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Why most people don't like jazz (dyske.com)
181 points by RevRal on Mar 19, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 225 comments

I'm a musician myself who used to play jazz. The problem with jazz is that is considered by the people who listen to it like "pure art" when it is just a style of music. Jazz (and classical) is elevated higher than other form of music and music teachers will expect a good musician to play jazz.

If jazz lovers would stop thinking at themselves as "higher educated" and jazz would go back to the people who want enjoy a good swinging song (Ella Fitzgerald, Satchmo, ...) maybe then, jazz would be loved again.

Wynton Marsalis says "When the music stopped being about dancing, people stopped listening." I never completely bought it, but I like the sentiment anyway :-)

I went out to see Roy Haynes/Roy Hargrove the other night, and he basically said the same thing on stage. Looking out into an audience of mainly dead silent white people, he said something to the extent of:

'I remember when I was playing in Spain some years back with Joe Henderson and Chick Corea, and man the audience gave us no love back. But at the end of the concert a couple thousand of them all put up their lighters or candles in the air, and that was how they showed their appreciation. I don't care for that, put those lighters away. Back in the day people would get up and shout when they felt the music. You guys need to give it to us on stage so we can give it back to you, it goes two ways."

I think one of the main reasons "jazz" has fallen off is the price of it and the audience it therefore attracts. $35 for 45 minutes of music and a drink minimum at some crammed club like the Village Vanguard or Blue Note only attracts tourists and people with disposable income.

I remember going to see Jack Dejohnette with Danilo Perez at the Blue Note, and most people I heard talking had no idea who they were -- they were all NYC tourists. The Blue Note is like the Disney Land of Jazz, complete with a gift shop upstairs so you can buy keychains.

It is nice, though, to see young guys like Chris Dave, Marcus Strickland, or Robert Glasper going out on tour with Mos Def or Erykah Badu, and then in turn drawing young people that normally would be listening to only hip-hop back out to their gigs. There is still some hope yet that people won't be priced out of the music and young people will start being introduced to it again.

I hate it when people shout and yell and scream and whistle at concerts :(

I'm there to hear the music, not listen to myself and other people's voices.

I know that probably makes me sound like I'm a bit stuck up, or an old fogie, but honestly, I go to concerts to listen to music. That can't be that wrong.

I think part of this is culture. I grew up in North America, and when I visited the Philippines later in life, and went to watch shows in concert or in clubs, I was shocked at first because the audience would, without fail, applaud or cheer when the singer would sing the first line of the song. On account of my western upbringing (especially with regard to classical music), I was somewhat scandalized, and almost felt upset at my fellow audience members. I soon learned that, in doing so, they did not intend any disrespect, either to the performer or the rest of the audience, but rather were showing their support, appreciation and enjoyment of the musician's offering. A sort of "two-way" concert experience.

I suppose that, if most of the audience wants silence, it's respectful to keep silent during performances. At the same time, if most of the audience isn't concerned about that, I suppose it isn't that big a deal?

When I moved to Seattle after college, one of the things that drove me nuts was how lame audiences were at music shows. A band would play a song and call for audince participation. They'd work hard to get people to clap along, or sing a chorus or something. If they really worked at it, they might get 1/3rd of the audience to join in, but as soon as the band went back to playing, the audience participation would die out.

A friend had a band who ended up with a gold record for their first album and a top 40 single. Most of their local shows were at 21 and over clubs. I asked him how he liked playing all-ages shows. He said the audiences were filled with pogoing teenagers which he found a lot more fun than playing to a bunch of still, stonefaced hipsters.

I agree, it can be annoying to have people near you singing so loud that you can't really hear the band very well, but really, if getting any sense that you aren't alone in the audience is a turn-off, save your money and buy a CD.

I saw the Mos Def/Robert Glasper/Chris Dave get-together in San Francisco twice. You wanna talk about steep tickets, that was it: $70 each. On the other hand, totally worth it...

Yeah, but was it only for 45 minutes of music? That's how it is at the Blue Note or Village Vanguard. When I saw glasper do a night of both the experiment and trio, with maxwell and bilal, it was $25 for about 4 hours of music

It's a classic death spiral scenario.

Back in the day people would get up and shout when they felt the music. You guys need to give it to us on stage so we can give it back to you, it goes two ways

That's the main problem. Jazzmen are expecting their audience to make the show and only then, they will give them a show back. That should be the other way. Musician are there to make the show, then the audience connect with them and the show becomes a whole.

I don't know, I don't think it is. He and his band were killing it. Tons of energy, you couldn't help but want to get up. They were going to have a good time whether the audience wanted to or not.

But still, the demographic at a place like that is 50+, white, tourists, with disposable income paying a $35 cover ($65 on the weekend). It's $60 for a cheap bottle of wine. Young people just can't afford to be invested in it, so they go drink PBR on the LES and dance to Dam-Funk DJing.

It's very true. A lot of the visceral oomph of music like Jazz comes from its early association with dance. "It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing." The sensuality of a certain kind of step, a certain kind of movement is transmitted in the beat and the music. Understanding this brings many people flat-out joy. In my opiniion, understanding this makes one more human.

That last part, you just have to experience to truly understand. But believe me, if you are doing it right, it really is something close to transcendent. It really is magic.

Ok I've done Lindy Hop for like 5 years now and I think I sort of understand the meaning behind that statement.

When you dance to music you really, really need to listen to the music and where it goes. I notice that good dancers listen to the music and change what they're doing accordingly. If the music is high energy, they dance with high energy. If there is a break in the music, they hit it a break in the dancing (or they try). One of the most amazing jack & jill competitions that I watched seemed like the couple was interpreting the music.

Try asking a person you know who dances what some of their favorite songs to dance to are and why.

Frankie & Johnny (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqscpuCogRE) for the lyrics -- dancers have an opportunity to re-enact the affair and its deadly conclusion. The strong bass line provides a great rhythm for pulsing.

Splanky (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUSijeq4xGU) because there are so many instruments that you can choose "to be".

Cow Cow Boogie (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9AfqVIxEzg) because of the way it undulates. The solos that break up the song, but unite it at the same time. The song cries out for changes in height, rhythm, and speed.

True! I tried salsa and hated the music! After I tried lindy hop and loved it! I also like classical music but what I hate at the radio is the tone of the radio guy (boring and try to say stuff I don't understand)... less talk more music! People do like classical music in movies, right?

Dance music is alive and well, it just doesn't sound like jazz anymore. Being a type of music that emphasizes the here and now (that is, the dance floor), why should the music producers use production techniques and instruments of a bygone era?

Also, if we're looking at the big picture of "the story of american music", disco very much comes from the same lineage as jazz.

Please don't tell this to the 150+ people who came out to the (Swing) dance I threw with the Dixieland Express. Nor to the scores of dancers that will be attending the Hot Jazz Jubilee in a few weeks.

The downfall of jazz as a genre for dancing began with an arbitrary dance tax. It continued with the era of "The Twist", which encouraged people to dance by themselves, and continued on into the disco era, which did more of the same. The Swing Revival of the 1990s helped bring brain-share to jazz (albeit of a neo-Swing flavour) again.

Partner dancing to jazz music is alive and doing very well. If you don't believe it, Google up Lindy Hop in your city.

As you point out, people will still dance to danceable jazz (Lindy Hop, etc.; I've danced to Santamaria's version of "Watermelon Man" before I was into jazz).

However, most post-WWII jazz was not composed for danceability, and much of it is not very danceable (Try dancing to "Giant Steps" or "Brilliant Corners").

Read it again: he said music, not jazz. Anyway, (e.g.) square dancing is still fun :-) And I know a few drummers would like to have a word with you about "instruments of a bygone era."

I should clarify that by "instruments of a bygone era", I really mean "acoustic instruments speaking the language of bebop, swing, etc."

While I agree that square dancing and other folk dance traditions can be fun, they can not by any means be considered "contemporary". Their appeal these days is that of nostalgia and fondness for these bygone eras.

As a 19-year-old who plays for contradances (a folk dance tradition from New England) and scottish country dances, it's hard to believe that the diverse crowds of teenagers, kids and adults of all ages are there because of nostalgia. The same is true of swing, lindy and blues dances I've been to: many people do genuinely enjoy these dance forms for themselves. All that's old is not irrelevant. Not everybody wants to flail there arms around in a sweaty club to electronic noise.

There is a real appeal to this music and these dance forms. Perhaps the biggest problem they face is that they're less accessible. Anybody can go to a dance party and dance, but you have to learn to swing dance.

Not only is it still relevant, people still add to the tradition. Brian Finnegan's tunes are some quite good recent ones.


As the comments say the first tune is an older traditional song. The other two are written by him (who is playing the whistle).

Basically, jazz musicians were replaced by DJs.

At some point, house parties didn't invite a piano player. At some point you could just have someone "putting on some records" for people to dance to at a wedding reception or big event. At some point musically-inclined kids started getting turntables instead of a trumpet.

Good times and jazz used to be in the same places, but by now they only see each other on special occasions. Too bad, because jazz was made for good times and it's not the same otherwise.

I think sort of a corollary point to this is that many people associate jazz with the often cacophonous "free/abstract jazz" (or whatever the term du jour is.) The image is often of mentarbatory discord.

I do not like at least modern "free jazz", but fortunately I still have tons of good, slightly groovier stuff available from 1920's onwards, and I think much more people would likewise find enjoyment in the classics. With the various "internet radio" and customised stream software, searching for these usually brings an excellent selection of music: Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane.

That's a great way to put it.

It's not dancing per se, it's the idea of writing with the listener in mind.

When you write only for audiophiles, you write for a small audience.

There's an equilibrium process here. People don't like jazz because it violates their expectations. It violates their expectations because jazz musicians aren't pandering to the tastes of the listening public. Jazz musicians don't pander to the listening public because, since everyone knows that people don't like jazz, no one becomes a jazz musician because they want to become ridiculously rich or famous -- the people who are willing to change their musical style in order to become popular (as versus to satisfy some purely internal intellectual or aesthetic desire) all go to rock, hip-hop or pop.

The flip side of this is that people who listen to especially unpopular subgenres of jazz (particular -bop) seem to enjoy thinking of themselves as "higher educated" or having more sophisticated tastes than others, or just listening to music that isn't* like everything else and isn't driven by short term fads. And jazz musicians seem largely happy to facilitate this, and in turn get to indulge in a creative process that's solely centered around their own creative interests.

Bottom line, jazz won't "go back to the people", because the people don't want it, because the musicians don't want it ... except the ones that do. I think in recent years a whole lot of people have listened to Michael Buble, or Nouvelle Vague.

I don't know, the fusion with hip hop has brought out huge crowds of young people over the past couple years to jazz gigs here in NYC. Chris Dave has an unmistakable J Dilla influence in his music -- this show was packed:


You don't necessarily need to go back to swing like Wynton does to get people interested in the music again. We forget that jazz standards were pop tunes back in the day, so it's nice to hear young guys now playing Bjork arrangements or KRS-One tracks.

I'm a fan of jazz and I'm against any definition that doesn't put: Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Billie Holiday, Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Nina Simone, Fats Waller, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Christian, and countless others on pretty much the same plane of musical transcendence.

"swinging" and "thinking" aren't so different after all.

So, to summarize in an only very slightly trollish way:

- The problem with jazz is the people who listen to it.

- Music isn't art, or at least it's wrong to appreciate it as such.

- Jazz ought to be revivalist, not innovative.

Suffice to say, I don't think I can agree...

- The problem with jazz is the people who listen to it.


- Music isn't art, or at least it's wrong to appreciate it as such.

Music is entertainment and emotions.

- Jazz ought to be revivalist, not innovative.

Things like free-jazz is not innovative. It is shitty musicians thinking that if they play "out" enough, they might get to the point that people feel they are geniuses.

