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Though I didn’t see Terry Teachout’s ominous look at the state of jazz in 2009 when it originally ran in the August 9 issue of the Wall Street Journal, in the week and a half since then it’s been hard to miss the hubbub the story has caused. Armed with statistics from a recent National Endowment for the Arts survey, Teachout describes jazz’s allegedly declining fortunes, with an emphasis on the aging of its audience and its lack of new listeners.
Today in the New York Times Nate Chinen offers a thoughtful riposte, which could double as a loose summary of many of the arguments that blog writers have made against the Teachout piece in the past ten days. Chinen emphasizes that the increasingly vague definition of jazz practically assures distorted results from survey respondents—it's far easier to unambiguously define an art form like, say, theater (just as it would be easier to define "music” than to say exactly which music is jazz). Indeed, anecdotal evidence from Chicago—at underground venues like the Velvet Lounge, the Hideout, the Hungry Brain, Elastic, or Heaven Gallery—runs counter to the NEA survey. The audiences for "jazz” at these spots skews young, with most listeners in the their 20s and 30s. As Chinen notes, doom-and-gloom forecasts for jazz are nothing new, and while jazz’s slice of the record biz continues to shrink in terms of sales, I haven’t seen a similar decline in live jazz. It’s also worth noting that many jazz musicians today sell the lion’s share of their recordings at live gigs—hardly any record shops bother stocking their discs—and those sales of course never turn up on Soundscan charts.
Bangalafumenga, Barraco Dourado (MPB/Universal)
Rehab, Man Under Train Situation (+3dB)
The Ikettes, Can’t Sit Down . . . ’Cos It Feels So Good: The Complete Modern Recordings (Kent)
Ben Wendel, Simple Song (Sunnyside)
Evan Parker & Joe McPhee, Chicago Tenor Duets (Okka Disk)