Styles & Forms | Contemporary Era | Jazz & Blues
By definition, a contemporary era defies summary. No one living in it has the conclusive perspective to discern the prevailing character of our times, even though we all know what we’re going through, and can hear what we hear. The reductive view is: Americans, after a burst stock-market bubble and terrorist attacks, live in uncertainty, tinged with denial.
Newly unified Europe, with the UK at some slight distance, is quite possibly on the rise. The large and small states of the former Soviet Union are in disarray, Japan’s economy stands still and China has become a production behemoth despite political isolation. Africa remains beset with under-development and internal conflicts. South and Central America, the Caribbean, the South Pacific, including Australia, and Canada exist almost unto themselves. Nice places to visit, they’re heard from now and then.
Blues and jazz in the contemporary era, on the other hand, is known everywhere. The musics seem creatively robust, though no more fiscally secure than usual. Blues is the more endangered species, the conditions of its birth fading into history, its fundamental assertions obscured by aggressive and ironic attitudes, digital electronics and the unforgiving beat. As blues is being prepared, we hope prematurely, for museum display, jazz is simultaneously institutionalizing and subverting itself. No one agent is responsible for the tug-of-war: forces of industry, philanthropy, individuals’ aesthetics and career choices lead to both jazz classicism and jazz debasement (neither always where you’d expect them), standardization and extreme makeover. Future blues and jazz is unpredictable. The contemporary era is what’s happening now.
Sources & Sounds
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, musical culture is blown every which way and some feel that jazz and blues music bears the brunt of the storm. Blues is still present somewhere deep in the roots of the new generations of rock bands, but the increased corporate consolidation of the media means that celebrity vocalists mouthing formulaic pop songs rule the airwaves, while vapid, mid-tempo fantasies dominate commercial, ‘lite’ jazz. Record companies race to catch up with the changes in how music is captured, heard and sold; they recycle hit songs from eons ago, re-arranged for the latest or the longest-surviving of vocalists, and repackage classic albums with newly added attractions or in new formats, rarely channelling the funds into new artists.
A Decrease In Record Sales
We are now in one of the most exciting yet frustrating periods of the blues’ long history. The music has become a living continuum, with artists whose ages range from early teens to late-eighties performing everything from field hollers and fife-and-drum band songs to Delta slide guitar, barrelhouse piano, Chicago, Texas and jump blues, improvisational blues rock, blues rap and even more experimental hybrids. At the same time, the proliferation of CD reissues allows listeners to investigate the music of virtually every significant blues artist who ever recorded. It is potentially a Garden of Eden for the genre, but certain factors prevent many musicians from enjoying...
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