PART V – Why Don’t People Like Jazz?
*The following was written while on vacation (when I write most of my blogs!), and is pretty much a stream-of-consciousness thing. Apologies for any inaccuracies.
So...why isn’t jazz music more popular?
Jazz is usually very fun and happy, and since most people like to have fun and enjoy being happy, it stands to reason that they should be able to enjoy this delightful art form as well.
Jazz music from the intra-[world] war period actually bore a resemblance to what passes for pop music: the songs were simple and fun; jazz had a beat, and you could dance to it. Those are timeless qualities.
And yet people just don’t like jazz—or at least, they don’t think they do. I’ve discussed a few ideas in previous posts, but simply put, the answer to why jazz isn’t more popular is: it’s not what the public wants right now. I guess that’s a “Duh” statement, but that’s the case. Tastes change; indeed, after ruling popular music for half a century, rock ‘n’ roll has lost its dominance.
But, things tend to be cyclical, so there’s a reasonable chance that jazz, in some form, will make a resurgence (this actually happened for a year or two in the late ‘90s). In the meantime, there’s no shortage of wonderful jazz (both recorded and live) to listen to.
Do you remember when, in my spine-tingling summary of jazz history (Part II), I mentioned how bebop saved jazz? It did, giving it an infinitely larger palette of harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic choices. It encouraged musicians to take risks; to avoid the same old, same old.
That’s all important (and awesome), but as is so often the case, there’s a flip side: modern (post bebop) jazz tends to focus on what the player wants, not what the audience wants. Also, the complexity limits the number of players who can pull it off. It’s a lot easier to play rock, country, blues, etc., than jazz.
And let’s be honest: most people don’t like bebop. This brings us to what is quite possibly the biggest reason jazz isn’t more popular: The average person doesn’t understand it. This doesn’t mean that people who don’t “get” jazz aren’t smart. But to go into a club and hear a band playing a hundred miles an hour with notes erupting with the ferocity of a nuclear explosion isn’t most people’s idea of a good time. It isn’t danceable, it’s hard to find a discernable melody, and it just sounds...weird.
In fact, a style called “hard bop” developed in the ‘50s as a reaction to these very issues. Groups such as Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers slowed the music down, brought back a more bluesy feel, and emphasized a big beat (Art played his drums with a heavy feel, whacking his snare on the 2 & 4 beats, foreshadowing rock ‘n’ roll).
People who don’t like jazz often complain, “It doesn’t make sense; it just seems like people are playing randomly.” Consider this: if someone speaks a language you don’t understand, it doesn’t make sense to you. It just seems like people are making random sounds (have you ever made fun of someone speaking a foreign language?). Why is this? It’s because you don’t understand the language. If you don’t understand the language (in this case, jazz), of course it won’t make sense to you. You have to learn it, which sounds like work.
The good news is, the best way to learn jazz (as a listener, anyway) is to listen to it. Better yet, it’s fun and easy. Give it a try—you won’t regret it!
I've included some old blogs along with the new. Should you ever find yourself suffering from insomnia, this is the place for you! That's as poetic as I get...