[JPL] A Jazz Rock Fusion Fan Speaks Out

rick rick at jazzrockworld.com
Sun Jul 30 13:56:56 EDT 2006

Hello Broadcasters and Jazz fans,

I've been getting these emails (and trying to read them all) from this list
for a while now and felt compelled to throw this out there. 

Much of what I read here has to do with the myopic and over-analyzed
concerns of operating a Jazz radio station. I say that with some hesitance
and don't want to be misunderstood. Operating a Jazz radio station is a
noble, respectable occupation and must be a real labor of love for those
that do it and to stick with it. Credit is hereby given where it's due.
Being a fan, I can only assume that the challenges of remaining on the air
and operating successfully are daunting at the least. Clarifying a little,
I'm specifically a Jazz Rock Fusion fan. So, whatever portion of the music
business is Jazz related, Jazz Rock Fusion is similarly a portion of that
portion. Meaning, that if anyone knows how tough it is to "find the market"
or "expand the market," it's a Jazz Rock Fusion fan or musician. We're truly
the (self-proclaimed) modern day lepers of the music business. 

Personally, I take being a fan a little further than most and have become
pro-active by launching www.jazzrockworld.com and trying to "encourage the
growth and exposure" of Jazz Rock Fusion. Now that's a challenge to be
reckoned with and tied closely to the challenge Jazz faces in general. After
all, you won't find Jazz Rock Fusion outside of the Jazz section in a brick
and mortar or an Internet music store.  

Having been a die-hard fusion fan since seeing the original Mahavishnu
Orchestra in 1972, I have the somewhat distinctive benefit of seeing close
up what's happened with Jazz in the span of 100 some odd years take place
with Jazz Rock Fusion in less than 40 years. Neither has been to my liking.
So I asked myself "What can I do to make it better"? Of course the only
answer is anything I can. I'm guided by the same virtue that I admire in the
music I love - creativity and spontaneous improvisation. Or, in other words,
being in a position to take advantage of opportunities as they come up and
maintain a can do, no limits attitude, no matter what that might mean. 

I'm not a music business insider as most of you are and that qualifies my
opinions considerably. It also broadens my perspective. What I see in these
posts is not much different to what I see in the music industry as a whole -
the eternal struggle/partnership between art and commercialism in the
microcosm of the Jazz realm. This microcosm is the key point I wish to draw
attention to. I firmly believe that it's a natural microcosm, but the
professionals aren't really helping that to change. I agree with Dr. Al
Levin who says, in my recent article, that it's pointless to try and force
feed people something they don't want to eat (*read his interview below).
Jazz, like Spinach, may be good for you, but you can't make someone like it
until and unless they somehow come to enjoy it on their own. 

I've seen so much discussion about the finer points within Jazz's musical
expression, that it's no wonder to me that it's become a nearly dead art
form. The very people that are responsible for bringing the music to the
people have forgotten what the music is all about. Or, if we apply the
benefit of doubt, have abandoned what the music is all about in favor of
what the market is all about. Jazz is not Latin (at least not yet) however
it's treated that way by the professionals in the industry. Basically what
that means is Jazz stations conform and limit what they play because of what
they have mysteriously chosen Jazz to be. I would agree that there are
certain traditions that should be respected, but not adhered to as the
eternal definition of Jazz. The original spirit and vibe of Jazz music
"flies in the face" of modern Jazz media that chooses to ignore what it's
really all about. 

