“I want to play jazz like that!” Analysing the Jazz Scene – Past, Present and Future

“All need not be lost. The potential for a traditional jazz revival is already there
be seized upon if only the “oldies”, bands and fans alike, would lift their eyes
above their parapets! The key is in emerging younger bands. Because there really
are a number of up and coming younger bands out there making their mark in true
New Orleans style.”

Such is my depth of feeling about the steady decline of Traditional Jazz, and indeed jazz as a whole, over recent decades that I felt impelled to contribute this article to Just Jazz magazine, published in the August, 2012, issue and reproduced here with the kind permission of editor, Pete Lay.

Peter M Butler, Founder of Jazz&Jazz.com

Times have changed since I first took to jazz when it was in its heyday back in the 1950s/1960s. But I was just a teenager following trends and one of the trends I latched onto was Traditional Jazz. Those were the days when Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball were making their mark and Sammy Rimington was big close to my home in Kent. Ken Colyer was beyond my reach! It’s not that I became a devoted follower back then – rather that I preferred “Stranger on the Shore” to “Living Doll”.

So I don’t pretend to be a jazz aficionado and in my article in the May issue of Just Jazz I explain just how I got back into jazz a few years ago and why I launched the website Jazz&Jazz.com.

Not much of a pedigree, I admit, but during those intervening years, sadly jazz has been in a steady decline as frivolous musical tastes have changed and the core fan base has aged. This troubled me immensely, especially when I realised just what I had been missing. But in those same years I had at least developed PR, photography and web skills which perhaps I can now apply to aid the cause traditional jazz. Not to analyse, critique or review the music, bands and musicians – that’s the role of the true jazz professionals. Rather to take a neutral, unbiased overview of the jazz scene today in which the only axe I have to grind will become apparent.

L/R: Bob Thomas of Bob Thomas and The Thomcats, Peter Butler, Acker Bilk, Brian Smith of Welwyn Garden City’s Peartree Jazz Club

Meeting an increasing number of musicians, bands and fans, supporting my local Peartree Monday Jazz Club in Welwyn Garden City, helping launch the brand new Ramsgate Seaside Shuffle Jazz Festival in Kent and running Jazz&Jazz.com is helping firm up my overview of the current day jazz scene.

But first, a couple of other pretty relevant opinions. Although based on the American scene, there are clear parallels in the UK.

It was good to see four youngsters from Sweden at Ramsgate Seaside Shuffle. They even purchased two Seaside Shuffle T-Shirts!

How do we develop and maintain a strong jazz audience?
Kurt Ellenberger (pianist, composer and music professor) makes some pertinent comments about the current state of jazz in an article entitled ‘It Can’t Be Done’: The Difficulty Of Growing A Jazz Audience’ published by NPR Music as recently as 23rd May this year. 

‘When we ask “How do we develop and maintain a strong jazz audience?” what we are really saying is “How can we convince millions of people to alter and expand their aesthetic sensibilities and their cultural proclivities so that they include jazz to such an extent that they will regularly attend concerts and purchase recordings?” And that statement itself is embedded within another Herculean task: “How can we convince people to embrace music that is no longer part of the popular culture?”

‘What we’re really talking about when we complain about the jazz scene…… is not that jazz is dying creatively, or that it’s lost its vitality. It’s that there isn’t enough work and the work that’s there doesn’t pay enough. Those of us who were born between 1950 and 1970 came up in a very different environment than that which exists today.

‘I think it’s clear that obtaining a reasonable income in jazz …  is becoming exceedingly difficult. Those of us who grew up in the arts bubble were very fortunate to come up in an era that was, relatively speaking, flush with cash, which makes the new reality very difficult to accept. But historically speaking, this was an aberration. Beethoven had money problems, Mozart died broke, and I’m sure that we’re all aware of the many incredibly talented and influential jazz musicians of the last 75 years who needed benefit concerts to pay for medical care and funeral expenses as they entered middle and old age.’

