Jazz and Trendiness

If someone calls you “trendy”, you can assume that you have managed to stay current and up-to-date on things that might include fashion sense and style, pop culture, attitudes, lingo, and current events. To stay trendy, you have to adjust as the trends do. If you don’t, or haven’t, it’s possible that you may show a slight resemblance to these guys:

Flock of Seagulls
Flock of Seagulls

Jazz has survived for over one hundred years, and its likely that it will always survive in some fashion. We can find countless books and recordings on how it has changed over the decades, thanks in large part to not only those who were brave enough to experiment with their own unique thoughts and ideas, but also to great classic recordings that kind-of-bluehave withstood the test of time. Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis, sold 5,000 copies a week in 2008, roughly a half century after its creation. When you ask someone who isn’t a huge jazz fan why that CD happens to be part of their music collection, a collection filled with rap and country and rock, they usually just say “because its cool”. “Jazzheads”, on the other hand, will give you a twenty minute response on its modality, tonality, and improvisation and how it changed the world. Both are right.

Today, “jazz” is rarely used in the same sentence as “trendy”. For younger generations, jazz concerts are not as much of a must-see event as they are a random, occasional novelty. It’s far less likely that a high school cafeteria would be buzzing with discussion about what Coltrane’s best album was during lunch hour, and more likely that it will be buzzing with the latest Brittney Spears gossip.

The question is though, does jazz need to be trendy to survive? Will a younger generation find jazz and buy records and go to concerts without jazz being the main headline in pop-culture publications? Some jazz purists feel that it’s not necessary for jazz to be the headline. But doesn’t a younger generation need to be exposed to jazz somehow in order for record companies to not only invest in new jazz artists but to also afford to invest in printing copies of older albums for sale? Isn’t anything that needs to remain trendy, or even viable, or to even have a pulse, in need of new audience members year after year?

Will younger generations find satisfaction in old recordings, or will they need newer, more modern sounding recordings to enjoy. Will artists be willing to take that step and record them, and will jazz radio stations play the new stuff that might appeal to “the kids”?

There is always hope and promise. Artists like Norah Jones, Herbie Hancock, and Michael Buble over the last few years have definitely given jazz record sales a boost. But at the same time Norah Jones and Michael Buble have received criticism for not being “true” jazz musicians, while Herbie recently has teamed up with pop superstars, drawing his own critiques from jazz purists.

Whether you think that the days of jazz appealing to a younger audience are still possible or not, or which way you think the jazz industry should go about marketing to a younger audience, or if jazz needs to be or can be trendy at all, it is safe to say that jazz has to find its way into the hands of every new generation.

Below, see some “trendy” videos of musicians of today.

Norah Jones singing Cold, Cold Heart:

Herbie Hancock with Corinne Bailey Rae performing River:

Michael Buble in a Starbucks commercial:

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