What I see here is the over analyzing of something that's caused the
original point to get lost. It really seems that simple to me. Sometimes you
need to take a step back to take a step forward. That step back can open the
door to new concepts and considerations for business decisions that have
both a direct and long term affect. How can people be held responsible for
not listening to Jazz when they are not exposed to it? There's so much great
Jazz music out there that dies on the vine because the professionals have
chosen not to play it because it doesn't conform to their over analyzed
version of what they think Jazz should be.
The music business has changed and the big record companies have lost their
ability to carry a Jazz department that isn't profitable. That hasn't
stopped the music, but it sure stopped the radio stations. If the big record
companies can't afford to maintain a Jazz catalog, then the radio stations
need to get on the damn Internet and start buying the "living" Jazz at
Amazon, CdBaby, Guitar 9, Abstract Logix, Audiophile Imports, MoonJune, Esc,
HomeGrown, and the many other independent labels, or directly from the
musicians themselves. Where is the law that says you can't? 

I say, who gives a crap about the difference between Ray Brown and Jaco
Pastorius, play them both! How many people can tell Art Tatum from Oscar
Peterson? The point is who cares, as long as they can also listen to Joe
Zawinul, Mitch Forman, and Adam Holzman too. Where else would a person
expect to hear the new Adam Holzman Cd Jazz Rocket Science if not on a Jazz
station? Is there a difference between Tal Farlow and Charlie Christian,
sure there is. It's the same difference as between Allan Holdsworth and John
Abercrombie, but no one knows about Holdsworth or Abercrombie because
they're still living. 

If anyone thinks I'm wrong, not fair, or kicking someone when they're down,
you're certainly entitled. I'm also entitled to point out that being a
martyr and going down with the ship is not very becoming. Jazz has come full
circle and finding itself back on the fringe of society. Jazz should take a
lesson from the Hippies and their music. They started out as creative free
spirits that caught the attention of the world, dominated the culture for a
while and then disappeared. Unlike Jazz, however, their spirit is still
living in the form of Jam Bands, while Jazz is dying in the form of Museum
exhibitions. Similarly the Jazz spirit is still living in the form of Jazz
Rock Fusion. This analogy is not that far fetched. The biggest difference is
that the people bringing Jam Band music to the public aren't comparing
String Cheese Incident to Quicksilver Messenger Service or wondering why the
market share is what it is. In addition, Jam Bands aren't just for pot
smoking "mountain folk." Why aren't Jazz stations playing Garaj Mahal,
Aquarium Rescue Unit, or Derek Trucks? Let's look at some other serious Jazz
musicians and ask why some of Jazz's most gifted and talented musicians are
never played on the radio. Where's Scott Henderson in your rotation? Does
anyone regularly play Mike Stern, Dennis Chambers, John McLaughlin, Joe
Zawinul, Dave Weckl, Steve Smith, Terje Rypdal, Kazumi Watanabe, Sixun,
Victor Bailey, Marcus Miller, John Scofield, Jonas Hellborg, Richard Bona,
or Jeff Richman? What about all the remastered and re-issued classic Jazz
Rock Fusion that's somehow seeing the light of day. How many radio stations
are talking about the upcoming re-issue of Hal Galper's Now Hear This with
Tony Williams, Cecil McBee, and Terumasa Hino on the Enja label, or Horacee
Arnolds classic Tales of the Exonerated Flea? Does anyone know that Julian
Priester's classic "Love, Love" was re-issued? Does anyone know about the
Mahavishnu Orchestra's long circulated bootleg Wild Strings that has been
remastered by Bob Beldon and Gregg Bendian for CBS/Sony that's just sitting
in the can waiting for the approval stamp? Where do you think the approval
will come from, me? I seriously think you folks have a lot more influence
than I do. How about the new Scott Kinsey Cd coming out in October? It's
amazing to me that I'm just a fan, yet Jazz fans have to go to my little
website to find out about this stuff. Not that I'm the only one out there,
but the real question is where are the Jazz professionals? Why are they
complaining about shrinking markets and yet not promoting anything outside
their comfort zone?  