Music is meant to be good to the ears.

"Things like free-jazz is not innovative. It is shitty musicians thinking that if they play "out" enough, they might get to the point that people feel they are geniuses."

Coltrane played 'out' a lot, he surly wasn't a shitty musician. Cecil Taylor has more technique on the piano than most anyone. Sam Rivers harmonically is out of this world. Ornette Coleman's sense of time? Hamid Drake on drums? Pharoah Sanders? Don Cherry? Marion Brown? Eric Dolphy? Anthony Braxton?

Just because you don't like how it sounds doesn't mean these are talentless fools -- they've studied their history. They surely think about their art complexly and take it extremely seriously.

> Music is entertainment and emotions.

If that's the case, then I'd say that in WWF vs music, WWF wins every time!

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you think all post-renaissance painting is shit, too.

Visual art is distinctly different from music. It's possible to be entertained and feel emotion for visual art that is not a photorealistic depiction. Music, meanwhile, has certain rules that need to be obeyed in order for people to want to experience it. I'm sorry, John Cage might have some interesting concepts, but it's completely unlistenable. There are just some things that you cannot develop a real taste for.

Think about the culinary arts. It too is an art, but with even more restrictions on what can be done than music. "Experimental Chefs" can't just start dabbling in putting sawdust and latex paint in their dishes and still expect it to be eaten.

That being said, experimental musicians have the right to push the envelope and discover what the boundaries of taste are. Sometimes they'll fail, and sometimes they'll discover something interesting, but experimentation alone doesn't cause it to be good or bad.

Experimental chefs can start fooling around with liquid nitrogen and re-purposed inkjet printers and meet with wild success, however. ;)

A more substantive reply: I question the entire underlying premise you have -- that entertainment or emotion are what makes art, art. Something can be entirely distasteful and still art. (Thought experiment: imagine a sonata so deeply heartbreaking that nobody can bear to listen to it more than once. One can't "develop a taste" for it, can they? But it's almost certainly art by most definitions.)

In any case, I don't think John Cage is having any trouble finding listeners, despite your opinion: http://www.johncage.info/index6.html

Yeah it's definitely not my premise that art = emotion + entertainment, that was the GP. I would, however, divide art into "art that is/can become enjoyable" and "art that cannot be enjoyable (but may be thought provoking etc)". I'm definitely not being fair to John Cage, I am far from well versed in his music and since he's an experimental artist I know his pieces have different levels of accessibility. I would group the 4'33" piece into the "interesting but not enjoyable as music" category.

I listen to John Cage. I don't only listen to John Cage, but it is interesting. I think the problem is that you have to have a basis in music history to be able to appreciate what the hell he is trying to do.

If all you have been exposed to is 3 (four-five-one four-five-one) chord pop rock, no of course you won't appreciate Cage. In music, like cooking, you have to develop a palate for such things.

If all you've had all your life is french fries and ketchup, you probably won't like a lot of food that others will appreciate...

WWF? World Wrestling Federation? haha

I'm a musician, and I completely relate to the author regarding not listening to lyrics, etc. The thing is, I strongly dislike jazz. I can recognize creativity and virtuosity in jazz musicians, but the songwriting and soloing actually seems lazy to me (the opposite of what jazz proponents would probably say).

Please elaborate on (support) your assertion that jazz songwriting and soloing is lazy.

It is not an assertion, it is an opinion.

The state of music commentary on this thread is low enough to be insulting and pretty much validates the article. I find it humorous that a website that draws people dedicated to abstract thought can have such a mediocre understanding of music and music history. Do yourself a favor, find a piece of music that you think you don't like. Sit down and listen to it 50 times without distraction so that you know all the changes, turns, asides, tensions, contractions, contradictions, and undulations. If you still don't like, fine.

But I say 9 times out of 10 with this approach you'll realize you know so little about music and there is much more to know and you'll be practically giddy to expand your knowledge.

The distance between Arnold Schoenberg and Lady Gaga is less than you think.

Sit down and listen to it 50 times without distraction so that you know all the changes, turns, asides, tensions, contractions, contradictions, and undulations.

In college I had a minor in electronic art. We'd sit through each other's performances and then comment on all the various artistic work that went into them.

The elephant in the room was that it was all BS. I couldn't count the number of times that someone told me "I appreciated the way you used X to emphasize Y". In truth, nothing had been farther from my mind; it just worked out that way.

So I think that a huge portion of what you're interpreting in the changes, turns, etc. are just happenstance. It's just that our minds are such incredible pattern-recognizing machines, and are so malleable, that it's trivially easy to spot some pattern and rationalize a whole lot of noise (in the information processing sense) into spurious meaning.

How else to explain someone deciding that Ursa Major looks like a bear?

It's valid to recognise a pattern, a technique that you used. Name it if you like. The mistake is only made when they believe the pattern was made intentionally. More often than not, the only thought entering your mind as you compose is 'this is pleasing, so I will keep it'.

However, even if those facets of the music you interpreted exist by chance rather than by design, they still have value and are a source of inspiration. Conversely, bad designs exist. It's the outcome that matters; that's what you learn from. Not from intentions.

I think that's also part of the reason why distortion can sound good - it can add a lot of fake depth to the music.

Well, I find it insulting when somebody comes and tells people how they should enjoy their music.

I think your comment pretty much validates my image about the people who think they are better in listening to music than others. What has abstract thought to do with music history anyway? I am a software designer, and I truely appreciate useful abstractions that make creating good software a bit easier. But for music, I don't give a damn about the intentions of the composer or the history of the musical style of the composition, if I don't like it or the way how it is performed. Just like the users of my software don't care the slightest bit of how well-crafted the thing is, if it doesn't do what they want. I rather sit down to listen through the music I like 50 times to learn all its twists and turns than to waste my time on something I genuinely couldn't care less.

And how do I tell the music I like from the music I don't? The music I truely like gives me shivers, physically, the first time I hear it. That is the music that gives me joy when I listen to it. That is the experience I hope to get from music every now and then. And that really does not happen too often.

I play guitar as a hobby, and mostly suck at it. That's because I don't have the drive to really study hard and learn it properly. (And probably I don't have that much talent, either.) I would have all the time if I wanted, but I don't, because I want to enjoy playing music - not to have it as yet another burden to bear. So I go and learn new stuff only when I feel I need some new kick to maintain the interest in it.

And this is what I want to say: go and learn, but above all, find enjoyment. Life is short, and everything has its price - so don't waste your (free) time on anything you don't find personally rewarding. Studying music is waste of time - unless you happen to enjoy studying music! ;)

> I would have all the time if I wanted, but I don't, because I want to enjoy playing music - not to have it as yet another burden to bear.

You’ve completely swapped cause and effect.

I thought I wasn't clear enough about that part, and so it seems. So I'll clarify.

Earlier, when I was learning to play guitar, I really really wanted to become a good guitar player. So, I spent countless hours to practice, but I wasn't advancing that much. And all the time I knew what the problem was, although I didn't admit it to myself.

It did not come from the heart.

I thought that it is only a matter of decision, and a matter of how much time and effort I put into it. But at the end it is a matter of motivation, and as you all know, motivation is not something you just pick and choose; it is something you look for, but you cannot force it. My motivation for playing guitar was shallow, but I tried not to face it, because becoming a good guitarist would have been so cool.

Eventually I started to hate it, gave up and got rid of the whole instrument.

Only years later I got a new "bite" to the hobby, and this time I was wise enough to admit that I am not willing to practice hard to become a good player - and never have been.

Instead, I just warmed up the old stuff, and started inventing my own music. Composing. Just trying out things, seeking for something that sounds good and then developing on that. Nothing too complicated or special. And boy, have I enjoyed playing guitar since then! I don't push a schedule, I don't push any targets, I just play exactly how I feel like and when I like. And time to time I feel like learning something new, borrow a couple of music books and have a sprint of actually practicing on something. But only as far as I find enjoyment in learning itself.

So, that is what I mean that I would have all the time I wanted, but I just don't (want). Anything more than I currently happen to put on it, would be waste of my time because I wouldn't enjoy it.

For most people, music is entertainment, just like literature, art, television, etc. It seems like you (and the author of this article) take it much more seriously than that. That's fine for you, but I think what many of us are expressing is that it's silly to claim that you're superior because of it. Musical skill is certainly to be admired, but condescension isn't.

Why in the world would someone spend 6-8 hours listening to a piece of music they dislike just so they can like it? If I already have thousands of pieces of music I enjoy listening to, why should I put any effort into liking even more music?

I don't buy the article's conclusion that people should listen to jazz because otherwise they are "missing a huge chunk of what life has to offer". Everyone is missing out on a huge chunk of what life has to offer! Time spent gaining appreciation for music is not spent doing something else. Who is anyone to tell anyone else what chunks of life they should be exploring?

I have an alternate theory for why Americans don't like jazz. They don't like jazz because they don't hear a lot of jazz. They do like lyrical forms of music because they are exposed to a lot of it in the course of their daily lives. Why is a purposefully acquired taste superior to one that didn't require effort?

> Why is a purposefully acquired taste superior to one that didn't require effort?

Some songs are instantly likable, often because they are simple and their hooks are easily grasped. I would compare them to children's songs. You know the tune and words, and may find it fun to sing along with once in a while, but as an adult, you're not going to get anything deep out of "Row Row Row Your Boat" over the long run. Enjoyment tends to decrease with time and exposure.

Other songs are not instantly likable, but as you get to know them, they reveal wonderful, joyous tidbits and layers, and your enjoyment grows with time and discovery. They are not so simple as to be grasped immediately; they must be learned and examined, just like any other advanced subject.

There is nothing wrong with popular, easy art, and it's not really a matter of acquired tastes being superior, just that acquired tastes can ultimately be far more rewarding to the individual, as they provide lasting, increasing reward in exchange for your effort and attention.

Deep and easy to get into are not mutual exclusive.

No, not necessarily, but it typically seems to be the case. In practice I suppose it's just plain difficult to compose something that's both accessible and deeply rewarding, and the few bands that can really pull this off become incredibly successful (e.g., Arcade Fire with "Funeral").

The funny thing about music theory is that the best musicians/composers always seem to break the rules. I've had some serious classes when I was younger and had more time, because I was genuinely interested. A lot of definitions were vague and/or rather complicated and were invariably followed (at some point) by a statement along the lines of "except that Mozart didn't really do it that way".

Not that I'm trying to say that analyzing music is useless -- far from it, it's always good to analyze and recognize patterns -- but it does put things in their perspective.

A lot of people teach music theory as a kind of musical analysis. This is wrong, both as a practical matter and a historical one--for instance, harmonic theory was first exposited by Hugo Riemann well after the classical period was over, and voice-leading by Fux long after the death of Palestrina, the greatest of the 'voice-leaders'.

Analyzing music makes about as much sense as analyzing food. You can't describe musical deliciousness, you just taste it, and certain talented people can make new kinds, so long as they are well versed in the ingredients. That's what music theory is--being able to think about ingredients, so you can create and/or execute musical recipes.

I hope that analogy wasn't too silly.

The analogy isn't silly, it's very apt and I've used it before. The problem is that there's nothing wrong with associating analysis with music theory. Music theory is not merely analysis, but it's still an important component just as being able to identify the different spices in a dish is an important component of being a cook.

The state of music commentary on this thread is low enough to be insulting and pretty much validates the article.

This seems rather contrary to the kinds of talk normally heard on HN.

It's quite typical for us to take ourselves as developers to task when we build an application that users fail to appreciate, or have difficulty in using.

How is it, then, that when listeners fail to appreciate the greatness in some piece of music, that it's the listener's fault? By analogy, shouldn't we look at this as a failure of the musician?

Phil·is·tine (fĭl'ĭ-stēn', fĭ-lĭs'tĭn, -tēn') n.


