Tim Roberts

Jazzin'
By Tim Roberts

If you keep track of such things, you would have noticed that I had planned to devote last month's column to a discussion of how the Internet and low-powered community radio might save jazz. It was a hyperbolic statement, to be sure, but in this business you learn how to make cliffhanger endings that (especially when you run close to your word limit) you hope will bring your readers' eyes back to the same place in thirty days.

In this case it's been sixty, mainly due to the gentle behemoth that had most of us in front of the television for three nights a week throughout January: Jazz, the 10-part documentary by Ken Burns. It was praised, criticized (for, among other things, its exhausting length and skimping on some content), dissected, even spoofed. The harshest criticism I read and heard was from people (many of them local) who are steeped deeply into the genre. Their criticism generally fell within two categories: the series' lack of attention to certain performers and eras (e.g., no mention of fusion, Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Jaco Pastorious) and absence of technical explanation (e.g., how is jazz made?).

The first is easiest to deal with. The scope and history of jazz takes in more than a single century. Burns could have cut back his coverage of swing (a full three episodes worth) and spent a little more time on modern jazz, but he didn't. It was, for the lack of a better term, an editorial decision. I remember reading that Tom Wolfe had originally intended The Right Stuff to be a history of American space flight - from the early test-pilot days at Edwards Air Force Base to the completion of the Apollo program - but he felt he had told enough by keeping the story focused on the Mercury Astronauts. Burns could have included the modern era, but that could have easily added three more episodes. Would he have had the funds to stretch it out that far? Would PBS have made room on its crowded schedule? We could Monday-morning quarterback that decision for the rest of the year and still not feel satisfied.

The second criticism, that Jazz didn't show how jazz was made, is unfounded. My response? Who cares. Does it make a difference how jazz is created or why it is created? And how would that be done without turning it into a dull lecture? And how many opinions from musicians do you think you'd get if you asked how jazz is made? And what would keep Joe New Jazz Fan from getting up during that segment and visiting his refrigerator?

Taking both criticisms into account, from what I've heard and read from jazz fans about the documentary, I want to revise the hyperbolic statement I made at the end of my December column and at the opening of this one. Neither the Internet nor low-power radio will save jazz. A 10-part documentary may collect it a few new fans, or even additional casual listeners who might become more attentive to it.

What will save jazz - actually invigorate it - is a change in the attitude that its fans and many of its practitioners have.

How? Find out here next month.

Will you soon hear music from Louisville's Splatch used behind a movie scene where Jennifer Lopez is being shadowed by private eye John Malkovich? Or maybe used in a commercial for deodorant? You might. Louisville-based music publishing company 24/7 Music now has an agreement with the world-famous publishing administrator Bug Music, which is noted for licensing its music for use in movies and television. Splatch's music is in the 24/7 publishing catalog, so that means the media will soon be splatchurated.

But when you catch them in a live show this month, you can always say you knew them before their music began to help sell personal hygiene products. They'll be at Barretones on Friday, March 2 (show starts at 10 p.m.), at Clifton's Sunday, March 4 starting at 8 p.m., and on Friday March 24 at Air Devil's Inn, starting at 10:30 p.m.

Louisville's Java Men play the WFPK Live Lunch on Friday, March 9. It starts at noon in the performance studio of the H.S.A. Broadband Building at 619 South Fourth Street. Call 814-6500 for more information. They will also be at Twice Told Coffee House on Friday, March 16.

Percussionist and Louisville jazz mainstay Hugh Petersen has released a CD containing material he recorded in New York City late in 1998. Joining Hugh on the recording are saxman Archie Shepp, bassist Fred Williams, guitarist Francisco Mondragon Rio, and vocalist Karen Adler. See the review elsewhere in this issue.

"Jazzin'" columnist Tim Roberts invites you to send your jazz-related dispatches to tim@troberts.win.net, or to his attention to the editorial offices of Louisville Music News. And, yes, he lied when he said last month that he would not mention Ken Burns for the rest of the year.