It’s worth reminding ourselves of that old gag attributed to Sonny Morris, “If you want to make a million out of jazz, start with two million!”

Kurt Ellenberger (courtesy of the artist)

‘Jazz is not dying …’
Yet Ellenberger continues:

‘As aggravating and depressing as all of this may be, I don’t see it as a “doom and gloom” scenario; to the contrary, I think that jazz is actually thriving, not dying ……

‘Jazz as a creative force is not going away. In fact, I would go so far to stay that it will never go away because of the depth of its materials, its rich history and canon, and its openness to new influences.

‘Wasn’t jazz a street music to begin with? A hybrid that drank from many wells and remade itself every decade (much to the chagrin of many artists then and now)? Why not write music that utilizes electronics and looping, hip-hop, rap, gamelan, minimalism, trance, rock, yodeling, country and anything else that you listen to and find interesting? These things will happen because people need to express themselves, not because they need to land a gig.’

Ellenberger presents an interesting and well argued case which needs to be considered.

‘How can we make jazz vital once more?’

Responding to Ellenberger, Kotaku.com Editor Kirk Hamilton made the following observations in his May 24th article entitled Growing the Jazz Audience ‘Can’t Be Done. Maybe That’s Okay? :

‘Look, I’m under no illusions about jazz music’s unpopularity. I grew up playing jazz, went to school to study jazz, made a living as a jazz musician for a while out of school. Jazz is beautiful, jazz is the best. And people, by and large, don’t care about it at all.

‘How do we make jazz vital once more?

‘How can we convince people to embrace music that is no longer part of the popular culture?

‘[Ellenberger] hits the nail on the head, I think, at least in terms of why modern audiences mostly don’t care about traditional jazz. Jazz music is no longer relevant to popular culture—music has simply evolved beyond it, and like any outdated musical style, it’s now the province of niche interest groups. (I realize this is an oversimplification, and that there are myriad other contributing factors to jazz’s decline.) That’s not to say that it is any less vital, lovely, exciting or fresh today than it was then—by its very nature, Jazz can never become stale or routine—but it does go a long way towards explaining why modern audiences are no longer particularly interested.

‘But you know what? Jazz’s constant evolution is precisely why ‘How can we make jazz vital once more?’ is in some ways the wrong question. As I see it, jazz has had no problem keeping itself vital—it’s just that it’s evolved beyond the musical paradigm we typically associate with ‘Jazz’.

‘But there is one thing that Ellenberger doesn’t really take into account in his piece……. That’s the fact that just as music has evolved, so too has jazz. He’s right that acoustic bebop on traditional jazz instruments will never again rope in big audiences or lead to huge album sales. But jazz itself has diversified beyond that until it’s essentially unrecognizable.

‘Today’s jazz musicians (and jazz-program graduates) are versed in so many different types of music, from straight-ahead bebop to electronic trance to pop to heavy metal, that labeling them ‘jazz musicians’ feels like a misnomer. Jazz may be the root of most modern musical training—it’s where rock, hip-hop and funk all came from, after all—but to pretend that musicians who can play all of that music must or should make a living playing jazz feels like a narrow viewpoint.

‘Most of the working musicians I know make a living not by playing jazz, but by bringing their jazz training to bear on other more current or popular styles. And those styles certainly attract enthusiastic, passionate listeners. A bassist friend of mine tours with a number of terrific acoustic groups playing baltic and bluegrass-influenced improvisational music while accompanying a singer. A drummer friend toured with a great blues band for several years, and before that was touring with a successful experimental jam band.

‘All of these guys and gals can play the pants off of a jazz standard, and the music they’re playing is demanding, harmonically complex and difficult, but with the exception of some of Spalding’s more straight-ahead stuff, it isn’t really ‘jazz,’ not by the standard definition.

‘… It is certainly more difficult than ever to make a living playing jazz; not that it was ever really easy. But to say that jazz music begins and ends at the traditional jazz ensemble is to ignore the many ways that the music has evolved, the many ways that players have evolved alongside it, and the ways that listeners have evolved as well.’

