Tag Archives: modern jazz

Jazz war, anyone? Jason Marsalis vs. ‘Jazz Nerds International’

by Chris Barton
Los Angeles Times
May 21, 2010

Jason Marsalis in the Los Angeles TimesHave you, as a listener, been suffering under the influence of Jazz Nerds International?

Jazz critic and blogger for the Ottawa Citizen Peter Hum wrote a terrific post Thursday on the latest installment in what’s become known as “the jazz wars,” a long-running culture clash pitting the music’s traditionalists — personified by nearly any member of the gifted Marsalis family — versus what could be considered jazz’s new guard.

A little background: This new guard encompasses some of the most acclaimed, adventurous artists in jazz today — Christian Scott, the Bad Plus, Vijay Iyer and the Claudia Quintet, just to name a few who have been featured in this space — as well as anyone who followed in the footsteps of late-period John Coltrane and “Bitches Brew”-era Miles Davis. A hardcore traditionalist would argue that these musicians, though talented, may be playing interesting music but it’s certainly not jazz.

Recently examined in the documentary “Icons Among Us,” there’s a lot of remarkable stuff going on in modern jazz that incorporates influences from across the musical spectrum, stretching into odd time signatures and generally treating jazz as the boundlessly creative, free-thinking genre it is.

While on the opposite side, the traditionalists argue that truest form of jazz involves all-acoustic instruments, a swinging rhythm section and, if possible, some really sharp suits.

In the video posted on Hum’s blog (and after the jump), drummer Jason Marsalis offers an amusing warning against “Jazz Nerds International,” his term for young musicians who have a “selfish” view of jazz, eschewing the standards of the genre in favor of “abstract solos” and odd-metered straight rhythms. The end result, in Marsalis’ view, is music that alienates its audience and exists only for the appreciation of fellow musicians.

The jazz blogosphere reacted with a number of eloquent responses, and while I agree with Hum that Marsalis is being intentionally over-the-top for a mock-PSA tone, his point speaks to an ongoing problem. If jazz is not being declared dead, it’s being monitored by an aesthetic police force that builds walls around the genre, fending off rogue elements from violating its purity.

In the end, the war is ultimately pointless because there’s room for both sides. Of course the roots of jazz are vital and demand attention from anyone who would play or listen to it. It’s hard to imagine many of the gifted if cutting-edge artists in jazz being any less appreciative of past masters than, say, upstart indie rock artists who learn from and expand upon decades-old records in their collection
But to argue that all musicians who plug in, play a song in 7/8 or dive into a paint-peeling solo for as long as their muse carries them aren’t part of the tradition does the music a disservice. Like all broad, nebulous genre labels, the boundaries are in the eye of the beholder.

Is an interview with the forward-looking jazz blog NextBop, Esperanza Spalding summed up this expansive view of jazz wonderfully. “We need all the aspects of it [jazz] and that’s OK,” she said. “We need the Wynton Marsalis and we need the Anthony Braxton and we need a Chris Botti and we need Christian Scott….  Jazz can be anything but maybe the only element that’s there across the board is that people are creating it in the moment.”

Do you agree? Or is jazz done a disservice by a big-tent approach?

New Orleans Musicians: Jason Marsalis

June 1999

Jason Marsalis, the youngest of the legendary Marsalis clan, drums to a different beat for BigEasy.com.

What is the first word that comes to mind to describe New Orleans?

What is your secret weapon for thriving in New Orleans?
I just try to be true to what I am doing.

Why do you live here?
There are so many great opportunities for me here. I am playing all sorts of music besides jazz.

What is your best habit?
I practice a lot.

What is your worst habit?
Buying all these CDs I never get a chance to listen to.

What is the most romantic place in the city?
Down by the river.

What experience of yours best explains New Orleans?
Hearing a brass band on the street. You never know when you are going to go out on the street and hear one.

What’s the most underrated thing about this city?
The modern jazz.

What’s the one thing you would never change about New Orleans?
The attitude of the city. The music is hip because the city is loose.

What’s one thing you would change about the city?
Shows should start on time.

Who is your favorite local performer?
Curtis Pierre of Casa Samba.

Who is your favorite local personality
I like news people, like Frank Davis doing his Naturally N’awlins.

What do you do with your old Mardi Gras beads?
I still have them. And the doubloons. I even have the old doubloons my brothers collected.

What is your favorite Jazz Fest memory?
I liked it as a little kid. I would go when I was seven or eight years old and just watch my family play.

What is your favorite song about New Orleans
Handa Wanda by the Wild Magnolia Mardi Gras Indians.

What is your favorite New Orleans cliché?
The Big Easy, that’s what New Orleans is.

Who is the most talented musician in your family?
Branford. They say me but I disagree.

Do you miss singing in the streets?
The spontaneity is fun and being in my family’s band was fun. It’s a hard life playing every day in the sun. But the audience is only standing there because they like you. That’s nice.