A member of an Aegean people who settled ancient Philistia around the 12th century B.C.


a. A smug, ignorant, especially middle-class person who is regarded as being indifferent or antagonistic to artistic and cultural values.

b. One who lacks knowledge in a specific area.

Dude, there is a WORLD of a difference between a computer application that is made for the purpose of doing business and a work of art...

Art is about communication. Art is a conversation.

Do you expect, when having a conversation with someone, that it is going to be a one-sided affair, where the other person is completely responsible for the outcome of the interaction, and you, yourself, have no bearing nor responsibility on the course of events?

Is someone "failing" at conversation because they are speaking to you in Korean and you don't understand it? Is that their fault? Or is it yours? Is one person failing and the other person triumphantly succeeding in this situation?

Isn't it important to define success conditions before throwing around words like "failure"? Usually it's considered two or more people "fail at conversation" if they don't manage to:

1) understand what others are trying to convey

2) make others understand what they're trying to convey

Even given that definition, it's questionable whether the listener or the speaker failed, if the listener does not understand the speaker's language. Was it acceptable to expect the listener to understand it?

Without going into any further details, my point is that I think your metaphor is inadequate, basically because it implies that the artist's intention is invariable to have his or her art appreciated by as many people as possible.

Two generations of people understood the conversation of Jazz. So yes, it is reasonable to expect another generation to also participate in that conversation. Unfortunately, that new generation has lost something.

Where did you learn that? To me, art is about experiencing things, not "conversation". Art mostly just sits there to be seen or heard, and it will not care about my saying or thinking. Art may "talk" to me, but I can't talk to art.

To your language analogy: what if I invent a language of my own and try to use it anywhere, how much the failure of communication is divided between me and the receivers? Many times "art" seems to be exactly this. It's not "Korean", it's just some gibberish the artist came up with.

If you're not making art, you're not taking part in the conversation.

However, you CAN learn the language, and then at least listen in on the conversation.

There is a reason that those paintings are hanging on the walls of museums like MoMA. The artists have engaged with the discourse of contemporary art of their time.

I could spend then next 6 weeks going over art history, but here's a quick example of the kinds of things that motivated artists in the beginning of the 20th century.

Before the advent of the photograph, the only way to capture a scene was by reproducing it by hand, using a number of different media. Once the ability to point a machine at a scene, capture, and print it was available, the working painters of the day had some serious questions to answer. What is being lost by taking a photograph? What is gained? What is the role of a painter? What can a painter do that a photographer can't?

With this context and these questions in mind, reexamine the course of art history in the latter part of the 19th century. You see a movement towards impressionism, the abstract, and expressionism.

Of course, technology is not the only motivator for an artist. There are philosophical trends and political events, that guide and inspire artists to create what they do.

I've found that my studies of the the history of various art forms, be them visual or aural, have greatly improved my understanding of how and why things are the way they are.

There is a lot to be gained by learning new ways of communication. I would push for everyone to not only learn the language, but partake in the conversation. The creation of art is truly a transcendent experience.

Is your last name Tolkein? Elvish is just some gibberish that he made up. I think that there is something profound and beautiful about creating your own language.

It's interesting that you use Lady Gaga as an example, because before she got famous, she was a...jazz musician!


What you say is true. But how you say it reminds me of heroin junkies' syringe aesthetic. No insult intended; rather an observation of how people favor different paths to the common destination of a satisfying endorphin experience.

I grew up playing music (eight years piano, variously oboe, clarinet, and several years vocal).

I don't like jazz. I think that a lot of it is self-indulgent noodling.

I can appreciate the talent of some of the artists, but I can't get into it. I feel the same about country music and rap: there is artistry there, but I can't stand 90%+ of it and don't want to waste my time listening to it to find the really good stuff from the derivative, self-indulgent crap.

Yes, I pay attention to the lyrics (because of my time as a vocalist), but I also pay attention to the music.

I think most people don't like 'jazz' because it's an ill-defined "style" that ranges from reasonably well known swing and "standards" to obscure fusion or acid jazz. The more obscure you get, the more inside baseball the discussions become and the less accessible they are to people who might just "like" the sound of a particular song. (The same could be said about the more obscure corners of 'rock'.)

Agree with the self-indulgent part. It's sophisticated to like jazz so people try to like it. And then they do because one can grow to like anything.

From TFA, "... the American ears are getting lazier and lazier."

I'll agree with that, but I don't consider it a bad thing. Jazz seems to meander and is only impressive once paid close attention to. I want music to come and hit me; I don't want to have to work for payoff.

That's really quite the generalization. Some forms of jazz are very much like that, yes; however, there are many forms of jazz, particularly focusing on those from 1910-1950, which are very structured in form and don't really lend themselves to being "self-indulgent".

It'd be like me saying that all rock is talentless because it's all just a "fuck the man" wall of distortion. Yes, there's some rock music that's like that, but rock is an expansive genre and claiming that all or even the majority of rock is like that would be very naïve.

I read a book on Duke Ellington in which he expressed concern for the emerging BeBop style's destruction of Jazz. It seems like he foresaw the move from structured, dance-able music to explorative music as isolating the music from the larger population. It's interesting that I didn't understand his opinion until just now. I'm still not sure I agree with it, but I can see how making music less dance-able could turn off people.

Whatever bebop did to "destroy" the jazz that came before it very likely would have happened anyway. The big band jazz of the sort Ellington was best known for was dying out, primarily for financial reasons, and an increasing number of people who wanted to dance along with music were dancing along with rock rather than jazz.

But, looking back at the big picture that even Ellington couldn't see at the time, I don't think that bebop destroyed jazz at all; it was the next evolutionary step, just as Ellington's jazz was a step beyond Dixieland-style jazz.

I'm in 100% agreement. Btw, the book I referenced is "Beyond Category" by John Edward Hasse.

There's a difference between being able to appreciate the artistic value of something, and being able to enjoy it. I don't like jazz, and I mostly listen to music where I can't understand the lyrics, or where none exist. Sometimes people just don't enjoy certain genres of music. I'm sure part of it is cultural, but this article seems to portray the inability to enjoy jazz as some sort of cultural failing, and that's just ridiculous.

Pixote was thought-provoking, emotional, and well made. Despite that, I did not enjoy it. That does not mean I'm incapable of recognizing art, it just means that I don't enjoy the style of the piece in question.

Jazz as a genre is more complex than virtually any other genre of music. It employs more subtle and more complex harmonies which are usually not used anywhere else, neither are seen in music textbooks. Plus improvisation which essentially is composing on the fly - something not every musician is capable of keeping up and not every listener is capable of understanding. In other words (and this shouldn't be news) jazz is a language that you need to learn in order to enjoy it. That's the point of the article.

(Some parts of jazz though are pretty "accessible", such as Billie and Nina, but if you forget about the lyrics and the emotional side of their art and leave only the music, that for the most part wouldn't be a good example of jazz.)

I enjoy classical music of the modern period like Messiaen, Britten, and others. This is arguably more complicated than jazz.

I don't really like most jazz. The performers are mostly amazing players, but the music doesn't provoke any emotional reaction from me, whereas listening to something like Messiaen's Turangalila is as close to a religious experience as I'll ever get.

I thought I was the only one who didn't pay attention to lyrics.

My friend and I kinda of resemble that dynamic. He loves some of the shittiest songs (imo) because of interesting lyrical content, where as I totally ignore them. If I like them it's because of how they were sung not because of me diving through looking for "meaning".

That's why after all these years Pinback is still one of my favorite bands. Their voices are just another instrument in a lot of their songs, since it sounds like Rob Crow kind of mumbles through them all, and they're usually sitting a layer or two down in the mix.

For example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59cQWw9ctOA (not the greatest quality I know). It's the way he sings / shouts "Stop! It's too late! I'm feeling FRUS-trated!" that draws me in.

I also don't really listen to lyrics, largely because it is hard for me. I think I actually have some sort of perceptual incapacity -- I have to really try to understand them, whereas it seems other people hear them very easily. Even when I try, it's hard. I'm smart in other ways, but in this regard I am comparatively deficient. Anybody else on HN share this 'syndrome'?

For me, music has always been about structure, tone, melody -- I like the Eagles, for example, but when I started hearing the lyrics (it took me a while, and they're pretty easy), I was like, "Man, these guys are cheesy!" In some agreement with this article, I love jazz. Check out my friend Daniel Levin for how far out I like it: http://www.daniel-levin.com (annoying flash site but has samples of his music)

Yes, I share that syndrome, though it depends on the artist. I'm convinced the reason that there are so many passionate haters of Coldplay out there is because they're focusing on the lyrics, which are totally vague and, IMO, just written as another component of overall aesthetic.

On the other hand, I can't listen to Bob Dylan or Eminem [1] without hearing the lyrics, because in their case the music is really just there as a scaffolding for the words.

[1] How's that for a juxtaposition?

There's a lot of music having lyrics that seem engineered to be ignorable, making me think that the artist only intended them to be placeholders, either because they wanted the voice to be a freer instrument, or just because the genre format demanded lyrics.

Aside from the obvious case of scat-singing, examples that come quickly to mind are Frank Zappa, Presidents of the USA, and Rob Zombie. I lot of the lyrics on King Crimson's Discipline seem to almost make it explicit that the lyrics themselves are an appendix. (I recall an interview with Zombie: someone asked him what some strange lyric was supposed to mean, and he replied something like "I don't know, it's just the song").

But it would be wrong, I think, to assert that instrumentals or lyrics for the sake of the voice are somehow on a higher plane. I think that being able to produce excellent melody and harmony as well as excellent lyrics, and to integrate them well, is the highest form.

Regarding your last line (which you maybe just meant as an aside), I'm a huge fan of all the artists I mentioned, so I hope I didn't give the impression that I think any of them are on some higher plane than the others. Just that I like them for different reasons.

You're definitely not the only one. I really tried to understand the lyrics to the song linked by your parent post, and couldn't make out a word (also stopped listening after a minute because I couldn't get past the repetitive bass line).

There have been a few studies over the years that indicate that many or even most people don't listen closely - or rather often, at all - to lyrics in pop songs.

Anecdata-wise, I've had many occasions where I'd surprised people with the lyrics to songs they've long known and enjoyed. They simply didn't know the words beyond the choruses - and sometimes, not even those very accurately.

(Not to claim any great listening ability for myself - I often have to look up the lyrics of songs because I've long been a fan of stuff like REM's older and less lyrically precise albums. :) )

Sting once complained about "Every Breath You Take" being used in weddings; an intelligent woman I know was quite startled to realize what "Roxanne" was about when she heard it in a very different form in Moulin Rouge. If you didn't understand the words, you couldn't tell from the sound of these songs, "He's obsessed and stalking her." or "She's a prostitute."; even though these songs are sung in fairly clear English, most of us don't pay close attention to the words.

I think TFA's author is wildly over-generalizing on how Americans listen to music.

I have to concentrate really hard to listen to lyrics, but I find it easy to hear things like musical quotes and samples (e.g. the first time I heard a piece by Steve Reich, I knew immediately that I had already heard it, because I listened to The Orb years before). I always get a kick out of those moments of musical recognition - probably if I could force myself to pay more attention to lyrics, I would see more depth there too.

"He loves some of the shittiest songs (imo) because of interesting lyrical content, where as I totally ignore them. If I like them it's because of how they were sung not because of me diving through looking for "meaning"."

Yes, this. One of the reasons I love metal is because a great metal vocalist like Dickinson or Dio just plain sounds awesome, no matter what he's going on about.

It wasn't until after I started playing Rock Band with friends that I noticed that a whole lot of lyrics in general are completely inane. (count me in as one of those guys that never listen to the lyrics)

What's so inane about "Ride the tiger / You can see his stripes but you know he's clean"? Pretty deep to me.

