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All That Jazz

Emerging Signs of the Music's Future

Label and venue cutbacks may be cause for concern, but one bright note is SFJAZZ's impressive spring lineup.

January 25, 2002|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's been an interesting, if somewhat enigmatic, week for jazz. Good news and bad news arrived in tandem.

On the upside, SFJAZZ announced an impressive series of events for its spring season in San Francisco. In addition, an executive turntable shift at the Verve Group placed Ron Goldstein in the position of chief executive, with Tommy LiPuma continuing as group chairman. The shift will presumably allow LiPuma--one of the most successful producers in the history of jazz--to focus less on administrative matters and instead emphasize generating the big number albums he has produced with performers such as Diana Krall and George Benson.

On the downside, Carnegie Hall announced a significant reduction in its jazz program--specifically, the termination of the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra at the close of the current season. Led by trumpeter Jon Faddis and highly regarded in the jazz community for its imaginative efforts with repertory and original programming, the orchestra was a major player in the cultural community--not just of New York City, but of the country.

Turning back to the Verve Group, coincident with the assumption of his new administrative position, Goldstein announced that the company's roster would be trimmed by as many as 10 acts.

What does all this mean? It means that jazz--like pop music and classical music--is facing an uncertain future. Each genre has its artistic and financial dilemmas with which to deal, but central to all is the seeming lack of the sort of larger-than-life figures who once drove the music forward. Pop music, decades past the halcyon '60s and '70s, but more experienced with periods of uncertain inspiration, simply adjusts by embracing the phenom of the moment and selling what sells. Classical music, lacking the presence of a Copland, Bartok, Gershwin or Bernstein, cranks out new interpretations of the standard repertoire. Jazz is still struggling to figure out how to deal with similarly unfamiliar circumstances.

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Saxophonist Joshua Redman, artistic director of the SFJAZZ spring season, takes an optimistic view of the situation.

"There was a time in jazz," he says, "when there was some sort of clarity about what the next thing would be. Even in the '60s, when there were so many currents and streams, there was still the semblance of a linear progression of jazz history: This is what's now, and this is where it's going. Icons like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane represented the future, where jazz was going to evolve.

"But now jazz isn't moving in linear fashion; it's expanding like a sphere. There's no single next great style, there's no next great innovation. But that's OK. Now it's about individual artists trying to find their own originality through their own experiences, and trying to combine all the influences around them into a meaningful whole."

Redman is approaching his artistic stewardship of the SFJAZZ spring season with a similarly open-minded point of view. The season runs from March 19 through June 14 with the key events as follows:

* Jazz Women (March 19-24). Performances by Maria Schneider, Ingrid Jensen, Cassandra Wilson, Jane Bunnett and Jane Ira Bloom.

* Celebrating Sonny Rollins (April 7-15). Performances by Rollins, Redman, David S. Ware, Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano, David Sanchez, Lew Tabackin and Robert Stewart.

* What's New Worldwide (May 4, June 1 and June 13). Performances by the Omar Sosa Septet, Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra, Richard Galliano and Enrico Rava.

* Modern Masters (June 14). The Wynton Marsalis Septet.

The program acknowledges Redman's description of the sphere-like expansion of jazz via an eclectic assemblage of styles and genres from around the world.

"The basic concept," he says, "is that jazz is a worldwide music, and there are exciting things happening all over the globe--all of it worth hearing. Even more to the point, we're trying to acknowledge the fact that the great jazz that's happening outside of America, inside America, or anywhere in the world, is a combination of many different cultural influences.

"And that's what makes me so optimistic about jazz, with or without icons. Jazz has become a porous music, receptive to everything. And a lot of the most exciting artists are those who have their ears open to every imaginable sort of sounds and who then work to combine them in interesting, creative ways consistent with what jazz is all about."

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Goldstein's solution to his immediate problems with jazz commerce differ, understandably, from Redman's handling of the SFJAZZ program. But, despite the seemingly dark aspects of cutting a record company's roster, he too prefers to take an optimistic view of the jazz future.

"We're not looking to deplete our traditional jazz roster," Goldstein says. "That's not the point. I want fewer artists, with more opportunity to concentrate upon those artists. It's that simple, really."

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