This little monologue is not really open for debate. Not that I personally
can't accept a challenge, or feel I can't be wrong, but the facts speak for
themselves. You people are the pros and your market is dying and all I'm
saying is you have some responsibility for that. If not you, who? No one is
holding a gun to your head and forcing you to program Jazz, you can work
wherever you like in this country. However, if your going to program a style
of music that YOU limit and confine, then don't expect the business to be
otherwise. I would expect that Jazz fans (as you all seem to be) should be
open minded and open hearted to change, not restricted to conformities set
down by people long gone. The expression used to be "It don't mean a thing,
if it ain't' got that swing" and that is still true, but should be updated
to "Ain't nothin to prove as long as you groove"

Who the hell am I to chastise the Jazz professionals? A damn frustrated Jazz
fan! What better credentials do I need? 

Rick Calic
Owner: www.jazzrockworld.com
Address: 814 Roosevelt Ave
Redwood City, CA 94061
Editor: www.musicmoz.org (Jazz Rock)
Contributor: www.abstractlogix.com 
Digital Art:  www.rixpix.myphotoalbum.com 
Phone: 650-364-1477

P.S. I don't think it would be too hard to dissect my message word by word
and find it wrong point by point. However, that would ultimately prove
nothing and serve only to demonstrate that anyone doing it, has missed the
point completely. 


*Excerpt from Jazz Rock Fusion - Surviving Four Decades and Counting.

Rick Calic
Jazz Rock World
(used with permission)

Dr. Al Levin is a professor at California State University, Sacramento who
has conducted research in the field of psychology and current societal
trends. He is also a long time fan of Jazz Rock Fusion. He brings a unique
perspective about the current state of Jazz Rock Fusion. 

Jrw: How did you become interested in Jazz Rock Fusion? 

AL: I've been a fan of improvised music since early childhood. I took
saxophone lessons as a young child and then started to listen to jazz.
Growing up in San Francisco during the 60's I was also exposed to the rock
scene and was especially drawn to the music of Jimi Hendrix and Cream. When
you combine listening to people like Miles and Coltrane then add Hendrix and
Cream, you eventually will land at Jazz Rock Fusion. I remember hearing a
track from John McLaughlin's record Devotion on an FM rock radio show. That
led to a real musical epiphany when I saw the original Mahavishnu Orchestra
in 1972, strangely enough as the opening act for Cheech & Chong. The Cheech
& Chong fans left their seats during the set, while the rest of us sat there
thrilled and in total disbelief that music could be done that well. 

Jrw: From your perspective, why do you think Jazz Rock Fusion has always
been on the fringe of the music business? 

AL: Musicians and fans of Jazz Rock Fusion often say there isn't enough
support from record companies. Although the music industry does have a role
to play in keeping Jazz Rock fusion on the fringe, I don't think the music
industry is totally the problem. After all, they're primarily in the
business to make money. I believe that in reality most people in the U.S.
like things simpler, not more complicated, especially when it comes to
music. I'm talking about a preference for three minute songs, easily
understood lyrics, and a simple four/four rhythm. It's not that people who
prefer these qualities in music are dumb or simpletons, it's just that
simplicity in music or any art form is easier to relate to than complexity
for most people. Jazz Rock Fusion doesn't emphasize simplicity. In fact, the
music emphasizes just the opposite, namely long improvisations, no lyrics,
non-Western scales, and odd time signatures. 

The other issue to consider today is the fact that everything in the U.S.
seems to be about how fast we can do it. The U.S. is truly a "fast-food
nation." Unfortunately, many people in the U.S. don't seem to have the
patience to appreciate complex music. I think that explains why Jazz Rock
Fusion is more popular throughout Europe where the trend to speed things up
hasn't quite taken over yet. Also, Europe has a richer history of
appreciating art. In the U.S., and this is where the music industry is
somewhat to blame, it's usually more about selling product than creating
art. In the 1970's, we were in a period of experimentation and creativity
where creating art was important enough to be popular, and that helps
explain the" Golden Age" of Jazz Rock Fusion. Some of the top Jazz Rock
Fusion bands, just like the big Rock bands, were playing large venues in the
U.S. and elsewhere.
Jrw: Are you saying that Jazz Rock Fusion should become simpler in order to
remain viable or win back its popularity? 

