Culture Jim Gala

Baby Boomers and the Death of Jazz

Contemporary music lacks the conscience, nuance and soul of jazz, an absence that has had a profound effect on American culture.
Miles Davis performing in France in 1963.
Miles Davis performs in July 1963 in Antibes, France, accompanied by Ron Carter (left) and Tony Williams (right). (Wikimedia Commons)

By Jim Gala / The Gala Report

“Jazz is the big brother of Revolution.  Revolution follows it around.” —Miles Davis

“Jazz is not just music, it’s a way of life, it’s a way of being, a way of thinking.” —Nina Simone.

A young modern jazz dancer once remarked to me, “You baby boomers were the death of art.”  When I asked what she meant, she compared America’s baby boomers to China’s youth during the “Cultural Revolution” led by Mao Zedong, who mobilized China’s youth by forming “Red Guard” youth groups throughout China.  That movement led to a mass purge of intellectuals, artists, musicians and university professors.  Millions suffered public humiliation, imprisonment, torture and even execution.  Part of Mao’s dogma was that no one could prove that revered works of art, literature and music were superior to what China’s youth could create themselves.

She said that like Mao’s Red Guard, America’s baby boomers turned their backs on acknowledged great artists and replaced them with their own icons. For example, instead of regarding The Beatles as an exceptional pop rock band, they were elevated above jazz greats such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane — the music she danced to. 

Respected authors, journalists and social activists such as Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal and Ralph Nader were banned from The New York Times, Washington Post, and the broadcast media. Contemporary journalists such as Chris Hedges, Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi now share the same fate.

Self-help books replaced Sartre, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, et al.  The few movies that depicted the psychopathy and insanity of war, such as “Bridge on the River Kwai” and “Dr. Strangelove,” were replaced by a deluge of “patriotic” movies such as “Rambo”, “Black Hawk Down” and “American Sniper,” which glorified war and the U.S. military.

Few “boomers” know that the civil rights and anti-war movements were inspired by and preceded by jazz greats such as Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Miles Davis. No less than Martin Luther King spoke of this in 1964 at the Berlin Jazz Festival:

Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph. This is triumphant music.

Modern Jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.

It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by Jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls. Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down. And now, Jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man.

Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith. In this broad category called ‘Jazz’, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.

The civil rights and anti-war movements created a widespread public intellectual awakening and were anti-”consumerism;” this frightened corporate and military elites and the media they own. Around 1967 media conglomerates all but stopped promoting jazz. Simplistic rock, heavy metal and rap replaced modern jazz, which was formerly enjoyed by college students, university professors and civil rights activists. Previously thriving jazz clubs became half-empty, and jazz musicians were forced to go “electric” in order to survive financially. Although “jazz/rock,” “funk” and “fusion” is superior to rock musically, in my opinion jazz lost much of it’s humanity, intelligence and depth, which was at its peak in the early ’60s (e.g. Miles Davis’ “Kinda Blue” (1959) and Bill Evans, “Sunday at the Village Vanguard” (1961).

It’s interesting to observe the contrast between jazz clubs, which are usually small, intimate, quiet and provide an environment for “individualism,” and stadiums that seat thousands filled by a uniform mob listening to electronic rock music played at eardrum-damaging volume levels. (In fact, helicopters blasting rock music were used to demoralize the populations of villages during the Vietnam War.) In short, “rock” desensitizes and jazz sensitizes; they’re social, political and intellectual, as well as musical, opposites. The “power” and “sexuality” attributed to rock is based solely on its extreme volume levels; turn off their amplifiers, and a rock band sounds anemic and sexless compared to a good jazz band.

Unlike boomers, jazz musicians don’t play “the music of their youth;” they play beautifully written songs mostly from “The Great American Songbook,” early 20th-century American jazz standardspopular songs and show tunes, that have stood the test of time, often referred to as “America’s Classical Music.” The almost complete absence of tenderness, contemplation, subtlety, wit, and love based on admiration present in those songs, which most jazz musicians include in their repertoire, is absent in rock, rap and “heavy metal,” and this had a profound effect on American culture.

The dumbing down of American culture by the banality of popular music, books, TV shows and movies by the corporate media was a deliberate campaign to negate the widespread intellectual foment and justified political criticism inspired by the civil rights movement and Vietnam anti-war protests, which frightened multinational corporations and elites.  In its place they wished to create an uncritical and compliant population they could convert into rabid consumers who would accept without critique racial injustice, police brutality, extreme wealth inequality and genocidal “interventionist” wars.

This media campaign, led just as much by the so-called liberal media as well as the right-wing burlesque of Fox News, produced the anti-intellectual mindset of the now elderly baby boomers and their progeny, as though critical thinking was “radical” and perhaps even unpatriotic.  They were encouraged to listen to “the music of their youth,” watch superhero and “patriotic” war movies designed for teenagers, and receive their news from the U.S. propaganda spewing corporate media conglomerates right at a time when the infirmities of aging could be somewhat offset by a more sophisticated and enlightened understanding of the world we inhabit. 