Hamilton’s observations have a bearing on my thoughts. 

Traditional Jazz at a Crossroads
But at this point I consider it essential I stress I’m for Traditional, New Orleans jazz, not the self indulgent modern jazz of the Jazz FM era*, which, frankly, I believe has much to answer for in the decreasing popularity of real jazz. Even in New Orleans, going way back, there has been a steady decline in traditional jazz to the degree that nowadays seemingly it is played there only by overseas bands, visiting mainly from Europe. As Philip Larkin pointed out in his capacity of jazz critic for the Daily Telegraph, people die off and the young blacks in New Orleans lost interest in “that music and no longer wanted to entertain the whites”. (All What Jazz, A Record Diary 1961 to 1971).

A very good band leader friend of mine often repeats the maxim “what goes around comes around” in high hopes of a traditional jazz revival.

But we simply have to realise that Traditional Jazz is at a crossroads. So many musicians have, to put it politely, already reached retirement age. Yet they continue to play great music. Old jazzers never die! I was speaking to another prominent band leader, fifty years in the business, just recently who expressed his disillusionment with the way things are going. The leader of yet another leading UK band told me, on the very day I began writing this, of his concern that before long there won’t be enough musicians to spread around the bands. Because that’s what’s happening. Musicians are getting gigs where they can and bands are calling on musicians to fill the gaps.

On top of that, fans too are an endangered species.

Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts

Keys for a Traditional Jazz Revival
Yet all need not be lost. The potential for a traditional jazz revival is already there to be seized upon if only the “oldies”, bands and fans alike, would lift their eyes above their parapets! The key is in emerging younger bands. Because there really are a number of up and coming younger bands out there making their mark in true New Orleans style.

Sky Murphy on trombone and Adrian Cox on sax with TJJohnson in The Crypt, St Martin in the Fields.

There are also numerous young musicians eager for opportunities to play traditional jazz. Some get invited to play with established bands and at festivals. Some strive to form their own bands – not easy these days. Some, sadly, are seeking work outside of the jazz scene because other types of music pay better. But their hearts are still firmly rooted in traditional jazz.

I’ll introduce the word “precious”! Why? Because bands, musicians and fans alike simply have to stop being quite so precious about the “purism” of the jazz they like. They have to stop being so inward looking at their own age group.

What do I mean by that? Well, I asked a top band leader recently if he had heard of a particular emerging younger jazz band and to my amazement he hadn’t.

And that spells out the problem. The divide. The dichotomy!

I could be wrong but I get the impression the “oldies” stick to and don’t look beyond their ever declining fan bases and circuits. Somehow they don’t think the younger bands follow the holy grail!

‘I have to mix it a bit!’
Meanwhile the younger bands are fighting to make their mark. I take every opportunity I can to cover them on Jazz&Jazz.com. I telephoned a fantastic younger saxophonist recently who assured me that his first love truly is New Orleans Traditional Jazz. Yet at the time he was writing hip hop music. “I have to mix it, Peter, if I’m to make a living from my music!”

Dom Pipkin.

The “emerging” band I mentioned above is London based Dom Pipkin & The Ikos. Dom runs regular New Orleans Workshops and Jam Sessions at The Alleycat in Denmark Street and he recently staged a very successful Mardi Gras event in Hackney. Younger musicians who attract younger fans, and yes, I mean young fans! They mix it a bit but trad jazz always predominates. Dom recently appeared on Later with Jools [and more recently on Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Superstar] as piano accompanist to up and coming songstress Pamola Faith. That way he makes decent money to help support his passion for real jazz.

At present these younger bands are following their own “routes to market”. Somehow there has to be a meeting of minds. A coming together of older and younger generation bands. Only then will “what goes around come around” as the older bands interact with younger bands to reinvigorate traditional jazz until it flourishes again.