Seriously, though, I'm a fan of Blue Oyster Cult's lyrics, which can range from pretty nonsensical (She's as Beautiful as a Foot) to basically the straightforward relation of a story (Then Came the Last Days of May).

Just as an anecdote: Since my English got much more fluent in recent years, I pay much more attention to (English) lyrics now, than I did earlier. Though it's still easier not to pay attention to English lyrics than German ones. I don't know whether or how that has changed my perception of music. I like purely instrumental music, too.

My sister prefers music with voices in them to purely instrumental stuff, even if she can't understand them, e.g. Japanese rock.

http://kahvi.org/ is a nice place to get (mostly) instrumental-only electronic music from the creative commons.

It's not the problem of lyrics vs words in the first place. It's a problem of lack of musical education. Give a person a guitar or a piano and within a year she starts paying attention to the composition and performing skills. And her tastes may change dramatically too. So in a sense, I consider "listening to words" not as an alternative point of view, but rather a lack of musical training. Sure, words may simply be bad, but they alone usually cannot make song good or bad, while music composition and performing definitely have this power.

Also, please do not think of Americans that way. People in general tend to ignore music because they don't have a proper training. Same here in Russia. Same would even be in Japan. I would even rank Americans and Europeans higher, because they're naturally exposed to different quality music a lot more, than any other culture.

I agree with your first point, the author's claim that it is an instrumental vs. lyrics problem is not accurate. There are easy counter examples, such as the popularity of instrumental dance music, which often features very little in the way of lyrics and the vapid nature of most pop songs, as well as the ability of many listeners to appreciate music performed in a language other than their own.

The problem with a lot of jazz, what I would call "bad" jazz, is that it is formless noodling. It is in areas like jazz solos, jam rock bands, rock guitar solos, etc. that one hears the admirer comment on the difficultly level of the performance versus the coherent melodies and hooks of popular music, and even many popular classical works.

The popular jazz standards have melodic hooks that cause people to like and remember them. Beyond that surface, a vast majority of jazz musicians are more focused on the intricacies of group performance than composition. Sure more musical education, or better brains, would enable people to develop their memories to be able to recall and hum along with longer and more complex note sequences, but you still need to compose them- and repeat them. (Recall the Mark E Smith formula for pop music "Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.")

Very good point. I think we can both agree that a great composition, both smart and understandable for general public, may be quite simple to perform. On the other hand, sometimes poor composition may be somehow hidden under the layer of the great performer's skills. Not only a jazz problem, btw. As you noticed correctly, it is also quite common for rock bands and, I believe, classical music is affected as well.

The balance is the key. Let me once again mention Sting here. I know I may be quite obsessive with this guy, but he really seems to be the one who found this balance. Always sort of bugged me )

I've been playing gigs as a Irish Trad musician for 20 years. There are an astonishing number of Americans who can't clap on the beat. There are also lots of Americans who can clap somewhere near the beat, but then are still without awareness of how small variations in timing and emphasis can change the feel or swing of the beat.

There are a disturbingly large number of people who -- by their own account -- can't distinguish or process melodic information. I cringe when I think of the 100's of teenagers I've seen purposefully blowing away the high frequency sensitivity it takes to appreciate all the subtle timbres of acoustic instruments.

It's not all Americans. When I go to certain music festivals or even certain regions of the country, I'm surrounded by people who can perceive these things and who understand. I find that energizing. On the flip side, I am often saddened by my different awareness in other places. It's like living in a land of the maimed. It's like being the only sighted person on the planet, with no one to talk to about the beauty of the sunset, the spectacle of the night sky in the countryside, or my favourite paintings.

There's a peculiar book out there by Oliver Sacks called "Musicophilia". He describes in it various cases of musical deafness including tone deafness and rhythm deafness. In reality true cases are quite rare, so I believe most people can develop their "ears" to be able to appreciate music the way you can. I think the mission of every musician whose audience includes large number of people without a proper musical training, is not just to make them love you, but also get them interested to explore music further.

I remember how Sting did that for me. I liked his image as a person and after visiting his performance I started listening to all of his records and playing bass guitar and drums (aside from playing classical guitar). Then I noticed how he really switches to different styles at different times of his career and how his songs sound noticeably different. That led me to exploring jazz and classical music further. And though I quit practicing music for now, I really believe that it was Sting's biggest impact on me that helped me to start appreciate music and developed my tastes.

Why do you consider this both astonishing and disturbing?

I don't find this surprising, nor do I see the problem.

Funny you should say that. Those who I find astonishing and disturbing in this way seldom see the problem.

Sorry, I'm not clear what you mean. What's the problem?

Yes but I also think that in some cultures people sing more and informally. ot just education but also general attitudes towards singing.

For me growing up the only time I would sing would be in church - the essence of drudgery.

Working and traveling in Asia - I was exposed to people singing pubicaly a lot more. In Korea it seemed pretty common in parties or general gatherings for people just to sing. And NorReBangs (karaoke) as a common destination.

This was so foreign to me as an American. It was hard for me - fun but awkward.

Traveling in Mongolia, I stopped in gers and people would stand around and sing and ask me to sing.

This doesnt make people from these countries automatially better musicians - but I think in my particular upbringing it was really uncommon for people to casually sing. 'If you were not good at it you shouldnt do it' - was the fallacy that I internalized.

I remember my wife, when we were dating, and I were walking through a bohemian area of Seoul full of street musicians, etc and she spontaneously got up in a little outdoor ampitheatre and sang a song she liked. I thought this was great but was so outside my reference...

Japan - despite its proximity to Korea - is a pretty different culture in many ways but I felt the writer was also talking about a comfort or naturalness with music which was not the result of education but culture.

Consider the early-tryouts section of American Idol. Americans experience so much Schadenfreude at watching the unskilled singers because it's considered terrible to sing if you don't know how. We're commonly too scared to try karaoke without some liquid courage.

Sad, really - we end up terrified of making music.

I didn't start listening to lyrics until I was in my mid twenties and I have no musical talent or education. When I heard The Beatles Imagine was banned in some places, I thought, "Why? It's just a song." And then years later I actually listened to it and understood.

One of my girlfriends told me, "I've started listening to jazz, I really like it!" So for her birthday, I got her "Kind of Blue" and she hated it. Shocked, I asked her to play some of the jazz she liked and it was, none other than, wait for it! Kenny G. ... I know huh...

"Imagine" is a song by John Lennon, during his solo career, not a Beatles song.

blush I wasn't even born when it came out, that's my excuse, but it resonated with me when I finally "got" it.

I'm not so sure it's all about education. I've always thought it had a lot to do with "listening talent", that thing which people refer to when they say "He's got a good ear."

Of course, this is just my own theory based on my own, personal (and therefore anecdotal) experience. For example, to enjoy a song, I first need to like its music. If the lyrics are in a language I understand, then I need to like them too, but I'm more forgiving in that aspect. I've always thought that this is because I have a rather decent ear. Even though my voice often lacks the capacity to reproduce the music correctly, I can distinguish sounds well enough that I can reproduce at least the main melody on a keyboard.

On the other hand, I've noticed that most people who have less-than-decent "ear" tend to focus more on lyrics than on music. My theory is that if you can't distinguish well enough one melody from another, your won't be able to enjoy songs based on their music -- it's sort of like expecting a blind person to admire a painting.

I think the weakest link in my theory is the fact that I'm basing it on my "anecdata": among all the people I know, those with "not-so-good ear" are more frequent than those with "decent ear". It would be interesting to see what other people's experiences when it comes to that.

I don’t like that you’re drawing a line between talent and education.

I would probably arrogantly classify myself as someone with a “good ear” but because of my experiences with different music and musicians. I often say people think too much when they listen to music when they need to just take it in. But if I didn’t have the same exposure to the music world, I know I wouldn’t be able to do that.

I’m sure the same thing applies to anything you can call art.

Nothing says the ear can't be trained. But there's always innate capacity you start with. Your talent (or ability, if your wish) depends on both. That's why I said "I'm not so sure it's all about education", the key word being "all".

For what it's worth, research has shown that people who speak languages with tonal differences (like Chinese, Vietnamese etc) tend to be far more likely to develop perfect pitch.


Not sure if that contributes to musical education, but my guess is that perfect pitch should have something to do with it.

Thanks for bringing this issue up. I read about this research, yes. I've also read that basically it's not the language itself, but the exposure to any sort of musical training (including learning a language with tonal differences) that affects the development of perfect pitch in early years (source: http://www.amazon.com/Handbook-Research-Education-Young-Chil...). Thus, I should correct myself on the statement that different cultures are just about the same in their ability to appreciate music. On the other hand I don't think that those differences are somewhat significant, because in both european and asian languages - it's still a language with words, right?

I think the author was trying to draw a line between poetry / words and music / tones. I do agree that it doesn’t seem correct to blame culture (or blame anything).

An interesting corollary is that jazz musicians tend to not have as striking an image when it comes to their marketing. Compare what you first visualize when you hear the names KISS or Flava Flav versus say Brad Mehldau or Keith Jarrett.

EDIT: This is probably due to jazz musicians taking themselves more seriously and wanting to be known more for their music than anything else. If a jazz artist enlisted Dir En Grey's stylist, it may invite insinuations that any success is due to marketing instead of artistic merit.

EDIT: To further clarify -- average person's image of:

Rock/Metal: shirtless guys with long hair and tattoos playing guitars

Pop: Pretty boys/girls in shiny costumes who can dance

Jazz: dude with curly hair holding a saxophone

Have you noticed how much more sophisticated Lady Gaga's music is than the rest of what's popular these days? Her popularity has nothing to do with that. It's the way she throws in catchy verbal chants and is equally brilliant at visual and personality branding. And she as a great name.

No, I have not. All of her songs sound the same to me, the repeated nonsense stuttering included. And I say this as a person who as listened to thousands of hours of techno/electronica/drum and bass.

I'm not comparing The Fame Monster to the Diabelli variations.

She's (very) commercially successful -- her revenues have surely long since eclipsed the entire D&B economy totalled over time.

Among commercially-successful acts, her product happens to be a lot more richly constructed than the competition. But the Mac isn't loved for it's BSD kernel -- it's the complete package. Gaga's success should be instructive to anyone hoping to make a splash in any industry.

Hit youtube and search for 'lady gaga acoustic'. You may be pleasantly surprised, as I was.

I would have to disagree re: Lady GaGa's music.

I find her visual image and brand are very well executed and interesting. However, the quality of her music is just not up to snuff. If you compare her tracks to those of other contemporary pop producers such as The-Dream, Xenomania, and Richard-X, you will find that there really is much room for improvement.

That being said, I am almost certain that GaGa will get her act together and start collaborating with better producers and she will become one of the true great pop artists of our time

Wait, what? No. I haven't seen/heard Lady Gaga do anything that Kylie Minogue didn't do better.

It's like, hmmm. Imagine you have a bag of Starburst™ brand fruit chews. You eat one, it's an orange. You eat the next, it's an orange. You go through an entire bag of orange fruit chews when suddenly -- out of the blue -- you encounter a strawberry-flavored chew. And you start raving about how the strawberry is more subtle, more nuanced, more rife with unexplored avenues of flavor than the bag of oranges you've just consumed.

No. It's just superficially different. It's still ground-up pig toes, HFCS, and artificial flavorings and colorings.

I never thought I would see Lady Gaga and sophisticated in the same sentence.

> than the rest of what's popular these days?

Depends on your definition of popular.

More like Jazz marketing got undercut by the popularization of cool. That used to be half the marketing: they were superhuman levels of cool. Untouchable. Today's Jazz musicians are just nerdy.

Quite. There's a snobby attitude in many areas of art that fun = not serious, which drives me crazy. By fun I don't mean comic, but emotionally engaging.

