Essay: Jazz is Dead

By Jo Guelas

Jazz. A label associated with brass, dance and America. A music filled with so much life and force — but to the most people, it appears to be dying. Drowning amongst pop songs and dubstep, it seems that the fate of jazz will resemble the one of dusty library books that have never seen the time of day. But is Jazz truly dead? Or does it — to quote Frank Zappa — just smell funny?

About a century ago, jazz was considered as popular music and was considerably the most influential movement at the time. In 1920, jazz had infected Kansas City and it could be heard on every corner of each street. It began around the early 1900s, when African American musicians congregated in the city of New Orleans. In the town of Storyville, musicians would share and improvise their music. Eventually, some musicians would leave New Orleans to share the “New Orleans music.” By the 1920s, after jazz had entered the vocabulary in 1917, indie music companies began recording jazz bands. This decade was not only an integral part in jazz history but also in the music industry. Not only the job of the “song plugger”, someone who helped promote sheet music as well as records, was born but also marked the beginning of independent record companies. Well known jazz and blues as well as country performers were signed to indie labels like Paramount or Okeh. But jazz not only shaped the music industry, American history and dance, it also influenced every living musician at the time. Jazz still continues to shape musicians in this day and age — artists like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis are influencing young saxophonists and trumpeters. Through records and sheet music, jazz still influences moments in people’s lives.

Popular music in this decade is replaced by pop music, which would be defined as commercial music in a tuneful music. At the start of the Great Depression, the big jazz era seemed to fade away as the swing era and then the big band era took place. Although jazz was still the genre played by performers during the era, the music struggled to be commercially successful. Though the music genre did develop and became more harmonically advanced as well as bebop, a type of jazz created by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, entering the scene. But in 1970s-1980s, the jazz standards list had only 14 tunes where two are of pop music. Today, youths listen to a variety of music such as alternative music, electropop, lo-fi, dubstep and indie pop. Thanks to internet, people are constantly exposed to different genres of music. So though your grandparents or an angsty teenage hipster might sigh and ask what happened to real music — It’s only natural that popular and the concept of “real” music would change over time.

But it’s hard to say if jazz truly is dead. Even some teenagers disagree with the statement of jazz being dead. “I know jazz isn’t dead because a lot of people listen to it. It’s just like — our generation, we tend to listen to more like pop and rap rather than jazz. But jazz is like — it used to be the “pop” of a generation so — and it’s pretty cool, it’s funky,” says Sabrina, a student who indulges in chillstep rather than jazz. Other students agree, saying it’s not dead but rather, as Vincent says, “it’s just not as popular as it used to be.” Though it may not be the most demanded on radio, it doesn’t mean it’s dead. “There’s huge festivals happening all around the world, everyday of the week — with lots and lots of people attending and enjoying. In May this year, they had the Mount Gambier festival for schools. Four thousand kids went and played and listened to jazz all weekend.” Says a teacher, disagreeing with the death of jazz.

So maybe jazz isn’t dead. Perhaps we mistake the decrease in attention and exposure for a slow death. The jazz scene might not be as big as it once was, but music is always changing and jazz was the product of change. It may not top MTV charts and big bands may seem to be low in number. But in my eyes, jazz isn’t dying — because as we speak now, a child picks up a saxophone, or a trumpet, or maybe drum sticks and decides at this very moment that jazz is the one for them. ✿

AUTHOR: N/A, LAST UPDATED: N/A, HOST: JazzStandards.Com, DATE VIEWED: 17/6/2016, <;
Jo Guelas is a 14 year old journalist and musician from Melbourne, Australia. She currently writes for Sonic Blume Zine and Draft Magazine, as well as playing saxophone for numerous ensembles. Her key motivation is the PokeStop down the street from her house that she passes whenever she walks to school.