‘I want to play jazz like that!’
And the fans? If older fans want to encourage younger fans, they must learn not to be so precious about what they consider to be good jazz. I’ll throw out just one example. An elderly fan recently cornered me to voice his criticism of a particular very impressive trombonist for being too flamboyant, “not subtle enough, not smooth enough.” At that very same gig I heard a youngster asking his mother if she could she buy him a trombone because “I want to play jazz like that!” This speaks a thousand words! Because jazz isn’t inert, it’s exuberant, dynamic as well as soulful.

Is any of this so revolutionary? Surely not. Has it not ever been so in all forms of music? Older stars giving way to younger stars, who, while staying basically true to the inherent traditions of their chosen music, “stretch it” a bit for their fan bases as older fans give way to younger fans.

After all, hasn’t jazz improvisation – the ‘Expression of Freedom’ – in itself always been stretching and mixing it? Louis Armstrong perfected the improvised jazz solo and before that Dixieland first featured collective improvisation within their musical arrangements.

I recently heard a fantastic young jazz pianist launch into a classical piece and then skilfully blend it right back into a trad jazz favourite. In preparing for this analysis I also discussed it with one of the UK’s favourite traditional jazzmen who makes a point of “mixing it” by starring with older, established bands and younger emerging bands. An essential example of how there simply has to be a meeting of minds so that Traditional New Orleans jazz not only survives but flourishes.

I plan to feature emerging Traditional Jazz musicians and bands on my website, jazzandjazz.com, and to share this with Just Jazz magazine, perhaps with a follow up article. So I’m sure Pete Lay would join me in welcoming input from band leaders, musicians and Just Jazz readers alike.

Earlier on this website under “Is this the way to go?” Attracting ‘young blood’ to join our Jazz Clubs, I featured Ken Butler’s highly relevant article in the March issue of Just Jazz about attracting ‘young blood’ into Traditional jazz clubs.

So let’s set about implementing the keys to a Traditional Jazz revival!

Modern Jazz*

I want to qualify my position on Modern Jazz. I’m not referring to it in any of my references to “stretching it” and “mixing it” as you will see from the context. Nor am I against modern jazz per se. In its earlier stages some works were stunning. But latterly in my opinion Modern Jazz, chiefly of the Jazz FM variety, has become self indulgent, inward looking, repetitive and tedious. It’s that type of Modern Jazz that has much to answer for in turning people away from Traditional Jazz. I discussed this in my letter in the June, 2012, issue of Just Jazz.

(Photos © Peter M Butler, Jazz&Jazz)

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  1. Judy Eames says:

    I sometimes think I’m part of a secret society. When people hear the music on the street you get comments like “I didn’t know this sort of music was being played”.
    The Guardian reviewer seems to be interested only in pretty obscure stuff and concentrates more on sounding clever than he does in the music … or that’s the way it seems.
    A lot of regular fans try to put musicians into a straitjacket; whatever people hear you do the first time becomes your label. SO singing Watters/Turk style with the Big Bear Stompers labels me as “trad” but when I do the 30s and 40s repertoire for Kaminsky Connection I’m too modern for the old style clubs!

    There’s a largely untapped market in the village halls….. so far in ours this year we’ve had Jez Lowe (UK folk) Jazz Connection (NL) The Victoria Welsh Male Voice Choir(OZ) On Tuesday 31st it’ll be The Bohem Ragtime Jazz band from Hungary and on August 20th Ivory and Gold (USA) with Tony Davis, Graham Smith, me and a surprise visitor Val Wiseman. There’s a core of people in the village who turn out for everything and pay £10 without a murmur.

    I really think we need a campaign to take the music to the people. Maybe get the MU onside to help.
    End of rant!


  2. Jim Lodge says:

    Your article “Analysing the Jazz Scene” article resonates very strongly with me. I have played reeds in local bands since the late 1950s,including spells with Dennis Armstrong, Ed O’ Donnell, and Malcolm Webb. The majority of Traditional Jazz venues are now populated almost entirely by the over seventies. I have no problem with over seventies per se being 71 myself, but for me atmosphere at gigs requires an audience from across the age spectrum.

