Thursday, June 14, 2007

Moments that Changed Music?

For the “why bother” feature of the day, let’s look at Blender’s “100 Days that Changed Music” (July 2007). Unfortunately, it is about as sad as you would expect, with jazz completely unrepresented. The best we get is “Robert Johnson’s first recording session” at #97 and Sinatra at the Paramount at #26. Ranked higher in world shaking import were “Police Raid Neverland Ranch” at #18, and “Justin and Britney Split” at #13. If these were watershed events in your musical development, that’s just sad.

Of course, many of the entries are legitimate, like “Edison Invents the Phonograph” (which only ranks #36?). However, many important events were overlooked. Forget Ornette Coleman opening at the Five Spot, Louis Armstrong’s Chicago debut with King Oliver did not even crack the list. No mention of the AFM recording ban which hastened the demise of the big bands and led to the prominence of pop vocalists. Not to belabor the point, but Benny Goodman’s first racially integrated combo with Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson in 1936 was surely a greater social and cultural milestone than “Tiffany Tours Malls” at #57.

Criticizing Blender for an inadequate historical perspective might seem like shooting fish in a barrel, but the mag is symptomatic of a larger musical illiteracy in society. Try dropping references to an early R&B pioneer like LaVerne Baker at the office and you’ll likely get the same blank stares that an obscure AACM reference would produce. Ironically, jazz’s legacy is probably more secure, because there will always be small cadres of enthusiasts dedicated to its protecting its heritage. Yet for other genres, the contemporary musical memory is becoming ever shorter, and Blender was not much help this month (again).