Jazz in the United States dates back to the late 1800s. A combination of music from the African-American community with that of European immigrants, jazz has evolved a great deal. It comes in many forms, from ragtime to bop, be-bop, swing, fusion and many others. But is it still thriving … particularly in Pittsburgh?
“Jazz in Pittsburgh has, is, and will always thrive due to the nature of the city,” said jazz trumpeter, Sean Jones in an interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier in 2010. ”The city has a certain fight to it that most cities don’t have. There’s a blistering pride in the city that fuels folks’ fires. We have never been second to anyone. From sports, to technology, to the arts, Pittsburgh has always produced individuals who are at the forefront of their professions. This type of spirit energizes the jazz scene, which continues to produce wonderful new talent. From the venues, to the artists, to the audiences, Pittsburgh’s jazz scene is alive and well, offering jazz seven nights a week!”
Jones, who is also an associate professor of jazz studies at Duquesne University, sees no indication that Pittsburgh’s jazz scene is waning. On the contrary, he believes that venues like the Cabaret, the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, the August Wilson Center and clubs like Little E’s offer both local and national musicians an almost endless supply of opportunities to perform for audiences that are at once ethnically and generationally diverse.
“Jazz is truly the greatest representation of America, and my audiences prove that,” said Jones, who is married to Pittsburgh native and artistic director of the Pittsburgh Dance Alloy Greer Reed Jones.
There are some who might think the future of jazz, not only in Pittsburgh, but in the United States in general, could become all but obsolete thanks to the growing popularity of modern music genres like hip-hop and rap. Jones, who recorded his first album “Eternal Journey” in 2004, when he was only 24, thinks it’s unlikely that jazz will become obsolete, though he does feel that more young people should be introduced to it.
“I believe that on a national level, people tend to listen to more popular music because it’s what they are exposed to,” said the Ohio native. ”People typically won’t like anything until someone tells them to like it. It’s social conditioning. This is why it’s important to expose our youth to the music, not by beating it over their heads, but by simply playing it, taking them to jazz concerts, having jazz musicians in the schools, etc. Most folks tend to follow, so it’s important that people who are in leadership positions take it upon themselves to create a culture that elevates our society’s musical consciousness.”
The Courier’s own Genea Webb revisited the subject in 2011, in the first article of the newspaper’s The Plight of Jazz series, with decidedly different responses from jazz saxophonist Nathan Davis and fusion drummer Billy Cobham.
It would be interesting to hear what music lovers think is the plight of jazz. If disco can make a comeback, jazz can, too.
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