    I am very lucky in currently playing in a band composed (apart from myself) from ages ranging from late twenties to early forties,and a following mainly from teenagers to fifty year olds. We play music from the twenties and thirties, mostly subtly (or not-so-subtly) reconfigured. Line up is not the conventional Trad formula, but the spirit of Jazz, Blues, and Hokum pervades everything we play. Google “devils jukebox leeds”, and you will discover a number of websites connected with the band. It’s a long way from jazz purism, but I think we are close to the path that Peter envisages in his article.

    We’re having fun!


  3. Peter Leonard says:

    A good article, Peter, with lots of thought provoking points. I think your most important one is about involving new (younger) audiences. Many bands though are their own worst enemies. We maybe all need to ask ourselves why audiences are dwindling. I think we all agree that the music is valid, or we wouldn’t bother to play it. Audiences have a lot of choice over how to spend their time and money, and expect a professional approach and presentation. How can you achieve this when often you turn up to play you don’t even know all of the other band members, and the word rehearsal elicits general abuse. If we can present slick, professional, fun and entertaining performances we should get the audiences we need. If we aren’t prepared to put ourselves out time do this have we any right to expect an audience?

  4. Peter Butler says:

    Nail on the head, Jude! Thanks for that rant – the more comments like yours the the more we can press for just such a campaign. And not just to take the music to the people but to take a new generation of bands to the people, but with the blessing of the old established bands.


  5. Peter Butler says:

    A breath of fresh air, Jim! Yes, that’s what we need to aim for, “and audience across the age spectrum” – and bands across the age spectrum too! That’s the end purpose of my article and we need to get the ball rolling before all us us “oldies” snuff it!
    It’s great that you are playing with younger musicians and a mix of music at that. If traditional jazz is to survive and regain ground, so what if we mix it a bit to achieve this goal!
    I googled Devils Jukebox. As you say, not jazz purism but all part of the plot! I enjoyed the vitality.


  6. Peter Butler says:

    Spot on, Peter. All needed to get traditional jazz back on track.
    Lets have more responses like these three, folks, and then along with replies about my article sent directly to Just Jazz we can begin to make an impact with this campaign to give a life saving boost to traditional jazz. Don’t ever forget the words of that youngster: “I want to play jazz like that!


  7. Hi Peter,

    Yes things have to change. I have received an email from the USA from a musician friend in he tells me that the audiences are in an even older age bracket than here in the UK. They are very concerned. However, having just returned from a ‘Trad Jazz Camp’ in New Orleans (happy to supply details) where many of the players were either semi pro or professional , it is obvious that there is an age mix there of people who want to play this music. There were music students from New Orleans University who were playing alongside seasoned ‘Trad’ players. All had a great time and learned something from each other every time they played. There is a huge energy in New Orleans associated with this music and which is appreciated by audiences of all ages. But it has to have an inner energy when played. It has to be played with conviction. It has to compete with the deafening sound levels coming from clubs up and down Bourbon Street whose wide open doors allow R&B and rock music onto the streets. But, I heard the Tom Fischer (clarinet) quartet play at Fritzels. The energy raised the roof. So exciting! The audience, many young people too, danced and jumped to those old tunes. It happens here too at some gigs. It needs to happen more. I have some ideas. For a start we have to start a ‘Trad Jazz Academy’ which mentors and teaches this jazz style. I suggest a Trad Jazz Workshop here in the UK in 2013. I have secured positive feedback from the New Orleans jazz camp ‘team’ who are happy to help and support this idea. I am trying to ‘drum up’ interest from fellow musicians and from sponsors and those willing to share their playing skills. This can happen. It will begin re-liven the Traditional jazz scene here, if we get excited about it. As Peter (Jazz&Jazz) and Pete Lay know, since my return from New Orleans we have been discussing many of these ideas. Support is needed. I need to know how many people in the UK (and Scandinavia, as well mainland Europe) would be interested in this idea. Please let me have your positive ideas. Contact me at: [email protected] to chat about it.

