NOW’S THE TIME: THE SEVEN C’S
by Caleb Chapman
Our JEN conference theme this year was “Now’s the Time”. What is it time for? It’s time for us to take our future into our own hands. To help us in that effort I would like to talk to you about the 7 C’s. I’m not referring the ones you sail on or the ones you play on trumpet, but rather some powerful words that conveniently all start with the letter C. People frequently ask me in my role as president of JEN why I remain so optimistic about the future of jazz music while it appears that the music is fading in popularity. Like most people my opinions are based on my personal experience. And my experience with my own bands and the musicians I associate with continues to indicate a bright future for improvised music. I have continued to witness large, enthusiastic audiences around the globe and heard lots of new releases that excite me in the same way as when I first was turned on to “Giant Steps”. With that being said, I believe there are some giant steps we can take today to ensure that jazz remains culturally relevant and thrives in a rapidly changing musical landscape. That’s where the 7 C’s come in – create, connect, codify, collaborate, construct, communicate, and convert.
The first step is to create. There is so much amazing music in the jazz canon that it is tempting to only look backwards and celebrate what is indeed some of the most beautiful art of all time. It was a golden age that launched jazz into the popular arena. There are many people who are sure there will never be another Louie, Bird, Ella, Trane, Divine Sarah, Basie, or Monk – and they are right! There will never be another who will take their place, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole catalog of music equally as good that is yet to be written. The truth is, when we fail to foster new music we not only miss out on that music, but also risk devaluing the music of the past. Without forward motion the entire genre risks simply fading into obscurity. The best way for us to respect the music of the masters is to continue their tradition of innovation, improvisation, and pushing the envelope. It’s also the best way for us to ensure that the interest for the music of our jazz history stays in demand in recordings and performances.
JEN’s commitment to the creation of new music is evident in our Young Composer Showcase under the fantastic leadership of David Fodor. Each year at our conference talented up-and-coming composers have their work recognized and performed. JEN has also launched an initiative to commission and distribute new music to our members annually as part of their member benefits.
The second step is to connect. Our natural inclination is to associate with others like ourselves. But there is so much more opportunity when we unite all constituencies of the jazz industry – artists, enthusiasts, students, educators, listeners, industry leaders, promoters, and publishers. Not only is there much greater strength in numbers, but also an opportunity for a brainshare. This was a key part of the vision that Mary Jo Papich and Dr. Lou Fischer had in mind when they formed JEN and is the reason why “Network” is part of the name. It is at our annual conference that all of these segments of the industry intersect and why we leave energized with new ideas and inspiration.
The next step is to codify. Western music has benefitted from centuries of instruction and developing methodology that has filled volumes. In contrast, jazz is still in its infancy and lacks a unified approach when it comes to pedagogy. Lots of great material exists but there is still a need for us to continue to develop, improve, and update our instructional materials to maximize the output of the next generation of students of the art form and artists. Jazz education has been most effective when passed down as an aural tradition. Thanks to technology, we are no longer limited to print instruction only, or even to only audio. Video and highly interactive learning tools are inexpensive and readily available across many platforms. How can we leverage these tools to efficiently pass on educational concepts? The answer to this will only be found if we begin to experiment with and embrace said technology.
As JEN continues to develop our new website under the supervision of our managing director, Sharon Burch, you can be sure this will be a focus of our efforts.
The fourth step is to collaborate. As I work daily with hundreds of young musicians I’m noticing that more and more of them are style agnostic. The days of being only a rock drummer or only a classical trombonist are fast disappearing, reflecting the professional climate of having to do many things in order to succeed financially. The lines that once clearly defined genres have now become blurred. We need to take a page out of the playbook of some of the biggest recordings of the last decade and reach across the aisle to other genres. Most recently we can see the success of Kamasi Washington’s collaboration with Kendrik Lamar, Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson, Donny McCaslin and David Bowie, Tony Bennett making music with Lady Gaga, Trombone Shorty working with the likes of She and He, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Macklemore, and my close friends Rashawn Ross and Jeff Coffin with Dave Matthews Band are just a few examples. But this tradition of reaching outside of jazz has happened over decades – The Brecker Brothers with Dire Straits; David Sanborn with James Taylor; Branford Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland, Omar Hakim, Christian McBride, Vinnie Colaiuta, & Keith Carlock with Sting; Herbie Hancock with John Mayer; Miles Davis and Prince; and Paul Whiteman and George Gershwin, a collaboration which led to “Rhapsody in Blue”. The list goes on and on. These collisions of style lead to not only new creative opportunities, but also to critical exposure to new and varied audiences.
The next step on the list is to construct. In the digital age branding has become more important than possibly at any other point in history. As an industry we need to consciously construct the jazz brand. When we think of classical, blues, metal, country, or pop, we have a clear association with what that brand looks like. I’m not confident that we have that in jazz, which also means that we have an opportunity to proactively create the branding.
Not only do we have an opportunity to create a brand, but also to solidify that branding with technology. Jazz musicians for the most part have hardly scratched the surface of social media platforms and cutting edge technology. We can shy away from them or embrace them and the amplification they give to our efforts.
The next of the 7 C’s is to communicate. We need to become experts at discussing the value of our art with potential audiences. This goes for both our adult audiences as well as youth. The nuances of the music are best enjoyed when there is a real level of understanding. For the last few decades many have attempted to grow the jazz audience by increasing the listening opportunities of youth, often by holding concerts at school assemblies or other outreach performances. While this certainly helps the cause, the impact of the music becomes significantly greater when an explanation accompanies the performance. What makes jazz different from other music they might listen to? What does it mean to improvise? How are the musicians communicating and creating together? While the answers to these questions might seem obvious to us, far too often our audiences are completely lost when it comes to jazz programming. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say, “I don’t know what jazz is, but I know I don’t like it.” I have seen first-hand that when we take time to explain what’s happening on the bandstand the audience reaction is dramatically different.
The final step is to convert. It’s time for the jazz industry to convert the public opinion on how jazz is viewed, and more importantly, how we see ourselves. Instead of talking about jazz in the past tense and debating whether it is dead or not, we need to talk about a future brimming with promise, potential, and cultural relevance. We need to see ourselves as a vibrant community with a rich history instead of a dusty museum filled with relics of a bygone era.
There is so much amazing music still to be composed, so many great albums still to be recorded, and so much great young talent still to be discovered! I’m confident if we passionately create music, connect with others across the entire music industry, codify our educational materials, collaborate outside of the genre, construct our brand, and communicate with our audiences, we will convert the perception of jazz and the future will indeed be bright for America’s true musical art form. By taking these steps we ensure that the music of our jazz tradition will live on and that the spirit of the music will never die. We have a chance today to write the next chapter in the story of our great American music. There’s really no question – now’s the time!
In addition to his role as JEN President, Caleb Chapman is Founder and President of Caleb Chapman’s Soundhouse, Director of the Crescent Super Band, and Artistic Director for Pioneer High School for the Performing Arts. He serves on several boards including the Utah Arts Council, and is an award-winning musician, producer, educator, author, and speaker. To learn more about Caleb, please visit www.ccsoundhouse.com.