Although as a jazz musician I have an obvious bias, I don’t believe this is a simply a matter of my personal musical and political tastes.  Our tastes are cultivated in large measure by the news, music and entertainment we’re exposed to and that’s controlled by a few huge media corporations that have all but banned political dissent, jazz and intelligent entertainment.  It’s a media-created cultural and political narrative that encouraged the boomer generation to retain the naiveté of their youth by insinuating that this would keep them ‘young’ and ignore the unspeakable carnage of our endless wars abroad and the deteriorating standard of living, lack of basic social programs, and brutal policing experienced by the majority of citizens at home. 

The arts describe the world we inhabit, and they’ve been appropriated by powerful corporations whose agenda is to stifle political dissent, promote consumerism and fabricate “enemies” for us to fear in service of the national security state and its defense contractors.

Like literature, various styles of jazz contain different levels of sophistication, depth, intelligence, and humanity.  Jazz—at its best—is just too intimate, sophisticated, adult and intelligent to advance the sociopathic agenda of multinational corporations, oligarchs and the national security state.

The “new conformity” of corporate Democrats and the faux liberal media derailed Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, produced President Donald Trump and now Joe Biden, an arch-conservative Democrat who authored the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill that exploded our prison population and who supported every war from Vietnam, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and Syria—which he bombed immediately after his election to demonstrate to the world that “America is back!”

U.S. presidents never present jazz, often heralded as “America’s original art form,” at their inaugurations.  Jazz is just too authentic, adult, and emotionally honest for politicians.  The banality of the pop music they choose matches the banality of the clichés in their speeches.  Democracy at its core is love and respect for one another, and politicians simply “Don’t Know What Love Is.”

72 comments

  1. As an old boomer, I have always loved jazz. I also liked folk ( more the blues variety) and rock. Maybe it’s just me, but if you look at our vinyl/ CD you will probably see ore jazz than anything else.

  2. Some interesting points. But the churlishness got tiresome. And he didn’t even get the title of Miles’ seminal album correct, and it is PICTURED in the piece! So…

    1. Author: When asked for permission to republish this article I granted it but said I wanted to review it for typos and spelling errors first. To my surprise, the article was published the next day before I had a chance to make corrections. My “churlishness” is either A. an innate personality defect, or B. the result of your disagreement with parts of what the article discusses. In any event, thanks for your comment, “Some interesting points.”

      1. James,
        Glorious, stupendous work. A shame a person can’t synthesize the invisible and the unknowable into something succinct and cogent without suffering the ignorants of petty grievances and clouded minds. Some of these detractors should try saying something meaningful… they just might see that truth is always wrapped in paradox, and that is the only way we would have it.

  3. As a jazz musician AND “Boomer”, I couldn’t agree more. I don’t blame “Boomers” directly, as I feel they only succumbed to the capitalist forces that were in full swing during the Boomer era. To some extent, it was a matter of survival. Here’s a “rant” I wrote as liner notes to one of my jazz albums:

    THE DRAINING OF AMERICA’S SOUL

    Some say it started right after WWII, which makes some sense, since it was after our participation and victory against Germany that began to make our technological and manufacturing ego swell. They prevailing attitude was that our “shit don’t stink”, it was the birth of American exceptionalism.

    In my humble opinion, that tendency intensified greatly in the 1970’s. Corporate and establishment Americans were terrified of the anti-Vietnam war movements and demonstrations taking place across the country; it threatened there paradigm both economically and socially. The infamous “Powell Memo” is a worthy marker as it was essentially a corporate driven “declaration of war” against these progressive and establishment-threatening forces.

    Big Biz, organized by and through such organizations as the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable took on an aggressive offense posture to stamp out the growing movement towards peace, social justice, and equality. Music, art, and alt philosophies and spiritual practice became their enemy, as they fostered thinking “outside the box”, a paradigm that, in their eyes, would make the citizenry all the more difficult to control by the ruling elites and business establishment

    DUMB, IN DEBT, DIVIDED, KEEPS THE POPULACE MALLEABLE

    Racial, economic, and religious division was promoted and encouraged to keep our society disparate. A militarized police force grew through federal funding and legislation to keep these now angry and warring factions from disturbing the mechanization’s of industry and capitalism.

    With the election of Ronald Reagan, who heartily endorsed the Powell Memo, their power was magnified. Slowly but surely, over the course of several decades, free thought and a sense of social coherence were successfully oppressed and replaced by divisiveness, individualism (read atomization of the human spirit), oppression, surveillance, and an overall fear of our own government. We became a country without a social and cultural identity. Jazz, one of the few truly American art-forms, and other forms of art and music that identified as being “American”, became a target and a victim.

    By the 1990’s, the transformation was complete. Somewhere in that decade, is “The Day the Music Died”. America had lost its soul.

