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It began with a reference to a Firing Line episode by Kirkian Wanderer:
...If I’m going to link that, I feel I’m also obligated to post the Firing Line episode on jazz.
It’s equally wonderful, and informative, but takes quite a different tone. That tone being something in the lineage of ‘get off my lawn!’ as Bill Buckley tries to get Billy Taylor to explain that damned rock music to him. Honestly, it’s worth the price of admission just to hear Bill, full idiosyncratic aristo-Midatlantic-southern drawl, say “how about giving us something as Jelly Roll Morton might have.” (14:20)
The referenced 1980 episode is a wonderful exploration of jazz music for the uninitiated by two masters of the form, titled “Why is Jazz Neglected?”:
Jazz neglected? In 1980, Joni Mitchell was still fresh into her all-in jazz period, having released an album tribute to Charlie Mingus the year before. Frank Sinatra and such were still popular with the WWII generation, Blues Alley in DC was still a major venue with many jazz artists appearing, Weather Report was recording “Birdland” along with vital original compositions, and Jazz artists were playing many concerts in the major venues around DC. Mose Allison was wonderful, snappy, and delightfully caustic. John Coltrane did astonishing pieces. Dave Brubeck is as fresh today as he was then; try “Take Five.”
Was Jazz as big as Rock in 1980? No. Was it a rich and rewarding field for exploration? Very much so. And as is pointed out in the show, some of those Jazz Festivals saw kids line up three days in advance for tickets like was seen for the big Rock acts of the day. And Gershwin was offered up by 1980 as capital-C Culture on the most prestigious stages. I count most Jazz Rock fusion as Rock, but I expect Jazz to be more improvisational while Fusion is dressed with Jazz stylings yet is a more premeditated performance, usually. On that continuum, popular Jazz is all over the map. And this is hardly an exhaustive list; the joint was jumpin’.
And a lot of films showing on television were very much of the Jazz Age, They were products of the Big Band Era and Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Dorsey and Louis Armstrong and Judy Garland and Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday, all Jazz artists.
I like that the artists on the Firing Line episode, Billy Taylor and Dick Wellstood, responded to the race question by saying that, as the community had developed, it was no longer possible (in 1980) to tell by merely listening what race the contemporary artists were. They would be canceled today for even suggesting that.
And for a surprise parting gift, here is the LoC Jazz Filmography, a slim 2,339 pages of “neglected” jazz and blues film performances published in 2019.Published in