What is the value in trying to determine who has a "jazz vocabulary" and who does not?
Entertainment Cruise Productions
Our Take: Let's Keep Jazz Inclusive
In a recent interviewBranford Marsalis took Robert Glasper and Kamasi Washington to task, challenging their jazz credentials. Though he acknowledged their successful music careers, he refused to grant them admission into the jazz world because there was no discernible tie between their music and the origins of jazz. Dissecting that criticism is at least three levels above my pay grade, but I think I understand what is going on here and, to be candid, I do not think that Branford's message resonates or adds anything to the discussion about what is jazz. Instead, it is just another attempt at creating categories and labels, a pursuit that divides us for no meaningful reason.

To demand that, to qualify as jazz, the music must emanate from some basic set of rules is a silly, wasteful and meaningless position. Even Branford concedes that the music of Glasper and Washington is filled with improvisation and interpretation. Isn't that the core element of jazz? Writers, bloggers and jazz historians have written thousands of words on this issue. It is a music academic's equivalent of arguing about the purpose of religion. A thousand theories, no right answer, few wrong answers. Most importantly, no one's personal opinion is ever changed by the arguments.

Why? Because jazz, just like religion, is about how we feel and how our emotions are affected. There can be rules, canons or strong definitions in both, but, if it does not feel right, then the rules do not matter.
"To demand that, to qualify as jazz, the music must emanate from some basic set of rules is a silly, wasteful and meaningless position."
You cannot define "jazz," just as you cannot define "faith." Louis Armstrong's famous line, "If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know," is akin to religious faith. And, just as arguing over what is "faith" is senseless, arguing over the definition of jazz is equally inane. So why would a talented, educated, brilliant musician like Branford Marsalis take the time to draw a line in the sand and declare who has a "jazz vocabulary" and who does not?

One of my personal and business strategies is to try to find a "bucket" for actions, words and events that I do not understand. I try to explore the possibility of both "good buckets" and "bad buckets" for each instance. Once the "buckets" have been identified, it is usually quite easy to determine which "buckets" are apt and which "buckets" are simply full of ... you get the picture!

In this case, the "good buckets" for Branford's comments are those that are trying to preserve the heritage of a particular type of music that he believes represents jazz. Our programming of The Jazz Cruise represents this view in many respects. We carefully curate that cruise to be a celebration of "straight-ahead" jazz. We do this by our selection of musicians and our direction to them that the preponderance of the playlists should reflect known tunes as opposed to original compositions. Having said that, though our guests clearly, and very strongly, prefer their music, few, if any, believe that no other music should be called jazz.

When we began Blue Note at Sea, we struggled with how we were going to program that cruise and what to call it. The line between the music on that cruise (which includes both Glasper and Washington for the 2020 sailing) and The Jazz Cruise was easy to define. Knowing what to call the cruise is another matter. In reality, Blue Note at Sea is all the cool and exciting jazz in the world that is outside "straight-ahead" jazz. Sadly, that description is too long to be a title for a cruise and so the search began for that "sound bite" title that would say it all.

We started with The Contemporary Jazz Cruise and, fortunately, through our association with Blue Note Records and Blue Note Jazz Clubs, we now call the cruise Blue Note at Sea. Does the name "Blue Note" connote a particular type of jazz? No, it does not. Instead, it represents a quality of music that transcends labels. If we could, we would name the cruise "The Great Music Cruise." Immodestly, that title does not work as all our cruise programs fit that moniker.
 
Back to Branford's issues. Branford is wrong for trying to build borders, establish rules and create labels for music. If he thinks that Glasper and Washington are unfairly leveraging the "jazz" label as a marketing tool, that would be a plausible "bucket" to explore, but I am not sure that attaching the term "jazz" to their music is anything that Glasper or Washington are actually doing. I believe that critics, producers and other industry folks have lumped them into the jazz category. My guess is that neither of them care one way or the other about whether their music is considered jazz by insiders, but they do care that their music is respected for what it is ... great, great music. 

For me, their music is jazz. Why? Because it does not fit any of the other major categories and I am loath to creating these three and four word mini-genres to fit a particular type of music. Though I may be missing something, all music fits into these very broad categories: Classical, Country, Rock, Pop, Jazz, Religious, R&B, Folk, Blues and Opera. If you care to slice the baloney thinner once you are inside one of those categories, that is up to you.

What is not up to you, or up to Branford Marsalis, is to create a subset of a particular genre that has high walls, deep moats and guards at the gate. The castles of old were built to keep others out. Sadly, that is the most plausible "bucket" for what Branford Marsalis is doing. And, if there is anything less jazzy than rejecting inclusiveness, I do not know what that would be. As the subject line to this email suggests, our sandbox is not that big. Kicking sand in it is bad manners or worse.

Our Take is written by Michael Lazaroff, Executive Director – Jazz of Entertainment Cruise Productions. Feel free to express your views or pose questions to him at michael@ecpcruises.com.
 
Listen to Dave Grusin with Marcus Miller!
Podcast 7: Dave Grusin with Marcus Miller
Interview with Dave Grusin and Marcus Miller:
In this week's installment of Jazz Cruise Conversations, the new podcast series from Entertainment Cruise Productions, we present to you Marcus Miller's onboard interview with Dave Grusin.

Grusin has had a long and successful career not only as a recording artist and performer but also as a scorer in film and television. Winner of both Grammy and Oscar awards, Grusin has contributed to the scores and soundtracks of more than 100 films and dozens of TV shows. In partnership with the late Larry Rosen, Grusin founded GRP Records, one of the most important record labels in contemporary jazz. During The Smooth Jazz Cruise earlier this year, Grusin spoke with Marcus about his unique career in music.

Every podcast is available on our website at: bluenoteatsea.com/podcast and thejazzcruise.com/podcast. You can also find Jazz Cruise Conversations on your preferred podcast platform, including iTunes and Spotify.
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Among the many other acts at the festival are Richard Bona, Monty Alexander, Hilario Durán, Aaron Parks and Jimmy Haslip/Scott Kinsey.
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Dee Dee Bridgewater Headlines KJAZZ Summer Benefit Concert
Triple Grammy winner, jazz legend and global icon Dee Dee Bridgewater headlines the KJAZZ 88.1-FM Summer Benefit Concert at The Music Center's Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles at 8 p.m. on June 22.

Acclaimed vocalist/guitarists Raul Midón and Lionel Loueke open the show separately and together.
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