“MORE MONEY TO MAKE MORE MUSIC”: THE ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT OF JOHN SNYDER I The Producer
If you are a serious, or for that matter not so serious, fan of jazz, chances are very good that you own a recording that was produced by John Snyder. In a career that has spanned the past four decades, Snyder has produced more than 300 jazz albums on at least ten major labels, including A & M/Horizon, CTI, Atlantic, A & M Records, Musicmasters, Antilles, and Telarc. The list of leaders whose albums Snyder produced is as long as it is diverse. From working with such mainstream musicians as Jim Hall, Paul Desmond, Gerry Mulligan, Freddie Hubbard, and Johnny Griffin, to the more experimental Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Andrew Hill, Cecil Taylor, and Sun Ra, John Snyder has earned the respect and trust of musicians and record company executives alike. He has earned recognition as well: Recordings he has produced have been nominated for a Grammy award 34 times and five were Grammy winners.
In an interview on his website (http://www.artistshouse.org), Snyder strongly hints at his personal secret to success as a producer, a secret that can be said to have guided him in his many and varied professional endeavors that now extend into the academic career he has constructed at Loyola University in New Orleans. The word entrepreneurial falls from his lips easily these days, and he describes the entrepreneurial spirit as one of “determination, to survive, to do whatever needs to be done, to take care of the smallest detail.” Snyder also stresses the basic desire he has to collaborate, to create a musical community and realize a common human purpose. He takes on an almost religious fervor when he emphasizes certain cardinal virtues of a record producer: “Have a love, a respect for process, outcome, and a sense of history of the music—this is how to really listen. This involves patience and humility, awareness both of the musicians and of the audience.” But lest he seem a dreamy idealist, Snyder is quick to add, “But you have to balance art and commerce. It’s really very simple: you have to make money to make more music.” It is this simple proposition that has guided Snyder to devote his life and career to promoting the success and welfare of musicians.
Lively testimony of John Snyder’s success as a producer of jazz records comes from the singer, composer, and lyricist Nancy Harrow, the subject of another essay of mine in Belles Lettres (Vol. VIII, No. 2, 2008). While she has had a long and distinguished career as a jazz vocalist, her finest, most ambitious recordings have been her jazz adaptations of literary works, such as The Marble Faun: Jazz Variations on a Theme by Hawthorne and Winter Dreams: The Life and Passions of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Harrow teamed up with Snyder first in 1988, at the suggestion of the legendary trombonist and composer Bob Brookmeyer, a mutual friend, for the album Street of Dreams. Five Harrow albums produced by Snyder have followed, including all of the literary projects. Harrow credits Snyder’s encouragement and his eagerness to be part of cutting edge concepts for recordings for her achievement on these albums. She fondly recalls his tribute to her on the Hawthorne project: “Nobody else in jazz could do this except Ornette Coleman.”
Harrow cites John Snyder’s “incredible organizational ability” on their sessions together, the prolixity of his ideas, and his uncanny sense of knowing exactly how to be ready to capture just the right moment or opportunity. She also acknowledges his ability to manage time on a session, as time is money, quite literally! Harrow recalled for me a particularly tense period on the Marble Faun sessions when a student musician’s transcription of orchestral parts had to be redone by pianist and music director Sir Roland Hanna at the last minute, with all the musicians standing around and waiting. Although he was as frazzled as anyone at the session, John Snyder remained calm and joked with the musicians. According to Harrow, “John has this great ability to get people relaxed. He’s funny and charming, and yet he is totally concentrated on the work at hand.” However, Harrow did admit to me that she was not always completely relaxed at her sessions with Snyder, especially when he was “multi-tasking,” taking calls, juggling other projects. Yet she added that when he was needed, he would re-enter the session and seemed never to have missed a beat.
II Artists House
“Multi-tasking” hardly seems to encompass the range and vitality of John Snyder’s professional activities. Having grown up as a musician (trumpet), he worked his way through college by playing gigs. He pursued a “day job” vocation by also getting a law degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is a member of the New York Bar, but he has never practiced law in any conventional way. Speaking about his legal education in an interview with Fred Jung for the online journal All About Jazz in 2003, Snyder said, “It lets me know where the tricks are, and I can talk to lawyers, so it keeps me either out of trouble or into less trouble.”
