Paper Session 6 (Saturday 9:00-10:00) Salon A
Moderator: Bruce Ronkin

The Jazz Jam Session: A Historical and Analytical Perspective on the Creative Process

Monika Herzig
Senior Lecturer, Arts Management
Indiana University

The jam session has been an essential tool for learning and networking for jazz musicians as well as for developing jazz as an art form since its inception. The definition in the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz mentions the functions of informal gatherings, playing for pleasure, training of young players, and openness to all participants. Further, a decrease of jam session frequency after the 1950s, a change in training of young musicians, and a renewed interest of students in jamming are noted in this definition. This study investigates the contemporary jazz jam session setting according to those initial functions and changes over time. A pre-survey in 2009 and a follow-up survey in 2012 included questions on demographics, frequency and location of participation, motivators for participation, recommendations for successful jam session set-ups, perceived importance of jam sessions and specific locations and set-up tools, recommendations for essential repertoire, and collections of problematic and favorable experiences. Results were analyzed and discussed in relation to the factors and changes mentioned in the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz definition. It was concluded that the basic functions of jam sessions are still intact but social structures, musical interaction, repertoire, and locations have changed due to economic factors as well as the rise of jazz education in academia. Recommendations for further study include systematic inquiry projects on the nature of such social and musical changes as well as testing of new pedagogical approaches. This research was funded by a MEIEA Research Grant.

What’s Wrong With Making Music for…Money? Cultural and Business Implications of the Jazz “Purist” vs. The Perception of the “Sellout” in the Business of Jazz

Cheryl Slay Carr
Associate Professor
Belmont University

Implicit in the question posed is the notion of an artistic morality, the idea that music is an art form that can be trespassed, wronged when it is commoditized. Yet the music industry thrives on the premise that music presents commercial opportunity. Consequently, there exists a potential tension between the creation of music to effect broad commercial appeal that translates into profitability, versus the proliferation of music created in celebration of its artistry. This paper explores the juxtaposition of the two objectives in the jazz context, a genre for which artistry is particularly highly regarded.

Jazz has artistic roots that are not only musical but cultural as well, with historically Black origins from the polyrhythmic beats of African drums to the ragtime of Scott Joplin, the blue notes of gospel and the Dixieland foundations of Louis Armstrong. The experiences of Blacks in America have been musically interpreted to further shape the artistry of jazz idioms. The result is a genre that is American in its roots, embraced universally, and decidedly complex in its definition and proliferation. These artistic origins are part of jazz as a cultural treasure.

The richness of the artistic heritage contrasts with the business of jazz, which is often marked by commercial challenges and lower record sales that are realities for musicians working within the genre. Different realities exist for the standout artist, as would be true for any genre. However, the financial rewards for such an artist is accompanied by attention that can also draw suspicion or even disapproval from jazz peers attributing the success to “selling out” the artistry of the music in exchange for commercial opportunity. Such critics may be seen as “purists” whose criticism reportedly seeks to preserve the art form.

This paper examines the juxtaposition of “purist” and “sellout” perceptions through a look at the careers of jazz icons Kenneth Gorelick, better known as “Kenny G,” and Thelonious Monk. Monk, considered a giant in the genre, is the second most recorded jazz artist after Duke Ellington. Kenny G’s artistic proportions are also of the giant variety, though tinged:

Somewhere in the mid-'90s, Kenny G stopped being just a jazz musician and became a cultural phenomenon. His light music and luscious curls made him the butt of many jokes, but the G man laughed all the way to the bank--since 1991, he’s sold 33 million albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan. He holds the record for the highest-selling Christmas album, as well as a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for playing the longest note ever recorded on a saxophone. (Billboard, 2008)

Whether coincidence or strategy the difference in the careers of these two artists and the differences in their commercial success and expression are explored to provide insight into the contours of artistic morality and its business and cultural implications.