Vijay Iyer: Jazz in the 21st Century

Where is jazz headed in a new century? With the pianist Vijay Iyer as guide, newly tenured as a professor at Harvard, it tends toward the experimental, with drummers, young musicians and slam poets. If it doesn’t always swing, it’s surprising and takes you in new directions. Will jazz be forgotten or just re-shaped by new, emerging artists like Vijay Iyer?

Here’s a short sample of the show. Vijay Iyer brings you inside the head of a jazz improviser and describes the expressive give and take conversation musicians are having with each other. Click on the black bar at the top of the page to listen to the whole show.

As you can see by this infographic from Google, jazz audiences have been shrinking since the 1960s, supplanted by rock mostly, so the question is: will jazz be forgotten or just reshaped by new, emerging artists like Vijay Iyer?

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And here’s the playlist from the show:

Thank you to Michael Lutch for the photos above.

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  • Potter

    I heard one ROS podcast (before this radio show) on Vijay Iyer not that long ago (okay 2011?) and enjoyed it so much I bought his album. He’s pretty amazing.

  • Kunal

    Here’s a really cool project from a professor at Pratt. She studied interviews of jazz musicians and created a network of jazz collaborators:

  • Kunal

    For more shows on jazz I suggest our two part interview with Gunther Schuller, the composer / horn virtuoso who played with the Ellington band:

  • Mark Aisenberg

    The song in the video clip above sounds a bit like Vince Guaraldi. It’s nice, and it’s jazz.

    It is hard for a song to be popular these days without vocals. I can imagine a hip-hop/jazzy vocal song being a hit, especially with a pretty young singer, but I can’t see an instrumental breaking through. That’s not necessarily bad; jazz can survive as a niche form, of course. But it would be nice to see it become mainstream again.

  • Danny

    Going by Google’s stated methodology for that graph, it doesn’t seem like you can really draw the conclusion that Jazz’s audience is shrinking. It may be true, but the graph doesn’t show it. That graph simply shows how much of a given time period’s music falls into each genre as gleaned by the number of downloads from, exclusively, Google’s music sales platform.

    If it shows anything about Jazz, it shows that Jazz albums released during the 1950s is the most popular among people using Google Music at this point in time, i.e. there could be a huge audience for Jazz, but only jazz from the 1950s.

  • Whether
    the graph shows it or not, the jazz audience dropped off. McCoy Tyner was driving a cab in the 1970’s.

    thing the graph points to is that new-ness or against-ness counts for something with the young. Rock was an act of rebellion. Look at the rise of indie rock. Each ripple of rebellion destined to be smaller and smaller as it rebels against an ever smaller fragment.

    the fragmentation of society, there isn’t a large enough group to be against for the antecedent to then become popular. Rebellion has dribbled down to personally-subjective asocial list making.

    Kurt Ellenberger has it wrong here:

    “…we’re asking people to commit to an art form that will tax (and probably frustrate) their capabilities before, hopefully, delivering a heightened aesthetic experience.”

    problem is that Jazz isn’t rebelling against anything. And like a lot of art mediums in the middle of the last century, it turned against itself. Interesting Maiden Voyage is on your list. It was a throwback, a last grasp at accessible jazz. That was 1965.

    they are basically describing a solution which ends up being a ‘mall’ experience. Kind of like AS220 does in Providence.

    we can make a list of art mediums, take them in on one night and then re-rank them on our list.
    Is that so bad?

    Not for the consumer….

  • J

    Does anyone know the name of the piano/strings piece played in the first half of the show?

  • Potter

    What’s amazing beyond the music, amazing enough, is how articulate Vijay Iyer is and the exchange here, What Chris gets out of him:the questions and the depth of the answers, thoughtful, sincere even brilliantly imaginative. I listened just prior and again to the interview from 2011. It’s a real treat. The depth of that conversation, the education in it, I thought could not be equaled. But it was again,and at least. I usually tune out talk about music.. it’s so much like baseball talk. The music, interspersed long clips, are essential to the discussion- gets your ears going. It’s a credit to Harvard that they grabbed him. But Vijay don’t get spoiled- just keep on.

