It is just over six years since Benny Goodman brought a clarinet and thirteen musicians into a stodgy Chicago hotel to open a brief engagement wangled for him by an astute manager. Eight months later he was still packing them in on the same spot, "The Music Goes 'Round" was already out of the public ear for good, and the diluted jazz called swing was just beginning a successful job of artificial respiration on a music business which was on the verge of going down for the third time in the high seas of the depression.
But for the past two or three years, indeed, the situation has shown signs of becoming reversed. For although unadulterated jazz has won on its own merits many more admirers than it could claim in 1935, it has remained an esoteric secret to the average radio listener and record buyer who thrills to the superficialities of the popular dance-bands and their pretty ballads or noisy killer-dillers. Over a hundred million phonograph records are being sold this year; yet how many of them are bought and forgotten within a month or two?
Of course the transient appeal of the pop number, making for a quick turnover, is the main reason for the boom in this portion of the music industry. Anyone who starts to buy slick discs to feed the hungry jaws of one of those super-charged record changers wearies of most of them so fast he is continually in the market for replacements until either his machine has a stroke or his tastes improve.
The devotee of authentic jazz, on the other hand, doesn't fill the coffers of the music stores with nearly such regularity, for he can find his fill of pleasure in a few records. Two years ago a musicians' magazine ran a contest in which the
Of course, the chief reason for the comparative lack of a larger audience for jazz has been the dearth of opportunity for most people to hear and thus learn to appreciate its distinctive features. It is well known that although first-rate improvisers are found in many of the leading popular bands, only in a few small hot spots, most of them in New York and Chicago, does jazz constitute the principal musical bill of fare. On the radio it is unknown, except for infrequent guest appearances of instrumental stars, or an occasional program devoted to hot music on a small station.
At Harvard, the Crimson Network dedicates an hour a week to this music to please undergraduate enthusiasts. But these Tuesday and Thursday programs also afford the uninitiated listener a rare chance to hear some of the best recorded performances in the jazz idiom and tradition. And if after a few of these recitals he finds himself sensing the unaffected exuberance of a fast Johnny Hodges solo, and the spirit and stimulation of the music begins to reveal itself, he can be assured that his musical taste is improving--no mistake.