AL: Not at all. I think that would be the worst thing that could happen. I
think Jazz Rock Fusion musicians should do their best to stay true to their
values. By values I mean long improvisations, non-Western scales, and odd
time signatures. I believe that they should consider what independent film
makers have done, and done quite successfully. Many independent film makers,
some quite avant garde, have become successful by recognizing what they do
best and continue to produce very high quality work that's loved by both
critics and fans. For example, there are a number of independent film makers
who make lower budget independent movies that maintain artistic integrity.
At the same time, if there is talent and skill shown, the movies become
popular as well. I think Jazz Rock Fusion musicians can do the same thing.
In other words, if you do it right, you can maintain your artistic identity
and be successful in the marketplace. 

Jrw: As someone who examines the psychology behind people's interests,
including music, can you elaborate on what the future might hold for Jazz
Rock Fusion? I don't mean a prediction, but rather an educated speculation
based on your observation of how people decide what types of music they
appreciate and why? In other words, why did Jazz Rock Fusion gain such
tremendous popularity in the 70's, will it flourish again, remain the same,
or disappear altogether? 

AL: There's research on the topic of psychological type that I think relates
to your question. Psychological type is concerned with understanding
individual differences and preferences. This research indicates that about
two-thirds of the population is made up of "Sensing" types, or people who
prefer the present, the here and now, and enjoy things being spelled out in
clear terms. This preference style would be aligned with shorter three
minute songs, easy to understand lyrics about everyday life, and rhythm
patterns that are familiar and simple. On the other hand, only one-third of
the population is made up of "Intuitive" types, or people who prefer the
possibilities, the future, and reading between the lines. These are the
types of people who probably are more comfortable with improvisation, odd
time signatures, scales that are new to them, and enjoy letting their minds
wander as they listen. In other words, there are simply less people around
who appreciate what jazz itself has to offer, let alone Jazz Rock Fusion.
It's important to clarify that these differences exist without any "right or
wrong," or "better or worse" stigmas. Finally, in the 1970's, the society
was in a cycle that valued creativity, experimentation, and surprise. We now
seem to be in a cycle that values predictability, commercialism, and
popularity. The fortunate thing is that cycles come around again and again.
The good news is that Jazz Rock Fusion done well is all about artistic
integrity, musical excellence, creativity, and open-mindedness. There may be
fluctuations in popularity, but these creative and artistic factors have
shown themselves to be significant throughout history. Just as Mozart,
Stravinsky, DaVinci, Rembrandt, Shakespeare, Charlie Parker, and similar
creative geniuses are gone, their legacy remains and will probably always be
attractive to "Intuitive" types. I see no reason that Miles Davis and the
Jazz Rock Fusion art form should be any different. 

Jrw: What do you feel should happen to make Jazz Rock Fusion even more
popular than it is right now? 

AL: I believe the fan base can expand if Jazz Rock Fusion musicians stay
true to their core values, once again, a combination of artistic integrity,
musical excellence, creativity, and open-mindedness. I also believe that the
Internet should be used extensively in order to reach a wider audience.
Since the Internet is world-wide in scope, there are many current fans and
potential fans in the U.S., Western and Eastern Europe, Australia and Japan
who desire both artistic expression and excellent musicianship. Jazz Rock
Fusion musicians have begun providing information about performances and
other news through their own Websites. In addition, sites such as
Jazzrockworld.com, Audiophile Imports, and Abstractlogix.com are the types
of resources that Jazz Rock Fusion needs in order to remain viable and grow
in popularity. The next step for musicians is to publicize their music
through those sites as well as their own sites, as opposed to relying on
traditional sources of marketing. Because of the Internet, there is now a
new way to reach a "world-wide" audience. If Jazz Rock Fusion musicians and
fans tap into this resource, it will be a win-win situation for everyone

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