Let’s Keep Jazz Alive…

I’ve heard this speech many times since moving to New York…a charitable request to the audience, and somewhat of a plea on behalf of the jazz community…that seems to be a recurring theme on gigs that I’ve played.

This, more often than not, happens towards the end of the night. Before the bandleader counts off the last number, they introduce the members of the orchestra, and right after the “thanks for coming,” there is an announcement such as “let’s keep this music alive,” or “together we can keep jazz alive,” or something of the sort.

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That’s always struck me as a rather unusual request to ask of one’s audience. First of all: is jazz dying? (I didn’t even realize jazz was sick. No one told me.) Is jazz stuck on life support, attached to a bunch of machines, with only our meager gigs to keep it from shuffling off this mortal coil? What a ridiculous concept! If you ask me, I think that’s a gross misdiagnosis of where Jazz is at.

No siree, Jazz is definitely not dying. It’s just really bloody old. Jazz blew out its knee trying to fight Rock and Roll in the ’50s (Rock and Roll won, by the way), and Jazz has been limping around ever since, trying to tell all us youngsters how much better the old days were.

If, for argument’s sake, you invited all the genres of music to a party at your place, then Jazz is that guy you know your friends won’t like, but you invite him anyway because you think it makes you look cooler.

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You know the guy—he’s the one in the jacket with elbow patches, and for some reason he wears a hat indoors, and won’t waste an opportunity to tell you how much hipper he is than everyone else.

There are other music guys at the party too. Sometimes Jazz will get together with them and hang out. The other guys will hang out with Jazz because they think it makes them look smarter. And Jazz will hang out with the other guys…well…for the money.

Jazz doesn’t like Pop. That’s because, in the old days, Jazz used to be Pop, but now nobody much pays Jazz any attention anymore. And Jazz is jealous of Pop, because Pop is the guy at the party who gets everyone in a good mood. Pop doesn’t really have much intelligent stuff to say, but nobody seems to mind because he’s so much damn fun. He’s the one in the shiny suit, sunglasses, and groupies hanging on each arm.

Rock arrived late and drunk to the party. He tends to scream instead of talk, so no one can understand much of what he’s saying (even when he’s sober). He jumped around a bit, threw up on your plants and now he’s passed out in the bathtub.

Classical is the uptight looking guy in the tuxedo drinking a Chardonnay. He looks very cultured, but nobody is talking to him because he can’t speak English.


Country is the guy on the sofa making out with his cousin.

Disco is the guy still coming to parties that he probably should’ve stopped going to 40 years ago, but for some reason he still hangs around in pants that are too tight. Oh, and he’s gay.

And Heavy Metal never even made it to the party. He’s at home shampooing his hair.

So sure…Jazz can be condescending. Sure, he’s old. Sure, he loves to demand that you all shut up and listen to everything he has to say, even though what he says goes on and on, and often doesn’t make much sense. But Jazz sure ain’t dying, and he definitely doesn’t need our help to try and save him.

So the next time a bandleader pleads with you to help “keep jazz alive,” remember he’s a stubborn old bugger, and he’s not gonna leave the party till he’s good and ready.

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: www.adriancunningham.com.

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