Same in theater. I've seen umpteen productions of Macbeth resembling a 3-hour funeral because Shakesperian tragedy is Serious Business. The best production I ever saw had no set and cheap costumes, but Lady Macbeth was greedy slut, Banquo was a snotty jerk, Macduff was a vengeful maniac, and Macbeth himself was a gullible, venal coward. The tickets were cheap, the theater was shabby, but instead of a literature class we got a bunch of foulmouthed armed sociopaths fighting over possession of a shitheap. It was the best action movie I've ever seen.

Don't settle for bad art. If you get bored, tear up your ticket and walk out.

You're cherry picking. Sun Ra, Herby Hancock (he's jazz, no?) and there's plenty of "boring"/non-striking artists across most genre's.

You're so right. Jazz musicians are boring. Worst than that, I hear them complain every time that "the crowd was not in it". So, they don't even try to be less boring, they blame their clients for it. Way to go jazzmen!

I've shared an apartment with three jazz musicians, and I can assure you that they're not boring.

I mean, they are not boring in their everyday life. They are boring when they do a show.

This brings up a great point. Great jazz players are horrible marketers. Oddly enough, I think some of their "practice" time could be better put to use spreading the word or pounding the pavement.

I think they understand their market just fine. You're just not in that market, so you don't notice.

It is niche music, there is no doubt about it. The jazz festival circuit seems to be doing just fine, albeit, most of the popular festivals are outside of the US. Heck, most of the really good older jazz musicians moved to Europe 30 years ago, anyways.

Whew lots of words to sum up something that seems kind of obvious to me: People just aren't exposed to good jazz very often. We mostly hear really terrible soul defeating elevator jazz. People grow up understanding the language of rock, country, hip hop, etc so they will almost certainly hear some really good examples of music from these genres and naturally gravitate towards some or all of them. Jazz is an art form you really have to seek out these days. The better question is why did popular culture move away from jazz in favor of these other genres? I think it reflects the demand for shorter more concentrated messages in music. The 2-3 minute song is how most people consume music. If you sliced out some choice 2-3 minute segments of some great jazz albums I bet they could be palatable to a bigger audience even today. We see this in film & TV today with jazz and orchestral music. People like it but not in big doses.

I suspect many people in their 20s and 30s aren't aware of much of the jazz they've come in contact with as being jazz. When the expectation for jazz is "Kenny G.", you can come across quite a bit of it from older movies, TV shows, and pop music without recognizing as such.

The criticism of rap in the middle of the piece seems both misplaced and undereducated. Some of the most musically complex instrumental music I've heard in the past few years has come out of the hip-hop world. Take a song like T-Pain's "Chopped and Screwed" [1] and try to pick it out on the piano -- it's got enough 7's,9's and alt chords to make any jazz listener happy. Rap is probably the only pop genre where fans pay enough attention to the background to like a song/artist for the lyrics (Nas) or the beat (Kanye) or both (Jay-Z).

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtP6arjZmzI

I'm not convinced. The melody sounds simple and repetitious, and the verses, mostly sung by tPain, are similar. The rest is just a fleshing out of these ideas, though, there is rythm and lyrics. I think you'll disagree with me, but I believe that's more because you disagree with me and the authors definitions of music than because I'm wrong.

Having said that, would you like to try to send me to some hip-hop I'll like. I've been looking, but when listening to music that has lyrics I have to listen to them, and I don't like these, or most rap for that matter. I've yet to find any particular artist I really like yet.

Jack White puts it well. On whether he does or does not particularly like hip-hop: "Not particularly. I find OutKast and Wu-Tang Clan interesting. But I consider music to be storytelling, melody and rhythm. A lot of hip-hop has broken music down. There are no instruments and no songwriting. So you're left with just storytelling and rhythm. And the storytelling can be so braggadocious, you're just left with rhythm. I don't find much emotion in that."

I agree with Jack White. Thanks for the quote. Still, as a very-non-hip-hop-fan, I have to admit: there may be nothing in it that I can appreciate besides rhythm, but that rhythm is often amazing. It's like Monet said about Manet: "Only an eye, but what an eye!"

(Actually, that's not true. The other aspect of hip-hop that I can appreciate is its linguistic sophistication. It's not exactly lyrical, though; it's more like verbal variation on the rhythm. So maybe it is the same thing after all.)

By this logic, English-language opera (yes, it exists) ought to be doing well in America. Check your local opera house schedule and see how many performances you can find that are not in Italian, German, or French.

There is some merit to this argument, that some music can't be appreciated as easily unless you attach it something people can easily relate to. Even classical music isn't immune to this, hence the existence of program music like Beethoven's 6th symphony and many other works from the Romantic era. Today, it's mostly film scores that fall into this category of instrumental music that is best understood within a certain context.

I think the difference today is that the context itself has changed. We've transitioned to an urban, fast-paced lifestyle and have lost touch with the beauty of nature from which many instrumental pieces draw inspiration. We've become more materialistic, hence the prevalence of "bling" in rap songs. The host on my local classical station once remarked that there are only two serious topics in music: God and sex. Though I'm not religious, I can tell that these days it's much less of the former and more of the latter.

That said, I wouldn't be so pessimistic right now. Think long-term: in 100 years, how many people will still be listening to Brahms, and how many will still be listening to Britney Spears?

"I think the difference today is that the context itself has changed. We've transitioned to an urban, fast-paced lifestyle and have lost touch with the beauty of nature from which many instrumental pieces draw inspiration."

Huh? Most classical pieces of music were written in urban centers not on some farm. Same with jazz. Jazz is fiercely urban. But what we have today is carcass. But between 1930-1970 some crazy st went down.

"The host on my local classical station once remarked that there are only two serious topics in music: God and sex. Though I'm not religious, I can tell that these days it's much less of the former and more of the latter."

In it's heyday jazz were certainly about Sex.

"That said, I wouldn't be so pessimistic right now. Think long-term: in 100 years, how many people will still be listening to Brahms, and how many will still be listening to Britney Spears?"

This is just too reductionistic. Folk (aka pop) music and classical (aka serious) music have been forever intertwined. Whether the average music listener appreciates doesn't change that.

"By this logic, English-language opera (yes, it exists) ought to be doing well in America."

We call them "musicals". They're doing OK.

If you want to argue that a "musical" is an "opera plus some stuff added to make it more palatable to visually-oriented Americans" I'm not going to argue.

No way - operatic singing techniques are fundamentally different from other kinds of singing, and much harder work physically. Next time in you're in the shower or wherever you can sing, do a chorus of some song you like. Then take a deep breath and instead of using your throat as you do when you talk, use your abdominal muscles to push the air out of your lungs while you sing, such that you can feel the notes resonating your chest cavity. It isn't just louder, it fundamentally changes the characteristics of your voice.

Part of what makes popular music so compelling is that using microphones to amplify the voice allows singers to present a much more intimate quality - they're right there with you, and that intimacy is strongly coupled to the emotional content of the song, even if it's coming through a stadium-sized sound system. It's like the amplification creates a bridge between the singer and the audience. but in opera, (even with amplification) the singer is bridge between the melody and the audience...a big reason why opera singers don't always look right for the part, but when they open their mouths, it ceases to matter...if they're good enough.

I like the opera a lot and go several times a year...but don't get me started on all the things that are wrong with the opera industry. As with nerdy and self-indulgent jazz, the arts establishment is fucked and limits its own audience by wasting huge amounts of money on packaging the product so it becomes a high-priced status symbol - perhaps even deliberately. Every year in San Francisco they do one or two free operas at the baseball park (via simulcast from the opera house), and people love it - last time it attracted over 35,000 people. But if you want to go the Opera house you'll probably have to pay $75-1000 per ticket to subsidize a small army of union stagehands and visual designers, and they send out glossy-full color begging letters every 6 weeks as if people went to the opera to look at the costumes and stage furniture. Well, I guess some of them do, but I imagine that composers and singers would rather be appreciated for their musical ability than their ability to look like they stepped out of a history book.

Opera != bel canto. True, the classic opera (say, late baroque through Puccini) was written specifically for the bel canto voice due to the increased size of the audience over the previous, more intimate pieces, the unfortunate lack of amplification, and the relatively few vowels to be found in Italian (and French, for that matter) but there's no real reason to equate a genre of theatre with any particular vocal style. Hearing a Purcell piece sung with the English-mangling roundness of vowels required for the italianate style is as disturbing to me as Nixon in China. Even loudness is not an excuse -- the reverberations of Ethel Merman's last "on with the show" have not yet died down.

There's no need for opera to become fossilised, nor for it to aspire to an audience of fossils. Jesus Christ Superstar should have changed the world -- not that it was the best that could have been done, but it should have opened doors everywhere to the possibility of actually keeping opera relevant.

My point is that musicals fill the niche operas used to fill. Technical details are of interest to me personally but not relevant to my point. I really, really hate labeling a type of music by the physical techniques used to generate the sound, I think it's a terrible way to think about the scene. (Though I aggressively concede that I seem to be in the minority on that view.) To me, your point is basically equivalent to saying that classical-style music with saxophones in the orchestra just isn't classical music anymore; I am sure you would disagree with that characterization and I'm not saying it's objectively true, but it's not part of how I think about musical classification.

I was under the impression that a musical is a spoken word play where the actors break out into song and dance on a regular basis, whereas in an opera the singers rarely dance or speak.

If that is the case, the difference between musicals and opera is more than just the language. and actually supports the author's point that American culture needs visual stimulation (the dance) and words they can easily understand (the spoken lines).

"Joseph and the amazing technicolor dreamcoat" is entirely sung (Well, apart from "and I don't speak Egyptian very well"), but is usually referred to as a musical. Maybe just marketing though. Personally I usually expect opera to mean a particular style of singing more than anything else.

Les Miz also has only a handful of spoken lines.

I confirm that that was pretty much my point in the last paragraph. (No offense meant or taken in this post, just confirming.)

I don't think humanity as a whole has become more or less materialistic: we've just raised the bar due to technological advances. Witness the greed of conquistadors and kings of times past for gold, for example.

Jazz not being in the limelight anymore is not really a fault of the music, the listeners, or the players. It's not an unhealthy turn of events either. I think it's as simple as a new generation has come up who wants to "have their say": they want to express their own take on life in their own way. Another generation will come along in 20 years and supplant them. It's a never ending cycle.

Jazz isn't anywhere near death judging by the number of internet radio stations offering it. Jazz musicians are still exploring musical boundaries. Admittedly there are fewer venues but you can still find them.

Another consideration is the influence Jazz had on the mainstream. Groups like the Dave Matthews Band embody the Jazz spirit very much.

What I'd like to hear more of is people from other cultures mixing Jazz into their own native music.

Jazz is, to me, about exploration.

NOTE: Edited the first sentence due to a blatant abuse of negatives.

Not that I entirely agree with this article, but as a jazz musician, it definitely interests me.

I am curious though; when was the last time everyone listened to an entire album while doing nothing else? (no driving, surfing, working, etc...)

Earlier today, in fact. But it's not so much the attention span thing that gets in the way (I play reeds, by the way) but the intellectual masturbation of a lot of jazz that turns people off.

I've yet to run into anybody who turns their nose up at, say, Dave Brubeck's "Time Out", which is certainly rhythmically sophisticated but tuneful, or Kenny Burrell's "Midnight Blue" (an album that's usually the first up for visitors). It's the "I'm an artiste, dammit" attitude, the cleverness for cleverness' sake, the removal of anything remotely engaging at a visceral level -- the attempt to emulate in the jazz idiom what Schoenberg perpetrated on "serious" music -- that forces people to decide that the Emperor is without skivvies to cover his shame.

Lyrical content is a red herring as well. There's a lot of dance crap (and some that's not crap) that gets heavy rotation in the wider world that is entirely word-free.

