Advice For Jazz Students #21: U is for undead

There’s a David Lynch film, before he got famous , where a boy’s plant gives birth to a fully grown grandmother. I always think of this image when I hear the “Is Jazz Dead?” argument, a supposedly sensational headline that comes up once every few years. It is usually followed by the canny observation that “jazz is alive and well” or “safe in the hands of x, y and z”. Even people writing about it like this is interminably dull. Jazz is like the grandmother born to a cactus: how many times can this same creature live, die and be resurrected. Even Jesus only managed it once, which I imagine is enough for anyone.

The answer, of course, is like the idea of a “piece of music”, jazz is not a living thing. Neither is it dead. Earl Hines and Bill Evans the humans are elsewhere, other atoms now, but their records will be new to someone somewhere today, and tomorrow. What is unknown to someone is always new, which is why those same three guitar chords come back and back again.

Jazz is undead, it is both living and dead. Jazz needs both to rejuvenate and consolidate, its constituent parts, drawn from all over since its beginnings, will continue to do so. They will lift and separate. The new will build on the old, and the old on the new, there will be both continuance and innovation. And pursuing us in this simple endeavour to stay productive and sane, the media, good and bad men and women, and maybe, who knows, (in the future), plants, vegetable scribes looking for the gossip or the substance and everything in between, giving birth to their living grandmothers so they may in turn die and rise again, older and wiser. Eventually that pattern gets so old it wears out. Is resurrection dead? Grab a pencil and paper, let’s find out.

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