    1. Author: Well stated. There’s a direct connection between our cruel domestic and murderous foreign policy and “the arts” in the US. You can see it in the glorification of police and military violence in Hollywood movies and TV shows, computer gaming videos our children watch, and the simplistic music and banal lyrics of pop music.

      1. Agreed, James, but your reply here undermines the premise of your article. That degradation of the arts–particularly in film and video–cannot be blamed on Boomers and has nothing to do with audience losses jazz may have suffered. I don’t want to blame anyone one group, but the proliferation of superhero movies, which glorify vigilantes, often wealthy vigilantes, and movies in which violence is the first answer to every problem, the sexist side of rap and banal pop, that all emerged during the time of the millennials and gen X. You know, that group your jazz dancer friend is part of.

  4. The premise of this article is pure bollocks. I am a baby boomer and I have loved jazz as well as the Beatles and 60s rock all of my life beginning in my teenage years. “Baby Boomers and the Death of Jazz” is a slander. This is why I come to your site less and less. Utter crap.

      1. Author: The “message” of my article is not allowing the fashions of your generation to dictate your tastes, but to explore the Arts (not just music, but literature, philosophy, politics, etc.) and discover what has—and what lacks—substance, intelligence, depth, and humanity. The Arts are often called “The Humanities”, and no generation has a franchise on wisdom.

    1. Why does one thing have to be denigrated to elevate another? Does my activism mean less because I like The Beatles and rock-n-roll and protest folk music? Are we conducting a purity test where only Jazz lovers have revolutionary value in their politics? Is this some sort of activist/progressive internecine argument? Help me out here.

  5. Exactly, as a 76 year old jazz pianist who grew up in the Shadow of Bill Evans, you are totally right on.

    1. I met Bill Evans when I was living in NYC in the early ’70s just when Eddie Gomez and Marty Morell joined his trio. We played some of our recordings for each other in his hotel rooms while eating KFC chicken. His personality, humanity, and intelligence was consistent with his music.

      1. This is what Jazz is all about to most purists: elitism, idolisation, name dropping, dick measuring and prowess. ‘Me and Dave Brubeck shared a Big Mac’ is the same garden variety social signalling as ‘Tupac signed my titties’.
        Jazz is a genre and like any other musical genre, most people who play it are wankers. Oftentimes they nontheless channel some good music. The American Songbook is for the most part flaccid, pretentious, sexless fluff. Lifelong, middle-class, ‘jazz standards’ types tend to fall down in their inability to connect with wider humanity, because their lives are so different from ours. They lack creativity, connectivity and emotion because of their isolated, overly-intellectualised existences. Their reverence for the past becomes an inability to live in the present. Their proficency on an instrument, beyond most people’s ability to appreciate, becomes a competetive aspect amongst a small elite that only value each other’s narrow window of acceptable opinion. Hence why they tend to suck so badly at jamming, while thinking they are doing great.
        It is true that commercial entities attempt to undermine our intellect and connect to the listener on an emotional level: sex, love, hate, fear, lament, anger, etc. The thing is, all good music does this.
        Corporate interests reinforce and amplify crass, hedonistic and anti-intellectual rhetoric simply because they embody it.
        Corporate interests capitalised on and amplified the hysteria surrounding The Beatles, but this doesn’t warrant their denigration. The simple sincerity, friendship and honesty combined with their musical and intellectual journey expressed in their work bears a huge, resounding cultural significance. Importantly, it serves as a bridge to further exploration, musical and beyond for proles like me. I suspect it is the implicit understanding that as a middle-class jazzer you will never achieve that kind of broad appeal that fuels your derision.
        To descend into metaphor: just because you can appreciate the beauty in a sophisticated, older woman doesn’t mean you should deny the simple, more universally accepted beauty of youth.
        Anyway, I’d argue that sexy music without brains is better than clever music without feeling. Hence the enduring popularity of the Jimmy Pages and Mick Jaggers of the world, especially among the youthful. Nobody wants to listen to somebody solving an equation. Both heart and mind is obviously the key, the art is in the infusion of emotion and intellect. Dylan and Joni are great examples, despite his appalling lack of virtuosity and shocking willingness to ‘go electric”.
        In sum, your stereotypical boomer and this type of jazz musician are similar. They live in a small, dogmatic conceptual framework that serves to shield them from the harsh truth: that they pursued their small individualised dreams while shirking their large share of responsibility, as educated, wealthy Americans, for how fucked we collectively are. You were born with the power to secure humanity’s future but instead you tossed it away in pissing contests with songbook enthusiasts and in learning to play arpeggios really fast. Your vanilla flavour boomer caricature instead has encyclopedic knowledge of 80’s number 1’s and a proficiency at disc golf.
        Out of touch.
        Charlie Christian’s stuff is great, but man, date night will be more memorable if you throw a bit of Jimi Hendrix on while the coffee brews, believe me…

  6. Ive Always Enjoyed Jazz An Entricate Form of Expression and A Great Musical Genre ,Its Beautiful Feeling Of Jazz Contempary That Has Kept That Sound Going And a Really Great Artistic Freedom of Expression .