In his long association with various record companies and some of the people who ran them, Snyder experienced more than his fair share of “trouble.” At the age of 29, he started his own company, Artists House, and he maintained very high production standards. I own several of the 22 LPs Snyder produced during a period of six years, and in sound quality and album packaging, they are among the most elegant in my collection (a particular favorite of mine is Charlie Haden and Hampton Hawes’ As Long As There’s Music). These albums clearly were labors of love, love of the music and love of the musicians. However, 1982-83 were very hard years, “years of cashing out,” Snyder told me. “I was dealing with independent distributors who were less than reputable people. Gangsters. But that was the world that you dealt with. You had five people who controlled it all, access to radio. I had the model that I didn’t want to own the art or the artist. I thought that was wrong.” Artists House was a recording company in which artists owned their work. Yet as he looks back on those years, just before the dawning of the CD era, Snyder has no regrets. “I wouldn’t say it was a mistake. It opened me up in a creative way that I’m still stuck with. I can’t stop. I can’t. That’s my thing, I can think of 50 ideas for any student interested in a career in music who comes my way now, any problem, any obstacle. Just tell me the parameters and I’m going to tell you the things you can do. Not just hypothetical, but specific. I can act quickly because I’m a problem-solver kind of person.”
I referred earlier to the Artists House web site. After Artists House was reincarnated in 2002, the website, launched in May, 2007, has become, and is constantly becoming (it has a You Tube channel), a veritable treasure trove of practical information for musicians about the music world. The Artists House motto which highlights the home page is, “Helping musicians and music entrepreneurs create sustainable careers.” Snyder, with funding provided by the Herb Alpert Foundation, created a non-profit musicians website to provide, according to its mission statement on the site, “informational support, guidance, and expert resources to musicians to help them navigate the challenges and maximize the opportunities available to them within the music industry.” As founder and president of Artists House, Snyder coordinates a staff of ten graphic designers and video editors. He states that currently the website has over 2600 daily users and around 2000 on its You Tube channel: “We have around 4600 users per day watching our videos about the business, the technology, the production, and the legalities of the monetization of music and intellectual property.” The goal is to double usage over the next two years, and applications for additional funding have been submitted.
A glance at the Artists House home page reveals ten major categories of topics or “Spotlights”: Musician’s Strategy, Marketing, Production, Music Business, Legal, Education, Careers in Music, Genre, Tags, and Video. Let’s be like the parents of many aspiring musicians and take a look at Careers in Music. The layout of this page fairly closely follows a pattern that appears on the other topic pages. On the left you will see four lists: Featured People, Essential Questions, Recently Viewed, and (the longest list) Additional Resources. In the center you will see a list of nine major sub-topics: Process, Team, Arts Administration, Music Companies, Concerts, Music Education, Markets, Music Production, and Recording. (As a parent, I might feel a little better already.) On the right side of the page, finally, you will find a list of videos and essays or lectures. My video choice today would be “Music Industry Profile: Producer and Engineer Jeff Powell.” My lecture choice today would be “Non-Performing Careers in Music,” by Keith Hatschek. All the Spotlight pages have a clean, balanced, colorful, inviting look, and your eye has room to breathe.
Perhaps the most appealing feature of the Artists House website for jazz fans is the icon “Buy DVD’s.” This site teaches and it also delights. The highlight of the DVD collection is The Jazz Master Class Series from NYU, which was co-produced by John Snyder and Dr. David Schroeder of New York University, and moderated by renowned jazz critic and historian Gary Giddins. There are eight programs in this series, each featuring a jazz legend in both performance and teaching situations. The legends are Jimmy and Percy Heath, Hank Jones, Clark Terry, Barry Harris, Cecil Taylor, Toots Thielemans, Benny Golson, and Phil Woods. The pupils are students in various jazz studies programs around New York City. The musicians perform their own sets and are interviewed by Gary Giddins. The students perform and receive critiques from the legends, and there are pre- and post-performance interviews with the students. As fans would expect, Hank Jones and Cecil Taylor, both pianists, offer broad contrasts in their programs. Jones is elegant and eloquent, modest and moderate. Taylor, on the other hand, is direct, if not blunt, and his teaching style is marked by answering questions by asking more difficult questions. Taylor’s performance includes his reading of his poetry, and you can sense immediately the symbiotic relationship of poetry and music in his work. In fact, a listener new to Taylor’s music should be encouraged to listen as well to his recitals of poetry for their sonic inscapes. The students are uniformly nervous, if not freaked out, about playing before the masters. But their playing is impressive, and after they have been mentored, they clearly sense that they have accomplished something—in the case of Taylor’s students, survival.
