On CNN’s website today there is an editorial by Wynton Marsalis in which he makes some general statements about our culture and society today. It isn’t a deep article by any means and there aren’t any specific solutions given to the problems presented, but there are a few things that stood out:
“In the din of expert voices on everything imaginable, what we don’t hear is informed conversation on how central culture is to our national well-being.”
Jazz is certainly part of this cultural significance. Wynton Marsalis, for better or for worse, is synonymous with jazz music in the eyes of many people outside of the jazz community but his style only represents a part of the art form. More people need to become visible spokespeople for jazz and the varied nature of jazz (straight-ahead, not straight-head etc.) needs to be better publicized even if the more original music isn’t as accessible at first. Most critically, the government needs to take a bigger role in funding the arts at the local level. Instead of paying millions to make bombs to drop overseas we should pay millions to make music here at home. It would be real homeland security in the long run when the US is known as a cultural superpower that supports the arts.
“It’s time for us to build a new mythology based on our many cultural triumphs instead of fixating on our never-ending missteps and conflicts.”
I agree about emphasizing our own American culture more but mythology doesn’t seem like the right word. How about just “public awareness.” That seems more attainable. And while “fixating” on conflicts won’t end up being productive, debating something can often lead to creativity.
“Almost everything and everyone seems to be for sale. Value is assessed solely in terms of dollars. Quality is sacrificed to commerce and truthful communication is supplanted by marketing.”
This is the statement that stood out the most because it sums up a lot about the music business and how free-market thinking fails when applied to the arts. And, excepting the part about quality, it unfortunately refers to the jazz concert headlined by Wynton Marsalis at the Kennedy Center tomorrow.
If you are trying to actually go to the concert that’s referred to at the beginning of the story (called “Let Freedom Swing” on the Kennedy Center website,) there are no tickets available. It is by “invitation only” (which usually means donors, politicians, “insiders” and maybe the press) and is “completely, completely overbooked” according to Lincoln Center except if you want to watch a TV simulcast elsewhere in the building.
It’s somewhat ironic that Wynton’s talking about coming together via jazz and the arts but his own concert is walled off from the public. Jazz, which is the perfect embodiment of American democracy, cannot be by invitation only. Putting jazz behind closed doors is so destructive. If Wynton is serious about change, next MLK day, have the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra play a free, public concert at the Lincoln Memorial instead. And how about releasing the invite list for the concert at the Kennedy Center so we can all see who is lucky or well-connected or wealthy enough to be invited to the show tomorrow?
The business of making a living playing jazz needs much change for jazz to survive beyond being background music for the wealthy or an obscure academic subject, like speaking Latin. More transparency would be an attainable first step and would lead to new, useful paths of action. High-profile figures like Marsalis need to practice what they preach with their own productions and make them open to all not just a select few.