Okay, jazz is all about painting oneself into a corner and finding imaginative ways of escaping the trap you've set for yourself, but there's no harm in playing something that manages to capture a tune along the way rather than merely tracking the letter of the changes. Too many jazzers forget that it's still music.

And there is also a good amount of jazz music with lyrics. In fact, there is very little music out there in any genre that has the lyrical heft that Jon Hendricks or Kurt Elling have in their denser vocaleses.

But yeah, on your first point there, I remember a big double-bill concert around here about ten years ago. The first half was fairly traditional jazz, well-attended and apparently well-liked. The second performer's music could best be described as a quick, semi-recognizable head followed by minutes of endless sixteenth notes without any appreciable (to me, anyway) form or structure. There was obviously an incredible amount of skill on display, but I found it unimaginably boring. I wasn't alone: after about ten minutes of the second half, there was a steady stream of people getting up and leaving during the performance. So did I eventually.

I think your point is more effective with those who recognize the music you're talking about. Which most here won't.

Here is "Take 5" from "Time Out" by Dave Brubeck: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwNrmYRiX_o

And "Midnight Blue" by Kenny Burrell: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wAmxuHt5nw

Jazzer, drop your axe: it's jazz police! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6asMGoX2DY

Seriously? Two nights ago, my back was aching so I laid down on the (heated) bathroom floor and listened to "Between Nothingess & Eternity" (by the Mahavishnu Orchestra) on my iPhone.

I can't say I've had the chance since, umm, the kids were born, but there aren't too many better ways to spend a Sunday morning than laying in bed listening to Van Morrison.

Do people really not do this anymore? If I strolled around a University dorm at, say, 3am, I wouldn't find half-baked people listening to Pink Floyd or the Grateful Dead by candlelight? Kids these days....

Think of the medium. While it's entirely possible to listen to entire albums on the ipod/phone, it's just as easy to listen to a single artist/genre/list/random. It used to be a pain to get up and change the disc/tape/cd so people would follow the path of least resistance. Now the path of least resistance is to pick random. (Or something like genius or some other type of "smart random")

On a weekend night, I have been known to get a bit drunk and put on some Pink Floyd, sometimes on vinyl if I have the album I want. So yeah, some of us uni kids still listen to the full albums.

But not the Grateful Dead. You hear "Friend of the Devil" and "Casey Jones" and think, oh hey, these guys are pretty good. Then you hear pretty much anything else they've ever done and realize that most of it is a session where everyone was too wasted to remember when to stop the song.

I've been listening to an entire album once or twice a week for the last year or so. And this is serious, lights off, audiophile grade BUF-03 based amplified Grado headphones on, no distractions listening.

But I'm an anomaly, as I still buy CDs rather than individual tracks from the ITMS.

Here's something weird that I do: if I'm tuning the radio dial and run across a song or band the I recognize as being very well liked by a (absent) friend, I'll stop and listen to the whole thing out of respect for their opinion, even if I don't like it myself.

Hmmm, in the last few months

* OK Computer (by Radiohead) I've probably done 3-4 dark rooms listens through this in the last year alone. * Venomous Villian (by Victor Vaughn aka MF Doom) * Timeless (by Goldie) * The Stone Roses (by The Stone Roses) * Tranceport (by Paul Oakenfold)

I try and turn out the lights and listen to an album or two whenever my wife has Yoga or dinner with friends. Ideally I do this slightly drunk which helps me really lose myself in the music and keeps my brain from ruining everything.

I am indeed guilty of neglecting this.

So is everyone else, but I guess it stands out to me because I do consider it a worthwhile goal, to sit on the sofa, put on something like Jóhann Jóhannsson's IBM 1401: A Users' Manual, and just listen to the movements the way I would watch a movie.

But I never do. I always feel like I have to be doing something while listening to music, simply because it's possible. It's true; I don't know what to look at, what to do, if I'm not watching a live performance.

It seems society has a notion that music alone cannot in and of itself be the only event.

I imagine that's a byproduct of our productivity fetish. If we can do something else, but we aren't, we feel lazy.

I know I do. I finally gave up going to classical music concerts even though I love classical music because after about 30 minutes, my brain was too tired to listen to the music any more and my mind wandered.

That's why I prefer dance music (including very abstract stuff like Autechre which many people find unlistenable). If you want me to explore the music, don't ask me to sit still for it.

I don't think it really has anything to do with music in particular, but just our attentions spans in general. I mean, right now I'm on HN, texting, IMing, listening to music, watching anime, and coding.


If you have a decent sound-system, I wouldn't count driving as a distraction; I've often been behind a wheel when I first noticed some detail of a song. And then, sometimes I've set out to listen to music while doing something else and really mostly just listened to the music.

But even granting those points, it's been a few weeks. Shuffling among new tracks or listening to streams is just so easy.

(The album in question was Oil and Gold by Shriekback, an old favorite.)

The modes of listening to music are always in flux.

Singles are very popular right now. Not a lot of people are listening or even making 70s-style albums that are meant to be listened to in their entirety.

I'm an anomaly. I only listen to music while doing nothing else. I'll add that I don't have a car, and did listen to music while driving. BTW, I feel like you're not really doing much of anything when you're driving, so your ability to actually listen to music is retained.

Unlike coding. I can't listen to music while working, I want to pay too much attention to analyzing the chord progressions, lyrics, etc. :)


I mean, I love music (I'm an amateur guitar & sax player, even tried my hand at writing some music software) but I can't listen to an album without doing anything else. Does that make me a bad person?

No. What it speaks to is how listening habits have changed. And since a musician's goal is to be heard, a large shift in listening habits unquestionably changes how much is produced.

The last time I can recall listening to an entire album while doing absolutely nothing else was 1995. (Jethro Tull, "Roots to Branches")

>>when was the last time you listened to an entire album before while doing nothing else?

An excellent and resonant question... It makes me think of generally how our relationship to music has changed over the past 20 years.

I have often thought of the jazz of the 1950's as being about as good as it gets when it comes to American cultural production. Take the production of Mingus and Monk as examples and you have two very different kinds of genius that produced challenging music to listen to.

It is really hard to listen to that music and do something else. Except ride subways - back in the late 80's living in Brooklyn used to listen to CDs while barrelling home at night on the G train or L train... But is demands your attention in a different way and can frankly at times be upsetting to listen to.

In the right (or wrong) frame of mind a song like Monk's version of "The man I love" or Sarah Vaughn's "April in Paris" or Mingus' "Ecclusiastics" can unhinge me -

And even when the Jazz is more popular in orientation - if it is good it bears repeated listenings. "kind of Blue" - despite being overplayed stands up. The "Ella and Louis" albums likewise. That stuff is way overplayed and yet you can listen to it and get something new out of it.

On the other hand most music today is designed to be what Tom Waits describes in the intro to "Better off without a wife", music that is:

"... you know, you put a little nice music on. Maybe you put on like... you know... like shopping music, something that's not too interruptive..."

Most music is designed to not interrupt the flow of commerce, not it interrupt advertising but to fall in line in a supporting role.

I am old enough to remember a time in which it seemed that some music was immune to commercialization. I know this sounds naive - and it is. It was very disturbing for me to see the Rolling Stones selling cars or Iggy Pop selling cruises. Or seeing pictures of Jack Kerouac in a Gap jeans ad. And yet I can see now that in most cases (Rolling Stones, etc) that it I was just a logical extension of the form itself. There was no real transgression - just my frame of mind.

There is a radio show on my local NPR (WNYC) - and I think it is syndicated on Sirius. Jonathan Schwartz - "American Songbook" or something like that. I find the music not mostly to my taste (he is a big Sinatra fan) but to hear Schwartz talk about songs and instrumentation and specifics of a performance (the drummer had a cold that day, etc, etc) and it is the closest that I listen to music in the course of a week. I really love the guy's ethos (if I can only take and hour or so of the show.)

On a different tangent - when I was back in college (late 80's- early 90's) I had a friend who was an audiophile. He had ridiculous equipment especially for a dorm/student apartment. Dedicated mono amps for each stereo channel, finely balanced belt driven turntables. We would listen to recordings and he would point out things like the low bass rumbling of the subway passing by Carnegie Hall. Or how in the dark you could almost visualize the spacial arrangement of a string quartet.

To be honest I am not that musical and most of the times the things he discussed went over my head. The one thing that I could hear at the time was the difference between digital recording and analog on his system.

But for me it was an object lesson in the specificity of a performance that is often lost today. And those days sitting in the dark with my friend might be the last time I really listened to an album...

"The self-surrender of classical music to a sterile, scholastic avant-garde after World War I doomed WFLN to the status of a fading museum of antiquities before that radio station was even born. The hankering of dance-band leaders to be seen as high artists after World War II sapped jazz of its vitality. Both genres have been steadily losing market share for decades because they deliberately turned their backs on the mass audiences they formerly commanded."


Personal note: I've been to jazz concerts where the musicians were in it to have fun, not to make a statement or prove their avant-garde-ness. This included a real exciting swing performance with dancers at an airshow. When played as such the music is invigorating like nothing else.

I like the article and there's a lot of truth to it, but I have two critiques.

First, the music that people like is heavily based on familiarity. People want one or two original elements in a song, but if the overall structure and composition of the song isn't following familiar patterns they will be unable to enjoy it. This is why artists like Frank Zappa are more appreciated by musicians than the general public. After repeated listenings, you find a lot of musical meat, which can then be broken down into more repetitive poppy elements. Jazz in general is much the same, but even further away from pop music today than Zappa was.

The other critique is about the assertion that "rap" music is just about lyrics. One of the foundations of hip-hop and something that sets it apart from other music throughout history, is that it is the first form of music to be built primarily from the manipulation of other recorded music. And it does so in a way that maximizes the impact of the music via looping and sampling. The degenerate form of hip-hop that is dominant today in the form of club music with banal hedonistic lyrics, autotuned vocals, and repetitive plain rhythmic styles is nothing more than familiarity breeding popularity. However the art form of hip-hop is alive and well and still progressing (hopefully sampling can see a proper fair-use legitimization in court soon).

I disagree with the assertion that this is due to the abstraction associated with instrumental music as opposed to vocal music. Most people relate to instrumental music quite well - it needs to have the right rhythm, the right hook. Lots of rock is instrumental, with fairly vapid lyrics - its still pretty popular. Blues - put someone in a room playing John Lee Hooker, and I'd be surprised if they don't start tapping their feet. "Boom, Boom" isn't too much of a lyric, but what a hook!

The problem is the accessibility of "modern" jazz - much of it tends to be divorced from its origin as dance/march music, and that is where the abstraction plays a role. I love Bill Frisell's work, for instance, because of the structural aspects of his music - but its not necessarily very appealing to most of my friends.

Wow what a great article.

I didn't fully appreciate his take until this line: "Jazz to most people is like a color on a wall; unless you hung something on it, they don’t even notice it."

It's funny, because I like jazz and classical, along with most music, and even I view the two types as "colour on the wall" in many ways.

Baroque music seems to be quite noticeable. And people seem to be able to appreciate Bach on an organ (though they may not like it).

Until you put on Peter Brötzmann or some of those wild Coltrane live recordings.

:-) I don't think anyone will call some of those Coltrane recordings or Ornette Coleman "color on the wall"

I agree with the article to an extent, but I don't agree that musical education will necessarily make people like instrumental music in general or jazz music specifically. The truth is most people don't really care about music and pop/radio music is sufficient and exciting enough for them. This is not a bad thing.

I don't like the assumption that there is necessarily some sort of proper 'way' of listening to music that can be or should be taught. People who like music will like music and seek it out, people who don't won't.