  8. Peter Butler says:

    Excellent response to my article, Jeff. Positive and constructive suggestions which I look forward to pursuing with you. With Jeff I am myself following up on a way forward. Therefore I’d appreciate being copied in on any ideas sent to Jeff. Email me on [email protected]

    I too have vivid memories of New Orleans during the French Quarter Festival two years ago – Fritzels, Palm Court, Dew Drop Hall, Donna’s Bar, Cafe Beignet – and yet it was the overseas bands and fans visiting for the festival that added the vibrancy because Traditional Jazz in NO is not what it was.

    Let’s ensure a revival.


  9. Pete Lay says:

    Traditional jazz will never have its boom days as it did in the 50s/60s, because this country is not ready to change its social habits. We are driven by a POP culture media, this is imbedded into the minds of the youth. Those who do find a way through the mish mash, then come up against other prejudices.
    However the music is still very vibrant and will continue to evolve and that’s why we don’t recognise the music played in New Orleans now as being Traditional jazz. It is to the players though, as they are evolving the music, it is how they want to present it. We have to let go of our ideals.
    The youth in France don’t have this pressure, they have a vibrant Classic jazz scene. Hundreds of excellent young musicians who follow the paths we trod back in the 50s. Why? They don’t have the same social pressures that our youth have.
    That’s why we can’t expect things to happen in our time, there has to be a hiatus, before the youth are happy to look backwards (in time) for their musical styles. At the moment they are using the ‘New Orleans’ label as a basis for producing their own way of playing the music. A style which alienates a lot of older jazz fans because they are stuck in a rut.
    Present day bands are in any event only reproducing an established sound, trying recreate something long gone. There will never be another Lewis or Ory or Armstrong or Colyer band, they were one offs.
    What is happening in New Orleans has to be allowed to happen with the music evolving. One day, and it’s beginning to take place in that city, there is an undercurrent of Revivalism with ‘skiffle’, ‘spasm’, and ‘street bands’ – with all young guys. It is all rough and ragged, but that old-style spirit is there. Give it time and out the blue someone will shout Eureka, “I found about this guy called Bolden…” With the aid of the internet delving back is so much easier than it was for us, having to save our pocket money for one record per month, these young guys have the whole thing at their finger tips. That’s why we must have faith and allow the youngsters to develop the music their own way until they then realise it isn’t a bad thing to be retro.
    I have to agree with Pete Leonard in that bands of today have become blase about themselves. In fact goddam lazy and too introverted. It is an entertainment, so entertain!
    Pete Lay

  10. Peter Butler says:

    I truly appreciate your comments, Pete. As editor of Just Jazz magazine they are to be valued as highly authoritative. Please keep me posted on letters and comments received by Just Jazz to the article.

    Despite the drawbacks now that the debate has started let’s keep the ball rolling.


  11. For sure, what we know as ‘New Orleans’ jazz here in the UK was only one style of jazz which was being played in New Orleans at the time and was part of the ‘Revivialist’ movement. Ken Colyer found the style he liked and could play and that became what his fans here knew of as New Orleans Jazz. It became a ‘Brand’. like most of us, I can very much appreciate the music and approach that Ken Colyer, Bunk Johnson, George Lewis followed and appreciate them greatly.

    However, as I found when I listened to lectures from experts in N.O. musical history, there were different forms and styles of N.O. jazz all operating at the same time. Bunk Johnson played one style for his audiences. Joe Oliver another. ODJB another. Louis Armstrong perhaps the most famous, modified what he had heard and developed his style into his own voice whilst keeping the stylistic elements of N.O. Jazz. In the UK we had Acker Bilk, Chris Barber, Sandy Brown all growing into their own styles. Some became almost ‘mainstream’ in style. But it did retain the elements of N.O. jazz. A strong melodic line and often an insistent rhythm.

