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Article on Brad Mehldau and the state of Jazz

April 3rd, 2008
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In an article in the Michigan Daily newspaper, Katie Carey claims:

Jazz straddles a dangerous line these days, teetering on the edge of resembling hotel lounge music or a regurgitation of the past. In an art form stressing the improvisation of the individual, there seems to be a general rubric for expressing that individuality. Artists rely on the structures and forms of the “greats” before them, adhering to a confined code of what “jazz” should sound like.
[…] Concerning the trap that jazz musicians fall into when they improvise according to a predetermined structure, [pianist Brad] Mehldau suggests, “The listener is treated like a tourist, while curator-musicians guide them through specific corridors of jazz history.”

I’d somewhat jokingly argue that there is nothing wrong with playing beautiful, relaxing, and stimulating music in hotel lounges. Jazz, with all its history and sophistication, provides a rich framework for personal creativity and expression. It is a mature language that supplies a context and baseline for understanding and communicating musical ideas. I don’t think calling something “jazz” limits the possibilities of what can be musically expressed.

To me there is something seductive about a style of music that can instantly transform an ordinary place into a luxurious haven for the mind and soul. People who are privileged enough to enjoy traveling and who can afford to spend time in classy hotel lounges deserve to listen to jazz music. Would you rather that they listen to Indie Rock? (Maybe they should try it… in some funky boutique hotels! I enjoy some indie rock too…)

One of my favorite imagined settings of all time is the Park Hyatt Tokyo rooftop lounge which was featured in the movie Lost in Translation. I hope to visit there, or maybe even get a gig there someday.

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