[JPL] Branford Marsalis thoughts on "Nerd Jazz"

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Thu Sep 24 22:32:34 EDT 2009

*Any comments on Branford's description of "Nerd Jazz"?

by James Buchanan 

September 24, 2009, 7:27 am

The other night I was listening to the host of a jazz program on the 
Boston NPR station talk with Branford Marsalis. During their discussion 
Branford described another musician as not being among the "nerd Jazz" 
set. Asked about the term "nerd jazz," he said that there are many jazz 
musicians that have begun their careers in the past 20 or 30 years that 
have been educated in jazz (he noted that jazz has become in many 
instances a music for intellectuals and that it has been absorbed into 
academia as opposed to being learned through the experience of playing 
and life lessons) but lack a certain emotional quality to their playing.

By this he meant that they have learned to a high degree the techniques 
of playing jazz music and are exceptional musicians in terms of their 
precision in playing and the other learned skills that come with playing 
this very complex musical form and they can talk about technique in a 
very educated manner. However, they lack an emotionally compelling 
component to their music making them really half a musician--they have 
the nerd half of being a jazz musician.

Therefore, as Brandford described this one musician he said he was a 
complete musician in that he not only had the technique down, but he 
brought an emotionally compelling aspect to his music; something that 
made the listener feel more than the notes and style by reaching into 
the deep panoply emotions and emotional experience behind our individual 
interaction with music. Branford went on to say that this quality is 
something that can't necessarily be taught. It can be nurtured and 
encouraged, but it comes from living a life with a broad array of 
experience and the ability for that to come through in the music in 
terms of how it is played.

What he said spoke directly to me and relates to thoughts that I have 
had about writing. I would say that there is an analogous writer-type 
that could be called "nerd writing" where the individual has been well 
educated in technique, writes with a fluent understanding of technique, 
and can expound on the finer points of technique in a very educated 
fashion, but still lacks an emotional component to their writing and 
story telling that would make it consistently interesting and evocative. 
Their is no single form that I believe has suffered from "nerd writing" 
than short stories. There are so many wonderful writers creating them, 
yet there is a lack of compelling short stories. Perhaps to the editors 
selecting these stories there is something compelling in the quality of 
the writer's technique, but there needs to be more than that for stories 
to be interesting and compelling reads.

By contrast, and this is not a short story, I would suggest people go 
and read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. He is an eminently talented 
writer in terms of not just his technique, but in his ability to render 
an emotionally compelling story.


Dr. Jazz
Dr. Jazz Operations
24270 Eastwood
Oak Park, MI  48237
(248) 542-7888
SKYPE:  drjazz99

More information about the jazzproglist mailing list