    I believe there is still room to push the styles forward and this should be done in order to create enjoyable music, which is danceable, melodic and harmonious, and can capture audiences old and new. Both are needed. However, one cautionary point please. N.O. jazz is not R&B although there are cross overs as there are with Cajun rhythms.

    One BBC jazz programme broadcasts many forms and styles of music which are all presented under the ‘Jazz’ brand. To my ears many of these excellent performances are clearly not jazz, using the term as originally defined – I don’t care who says they are. In my opinion, it brings confusion to new listeners to jazz. Might it destroy their initial interest? My suggestion is that those forms should actually create a new ‘label’. Bebop, did. Interestingly Charlie Parker said he and his music had no links to jazz. Other musicians at the time disagreed with him. I hear Charlie Parker as jazz, although a different style to N.O. jazz. Certainly he used many older tunes as a ‘skeleton’ on which to build his new music.

    Perhaps new musicians and composers should do the same. But if it sounds like classical chamber music, with a beat and a few modal (old music) runs thrown in, play it on another BBC programme, not a ‘jazz’ one.

  12. Peter Leonard says:

    With reference to your comments about youth- pop – culture, Pete,we were out in Kingston last week and passed a gang of kids – probably early twenties – down by the river. These were ordinary kids. Shirts off and cans of cheap lager. Not intellectual or arty kids, and they had taken their music with them. They were listening to Armstrong’s All Stars playing Basin Street. Who says young people don’t like traditional jazz.

  13. Peter Butler says:

    Whilst I see where you are coming from, Jeff, I’m anxious that we should be “inclusive” in order to win over younger musicians and fans to traditional jazz, even if it means “mixing it” a bit. Rather that than see trad fade into obscurity. I think I make this point quite strongly in my article. But I do realise it would need to be a measured approach and not put at risk the very genre we are striving to save.

    However, I totally agree with you when it comes to so called jazz on the radio.