  7. What?! This is nonsense! Commercial (corporate) radio ‘killed’ jazz. And most of what you describe occurred in the 70’s. Yes, rock moved in but many of us still cherished and attended jazz clubs into the 80’s, like Blues Alley and Cellar Door in DC. Those music genres lived in harmony. I still have and play my Mingus, Coltrane, Simone and Lateef, among others. The folk singer songwriter Joni Mitchell collaborated with Mingus and produced a number of records, in fact. One example of a successful merger. Even pop artists like Bette Midler ‘did’ jazz.
    Attaching ‘blame’ to so-called ‘Boomers’ in this ‘Ok, Boomer’ world we live in is pathetic.

  8. Perhaps the author of this article never listened to Public Enemy, Dead Prez, some of Neil Young, Bad Religion, Little Steven and other hiphop and rock artists who played truth in lyrics and accompanied it with adversarial lyrics. Yes, the establishment has managed to water down the entertainment, and that is intentional, as artists like Lowkey and Immortal Technique who are self-produced, and who oppose the establishment, have been successful and prospered. There is a market for politically literate music, but the producers want to silence dissidence.
    Nowhere on any establishment platform will you find my books (self-published) because there is an agenda, a club, so to speak, and I ain’t in it. My books and documents and newsletter are powerful, intelligent, provide solutions, and are definitely of dissident nature, so the establishment calls me a “terrorist” and bans me from exposure. But the word is out- if you want truth, go to the third Martin Luther. MLK

  9. This is utterly contradictory and incoherent. You state that the corporate media (and its handlers/owners) created a “deliberate campaign to negate the widespread intellectual foment and justified political criticism inspired by the civil rights movement and Vietnam anti-war protests…”
    Whose intellectual foment, justified political criticism, civil rights movement, and anti-war protests are you referencing?
    BOOMERS’, babe.
    We listened to jazz AND the rock music that became anthems of a generation and has now been coopted to sell cars. We were still able to find classical music concerts and ballets, still habitues of the Village Vanguard, still arguing film and philosophy until dawn with Werner Herzog with a background of quiet jazz and a case of Guinness Stout, still curious and convinced we could usher in a better world.
    As you correctly point out, this energy was anathema to the more despotic, conservative and powerful manipulators in our society — so it was quashed. What boomers represented could not be allowed to threaten the status quo. (Enter Reagan.) And a few boomers were willing to sign on to effectively send humankind back into a dark age. (Looking at you, Bill Clinton.)
    People in general are poorly educated, propagandized and tracked into narrow consumer lives now, waaay more than they were in the fifties, sixties and even seventies. Popular music is angry and pounding and reflective of their existential despair. But the generation born after WWII didn’t kill jazz; we listened to it; we played it; and some of us still do. Times changed — you can credibly argue not in a good way — and jazz got shoved aside along with much that was aspirational, original, subtle and nuanced. Because those are not the qualities that make good sheeple. Neither do a hell of a lot of boomers, actually. Blaming boomers for the ills of society is very trendy now. But it’s just as wrongheaded as writing off jazz.

    1. Well said…maybe only some boomers went the wrong way. Still think art is being underutilized as an inspirational tool

  10. Being someone with extremely eclectic taste in music – Beethoven, Sinatra, U2, Trent Rezner, Tom Waits, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Near Eastern, Persian, and classical Indian and Bollywood, to barely scratch the surface – I’ve always found chauvinism regarding one musical art form puzzling. Beyond this, the generalizations made here about “rock” music and culture are charactured at best. Moreover, conflating the Boomer Generation’s supplanting of the old guard – regardless of its many failings – with the horrors of the Cultural Revolution or the hegemony of neoliberalism ( and it’s freezing out of our most important intellectual voices) is simply hysterical and ludicrous. Though I share the author’s horror about our cretinous, troglodyte culture and it’s attendant vacuousness and dehumanization.

  11. Oh brother… There’s a reason jazz lost touch with popular culture decades ago: it’s boring, its best days are long past, and jazz fans are the corniest, most joyless, thoroughly tiresome motherfuckers in the world — and this incoherent, “get off my lawn” old-man rant isn’t doing anything to dispel that notion.

    Stop blaming popular culture for your own inability to keep up with it, and let jazz die an honorable death, without trying to prop up its withered corpse. Jazz clubs are ghoulish mausoleums that should all be closed and replaced with Duane Reades and Starbucks franchises, which actually serve a useful function in society.

    1. I am with you, jazz and traditional blues were crybaby and as you said “boring” and lacked strong lyrics, angry beats, and powerful messages, devoid of inspiration. There have been several artists in rock and quite a number of hiphop who were strongly inspirational and even informative as they told strong truths in the appropiately angry music. Unfortunately, most of these powerful agents for change were not publicized for commercial success and wide distribution and were mostly sold “word of mouth”

    2. You sound like someone who doesn’t comprehend the depth of even a single song, say Giant Steps. I’ve been playing that song for 35 years, although only the last 30 was I really playing the changes and not just outlining the chords or melody. And I still learn something each time I play it. That’s just one song.

