Gregory Charles Royal on why the elite should embrace Hip Hop and MTV culture in order to save Jazz music from dying out.
Organisations that want to save jazz and classical music from oblivion are spending millions on research studies. Sadly, these artistic elites, which include advocates and educators alike are overlooking or grossly underestimating the most pressing and obvious of issues.
Instead of trying to figure out how to put 60-year-olds in orchestra seats in the near future, they should be focusing on the role current social trends play in the future of music appreciation.
Once the current supporters are gone, all that will be left is a present-day generation of Hip Hop, Rap, MTV, X, Y or Z generation - pick your synonym, which has been ignored and left to develop without artistic guidance.
As of now, there won't be any future, because there won't be any listeners.
A recent Op-Ed piece by Professor Thaddeus Russell in the Los Angeles Times correctly points out that the current "anti-establishment" music, - Rap- is merely the newest style du jour, preceded by Jazz, Rhythm and Blues and Rock etc., that has turned the mainstream upside down.
But make no mistake about it, things are very, very different this time around.
Regardless of the content, style or social conditions of these past "anti-establishment" musics, they all shared one important element - their participants played musical instruments.
This is extremely significant because the entire
economic structure and foundation of musical appreciation and history has, up until now, been based upon the performance and/or recording of musical instruments by live human beings.
An entire group of six, 10, 16 and even 26-year-olds have been brought up on a diet of electronic sounds, many of which are not even replicas (called samples) of traditional instruments.
We possess an under-30 culture that doesn't even register in their consciousness the sound of an African drum, cello, clarinet, French horn or flute.
Couple this with the lack of general music education in the schools for ordinary students and the misuse of
technology in the music industry that allows young artists to bypass musical skill and we have just about put the nail in the coffin.
One of the million-dollar organisations conducting these studies might do better to ask this generation to go to
Mars than to expect them to support instrumental musical forms.
The fact that this under-30 generation can call Rap
records "songs", even though the vast majority of them have no melody, is a barometer of how far musical standards have fallen.
There is plenty of blame to go around about how our young and not-so-young generations have arrived in this
musical wasteland, but one thing is for sure--Rap music and its culture, are not to blame.
Rather, the blame can and should be placed on the lack of guidance by the artistic community.
The blame can and should be placed on the
arrogance that ignored underprivileged, but absolutely creative, kids during their development - in spite of a lack of attention and opportunity.
Rappers who write lyrics have relied on record executives and producers to make aesthetic decisions regarding what sounds are recorded as a musical backdrop to those lyrics.
Radio executives are the ones who decide what
songs are up to snuff and will be broadcast. Each has a direct impact on what sounds this generation hears.
In the area of education, there are administrators who make fiscal decisions regarding music curriculum; how important they view music has a direct impact on a student's exposure and general knowledge.
The artistic community's lack of foresight and understanding of the importance of the very essence of music - the necessity of instruments and the
learned skills required to play them --with regard to the under-30 generation, has created an environment in which electronic sounds have become the norm.
Perhaps, the responsible parties lost site of the fact that the survival of any art is determined by its future. When is the last time you heard a group of kids debate about who has the best drummer or tightest horn section ?
So what can be done?
Firstly, the under-30 generation has to be conditioned to accept instrumental music via their world. Making them attend a "boring" jazz concert won't do anything but perhaps turn them off even more.
It is the responsibility of the people whose guidance was absent in the creation of this music and culture,to influence its change, if jazz music is to have any hope of survival.
We must appeal to record labels and radio stations through phone calls, e-mails and letters for them to raise the musical bar.
After that, the multi-million organisations might do well to give some of that money being spent on studying the
problem to help fix the problem.
Grants can be given to Hip Hop artists who seek to pursue their craft with the use of traditional instruments.
If one of their records becomes successful, it may become once again cool to have the sweetest strings or tightest horn section.
Then by creating promotions and long lasting relationships with Hip Hop record companies, organisations would be able to develop a meaningful awareness and future patronage of jazz music in a maturing generation.
And finally, we, that care about instrumental music, need to do whatever creative steps we can.
Gregory Charles Royal who holds a Master degree in Jazz Studies from Howard University, is a lecturer with the American Youth Symphony, a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC.
Royal is a former trombone soloist with the Grammy Award Winning Duke Ellington Orchestra, a Rap/R&B producer and is listed in the Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz (Oxford University Press 1999).
He has also toured extensively in Africa, Europe and Asia.
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