Here’s a little diddy I wrote in 1992 while writing for the Washington Afro-American Newspaper in Washington, DC. Hope you like it:
Is Jazz, an original African-American art form, “In style” again? Current trends say yes.
The unique sound experience that is Jazz has seen some lean times. Fortunately, with the emergence of Jazz clubs in the the District, and the addition of a new Jazz oriented radio station, (WJZE 100.3) Jazz seems to be enjoying new life.
While living in what I consider one of America’s Jazz capitals, New York City during the 1980’s, I was shocked to one day tune in to my favorite Jazz radio station, only to find the format changed to Country and Western!
As this practice became more frequent within the city, Jazz lovers began to protest the changes. Unfortunately protesting wasn’t enough to prevent the tide of change.
In my opinion, Jazz began to lose ground quickly as Rap and World Beat music (Reggae, Soca, etc.) gained popularity. Why did this happen? Here are a few of my reasons:
Beginning with Ragtime, Jazz has undergone many evolutions. As African-Americans created the many styles of Jazz, (Dixieland, Swing, Bebop, Cool and Hard Bop) White musicians would assimilate these styles and dilute them to blend with their culture. A pattern had been developed, Blacks create, White assimilate. The language and dress of the Jazz is also subjected to this pattern.
The proverbial “Monkey wrench” was thrown into this pattern somewhat in the late 60’s, When Miles Davis begins to use non-traditional electric instruments to incorporate Rock overtones with Jazz phrasings. This new creation, first called “Electric Jazz,” is now known as Fusion. This new creation had the “Assimilators” shaking their heads at first, “How can Rock and Jazz co-exist?”
This new form of Jazz had them baffled.
An all out attack on “Electric Jazz” ensued, mainly from the Jazz purists. They saw Fusion as an electrical insult to the acoustical tradition of Jazz. This war on Fusion, in my opinion, had an adverse effect on Jazz as a whole throughout the 1970’s and 80’s.
As always, there were some who took to this new form of Jazz right away. They saw this new musical technology as a chance to explore new territories of sound. Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul, to name a few, continued to nurture and grow this new form of Jazz, which, in my mind, made it easier for the “assimilators” to grasp, who in turn, diluted it to a more acceptable form…Smooth Jazz anyone?
As African Americans struggled to gain equality within the American system, there were physical, mental and musical casualties along the way, The Blues and Jazz suffered the most. These two art forms that saw us through the worst of times, was Lost in the shuffle, diluted yet again as a race of people were assimilated into society via integration.
In closing, I submit to you that Jazz has been revitalized by the need to express negative feelings brought on by a subliminal form of oppression, made popular as overt oppression became punishable by law.
Horace W. Morris, Jr.