Jazz can be hilariously inaccessible. I think one of the problems is much of it is 'standard based' (ie. they're improvising around the chords and melodies of classic old songs like Autumn Leaves, All of Me) but they take HELLA liberties (i once heard a Dinah Washington rendition of All of Me and could swear she didn't know what the song actually was). Once you know the standards, and the majority of them really are gems in their own right, you start to realize what the jazzmen are really DOING, what patterns they're playing with. Then you can follow and appreciate long improvisatory solos better. But if you're just hearing some 60 year old song that you don't even KNOW, and they assume that you already know it SO WELL that they barely need to play the original melody, and they're ramping up the complexity 5x to challenge themselves, then it's tough going.

Something that's helped me a lot recently is typing standards into Spotify and just listening to different versions of the same song (not always jazz artists) for hours. I used to think 'why can't all standards be as enjoyable as Summertime?' but now they kinda are

For a more recent take on the subject (including opinions of some jazz musicians), see http://forums.allaboutjazz.com/showthread.php?t=42725

Personally, I don't have the foggiest idea of how one would go about marketing jazz. I got my taste for jazz from my parents, who were fans of "hot jazz" (a.k.a. traditional or Dixieland jazz). They were never into any modern (postwar) jazz styles, and accepted big band/swing only reluctantly. Glenn Miller was "too commercial" for them :-)

One problem that I see with jazz evangelists is that they tend to push the more abstract/ academic masterpieces in detriment of the more digestible stuff. I can see some kid like I was getting into Satch and Bix and Django, and then going on to discover Mingus, Parker, Weather Report, and so on, like I did. But I'm not sure if you can throw "Blue Trane" cold at somebody without giving them any context, and expect them to like it because "it's good for them".

Context is very important for the more "masterpiece" recordings. The relatively short history of jazz music shows a continual building upon previous works, exploring new ideas and new sounds.

Handing a jazz novice "Blue Trane" might be akin to handing a Star Trek novice "The Search for Spock"; it may or may not be superficially enjoyable, but to really understand it requires more background knowledge.

For an alternative point of view, Blue Train is probably what got me into jazz in the first place.

But seeing as my tastes went on to become enamored with highly abstract, noisy, wall-of-sound, drone-for-40-minutes sort of stuff, I might not make a good data point. :)

I absolutely hate the instrumental nonsense that a bunch of music school graduates are producing this day, but I love jazz. Play Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Satchmo, Anita O'Day, Peyroux, even Diana Krall. This is what Jazz was initially defined as - jumping up and down the scale on a trumpet and wearing old Egyptian costumes is not Jazz for me.

Its an interesting concept, and I do agree that to a degree he is right. But that is definitely not the whole of it.

Personally, I enjoy a variety of classical musical and some modern purely instrumental music (TSO for instance has many purely instrumental pieces that are classically inspired, as does their forerunner Savatage, though the connection to the classical inspiration is less obvious there.) I still do not like jazz. In my admittedly limited exposure to it, I find much of it to be rather dissonant and atonal (I am well aware there are multiple types of jazz and not all will have these properties)

I suspect I could acquire a taste for it if I wished and spent some time studying it, but I have seen no reason to yet. I rather enjoy classical, metal, and hard rock and there is enough depth there to keep me quite satisfied for many lifetimes.

It is quite easy to enjoy and appreciate instrumental music without enjoying or appreciating jazz.

I have this same argument with my girlfriend all the time--not about jazz, per se (which I haven't gotten into) but about the general topic of music vs. lyrics. Some of my favorite songs I still don't know all the lyrics to, but she knows them by heart even though she zones out during the guitar solos. And her favorite songs, I listen to the basic instrumental loop and get bored with it.

There are ways to learn to listen to instruments, though. You just have to consciously do what an instrumental listener does unconsciously, which is to focus on instruments instead of vocals. You can start by picking out one instrument and following it throughout the song, though as you learn the song better you start learning when to switch between instruments and eventually how to absorb the gestalt of them.

I'm not totally uninterested in lyrics, but they have to have something to play against that enhances them rather than just being there.

I've noticed this as well.

In general it seems women listen to lyrics more while men pay attention to the instruments more.

I don't really need a whole blog post to explain why people don't like jazz; it's because to most people it sounds like a cacophony of random noise. (Especially in "live jams")

Unless you've studied music and know what they're trying to show, where they're going and the technical difficulty involved, you just won't be able to appreciate it.

He does being up a very valid point though which was crystallized for me when I heard "How you remind me of someday". Basically Nickelback had this one really popular song called "How you remind me" and then, later, released another really popular song called "Someday". It was the same song. To prove the point someone mashed them together, putting "How you remind me" in the left speaker and "Someday" in the right speaker. The result was amazing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvujgcbaCF8

Talk about formulaic.

The formula for producing (potential) hit songs are pretty well-known. Not all follow this schema, e.g. Blue Monday from New Order, but that's the exception rather than the rule.

I remember readng this a long time ago. About that time I've also read this wonderfully amusing piece from Pat Metheny about Kenny G: http://www.jazzoasis.com/methenyonkennyg.htm

This is a hell of a crucifixion :)

Most people don't like {musical genre} so why should jazz be any different?

I like (among other types) a sub-genre called "smooth jazz". But I always used it as background music, and in fact thought it was designed to be background music (not being complex enough to hold one's attention), until I saw a live smooth jazz concert on TV. The musicians were putting a lot of emotion and skill and effort into making those sounds, but I had never "heard" what they "saying" in the music. I have to concentrate to get the content of the music, which I can't sustain for more than a few minutes before my mind wanders.

I don't usually smoke pot; but when I do I usually end up with Coltrane, and he makes me want to cry.

Jazz music used to be pop music.

The reason why many people don't like jazz music is the same reason some don't like classical music.

It doesn't say them anything because they weren't brought up with it.

Interesting, but I think this is missing a lot of the reasons Jazz isn't popular. Lyrics are a part of it sure, but that's just on the surface of the issue.

He talks a lot about listening to music, but I like to make a big distinction between hearing and listening. It's kind of like seeing a website and really looking at its design. Listening is an active, focused activity; hearing is passive. In my experience, even many musicians I've played with don't really know how to listen to a recording.

That's one part if it, but there's so much more. Another issue is that casual ears just aren't equipped to appreciate the extended harmonies, progressions, and chord substitutions that are used in Jazz. It is so advanced beyond what most of us can understand that it doesn't really mean anything.

Last thing I'll mention is part of the culture of Jazz. Jazz musicians get bored easily, they master one thing and then just keep pushing it forward. Sometimes it's just a sport where the whole point is to demonstrate how far you can push the theory and how fast you can play. That's not conducive to listener enjoyment.

I'm Brazilian and here jazz is also far way from the mainstream. I like jazz that "got the blues"; listen to some Focus jazz and you will see what I mean.

The problem with jazz is that, as commented by other folks, it is an art. Some jazz scales sounds suck, but they are hard to do. You will only like these musics if you appreciate the ability of the musician on playing it, and not the "sound/music" itself.

I think the author is missing two big points. The first is that, for people currently in their 20's (and probably a bit older/younger as well) jazz was something their parents enjoyed a lot. In the US, there is an strong tendency to dislike whatever our parents like, so from a young age jazz is automatically crossed off, and that carries over as we get older.

Second, if his argument was correct, Americans would generally require some kind of lyrical coherence to enjoy music. If each sentence in a song were completely disconnected from the previous sentences we wouldn't enjoy it. However, witness the popularity of DJ Girl Talk[1]. From a lyrical point of view, its only fairly connected. Of course, Americans will generally recognize the lyrics and that may offset my point to some degree, but I'm not convinced it does. (FWIW, I only recently found DJ Girl Talk and have become obsessed, so take that for what its worth).

[1] http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=05DBB3473E2A7D56

The current market share of Jazz in America is mere 3 percent.

That doesn't mean most people don't like Jazz. It just means they don't tend to seek it out ahead of other alternatives. Jazz isn't associated with pop culture which is to say sex, relationships, and high school / college kids. But most people, should they find themselves in a space with a good jazz band playing, would enjoy it.

The reason why I don't like jazz is that my ears can't find any pattern to it. There's no melody, except at the beginning and end of the piece, so the notes just sound random. So to me the music is largely indistinguishable from noise.

Once I discovered that jazz is apparently about the chords it made more sense. (The notes appear to be unimportant as long as everyone is in the same chord)

There are many ways to judge jazz music, but in my opinion, a really good jazz solo works as a standalone melody. As (I think) George Harrison said, the best guitar solos are the ones you can hum along with.

Listen to a solo by Django Reinhardt, for example. His version of "I'll See You In My Dreams" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJxehJ0Tbi0) is absolutely beautiful melodically -- even though pretty much the whole song is improvised, aside from the first seven notes.

Yeah, whenever jazz sounds random to me, I dislike it. I love stuff like Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk," because the tune is odd enough to be interesting, but my brain can catch it and I can sing along in my mind, whistle it later, etc.

If I listen to a whole song and have only vague impressions, no tune, then I feel like I've wasted my time.

But perhaps I'm just unsophisticated.

What sounds random to you does not sound random to the jazz fan's ear. My father is completely unmusical in most ways, to the point of being a repeated embarrassment in my childhood, but he can recognize a jazz standard no matter what style it's played in, and even without any lead instrument playing a distinct melody. I mention his lack of talent and training because I think it is just a matter of listening to lots and lots of jazz. When my dad was in college, that's what the cool kids listened to, so he listened to as many hours of jazz as my generation listened to rock and pop. That's the key -- simply lots of exposure.

Those seemingly random notes are improvisation. Depending on the arrangement and/or preferences of the individual player, yes, those notes may be based on the chord progressions... or based on a particular scale or mode ("modal jazz")... or pulled together from a catalog of memorized melodic fragments... or some combination of all of the above.

In general, players who are also proficient composers tend to be the best improvisors. Players who are only players can be good improvisors, but their improvisations tend to be more on the mediocre / less inspiring side.

Unfortunately, it sure seems to me that we've had less and less good jazz composition over the years, which might explain why more and more jazz improvisation sounds rather lousy.

On the other hand, some improvisation made by expert jazz players really does sound very strange on purpose, e.g., the "Science Fiction" recordings of Ornette Coleman. You might like it, you might not, but either way, it's pretty far out there.

I agree, the random notes are improvisation. But improvisation can also be done with non-random-sounding notes: Mozart's variations on "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" are very impressive. The difference being that with Mozart you can still hear a melody. You'd have to be really good to do this on the fly in a solo, though, which is probably why a lot of the great jazz bands practiced beforehand (it wasn't strictly improv)

Wait, most people don't like jazz? confused

Heh, I grew up in a family that listened to classical music, and took piano lessons since I was 5. It took me a while to realize that my family's musical taste was not ordinary.

I wonder if the demographics of jazz enthusiasm skew at all for hackers.

I submit most people don't like what they think is jazz. Jazz is a very big label.

Exactly. I hated jazz too when I thought it all sounded like Kenny G.

I was hoping this article would tell me more about why I don't like jazz. I don't know why! I've tried. I love all forms of classical music. I like rock and pop music. I know the opera repertoire really well and have sung several major tenor roles. But I just can't get to like jazz at all for some reason.

If you like classical, try Miles Davis's "Sketches of Spain" as a stepping point. There's very little improv in it and to me it sounds more classical than jazz. If you enjoy it, (which I almost guarantee you will) you'll probably be able to appreciate other Miles Davis CDs better.


Have you tried listening to Shostakovich? He was moderately successful at blending jazz and classical elements, as well as at polarizing critics in the process.

Or that Jazz Flute Suite record by Bolling & Rampal.

One of my favorite records :-) I also like Bolling's Suite for Chamber Orchestra and Jazz Piano Trio.

Do you like Gershwin? Start with "Rhapsody in Blue." If you don't like that, there's no hope of building a bridge from your love of classical to jazz, you'll have to try a different way round. If you do like it, watch the movie "An American in Paris" and if you like any of the songs, look for instrumental versions of those jazz classics.