In addition to the DVD’s in the Jazz Master Class at NYU series, Artists House has produced several CD/DVD recordings, including two by Nancy Harrow and one by Bob Brookmeyer and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. When I asked Brookmeyer about his album Island, he praised John Snyder’s conception of releasing the music on CD and packaging it with a DVD of studio highlights and interviews. He told me how sad it was that people like Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Dizzy Gillespie never got treatment like this—and what great opportunities were missed in that era, the bebop era, how fans should have seen these musicians at work in the studio, how a recording came to be. A longtime friend, Brookmeyer also praised Snyder’s total commitment to music and musicians. “His contribution to jazz is absolutely valuable and absolutely necessary. His sense of ethics in the business is beyond reproach. I’d like to say he might be the only honest man in the record business. I’ve never met anybody in the business who had a bad thing to say about John.” Shortly after they became acquainted in the early ‘80s, John Snyder spent two days with Brookmeyer explaining music contract law to him. These days a trombonist young enough to be Bob’s grandson can get this kind of lesson on the Artists House web site.
In 2008, John Snyder applied his recent Artist House production techniques on a recording by pianist McCoy Tyner, Guitars, released on Tyner’s own label. The guitars are played by John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, Derek Trucks, and (stretching the point a bit) Bela Fleck on banjo, players eclectically drawn from jazz, rock, and folk music traditions. The rhythm section is rounded out by the incomparable team of Ron Carter on bass and Jack DeJohnnette on drums. Each guitarist plays with Tyner, Carter, and DeJohnnette on a few tracks, and so a wide range of styles and tones is presented. Guitars resembles Artists House productions in that it is packaged as a CD/DVD set. The DVD takes us into the studio, and we are privileged to witness scraps of shorthand conversation in which the musicians work out details of arrangements of the tunes. Users are given the choice of multiple viewing angles of the individual artists and group performances. In his loquacious liner notes, John Snyder commented, “Pretty cool, huh? I like the 4-camera-at-once version. You can see the musicians as they aurally relate—so quick and subtle and the music flows so spontaneously. Quite amazing, really.” Snyder himself can be seen thoughtfully pacing in the studio and occasionally offering brief suggestions and nods of approval. The album was a bit of a comeback and triumph for Tyner, who had been sidelined with health problems. It is safe to say that the piano master sounds better than ever, fully inspired in playing with old and new colleagues alike and in being recorded in a state-of-the-art format.
III The Center for Music and Arts Entrepreneurship, Loyola University, New Orleans
A. A New Jazz Scene?
It is fascinating to watch the musicians on McCoy Tyner’s Guitars album in conversation in the studio as the recording was made. In the three+ hours of video footage, you can watch the musicians exchange maybe 50 words. Their eye contact and body language speak for themselves and there is living proof, on the album, of intense communication. The musicians “teach” one another effortlessly. Yet I doubt if any of the musicians who play on the album went to “jazz school.” In part, this is a function of their age. Tyner, Carter, and DeJohnnette are all around 70 now, and in their youth, there were no such programs. But the guitarists, while younger, grew up learning on the job too, and perhaps also in the school of hard knocks.
Jazz could be said to be inherently anti-academic. Each time a band plays, something new happens. Whitney Balliett called jazz “the sound of surprise.” But jazz has been around long enough to have a history, and History of Jazz courses are popular electives on college campuses. As “America’s classical music,” it speaks directly to American college students in particular. The trend toward the teaching of jazz, if it can be taught, parallels the teaching of creative writing, if it can be taught. Many teachers of creative writing insist that it can’t be taught, that either a young writer is talented, or not, and either a young writer will write and publish, or not. The issue is debated in a recent book by Mark McGurl, Associate Professor of English at UCLA, The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing. For many, the best case scenario is that the “workshop” (probably something vastly different from jazz bassist Charles Mingus’s Jazz Workshop of the early ‘60s) can instill a sense of comradeship, community and common purpose and students can learn about the ins and outs of the publishing industry firsthand. The same is often said of jazz education and career preparation as well. For others, the worst case scenario is that college trained writers, or musicians, are derivative, cautious, “safe,” and are not likely to advance their art forms. In jazz, this kind of pessimism has provoked ambivalent books in the new millennium like Stuart Nicholson’s Is Jazz Dead? (Or Has It Moved to a New Address?). Slightly less pessimistic were Howard Mandel’s Future Jazz and The Future of Jazz, edited by Yuval Taylor, which at least seemed to maintain that jazz has a future. (I reviewed the Taylor book in Belles Lettres, Vol. III, No. 3, 2003).
