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The Decline of Jazz

From the Pit

By Thomas C. Horne

If there is any sure sign of the decline of American civilization, it is its musical taste. While radio stations and night clubs overflow with hillbillies and rock-and-roll singers, jazz musicians--who are making America's first significant contribution to serious music--are too often without jobs. In virtually every city, a general decline has been evident. For example:

* In New York, hardly a decent jazz club has survived. The two most exciting experimental jazz places in the Village--The Speakeasy and The Jazz Gallery--have disappeared. The Village Gate often has folk music. And even Birdland featured canned music for a while.

* In San Francisco, there is nothing left except Bop City, a 2 to 6 a.m. place where jazz musicians gather after their commercial gigs to take turns playing. In one morning, one might hear 20 or 25 good jazz musicians, all of whom must play low-class music by day in order to live.

* Here in Boston, a bad situation has gotten even worse. The Cafe Orleans tried some jazz on an experimental basis, but found it lost money every time. A high cover charge at the Jazz Workshop has resulted in audiences who are not really jazzlovers, and consequently performers play down to the audiences. (Jazz musicians are notoriously intolerant of audiences they dislike. Charles Mingus has been known--at college concerts--to do pushups on the keyboard and play "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" straight.) And even Connaly's, which has been the best place in Boston for a long time, featured a big band and commercial singer a couple of weeks ago.

The situation has resulted from a vicious circle. As clubs began to be invaded by the hillbillies, jazzlovers became alienated and retreated to their FM radios and phonographs. Then, as fewer people went to hear jazz, clubs found it more and more profitable to hire more folksingers. This alienated the jazzlovers still more, and a downward spiral has developed.

The only way the circle can be broken is for jazzlovers to become more aggressive. Let club-owners know how you feel. Attend jazz events. Let's go.

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