    It’s all about listening and more listening. The music creeps in and you have to have it for only 89 or 99 cents or even $1.29 OR you get up and turn it off the radio because it’s so annoying. There’s plenty of bad jazz out there. I hear singers off key as well… or to my ears. I hear sax that makes me want to run down the street pulling out my hair.

    We have a jazz station (WICN– you can stream it). I listen while I work, better than getting clay all over my CD collection, and it’s an education. I can now identify (mostly) the voices and inimitable sounds of those you talked about (as Vijay says the silences of Monk) and many others ( including Hodges, unmistakeable). I have to add that I love Joe Bushkin, composer jazz pianist, my own “phonecall to the past” along with Erroll Garner. Bushkin is out of fashion now I think but “There’s Always the Blues/Phonecall to the Past” (from his CD “Play it Again Joe”) has me. Whitney Balliett wrote a wonderful piece about him in the New Yorker (“American Musicians”- 56 portraits).

    It’s the American Songbook which seems so open-ended, as we want to be. And then, too, it’s the original abstractions that are amazingly innovative, avant-garde, way beyond, and maybe challenging. But then with time and playing and listening they are and become classics.

    This surely is an antidote to despair;I am so tired of the news. As Vijay says, jazz shows how people can live together, be in the moment, allow for each other’s strengths to shine. And to think this was labeled decadent, disparagingly, black people’s music, this gift and treasure that it is.

  • Cambridge Forecast

    The charming ROS Vijay Iyer discussion made me think of the status of jazz through a “distant mirror” or “wayback machine.” (Cornel West often pairs Herman Melville with Coltrane….)
    They say in French, “reculer pour mieux sauter” (which means something like ‘take a few steps back to jump even higher’) and one way to step back is to ponder the jazz and music interpretations of the pre-war Frankfurt cultural critic Adorno who worked with Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Karl Mannheim, and other theoreticians on the left, at the Institute for Social Research (see Wikipedia):
    Theodor W. Adorno ( born Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund; September
    11, 1903 – August 6, 1969) was a German sociologist, philosopher and musicologist known for his critical theory of society.

    Following Horkheimer’s taking up the directorship of the Institute, a new journal, Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, was produced to publish the research of Institute members both before and after its relocation to the United States.

