Are American improvisers protectionist in a globalised music economy?

I am one of many people in the US and Australia and elsewhere who are always looking for ways to engage more people with some amazing music that doesn’t fall neatly into one musical category. We are still relying on a term called “jazz” that is often a turn-off to many (I liken its impact to the words “feminism” or “poetry” in that regard). Recently I attended a symposium in Harlem on the relationship between jazz music and jazz writing, which I blogged about at the time. The editor of the Jazz Australia website asked me to expand on my blog post for a feature article, which has just been published here. In that piece I wondered why the discussion ignored all improvised music produced outside the US. I concluded that the jazz community – its producers, its consumers and its bureaucrats – was acting as though the rest of the world did not exist, and in this way it seemed to be similar to a mindset of trade barriers and tariffs in a world that increasingly operates (to a greater or less degree) without them. In the piece I write that

The globalization of jazz in the last forty years is perhaps one of the strongest features of its recent history, and clearly a significant part of its future evolution. Yet the myopia of the American panelists ignores the opportunity of global responses and developments of what was originally a uniquely American music. The panellists’ shared impatience with Wynton Marsalis’s approach to promoting and playing jazz, openly vented during the discussion, should make them more open to and aware of other approaches to the music. The critics and musicians alike spoke of their disappointment with Marsalis’s protectionist mindset, yet the opportunities of global influences on jazz seemed not to have occurred to any one of them. One would hope that new types of improvised music, each reflecting other musical styles and traditions from around the world, would help broaden the remit of jazz music and also, importantly, its potential audience. That is certainly my hope, and one I would imagine to be shared by any musician developing his or her improvising skills in any corner of the globe.

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