      There is SO much depth in jazz, whether you see it or not, with or without lyrics.

      The lack of radio play is what killed it the most in popular culture, imo, but rest assured there are a bunch of us out here who see jazz for what it is – an incredibly deep and expressive art form.

  12. As a pre-boomer (born 1937) who found West Coast and Modern Jazz in the 1950s, I grok what you say here. I consider “Kind of Blue” the pinnacle. I have no one to forward this article to. They are all dead.

  13. Wow. This essay is all over the place. Say what you want about Joe Biden, but he was the only guy with the guts to end America’s longest, dumbest war. That alone makes him a great President.

    As for jazz: it had its day, but its time to let it go. Let’s agree to pull the plug on this art form that hasn’t been truly popular or relevant for over 60 years. I guarantee you that there’s a teenage tiktok rapper in a bedroom somewhere who’s going to blow all our minds one day. But we need to clear the cultural clutter first.

    1. If Joe has actually ended the Afghan War (don’t be too sure yet), it’s
      the only decent thing he has done in his entire career – at least the only
      decent thing I’m aware of.

      On Baby Boomers: I happen to be one (Class of ’51) and I have to say
      that I am not an admirer of my cohort. About them one might say

      That great beginning has seen a final inning.

    2. My early understanding of what “jazz” is related directly to the nostalgically referred to as the “Great American Songbook,” that as asserted above, it was, if not occasionally lyrically clever and sung by charismatic singers, musically uninteresting and needed to be jazzed up. Often by great artists, some mentioned, such as Miles, though not the Modern Jazz Quartet. But not generally included among them were those that performed much older songbooks, by artists like Bach whose music had endured in popularity over centuries. The Moog synthesizer, and older “original” instruments brought new sounds to his and others’ “standards,” and wide popularity, as for example, Jacques Loussier’s Trio. And even earlier, on a larger scale, alluding to an older American songbook, Charles Ives. Perhaps the “death of jazz” is excessively premature, and its reach simply misunderstood.

  14. Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi are Russian propagandists who take their marching orders from Putin. Those two clowns lost the plot a long time ago.

    1. Author: Let’s see, you’re asserting that “Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi are Russian propagandists who take their marching orders from Putin.” Really? Hillary Clinton stated that Tulsi Gabbard, who served two tours (Iraq and Kuwait) in a medical unit during the height of those wars and spoke of the incredible human carnage she witnessed as a result of those “interventions” and the need to place diplomacy above military action, was a “Russian asset”. When asked if she meant that literally, Clinton replied, “Absolutely.” This is an example of how the Boomer “left” has transmogrified into a McCarthy-era mindset that was discredited and deplored 65 years ago and is precisely what I discuss in my article.

      1. Uh, James, Hillary is a terrible example of the Boomer left, or the left of anything. She and her husband are neoliberals or downright conservative, as your colleague Chris Hedges and other have pointed out numerous times. She and Bill are total frauds. You’ll need a better example of the Boomer left here, and if you come up with one, well, so what? Do you know how many Boomers who think themselves liberal or progressive? Millions. Finding a few examples from a group that large doesn’t demonstrate anything.

  15. Personally, I loathe jazz clubs — most are shabby, overpriced, overcrowded, underwhelming shitholes in need of fumigation and a deep steam cleaning. They’re where art goes to die.

    Give me a beautiful outdoor stage or a vintage theater, but you can keep those dirty tourist traps with their stupid drink minimums, tiny tables, and dirty floors. It’s not 1959 and I’m not a gangster. No thanks!

    1. Alas, you paint an accurate picture- of jazz clubs post 60s -when what you describe about them w regard to the haughtiness and snobbery took over everything. It was the 70s- the ‘Me Generation’ and all that was left were the pro-Nixon yuppies. Blame them!

  16. Counterpoint: Funk is America’s true classical music and jazz and blues were just stepping stones to the epic greatness of James Brown.

  17. The boomers enabled it by their failure to follow up on the promises of the sixties. Corporate USA moved heaven and hell to ensure they were sufficiently distracted. No need to apportion blame to the boomers…just try not to drink the kool-aid!

  18. I have my own bias against this article: I hate generalizations. When you accuse “boomers” of, well, whatever it is you’re accusing them of, you’re casting a wide net. Boomers are defined, in most quarters, as anyone born between 1948 and 1964.

    Let’s consider the tail end of that group, say folks born in 1958. By the time they were 10 years old, which means that most of them still weren’t old enough to control their buying choices, jazz already had declined in popularity. By their mid-teens, cool jazz–which I liken to elevator music–had supplanted much of what we call classic jazz. Was that the fault of those boomers? Culture is something you acquire through exposure. Where were they to find their role models.