  14. Abbakar says:

    There are three general enthic areas associated with music in Venezuela: indigenous (with little Spanish influence or mestizo tendencies), Hispano-Venezuelan (including several traditional Spanish forms being included along with the mestizo forms) and Afro-Venezuelan (largely along the coastal region, and representative of numerous folkloric drumming styles).The indigenous music includes flutes and percussion instruments, and has maintained its more organic role in community life, from the supernatural and ritual to healing. Some of Venezuela’s native populations include the Piaroa of the Amazon region, who emphasize the important role of the shaman in their community, each with his own musical repertoire. While many traditional forms were eventually replaced as these tribes absorbed the Christian faith (and music), there still remain a few native tribes who speak their aboriginal languages.Hispano-Venezuelan music encompasses the rich traditions of old Spain as well as the newly formed mestizo genres, incorporating styles such as the malaguef1a as well as the central role of the guitar. Other stringed instruments of European origin were also adapted, including the bandoledn (derived from the mandolin) and the bandola (derived from the Spanish bandurria, a lute-style guitar). Perhaps the most significant offspring in the guitar family is the Venezuelan cuatro, which serves as the premiere instrument along with the arpa (harp) in much of the inland styles. The indigenous instruments used in these genres include the maracas (typically smaller than other varieties), which are played quite vigorously.Referred to as mfasica llanera (music of the plains), this area of Hispano-Venezuelan music includes several rhythms and dances such as the joropo, which is the national dance, and features ornate harp playing. The term joropo became commonly used by the mid-19th century as a way to define the rhythm, the dance, the song and the actual event. It rose to prominence by the 1920s, and is played in a complex rhythmical structure combining 3/4 and 6/8 time.One of Venezuela’s most important artistic figures is Simf3n Diaz, who helped to preserve and popularize the country’s folk music. A unique aspect of Hispano-Venezuelan music is its functionality on several levels. Many musical forms serve in religious or quasireligious celebrations (also referred to as folk Catholicism ), such as the fuleda (a devotional song in honor of the Catholic Holy Cross celebration) as well as an elaborate series of songs and dances in honor of St. James of Padua known as the tamunangue (which includes indigenous and African influences) from the Lara state in the northwest. The Hispano-Venezuelan tradition also includes children’s songs (including lullabies) and work songs—some dating back to old Spain—as well as slave songs from the colonial era. Afro-Venezuelan music features an array of drumming forms along its coastal area, and gave way to numerous folkloric styles primarily of West African origin, generally referred to as mfasica criolla (Creole music). However, unlike Brazil and Cuba, where religious elements were retained through the drumming language, African-derived music in Venezuela did not maintain its traditional role. Instead, Afro-Venezuelan rhythms and dances became an added feature in Catholic celebrations, such as the style known as gaita (originating in the Lake Maracaibo area), which is associated with the Christmas holiday, and features a lively percussion-based music which serves as a social as well as political platform for Venezuelans. The group Guaco has been a frontrunner in the style since the 1970s, fusing modern harmony and contemporary instruments and arrangements into gaita music. Other African-derived styles include the sangueo, the tambor San Mille1n and the culo e’puya, and each style has its own unique drums, dances and call-and-response singing traditions. One of the most important groups in the legacy of Afro-Venezuelan music is Grupo Madera, which avidly performed and recorded these styles with the hope of preserving the colonial-era music and dance tradition.One of the more fascinating traditions in Venezuela incorporates all three of its enthic ancestors: Spanish, indigenous and African. The quitiple1s are bamboo stamping-tube instruments of indigenous origin, but the traditional style of music created when performing with them evolved into a tricultural blend of African polyrhythms and Spanish singing in call-and-response fashion. While the instruments are undoubtedly part of a more ancient practice, the Creole expression of this style shows a clear example of the ever-evolving traditions in Venezuela and throughout South America. 1960s, musicians in Venezuela have explored the wealth of the country’s numerous traditional forms within a more popular context, as demonstrated by the group Un Solo Pueblo.

  15. Peter Butler says:

    Thanks for such a lengthy summation of music in Venezuela, Abbakar. It’s not exactly about jazz but you do include parallel Creole / African influences and it also demonstrates how all types of music can develop and “evolve”. The key is to go along with the best of the developments but not at the cost of forsaking the purity of the original music.

  16. David Price says:

    TRAD MAKEOVER – a very interesting subject. While I agree with much that has been said, there are other aspects of the traditional jazz scene that could be given a boost or even a makeover.

    Many bands have become little more than ‘telephone jazz bands’. A fairly well known band played at the Bay Jazz Club recently and was prompty given a rebooking after a great night. When the band returned, all of the personel had changed except the leader and the audience were most disappointed.

    You mentioned the 1960s Trad bands which, actually, were extremely good musically and professionally. You can see some of them on snippets from the Morcombe & Wise Show around 1962. The were imaculate, slick, well rehearsed, and tried to extend the trad repertoire. The Bilk band, for me, was wonderful and Acker was Britain’s finest in my opinion. It’s rare that jazz bands rehearse these days and it shows. We so often get the tired and hackneyed formula of one or two choruses of ensemble – everyone takes a solo – then ensemble as loud as possible to end. Far more is possible within a seven piece line-up; ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton taught us that.

    And the dress! Well it’s old gits in waiters’ outfits or no uniform. What happened to the smart suits of yesteryear. “Well, it’s only a casual jazz club”, I hear, “so it doesn’t matter.” (OK, I know I’m an old git also).

    So for Traditional jazz to become more popular I prescribe a makeover – and don’t forget the presentaton which is all important. After all, it is meant to be entertainment.

    David Price
    Banjoist & superstar

  17. Peter Butler says:

    Watch this space, David. The seeds for a makeover, or at least a new direction, are being sown!

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