10 Sep

Eric Hobsbawm, who’s day as great-grandmothers say, was the 1940s, tell us that jazz reached it popularity height throughout the 1950s peaking in the Jack Kennedy opening years of the ’60s. In 1963 it crashed and burned, swept aside by the the Beatles.

From here its fortunes fell sharply. Few jazz players did well by the 70s: European tours, recording TV soundtracks kept them alive. In the 80s, an artistic, not commercial revival as American Classical Music. The principles and players of Modern Jazz had become the architects of a new orthodoxy. Jazz has never regained it position or even a stable market. This, Hobsbawm, attributes to rock’s more primal beat and Modern Jazz.

Modern Jazz, means like Modern Art, modernist literature. Modernism, modernisme. This wasn’t the kind of Jazz that peaked in 1960. Like Modern Art the new jazz went to war against a traditional form. Like Modern Art the new music expected its audience to make more of an effort.

This set-up grants more permission for artists to indulge themselves and that is great when you have genius at work. Genius sets its own standard.


(From: the people who revinyl)

People say Charlie Parker, Bird, invented Modern Jazz. What he did was get away from the tyranny of melody. He saw the ‘tune’ as restrictive. Break free of the tune. It wasn’t just Bird, there were a lot of ’em. Miles Davis helped some. Miles. Bird’s junior, his protoge. Student of music and drugs. Thru Parker’s band Miles got hooked on heroin. Miles kicked the stuff, Bird just kicked.

In the 60s jazz crashed and burned, abandoned by the youth. Those players still recording were covering tunes from Sgt Pepper. By 1970 rock was king. But Miles was doing alright. The 60s didn’t trouble him the way it did the others. In 1970 Miles released a double album that positively psychedelic:

Bitches Brew

It went gold.

Bitches Brew wasn’t the peak of the trip it was the sense of revelation as you come down. Revelation? Or simply psychosomatic? I seem to recall Tom Wolfe observed that religions are born out of such intense Bacchanalia. A few weeks after Bitch’s Brew the now-shattered Beatles released their posthumous schemozzle, Let It Be.

Heading into the summer of 1970, the next big thing: Pink Floyd. The long come-down. Ten years from the peak of American civilization to a place where all bets were off thanks to… American civilization! Hollywood studios demanded that the theme of scripts be somehow anti-establishment. Marriages disintegrated. Chemical oblivion was a lifestyle choice.

The party didn’t stop exactly. Hunter S Thompson wrote of a high water mark you could see with the right kind of eyes. By 1970 the tide was going out. The legendary euphoria of the 1960 dissipated into corruption, fragmentation and the inevitable hostility of a hard economy.

In 1980 everyone snapped out of it. Ronald Reagan symbolized America’s will to regain the self-belief of the Kennedy years. You could consider the revival of jazz’s respectability part of this. Wynton Marsalis was the avatar of this jazz as High Art: Jazz the American Classical Music perfectly realized in the Bop and Cool styles. The tune was to be banished forever.

Miles Davis c. Kind Of Blue was, it seemed Marsalis was saying, the required standard. Funnily enough Miles disagreed and the jazz hounds prefer not to talk about what he did. Let’s not go there, they say, the man was great once. His work of the 1980s with its covers of current bubble-gum and excursions into electronic synthesizers and drum machines left a bad taste in the mouth. As Andy Prieboy lampooned:

Don’t even mention Miles Davis, man
Miles Davis sold out
Sellin’ motor scooters
Said a writer from the Reader
Said, “He still looks great, though
He ain’t clean – he looks half dead.
But he blew it sellin’ scooters
What’s he doin’ sellin’ scooters?”

Nah. Miles didn’t sell out. What does that mean in the context of such a career? Miles was saying something. What was he saying?



  1. Iain Hall September 10, 2010 at 8:39 pm #

    Sorry But I find most modern Jazz rather repetitious, pretentious and wilfully obscure but tolerable in small doses much prefer the earlier incarnations of Jazz where there is a bit more fun in it.

  2. Iain Hall September 11, 2010 at 5:34 am #

    Yes Adrien I think I get where you are coming from a bit better now. The modern Jazz enthusiasts that I have little time for is precisely the sorts who were denouncing Miles Davis they seemed to forget that music is about communicating with an audience rather than just being a pissing contest to see who can produce the most pure art.
    Musicians that forget the audience loses the auidence.

    Nice to see you blogging more regularly Mr Stewart I will have to add this blog to my blog roll I think 🙂

  3. AC Stewart September 11, 2010 at 7:03 am #

    Cheers old bean. This blog is seriously unserious. Seriously. 🙂

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