    Is there any evidence that the older group, those born between 1948 and 1958, abandoned jazz? Do we have polling data on that? It seems to me that the jazz fans in that group–and how many were there, exactly?–simply became more of a minority as rock, blues, and r&b became more popular. During an earlier period, jazz was competing–if that’s the correct term–largely with pop and swing band music. By the fifties, the field of competition had greatly expanded as other genres gained popularity.

    Much of that early rock was subversive. Elvis–before he became the Lounge Lizard King–Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and others scared the shit out of parents. Rock shows, when they weren’t deliberately segregated, created venues in which the races mingled more freely, much as jazz did.

    I was born in 1953, and I love jazz (although not cool jazz), rock, and folk equally. I don’t see any reason to choose one or the other or to, godlike, proclaim one is more meaningful that the other. The first time I heard recordings like 634-5789 by Wilson Pickett and I Never Loved a Man by Aretha Franklin, I Feel Good by James Brown, Can’t Help Myself by the Four Tops (led by the incomparable Levi Stubbs), Respect by Otis Redding, Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown by the Stones, Positively Fourth Street by Dylan, I’ve Just Seen a Face by the Beatles, and hundreds of other rock songs, pardon the cliche, but the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. The music of rock artists like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Marvin Gaye, Bruce Springsteen, Peter, Paul & Mary and god knows how many artists of that era had the courage to imagine a better world.

    Those boomers who listened to rock, r&b, jazz (yes, I’m raising my hand, there were many of us who stll dug Bix, Bird, Miles, and the Trane) helped (with the help of many older hands) advance women’s rights and civil rights, ended a grotesque war, and drove a corrupt president out of office. I wonder if the author’s jazz dancer friend has done anything comparable.

    This article makes many fine points about the degradation of artistic culture in the US, but it doesn’t come close to the mark when it tries to blame a single group that is as culturally diverse as it is mammoth.

  19. I agree and disagree with this article. I’m an older millennial who was able to open her ears and mind to music from around the world and from eras and ages she was born after. But that’s just me, the majority of folk tend to be biased in their tastes. For example, I’ll use the k-pop craze. K-pop has faired far better than it’s Japanese counterpart (there are plenty of good artists and bands outside of the many anime intros, but most folk don’t delve into albums),but a lot of current fans have no clue (or are simply not interested) in past artists.

    You also have folks who just heard about Billie Holiday because of the movie, but won’t bother digging any deeper. Strange Fruit is a song that tears you apart when listening, but when you hear her album of love songs you just want to melt in her lovely voice.

    Sadly, this is nothing new when it comes to human culture. Most folks don’t like digging into the past, despite said past statements that are well and alive today, like social Injustice. Hell, check out the era of latin music and latin jazz– a lot of music with some great themes! And the current trend of reggaeton won’t look back, even when you have artists that shout-out the old school (I will give credit to Bad Bunny who had me look up an old song he mentioned in one of his lines).

    Let’s also remember just because the era had great songs doesn’t mean all artists were amazing. Using a non-musician, Greenwald’s great articles are now a little dimmer due to his current state of affairs in allyship. Will I curse his name? No. But it does make me reflect that just as some stars shine bright, others will fade away due to circumstances.

    Thanks for writing this. If anything, you’ve inspired me to not give up on my own endeavors.

    1. Author: The “message” of my article is not allowing the fashions of your generation to dictate your tastes, but to explore the Arts (not just various musical genres like jazz, but literature, philosophy, politics, etc.) and discover what has—and what lacks—substance, intelligence, depth, and humanity. The Arts are often called “The Humanities”, and no generation has a franchise on wisdom and humanity.

  20. Boomers didn’t kill jazz. Jazz committed suicide. The fabulous jazz of the ’50’s and early ’60’s, improvising on standards and world music with new rhythms and marvelously inventive lines collapsed into free jazz: atonal, aimless tootling without anything consistent for the listener’s ears, brain and feet to grab hold of. Jazz has always meant innovation and experimentation, but as with any art, the artist needs to come some way toward the audience. Free jazz stopped doing that in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. By the time jazz musicians realized they had lost their audience, it was too late. Jazz’ place in American culture was gone.

    1. Author: I agree. Jazz, and especially “free jazz”, became too abstract and technical to connect with the universal emotions we all experience, and lost its audience. Listen to music and ask yourself if you’re listing to premeditated musical and lyrical cliches directed at the masses, or something that’s fresh and inspirational. I’ve heard Cuban “Trova” that’s just as inspirational as anything that Miles Davis or Bill Evans played.

  21. this piece needs editing. when “it’s” is misused, it takes away credibility. Also : “The almost complete absence of tenderness, contemplation, subtlety, wit, and love based on admiration present in those songs, which most jazz musicians include in their repertoire, is absent in rock, rap and “heavy metal,” and this had a profound effect on American culture.” The thought is not enunciated clearly. Needs to be edited by the author….in other words, the complete absence of tenderness…..is absent in rock, etc? Scheerpost..get with it Please!

