A Short Essay by Dave Dougas, the "Blogosphere," and Jazz Since 1972

In the course of writing an essay largely about the Association for the Advancement for Creative Musicians (A A C M) my research made me aware - three years too late - of a series of blog responses to a suggestion made in earnest by Dave Douglas on his own blog at Green Leaf Music's Web site.

In that post of 31 May 2006, Douglas discusses the book Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America by Philip Jenkins, in the process making an astute comparison between "the conservative drift of recent [United States] history" and the "demonization of musicians who pushed the boundaries, successfully and importantly" in the 1960's and '70's. Douglas asks, "Is there a writer who can take on the project of an unbiased overview of music since the end of the Vietnam war?" Confusingly, Douglas then notes that, since Jenkins uses Nixon's resignation in August, 1974, as the end point of a "long" Sixties, this potential history of Free/ modern Jazz should begin then too. With all due respect to Jenkins, and as Douglas already hinted, the end of the U S A war against the Vietnamese in early 1973 serves as a better landmark, coming as it did - not coincidentally - soon after Nixon's re-election at the expense of George McGovern's tragic failure of a presidential campaign.

The discussion that resulted, impelled as it was by the first response - by a fellow musician, Ethan Iverson - took the form of a series of lists of essential Jazz albums of the 1970's and '80's, usually annotated (sometimes, though, only in the form of personal reminiscences of the music's significance to the writer).

Exploring these lists, I've found that, having generally confined myself to the realms of Free Jazz, the A A C M, and European Improvised music, I too have not given a certain kind of modern Jazz its proper place - the kind that rarely gets grouped into such "experimental" realms and yet surely expanded upon the Jazz tradition without being traditionalist. John Carter, Arthur Blythe, The World Saxophone Quartet, Keith Jarrett, Paul Motian, Don Pullen, Dave Holland, Kenny Wheeler, among others.... Of course, I'd heard of these artists, and listened to them in some cases, especially Wheeler and Holland with Anthony Braxton and Carter on Horace Tapscott's double-disc The Dark Tree. But I do not have a sufficient working knowledge of the music they have diligently, and generously, contributed to our culture, as I do with Braxton or Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Evan Parker, David S Ware, John Zorn, and so on.

As exemplary as this blog-based discussion was - and as timely too, given that blogs were quickly becoming a major point of discussion in 2006 - this meme: lists of essential post-Vietnam Jazz, surely has its limitations. First of all, the diary-like nature of the blog seemingly excuses sloppiness and at times misinformation. For example, one participant gives the wrong title for an album ("Wigmore Hall Concert" by Anthony Braxton and Derek Bailey, actually called First Duo Concert, the confusion apparently arising because the album was reissued at one point by U S, and Japanese, labels as Live at Wigmor [sic]); the person compiling the final list repeats the mistake, not having done much in the way of clarifying the entries. The reader is left wondering if the the lack of organization confirms for the participants the unpredictable dynamic nature of blogging.

One contribution has apparently disappeared: by David Ackerman at Godoggone. This omission from the historical record, however minor, points to another difficulty that await historians trying to delineate cultural developments taking place over the Web. Another example: the comments made to Douglas's initial post have been closed - sensibly enough - but as such have also disappeared from the site.

And, as much as I love lists and discographies, the reader is also left asking to what extent they even begin to help anyone who would want to write about the general course of Jazz music from 1973 onward. We only get the fairest trace of an outline of any conceivable history, especially in Ethan Iverson's emphasis on Keith Jarrett's "American Quartet" or Steve Smith's accolades for John Carter's five-album series collectively titled Roots and Folklore: Episodes in the Development of American Folk Music.

While one could just look at the final list compiled at Visionsong ("It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago"), the discussion - as it is still exists online - took place as such (a "Wrap-Up" and "Coda," as well as three summaries of the responses, at Iverson's Do the Math disappared with that site's reorganization):

31 May 2006:
Dave Douglas, "Post (Vietnam) War Music";

26 August:
Ethan Iverson, Do the Math: "1973-1990";

26 August:
David Ryshpan, Settled in Shipping: "Playing Catchup";

31 August:
Jeff Jackson and Jeff Golick, Destination: Out: "And His Mother Called Him Muhal";

4 September:
Darcy James Argue, Secret Society: "Time Keeps on Slippin', Slippin', Slippin'";

6 September:
Steve Smith, Night After Night: "Even More Records";

6 September:
Pat Donaher, Visionsong: "More Things to Come From Those Now Gone";

the online version of a print magazine takes note:
7 September: Peter Magasak, Chicago Reader, "Overlooked Jazz," prompting a list in the comments from Jason Guthartz;

10 September:
Steve Smith, Night After Night, again: "Vote for Pedro";

28 November:
Taylor Ho Bynum, SpiderMonkey Stories, "Dixon";

and then, the "paper of record" gives its stamp of approval:

6 December:
Nate Chinen, New York Times, "In the Blogosphere, An Evolving Movement Brings Life to a Lost Era of Jazz";

followed by one of London's dailies, the Guardian:

13 December:
John Fordham, "How Behearer.com Rewrote Jazz History."

Steven Smith then wrote an article for e Music that seems to have been inspired by the discussion: "The e Music Dozen: '70s Jazz."

An attempt to turn this discussion to a Web site (Ear of the Behearer) with greater permanence and organization appears to have fallen prey to lack of interest - certainly unfortunate, given that the "wiki" format it uses works quite well for discographies, filmographies, and so on.