    Though Adorno was not himself an Institute member, the journal nevertheless published many of his essays, including “The Social Situation of Music” (1932), “On Jazz” (1936), “On the Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening” (1938) and “Fragments on Wagner” (1938). In his new role as social theorist, Adorno’s philosophical analysis of cultural phenomena heavily relied on the language of historical materialism, as concepts like reification, false consciousness and ideology came
    to play an ever more prominent role in his work. At the same time, however, and owing to both the presence of another prominent sociologist at the Institute, Karl Mannheim, as well as the methodological problem posed by treating objects—like “musical material”—as ciphers of social contradictions,
    Adorno was compelled to abandon any notion of “value-free” sociology
    in favor of a form of ideology critique which held on to an idea of truth.
    Before his emigration in autumn 1934, Adorno began work on a Singspiel
    based on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer entitled The Treasure of Indian Joe, which he would, however, never complete; by the time he fled Hitler’s Germany Adorno had already written over a hundred
    opera or concert reviews and an additional fifty critiques of music
    Adorno continued writing on music, publishing “The Form of the Phonograph Record” and “Crisis of Music Criticism” with the Viennese musical journal 23, “On Jazz” in the Institute’s Zeitschrift, “Farewell to
    Jazz” in Europäische Revue.
    Yet Adorno’s work continued with studies of Beethoven and Richard
    Wagner (published in 1939 as “Fragments on Wagner”), drafts of
    which he read to Benjamin during their final meeting, in December on the
    Italian Riviera. According to Benjamin, these drafts were astonishing for
    “the precision of their materialist deciphering,” as well as the way
    in which “musical facts … had been made socially transparent in a way
    that was completely new to me.” In his Wagner study, the thesis later to
    characterize Dialectic of Enlightenment—man’s domination of nature—first emerges. Adorno sailed for New York on February 16, 1938. Soon after
    settling into his new home on Riverside Drive, Adorno met with Lazarsfeld in Newark to discuss the Project’s plans for investigating the impact of broadcast music.
    At the end of his schooldays, Adorno not only benefited from the rich concert offerings of Frankfurt—in which one could hear performances of works by Schoenberg, Schreker, Stravinsky, Bartók, Busoni, Delius
    and Hindemith—but also began studying music composition at the Hoch
    Conservatory while taking private lessons with well-respected composers Bernhard Sekles and Eduard Jung.
    At the invitation of Wolfgang Steinecke, Adorno took part in the Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music in Kranichstein from 1951 to 1958. Yet conflicts between the so-called Darmstadt school, which included composers like Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Karel Goeyvaerts, Luciano Berio and Gottfried Michael Koenig, soon arose, receiving explicit expression in Adorno’s 1954 lecture, “The Aging of the New Music”, where he argued that atonality’s freedom was being restricted to serialism in much the same way as it was once restricted by twelve-tone technique. With his friend Eduard
    Steuermann, Adorno feared that music was being sacrificed to stubborn
    rationalization. During this time Adorno not only produced a significant seriesof notes on Beethoven (which was never completed and only published posthumously), but also published Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy in 1960.
    In his 1961 return to Kranichstein, Adorno called for what he termed a
    “musique informelle”. which would possess the ability “really
    and truly to be what it is, without the ideological pretense of being something
    else. Or rather, to admit frankly the fact of non-identity and to follow
    through its logic to the end.”
    Many of Adorno’s reflections on aesthetics and music have only just begun to be debated, as a collection of essays on the subject, many of which had not previously been translated into English, has only recently been collected and published as Essays on Music.
    Adorno’s reputation as a musicologist has been in steady decline since his death. His sweeping criticisms of jazz and championing of the second Viennese school in opposition to Stravinsky have signally failed the test of time. The distinguished American scholar Richard Taruskin declares Adorno to be ‘preposterously over-rated.’ Even a fellow Marxist such as the historian and jazz critic Eric Hobsbawm saw Adorno’s writings as containing ‘some of the stupidest pages ever written about jazz’. Irritation with Adorno’s tunnel vision started even while he was alive. He may have championed Schoenberg, but the composer signally failed to return the compliment: ‘I have never been able to bear the fellow…It is disgusting, by the way how he treats Stravinsky.’
    Harvard’s Prof. Peter E.
    Gordon of the History Department co-hosted an October 2013 Colloquium on Adorno and Music and they seem to have tried to connect then and now:
    “The conference has three major thematic divisions: (1) discussions of Adorno’s wider enterprise and music’s place within it; (2) discussions of his views on music that integrate reflection on the more recently published writings from Adorno’s Nachlass (i.e., Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction; the Beethoven notes; and Currents of Music: Elements of a Radio Theory) (3) reflections on the current and future state of music, the light Adorno might throw on contemporary developments; and how contemporary developments might in turn prompt us to reconsider aspects of Adorno’s legacy.”
    See also:

    Richard Melson

  • JAZZ cannot be what it was back then. The curve is missing one important dimension and that is the real number of the production.
    The music generally were made by few people and the music that broke through and was recorded was a fraction of the whole at that time still minuscule number compare to todays numbers. When Jazz had been mainstream there was way way less music produced than nowadays, unavoidably expensive produced by productions (I know I’m generalizing).
    Nowadays, the music is done by millions produced in home studios where you hardly find skilled musician who is able to play complex Jazz structures. And so there cannot be as much Jazz as there cannot be that much “classical” music because of it nature.
    And that is the important part of the Jazz as well. Its quality, that cannot reached by many.