In suggesting that jazz “has moved to a new address,” Nicholson seems to be positively acknowledging the internationalization of jazz, first in Europe and then in Asia, most notably Japan and India. On the day I am writing this, thousands of Iranians are violently protesting the disputed presidential election of a few days ago, and a partial recount of the vote has been ordered. Who would be surprised to see jazz take some role in future freedom marches in that country? Today one would be hard pressed to find an American college or university not committed in its mission statement to “global leadership,” and the presence of a diverse international student population in America’s jazz academies, such as Berklee College of Music or NYU, can only be regarded as a sign of good musical health.
One incontrovertible good thing about degree programs is that many writers and jazz musicians are paid to teach in universities, and they receive medical insurance and other benefits for their services. When we think of the lives of brilliant young jazz musicians, such as pianist Sonny Clark or bassist Paul Chambers, who died at 32 and 34 respectively, largely from drug abuse and other medical problems, we wonder what greater music they might have left behind. There were countless others, as James Baldwin imagined in his quintessential story of the jazz life, “Sonny’s Blues.” Perhaps he had Sonny Clark in mind. Sonny Clark died in 1963, and Sonny in Baldwin’s story, published in 1959, seems well on his way to an early grave.
The social, economic, and psychological parameters of higher education after World War II lie beyond the scope of this essay. One could learn a great deal about them in McGurl’s book, among many others. For better or worse, college students came, saw, and conquered, and their children were expected and expect to do the same—and to express themselves, to find themselves. College enrollments in the fall of 2009 are expected to soar, as they have for the past few years, and there will be more students interested in majoring in jazz than ever.
B. Jazz and New Orleans
Since John Snyder gigged around in his college years (his major was music education, so he seems to have come full circle at Loyola), and since he worked in the record business for so many years, he has had more than ample opportunity to observe the tough lives musicians lead and the physical toll it takes on them. A musician friend of his told me that when John heard that he had gotten sober, he sent the musician $1,000, with no strings attached. When the shocked musician asked why, John said that he’d heard that he had been through a hard time and just thought he could use the money. Another check for $500 was to follow. When the musician was able to, he repaid the money, and a longtime friendship has ensued. Since he came to New Orleans in 2004 as the Conrad N. Hilton Eminent Scholar in Music Industry Studies at Loyola, it can be said that John Snyder has been taking his love of music and musicians to the next level.
According to Jessica Dore, in an article in The Wolf, the student magazine of Loyola University in New Orleans, Music Industry Studies began as a minor program in the early ‘80s that branched off from the business school. Today it is a “cross-disciplinary, multi-faceted program” with a booming enrollment. The program offers two major tracks, one leading to a performance-intensive Bachelor of Music degree, and one leading to a Bachelor of Science degree which is geared more toward business. The program requires a 15-week internship, which, according to Jerry Goolsby, the Hilton/Baldridge Distinguished Chair of Music Industry Studies and professor of marketing, “offers students work in a wide range of important internships for smaller companies, rather than menial work for huge companies.” Goolsby adds that “the volume of students in the program has meant a growing need for full-time faculty, facilities, and offices.” So, enter John Snyder.
Quicking warming to the topic of his work at Loyola, Snyder told me, “I’m committed to the idea of training artists to think entrepreneurially. What music schools have been doing is producing people that have exactly no chance. What are they going to do? They’re great flute players, violin players. That is not enough. You have to be able to monetize your love of music.” He feels he brought not only his experience in the record business to Loyola, but his vision: “I have the chance for changing the philosophical point of view that underpins these companies that populate the entertainment world. I’m creating student companies, and I’m writing a code of ethics for every company too. I came to Loyola to change the world.” Changing the world, or even New Orleans, is a tall order, and a near-million dollar grant from the Louisiana Board of Regents and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development helped to create the Center for Music and Arts Entrepreneurship helped, allowing a consortium of Loyola with three other colleges and universities in New Orleans (Delgado, Dillard, and the University of New Orleans) to be forged. The Center opened its doors in the fall of 2008, and its website explains that additional funding “was provided to produced audio visual content, of seminars, clinics, master classes, and performances, all aimed at improving the lives of local musicians and artists, arts entrepreneurs, music businesses, and cultural institutions of the area.” Most importantly, it is the student-run companies (which are called Enterprising Units, or EU’s) that create, produce, videotape, broadcast, distribute, and market the content. In this way, the campus community meets the city community and they join as one.
