Vital Signs

Jazz Standards

The new millennium brings with it the formal end of jazz's 20th century, although serious historians recognize that some elements of the music trace back to roughly two-thirds of the way through the 19th. Yet even with the undeniable brilliance of much that was produced during the Dixieland, swing, bebop, and subsequent eras, as the curtain closed on the American Century, it was apparent that, aesthetically, America's music is not in the best of shape.

Many critics believe that art benefits from a certain amount of disorder—creative chaos, some might call it. Thus, one could dismiss the unpleasantness among New York critics over charges of cronyism and even racism in trumpeter Wynton Marsalis's stewardship of the Jazz at Lincoln Center program as philosophical differences that got noisily out of hand during the mid-1990's. And critics, to say nothing of music industry types, are not immune from their own foolishness: Witness comments at the most recent Grammy Awards denouncing the fine singer-pianist Diana Krall as a "lounge act" or the continuing misguided attempt to define the music of Michael Jackson as rhythm-and-blues. Likewise, one could rationalize the loss of several of Gotham's important jazz clubs in the last few years—Fat Tuesday's, the Village Gate, Condon's, Visiones, and the much beloved Bradley's—as part of the eternal uncertainty of the music business.

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