I kind of like Gershwin. I enjoyed playing a clarinet part for "An American in Paris" in an amateur concert band even. I like Dave Brubeck too actually. But those don't really seem like jazz to me, more like cheating:)

Well, Brubeck is to Rubalcaba as Mozart is to Mahler, and for many of the same reasons.

I used to be a huge jazz fan. I discovered it around my senior year in high school and just started eating it all up. While other cars were blaring rap music and Guns and Roses, I would be playing John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington.

So I can speak from personal perspective on how I lost interest and give my 2 cents on why it's lost popularity. It's actually pretty simple. There's just nothing new. No innovation. That's it. I enjoy the melodies when I hear them and there are appropriate times when I will put it on, but it is what it is and nothing more these days.

I still am a fan of jazz, but I agree with the sentiment. By the late 1960's or so, jazz innovation was beginning to wane in favor of copying elements of rock music, seemingly in an attempt to gain more listeners.

Some great jazz/rock fusion came out of this (e.g., Weather Report), but it was more or less an evolutionary dead end for jazz. By the 1980's, jazz started going back to the styles developed in the 1950s/1960s, and most of the jazz we hear made today is just rehashing what the masters did during that era, only not as well, and without the creative freshness.

I personally think pretty much every genre of music has hit up against this lack of creativity recently, though... I really don't hear much new music that I think is all that great.

I have often wondered whether I would be listening to the same music if English were my first language. Probably not. I listen to markedly different stuff depending on language. No lonely songwriters singing English in my collection. Less English rap than German rap.

I have always been listening to tons of German rap but have only in recent years started to listen to more American rap (as my ability to understand English improved – now probably pretty much on par with my ability to understand German). Make of that what you will, might just be a coincidence.

i don't think i've (knowingly) heard any german rap - is there anything you'd particularly recommend?

I find it sad that some of my favorite pieces of music are inaccessible to most people - but it's not their failing. My own personal preferences causes me to listen for certain things in the music that I hear. In particular, I like music with depth and layers, clever melodic hooks, and some changes in tempo and rhythm. Like jazz, the best parts of it are instrumental.

But most people just can't seem to get past all of that screaming in death metal.

I don't think it's so much about lyrics (although instrumental music tends to be less popular in general). Nor is about musical ability. I'm only a mediocre musician, but I can appreciate musical structure very well and like to compose in unusual modalities, especially phrygian. I know far better musicians than myself who don't like jazz; meanwhile my Dad has a complete tin ear and couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, but he loves jazz despite having little or no musical knowledge. I can't stand it, but not because I think it's bad - I'm really impressed by the depth and skill of jazz musicians. I just can't take it in any significant quantity.

My problem with it is that I get frustrated by the fact that it isn't necessarily going anywhere - the exploratory and whimsical nature of it upsets me because it conflicts with my desire for structure and resolution. I think my Dad likes partly because of this; it doesn't demand that he model structure and tension, he's quite happy to just be a passenger and enjoy the musical scenery. This is not to say it lacks structure or harmonic tension. Harmony is the weakest part of my musical ability and I'm just not able to appreciate the relationships between complex chords and for that matter I'm not much good at polyrhythms either. Strangely, on occasions where someone has tried to get me more into jazz, if we agree in advance on a musical modality I am able to improvise reasonably well and we can have an extended musical 'conversation': it's easier for me to play than it is to listen to, or at least it was when I practiced on a more regular basis. But the emotions it arouses in me largely consist of 'Aaagh! Please stop fucking around and get to the point!!'.

Most commercial music is highly structured, both rhythmically and harmonically. Jazz reminds of those art projects where they make blank molds of some kind of sculpture and then hand them out to artists to decorate as they see fit, such that the shape of the sculpture is less important than the mix of color and pattern the artist wishes to explore, a 3-dimensional blank canvas if you like. Very often the results seem to have nothing to do with the shape, but I find myself thinking that if the shape is so unimportant, go paint a piece of canvas or something. I know these artists are saying something about deconstruction of the form by projecting things onto it which don't fit its obvious structure but I'm at a complete loss as to why you would choose a specific form if the primary thing you want to say is that form isn't important. Or maybe it's just that I find some such work innovative but have no patience for the ensuing horde of people copying the same idea and just doing so with their own favorite patterns and colors. It's like saying you feel liberated because you put on a straitjacket and then took it off again.


On of my favorite essays on music is by an art critic/dealer named Dave Hickey. He wrote a collection of essays called Air Guitar, which is worth picking up even if (like me) you're not interested in art dealing or art criticism. He's a very lucid writer about the value of art for life.

Anyway, in the chapter "The Delicacy of Rock-and-Roll" he ends with thoughts on what he considers to be the two most fundamentally American musical forms: jazz and rock-n-roll. Here's the quote:

"Jazz presumes that it would be nice if the four of us--simpatico dudes that we are--while playing this complicated song together, might somehow be free and autonomous as well. Tragically, this never quite works out. At best, we can only be free one or two at a time--while the other dudes hold onto the wire. Which is not to say that no one has tried to dispense with wires. Many have, and sometimes it works--but it doesn't feel like jazz when it does. The music simply drifts away into the stratosphere of formal dialectic, beyond our social concerns.

Rock-and-roll, on the other hand, presumes that the four of us--as damaged and anti-social as we are--might possibly get it to-fucking-gether, man, and play this simple song. And play it right, okay? Just this once, in tune and on the beat. But we can't. The song's too simple, and we're too complicated and too excited. We try like hell, but the guitars distort, the intonation bends, and the beat just moves, imperceptibly, against our formal expectations, whether we want it to or not. Just because we're breathing, man. Thus, in the process of trying to play this very simple song together, we create this hurricane of noise, this infinitely complicated, fractal filigree of delicate distinctions.

And you can thank the wanking eighties, if you wish, and digital sequencers, too, for proving to everyone that technologically "perfect" rock--like "free" jazz--sucks rockets. Because order sucks. I mean, look at the Stones. Keith Richards is always on top of the beat, and Bill Wyman, until he quit, was always behind it, because Richards is leading the band and Charlie Watts is listening to him and Wyman is listening to Watts. So the beat is sliding on those tiny neural lapses, not so you can tell, of course, but so you can feel it in your stomach. And the intonation is wavering, too, with the pulse in the finger on the amplified string. This is the delicacy of rock-and-roll, the bodily rhetoric of tiny increments, necessary imperfections, and contingent community. And it has its virtues, because jazz only works if we're trying to be free and are, in fact, together. Rock-and-roll works because we're all a bunch of flakes. That's something you can depend on, and a good thing too, because in the twentieth century, that's all there is: jazz and rock-and-roll. The rest is term papers and advertising."

I would argue that the original proposition is flawed. If we did an experiment, most people who would listen to live jazz or a good recording in an easy atmosphere would enjoy it. It's just that jazz music can rarely be fit into your busy life full of 30-second interruptions. So you stick with music where a 30-second lick/rhyme/lyric/beat can stay in your head.

I think I actually fall somewhere in the middle. I evaluate a piece of music by both lyrics and melody/harmony/beat...

I can appreciate purely instrumental and also Rap which is heavy on lyrics and beat. I think being too far on either end of the spectrum causes you to lose out.

When t-shirts and sweat pants roaming around town everywhere, who still cares about jazz?

a jazz party in 1957: http://www.ivy-style.com/shoulda-been-there-dizzys-jam-sessi...

If you haven't already seen it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TebUMhJAKSM

(The fast show, "Jazz Club")

"So er what tune are you going to play for us today Jefrey?"

(offended) "Tune??? Tune??? This is jazz!"

I take some issue with the basic thesis.

I don't think you can outright separate the appreciation of music in to two camps, that of the musical content and that of the lyrical content.

Much as in poetry, the sounds and rhythm of the words are an integral part of what makes a good melody.

Hip-hop might actually be the ultimate example of this. Sure, there is content, but it is mainly about the flow of the lyrics. The fact that the author of the post looks to hip-hop as being some kind of example of the decline in musical appreciation just tells me that he is himself is lacking in the ability to properly listen to music.

Jay-Z has amazing flow. Busta Rhymes is a freaking explosion of syncopated beats, as good as swinging as Gene Krupa, but managing to tie lyrics in as well. KRS-One? Snoop? Eminem? They are practically jazz drummers who use their mouths instead of a drum kit.

I would bet the fact that they're talking about drugs, violence, money, women, and what it's like to be poor are the main reasons they turn people off. Most detractors don't want to know that this world exists and sure as hell don't want to have anything to do with it.

Beyond hip-hop, this is an important element to pretty much all music that could be labeled as "good". Sure, the actual language content is important... you're going to connect with more people if you're singing about heartache and love than if you're singing about molecular biology. However, if your lyrics are set to a stale melody, or don't have a rhythmic foundation that inter-plays with the rest of the music, it's not going to sound good, and people are not going to like it.

Vowel sounds are incredibly important. Imagine the lyrics to your favorite song. Now, get rid of the consonants, and listen to the rhythm of the different vowels. More than likely, you'll find a syncopated pattern. There might be an interplay of the "ee" and "ah" sounds, there might be repeated "oo" sounds at the end of every verse, etc. It may be simplistic, but I can guarantee it's there.

There are a number of great songs that have either nonsensical lyrics in them or at least very simplistic content. Led Zeppelin has never been known for their lyrics and are still selling tons of albums every year. "Ob-la-di-ob-la-dah"? "Ma ma ma my sharona"? And I'm just sticking to rock/pop music with these few examples...

Style and fashion, of course, have a lot to do with popular appeal. And these are based on trends, where timing is everything. If The Beatles were to have never existed (and somehow music today ended up where it is without them, which is highly unlikely) and they suddenly emerged, I'm not sure that they would be all over the airwaves. Sure, there would be people who were absolutely smitten with them, but I they are who they are because of a certain time and place. They hit their peak when albums like Pink Floyd's "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" were top 10 albums in the UK. Can you imagine that? Piper? Top 10? That is one weird and crazy album. Actually, I think it got to number 6 on the charts.

There are a lot of elements that go in to music. But they go in to and form a cohesive whole. It is very hard to separate out one element from another and say that this element is more important than another element.

I don't see how you can split lyrics from their musicality.

Most detractors don't want to know that this world exists and sure as hell don't want to have anything to do with it.

I just can't relate to it at all. It isn't so much that I don't want to hear it exists as I don't know how to believe it exists. To me it sounds like a culture self inflicting damage. I've looked a little for something I really like in hip-hop, but can't find anything I really like. Radio hip-hop causes me discomfort. I don't like t-pain (how I wish for the death of auto-tune). I can't listen to lyrical music without listening to the lyrics and I can't relate to hip-hop. (Actually I really like Lupe Fiasco, don't always relate, but with him it's okay.)

Also, ob-la-di-ob-la-da isn't non-sensical in the same way 'my sharona' is. It's a non-sense phrase that gives weight to the light hearted music and simple message of "life goes on" leaving the listener to imply the 'just keep going's and 'life is good's.

I don't really care for the article. All I have to say is listen to more Dave Holland Quintet.

Ok, I agree. BUT I've yet to see a PRACTICAL inventory of what must be done to reduce the need to filter experience through interpretation.

Take the chairs away.

Seriously. Seating is a scam to collect economic rents on artificially-induced scarcity. Chairs are for sitting and maintaining social ordering, and most people are respectful of that, and by implication of each other. And they are optimal for some kinds of performance. but standing is more equitable and allows people to literally vote with their feet. I have been falling-down tired waiting for a concert to begin, only to forget myself when the artist goes to work - which is why I bought the ticket in the first place.

The fact that two largest ticket companies are now merging into one with a virtual monopoly on the live entertainment industry is a bad, bad thing.

I know, this is bit tough on the disabled who are unable to stand for a long time or at all, but there are ways to work around that.

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