    Other than that, the points are well-taken and have needed to be said for the past 60 years.

    1. Author: I agree. My article was a work in progress, and when I was asked for permission to publish it by Annenberg, I told them I first wanted to review it for typos and grammatical errors, however they published it almost immediately before I had that opportunity. That said, I’m delighted that Sheerpost, which I greatly respect and admire, and is a platform for my favorite journalists, was interested in what I thought would piss-off a lot of readers as everyone strongly defends their musical and political tastes. I understand how even a minor typo or grammatical error can undermine an article’s credibility, but I hope there’s enough substance in the article to provoke some thinking about the issues it raises.

  22. Author’s comment: It’s important to understand that “Baby Boomers and the Death of Jazz” was inspired by a remark made to me by a 27 year-old professional improvisational jazz dancer who danced with my jazz quartet in NY—it wasn’t my remark. I thought her explanation was quite lucid and well-thought out, and that’s what inspired my article. Moreover, I can’t “prove” that John Coltrane has more depth, passion, and soul than “Kenny G.”, nor can I prove that Tolstoy novels have more intelligence, subtlety, and nuance than Jacqueline Susann romance novels. “Some truths are self-evident”, n’est pas?

    1. Coltrane has more depth and passion and soul than Kenny G? Tolstoy novels have more intelligence, subtlety and nuance that Jacqueline Susann novels? I agree! So what? What does that have to do with anything? You’re shooting fish in a barrel there, my friend. Is Tolstoy deeper than Jimmy Baldwin or Jack Keouac or Henry Miller or Don Dellilo? How could one tell? Does Coltrane have more depth, passion and soul than Aretha Franklin or Peter, Paul, and Mary? When you start making those comparisons, perhaps you’ll realize that taste isn’t something easily judged as better or worse.

      I also don’t get your remark, ” It’s important to understand that “Baby Boomers and the Death of Jazz” was inspired by a remark made to me by a 27 year-old professional improvisational jazz dancer who danced with my jazz quartet in NY—it wasn’t my remark. .” So? You then wrote a long article supporting her contention, why is it important to us to understand who inspired it. That remarks almost read like–and I’m sure this wasn’t your intention–you’re saying, “Hey, blame the dancer for this article.” If you didn’t mean that, what did you mean. Ultimately, you seem to be agreeing with her premise. That’s all that matters.

      And that premise is really shaky. Let me ask you something. How many Coltrane or jazz diehards do you know heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on their transistors and suddenly stopped buying jazz records? I don’t know of any. I know jazz fans who became more open to rock during that period, but they didn’t abandon the genre.

      Your basic premise, however, rings with truth. The arts are virtually no more in this country due to the corporatization of our culture. We are given an endless parade of superhero movies, violent narratives, drunken fart comedies, violent video games, books that rarely rise above the beach novel level, all because that’s what sells. That is sad, but you can’t blame any one generational group for that, and, as stated earlier, the rise of many of those “art forms” came with the millennials and Gen X. Many parents looked the other way while corporations spoonfed their children that shit from an early age. By the time they could make their own buying choices, many were hooked and didn’t know any better.

  23. I’m 64 and have studied Jazz most of my adult life. This article should be titled, “Get Off my Damn Lawn Punk”. It’s willfully ignorant and embarrasing.

    Jazz is an improvised art form and is still going strong. Great players out there. Streaming and companies like Universal have killed the industry.
    Miles moved on to a more fusion sound, he didn’t sit still. He also loved Hendrix, Prince etc. Was always looking for what’s next. Jazz (Bop/Post-Bop) has been a fringe art form compared to the mainstream except for the Swing era.
    This article reminds me of Ken Burns doc on Jazz. You would think one would have to go into the subbasement of the Smithsonian to find it. Covered in dust and cobwebs.

    Patriotic/Imperialistic movies were supplanted briefly with post Vietnam era anti-war movies and then back to pro-war.
    I’d highly recommend the movie “War Machine” with Brad Pitt for a really good recent anti-war/imperialism movie. Avatar was a gigantic block buster – and if you didn’t notice it’s all about anti-imperialism.

    BTW who gives a rats ass what a corrupt president plays at their inauguration?! Their corrupt politicians installed into office.

    The author has moved comfortably into cranky old fartdom.

  24. No one asked my opinion, I realize, but… I found this whole article annoying. (I’m a boomer)

  25. “Aimless tootling w/o anything consistent for the listener’s ears.”

    There ya’ go ! And so Keith Richards , no doubt partly picking up on that line of thought , happily devoted himself to playing ONE lick for going on 60 + years w/ no respite for us amused customers, boomers mostly.

    Does that mean he has experimentally shown Mr. Gala’s hypothesis to be mainly accurate ?

    Leaning that way I’d say. Mr. Richards is still gamely intent on conducting research , but I think ‘further study’ is no longer necessary.

