BY JUDY ROBERTS
[This article appeared in the Chicago Jazz Magazine Jan/Feb 2007]
I hope that 2007 will be the year when jazz musicians and jazz fans decide that they've had enough and won't take it anymore. The corporate dictatorship currently controlling the music we get to hear needs to be overthrown.
The fact that we are being deprived of one of the greatest radio shows of all time, Piano Jazz, is reason enough for some kind of revolution. Because the corporate bean-counters have been allowed to infiltrate Public Radio, we are no longer allowed to have Marian McPartland.
Music is being used as both a weapon and hostage by those in power. WBEZ jazz-turned-talk radio is just a recent high profile example. The anti-art, logic-defying corporate attacks are continually making sneaky inroads into our daily lives. Executives who run pharmacies and supermarkets have come up with the notion that revenues will increase if they blast inescapable rock music overhead while we innocently try to shop for groceries or pick up our prescriptions.
A few weeks before Christmas, I went to my local suburban Pier One store for some holiday browsing. The minute I got inside, I was bombarded by the usual unavoidable "background" music. This is annoying all year long, but during the Christmas shopping season, I was at least hoping to get a little relief with some mood-enhancing seasonal fare.
But instead of the feel-good, sales-inducing Ella or Frank or Armstrong tunes that would have put me into the sing-along mode, I was stunned into a grumpy silence by the blaring sounds of a garage-band-in-a-box version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." As I stood there in disbelief while the assault of the ruined holiday classics continued, I looked around and saw that every customer in the place was in my "demographic." In other words, no Generation X-ers, no backward caps, no teens, no kids.
So why blast these perverted technopop destroyers of "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" at adult shoppers, instead of offering the much more appropriate (and of course totally superior) Bing Crosby/Nat Cole originals? Because somewhere, in some office, some corporate whiz-kid has once again exerted his influence in a situation for which he is not the least bit qualified.
The fact that a spastic two-chord version of "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" is all wrong for a Mel Torme-loving clientele like those in my demographic group will never be addressed. The corporate "suit" in charge (much like the ubiquitous hotel Food & Beverage Director and the young, arrogant bistro manager) will soon move on to some other job, where he/she will be involved in foisting more inappropriate musical choices onto the public.
Then there's the disparity between the kind of live music people want to hear and the kind of music they're getting. This hits me the hardest where I live as a performing jazz artist with fans I care about. Since I play many nights a week in a variety of settings and am in personal contact with a good cross-section of active listeners, I continually hear the ongoing concerns of a very disappointed jazz public. These people are expressing real sadness and dismay over the limited and inappropriate music that is now being tossed their way, not just via the media, but even at some of our local clubs, and at our city festivals. There is a growing passion to reclaim the classy, sophisticated music that used to be ours.
While everything wasn't perfect back in the sixties and seventies(as our memories sometimes trick us into believing) the fact
remains that there was a high level of quality that was expected by the music loving public. But these days, just like at Pier One,
the listener is at the mercy of decisions being made by the uninitiated, the uniformed, and the uninspired.
Short of boycotting all stores, award shows and public music events, something has to be done to curtail the power of the people currently in charge. It's easy enough to avoid the Jane Monheit-wannabes at local winebars or the college jazz majors reading out of Realbooks at suburban steakhouses. But as adults who would like to participate and invest our energies in worthwhile music on a broader scale, we are tired of being force-fed inferior goods. As consumers and providers and enjoyers of the arts, we do not want to have our grocery shopping infiltrated by earsplitting rock, and we don't want to see the Grammy go to a disgustingly violent non-song. And if we can't control those things, then we would at least like to have our city jazz festivals not be compromised by the too often out-of touch people currently booking our public events. Their periodic susceptibilities to jazz hoaxes are forcing increasing numbers of real jazz fans to run for the exits. The Revolution can start here.
On the keep-thinking-positive side of 2007, let's stay vigilant that the corporate body snatchers don't "get to" WDCB; and let's fervently hope that Joe Segal finds (or has already found) a new location for the Jazz Showcase, truly one of Chicago's great musical treasures.
Judy Roberts, named "Chicago's Favorite Jazz Woman" by the Chicago Tribune, is a Grammy-nominated pianist/vocalist/recording artist who has been serving the Chicago jazz scene for many years. For more information please go to www.judyroberts.com.