Is jazz dead?

BUCKHANNON — Jazz died in 1959. Or did it?

Some say the best years of jazz ended in 1959 but others disagree.

Professor Kyle Andrews said what one jazz musician or jazz aficionado prefers may differ from another and even whether or not jazz reached its peak in 1959 can be debated.

So, is jazz dead?

“If you use the word for that particular style of music from the 1950s, yes, pretty much at this point it’s a museum piece,” he said. “But as a way of making music, no. To me, hip hop is jazz and R&B is jazz,” he said.

And Andrews, an instructor of music at West Virginia Wesleyan College, has his own preference in jazz music.

“Most of the records I listen to are from the 60s actually,” he said. “Even the music that I love from the 60s didn’t commercially make money. It’s just good music.”

For Andrews, knowing what he wanted to do in music happened his first week at West Virginia Wesleyan College.

“We went to see Roger Humphries live in Pittsburgh,” he said. “That was it. From then, on I was like ‘I have to do this. This is what I am about now.’

He earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from WVWC and a Master of Music in jazz studies from Indiana University.

But on a February night at the Virginia Thomas Law Center for the Performing Arts, Andrews was there to present a faculty lecture around the title “Jazz is Dead: Long Live BAM.”

With the disclaimer that he is a musician and not a scholar, Andrews said he  researched whether or not jazz is dead and the idea behind why Black American Music is the new name to use.

Nicholas Peyton claims to be the savior of archaic pop and is both a trumpet and piano player.

He is the leading figure of #BAM or Black American Music, according to Andrews.

The founder of two record labels and the San Francisco Jazz Collective, Peyton is also a visiting lecturer at Tulane University.

Peyton is not alone in his belief that jazz is dead, Andrews added.

He gave a brief history of the jazz movement.

“Jazz originated as we know it from the city of New Orleans,” he said. There were many stories of it originating in houses of ill repute in Storyville, the red light district, but Andrews said that it is more accurate to be from the Tango Belt, the area around the red light district. That is where there would be bars and clubs and space to have bands of seven, eight or nine people.

“There are no recordings because it is the 1910s and the technology doesn’t exist yet but as best as we can tell was more like a march than anything else,” he said.

The instruments included a bass drum and snare drum, a sousaphone, cornet, clarinet and trombone.

The music was about taking pre-existing instruments and playing them in new ways and about taking existing music to tell the story of the African tradition.

The year 1959 was a significant year in jazz history, according to Andrews. Many artists released some of their major works.

“Miles Davis released “Kind of Blue” which is still to this day the best selling jazz record of all time,” he said. “Ornette Coleman released The Shape of Jazz to Come which was really significant and heralded the free jazz movement that was to come about in the next decade.”

Andrews played about 20 minutes of the movie “The Cry of Jazz,” that was also released in 1959. “It wasn’t really well known at the time and it’s certainly not well known now,” he said. “I only found this film this past August.

“Since August, I have been on a mission to spread this to all the people I know in and out of Jazz,” he said. “This was written and directed by Ed Bland and made in Europe. It was made on almost no budget at all with almost entirely volunteer work.”

The film dives into much of what Andrews talked about in the hour-long presentation.

Andrews feels jazz is still relevant today and said he tells his students a couple of things. 

“In terms of musicality, the things you have to be able to do to play jazz are just good musicianship. If you can play this music, you can play any music. In terms of social relevancy, I think studying the aspects of race and social issues around the culture of jazz are so relevant. The conversations today about hip hop are exactly the same conversations that developed in the 50s, 40s and 30s. Pick your decade, it’s all relevant.”

The next faculty lecture series takes place tonight at 7 p.m. in the Virginia Law Center for the Performing Arts.

Jessica Scott, assistant professor of gender studies, will present “Home is where your politics are: Queer activism in two souths.”

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