities that come to mind.
A Socially Active Star
It would not be inaccurate to say that the most popular musical artists are as active on social media as they are in the studio. It’s not a universal truth, but the point is that celebrity figures today are accessible, and a public persona can get people listening, and appreciating your sound.
This may still be easier for a hip-hop or pop star, but it’s certainly not out of the question for a charismatic, jazz artist. And the artists exist! There are young jazz artists making waves in their communities around the globe, but most of them remain largely unknown to non-jazz fans. This could change, or at least begin to change, with active but carefully curated social activity.
A Riveting Film
Film feels to me like the best chance for jazz to get back into the mainstream. That’s because it just so happens that one of the best up-and-coming Hollywood directors seems to be on a mission to introduce people to the genre (and in fact specifically recommends jazz to new fans).
Damien Chazelle helmed the wonderful film Whiplash, which revolved around a jazz drummer, and also directed La La Land, which was an all-out Hollywood celebration, but one with a fair share of jazz appreciation within it. Now, lifelong fans of the genre can nitpick about Chazelle’s take, or the specific music he’s helped create, but the bottom line is that having one of the most exciting creators in Hollywood on jazz’s side is a good thing. He may yet have a film up his sleeve that could genuinely pull people into classic jazz.
This idea may sound particularly unlikely, and it’s even stranger when you consider where I came up with it. In an effort to fully match the appeal of in-person casinos, websites have pulled out all the stops over the last few years. There are tournaments of all kinds, there are live dealer feeds in which players can choose a camera angle to play at, and of course, there are endless themes for casino and slot games. Those themes are where this idea comes in. Games based on the likes of Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, and Megadeth have successfully helped bring about a classic rock revival. Similar titles celebrating jazz stars could expose a whole different population to the music, while playing on the glitzy associations people already have with swinging jazz and the Golden Age of Las Vegas. It is easier to imagine than the jazz based video game soundtracks, and jazz covers of video game music that have been surprise hits recently. The important thing is making the music part of the soundscape of everyday life.
It’s likely you can’t name a hip-hop and jazz crossover track off the top of your head. What about a jazz-pop song, not including anything off the La La Land soundtrack? For whatever reason this just doesn’t seem to be something that’s tried very often, even if a jazz beat could lend itself to all sorts of interesting creativity. Given this, one can only imagine that an effective collaboration between a young jazz artist and a prominent music star could work wonders for the genre.
It would in theory catapult the jazz artist to greater popularity and by extension boost all of classic jazz. The popularity of swing dancing in Europe has led to at least one traditional jazz band backing a pop act in a music video. Jazz style covers of pop tunes have become youtube sensations. It is from this mixture that a true hit might emerge leading to a revival of the kind that happened in the 70’s when Scott Joplin hit the Billboard charts 50 years after his passing, or the Trad Jazz revival in Britain that sent hits to the charts alongside the early Beatles and Rolling Stones.
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