Not all of his colleagues at Loyola were ready to move ahead at quite the same rate John Snyder was, and he ran into several entanglements that are ho-hum, business as usual in academic life. But Snyder is a fighter and came battle-scarred from another kind of tough world, and he fights especially hard when he knows the artistic, educational, and civic stakes are as high as he envisions them to be.
Another major accomplishment came in his second year when he started a video program. He recalls, “I was going to train my own crew, create my own people.” To bolster his efforts, Snyder attracted Jim Gabour to the program. Gabour had been approached by Loyola before, but was reluctant to enter the academic sphere. But he had a chance conversation with John Snyder at a contemporary music conference. Gabour told me, “My ‘conversation’ with John consisted of listening to a solid, half-hour of energy-laced visions for the future of New Orleans music. I nodded my head a lot, as I recall. But what Snyder said was inspiring, and the way he said it even more so.” Although his reservations about academic life have been realized, Gabour is amazed at how “John has somehow managed to navigate the program around the world of bureaucratic ensnarements to continue the development of an educational process that is geared to provide both a career and a life vision.” He adds that nine of his digital filmmaking students in the 2008-09 academic year already had full-time jobs in the field before they graduated. “More than the diploma and the GPA, that is the index by which we measure our success.”
John Snyder is quick to applaud the efforts also of George A. Howard, Assistant Professor and Executive in Residence at Loyola, who has taught at Berklee College of Music, Northeastern University, and the University of Massachusetts. Like Snyder, Howard comes from the record company world, having been the president and director of numerous music labels. His particular EU is called Humidity Media, a concept that shares the kind of visionary thinking of Snyder. Hunter Macdonald, in another article in The Wolf, states that these creative young men and women are not restricted to the sole purpose of generating more cash. This allows them to devote more time and services to the bands that they support. The typical record label would be taking a fair amount of the profits for themselves as well as rights to the made products.” The head of Humidity’s video services, Jack McClain, is quoted as saying, “The company does it free of charge for the band to create a marketable product.”
Another major relocation to New Orleans that John Snyder was seminally involved in is that of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance from the University of Southern California to Loyola. A story in the New Orleans Times-Picayune by Tom Pope stresses that the focal point of the Institute’s four-year initiative, “Commitment to New Orleans,” was “to reinforce the importance of music to the city’s post-Katrina comeback by collaborating on programs with other colleges, setting up school- and community-level programs, providing work for local musicians, and persuading musicians who have live elsewhere since the storm to return home.” It can easily be seen that the community-oriented mission of the Commitment fits extremely well with the mission of the Center for Music and Arts Entrepreneurship at Loyola, and that the influence of John Snyder is strongly evident in the synergy. The popular trumpeter Terence Blanchard, the Institute’s artistic director, himself a native of New Orleans, has said of the city, “It’s the birthplace of the music. We can do a lot for the city; the city can do a lot for us. It’s a win-win situation.” John Snyder commented, in an e-mail message to me, “I can say without equivocation that the Monk Institute has made a significant impact on this community, this city, in a very short period of time. Their people help public school students all over the city, not to mention the college kids as well. This is a jazz organization that has community action and music education as its FIRST priorities. They walk the walk.”
IV More Giant Steps
I interviewed John Snyder for this essay at Loyola in New Orleans in July, 2008, and he asked to do a follow-up on the phone in June, 2009. He wanted to talk about a new project of his, something he loosely referred to as an arts-athletics alliance. As I have indicated, Snyder has long been interested in the welfare of musicians; however, he seems to have emphasized financial well-being. Lately he has been thinking about physical well-being, or “wellness” issues for musicians.
He had been put in touch with a representative of a sports medicine association scheduled to have a convention in New Orleans. The association was interested in hearing from New Orleans musicians, not only on their instruments, but in conversation about their health issues as well. Snyder contacted four musicians with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and they performed and spoke and were a big hit. Yet another creative idea struck Snyder, and he started to think about how he could take care of indigent, itinerant musicians by hooking them up with sports medicine professionals interested in the parallels between their maladies and those of athletes. The same association met in Seattle in 2009, and Snyder’s message to them connected young student musicians and young athletes, both groups being prone to certain kinds of injuries (wrist, elbow, neck).
Wellness is a concern in the Center for Music and Arts Entrepreneurship at Loyola as well. The Center’s first official event was a seminar called “Health Care, Wellness, and the Artist” that focused on health care options and wellness issues for artists. Snyder brought in Jim Brown, managing director of the Health Insurance Resource Center with the Artists’ Fund, and Randall Dick of the Health and Safety Sports Consultants and the American College of Sports Medicine, to speak to students in the program. He has also brought in professional musicians to talk about their health issues. As he typically does, he had the seminar videotaped, and a program is in the production stage at the present time. John would like to see student musicians on all levels of education regarded with the same seriousness as student athletes.
Yet another new project is a new courseware system that Snyder is developing with Randy Funke, the website and multimedia programmer as well as the system administrator of Artists House. A recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education featured a series of essays by professors on the subject of online course programs, or distance learning, and the pedagogical plusses and minuses in this “brave new world.” John Snyder embraces new technology, and his philosophy of “move it or lose it” in the rapidly changing times of higher education has prompted him to move ahead boldly once again. I was able to view a sample of Snyder/Funk’s new software, which includes a short video of John explaining the features of the system. Even though the video is only about three minutes long, the phrase “easy upload” is used several times, as are “live webcasting,” “You Tube,” “multimedia assignment capabilities,” and “database attached, with key word access.” Stay tuned, users of Blackboard, WebCT, etc.
V Not Yet Famous Last Words
The final interview I did for this essay was with the magisterial bassist Ron Carter. Our conversation with easy and fun, and contained tones of warmth and humor in the long friendship Carter enjoys with John Snyder, right on down to the packages of vegetables that Carter sends him so that he eats better. Carter goes back to the early days in the ‘70s of Snyder’s career as a record producer, to their days on the CTI label, on which Snyder apprenticed with Creed Taylor. Since he had appeared on McCoy Tyner’s Guitars album in 2008, which I discussed earlier, Carter could look back and measure John’s growth and development over a period of some 35 years. He marveled at Snyder’s level of comfort and confidence now and his ability to get as much done on the Tyner session over just three or four days, a particularly challenging session, he felt, because of the diverse personalities on the date. “People have no idea what is involved in the process of making a record,” he told me. “The process in incredibly detailed—hiring people, hiring the studio, the piano tuner, checking the artwork, the photography—and yet John allowed McCoy to make his own decisions, getting the optimum out of the musicians and helping them make their music.” I asked Carter if there were any plans for him to play on another session produced by Snyder and he responded, very quickly, “No, but I’m ready for him whenever he calls me.”
I mentioned to Ron Carter that when I visited John Snyder at his office on the Loyola campus, we were interrupted at least a dozen times over about three hours. He was not at all surprised and said, “Well, he’s a problem-solver, man. He is the person you can talk to, and people look to him for advice. He’s going to listen to you and he’s going to tell you what you need to know.”
Jazz critics and historians inveterately exceed Whitney Balliett’s aphoristic definition of jazz mentioned earlier in this essay. Most often entire volumes do not suffice. In his interview on the Artists House website, in answering why he believes that jazz is central to bringing back New Orleans, John Snyder provided one of the most eloquent definitions of jazz I have encountered. I get the feeling that John is used to getting the last word in on most things. And so he shall have it here.
Jazz is the music of democracy, of freedom, of personal choice. It is of the ‘new world.’ It is the music that glorifies the individual over the group. It is the music of self-expression, of respect for one’s self and for others. The language of jazz is the sum total of all who express it, who use it to communicate the pain and passion of how we feel as individuals. It is the music of the Americas, our gift to the world, and by implication it says to all who hear it: you too are worthy as an individual. Jazz is the paradigmatic example of the power of one with its insistence on the uniqueness and value of every single person.
June 15, 2009
Published in Belles Lettres, the journal of the Center for the Humanities at Washington University, St. Louis. MO.