    Boomers DID respond favorably in overwhelming numbers to a reassuringly familiar riff !

    Over & over & over.

  26. I’m a Gen-Xer who loves jazz and I’m sympathetic to some of this, but it feels too harsh to rock. I think the Beatles were capable of tenderness and wit. A good deal of rockers were against mindless consumerism or satirized it. There’s also plenty of Boomer rock that was influenced by blues, as was jazz, and kept that element of poor people’s complaint. Like “Fortunate Son” by Credence Clearwater Revival or some Bruce Springsteen.

    That being said I do think it seems like rock, especially of the Boomers, ultimately did lead to a decline of instrumental music and to me that is kind of negative. Jazz had great singers, but it had many great instrumentalists. I think this in some ways makes it more universal. Django Reinhardt reaching American jazz audiences I’d assume was easier than Johnny Hallyday reaching American rock audiences. Also the instrumentation of jazz is a good deal more varied and interesting than all but maybe some progressive rock. I mean Yusef Lateef did flute, saxophone, oboe, even a kind of Chinese ocarina. Rock has a tendency to be just “drums and guitars” with some notable examples of piano. Yeah you’ll get some who have horn sections or entire orchestras, but it’s not like with jazz IMO.

    Still I think rock is at times meaningful and good to dance too. And some of the Boomerish rockers did respect music people of the past. Janis Joplin did Summer Time and Lynyrd Skynyrd did “T for Texas.” T for Texas is country, but Jimmie Rogers had some blues influences I think. (I also agree with those who say free jazz kind of ruined jazz even if that makes me square)

  27. Jim Gala reveals his own–and the jazz dancer he quoted at the beginning of this article’s–bias and extreme ignorance regarding Mao Zedong, the Red Guard and the Cultural Revolution in China. More China bashing, anyone? Yes of course: communism is evil and incapable of anything good blah blah blah. Typical American, brainwashed about the evils of socialism since the turn of the last century. Quite to the contrary of the author and his jazz dancing friend, Mao Zedong saved China from ending up another puppet state being raped by Western imperialism. He was a great human being because he saved the 99% of Chinese peasants from a miserable life of pauperism and misery: in the 1930s his land reform forcibly took land from corrupt greedy landlords (such as America’s favorite Chinese mafia puppet Chiang Kai-Sheck) and gave parcels to families so they could feed themselves. The reason China is so successful and prosperous today is directly attributable to Mao Zedong’s communist cultural revolution, this is an indisputable fact. I get so sick of American knee-jerk China bashing like this author does here. If you want to really understand China I’d highly recommend James Bradley’s ‘China Mirage’, a most welcome, informed antidote to the current anti-China McCarthyite hysteria that is rife in mainstream –and even so-called ‘alternative’ media articles like this one.

  28. “That movement led to a mass purge of intellectuals, artists, musicians and university professors. Millions suffered public humiliation, imprisonment, torture and even execution. Part of Mao’s dogma was that no one could prove that revered works of art, literature and music were superior to what China’s youth could create themselves.” This is pure American propaganda, not unlike the CIA fabricated Xinjiang internment camp lie, and the Wuhan Lab leak lie. To the contrary Zedong was very supportive of Chinese history and culture, be it Lao Tzu, Confucious, Hsun-tzu, Chen Yi and many others. Jim Gala is riding the China bashing bandwagon of MSM/alternative media lies and misinformation here. Disgraceful.

  29. Author: I should mention that the video of my Ecuadorian music students and me playing “You Don’t Know What Love Is” at the end of the article was taken by an audience member on his cell phone.

    1. There’s a lot here that I agree with. Especially as a Gen X cusp Baby Boomer person. I grew up in Baby Boomer culture. There’s no shortage of criticism for the mainstream corporate consumerism culture many of them participated in creating.

      I also have plenty of criticisms of rock, metal, rap and pop but critiques or war, fascism, racism, ecological destruction, mainstream corporate culture can be found in almost every genre of music. Just a few examples off the top of my head: RATM, Pink Floyd, RUSH, Black Sabbath, Metallica.

      I’ll admit, I listen to far more Jazz than Metal. When I’m listening to music that’s pleasing to my ears, I’m a lot more open to receiving the messages being offered. However, let’s not confuse the medium with the message.

      I offer this Ted Talk about Heavy Metal music and social consciousness.

      “Heavy metal musicians aren’t just harbingers of doom. They are also voices of social consciousness. In this talk, Peter Buckland provides over 40 years of songs on the threats from nuclear war, globalization, the invasion of Iraq, demagogue politicians, and human-caused climate change.”

  30. I am a huge jazz fan and when Coltrane, Miles, Monk, Horace Silver and the like came into town, I’d be at the Jazz Workshop 6 times a week [they were closed on Monday], but there is no need to denigrate pop to make a point, let alone the Beatles, who as geniuses and musicians surpassed anything any of the jazz greats did. In my opinion, John Coltrane is the greatest jazz musician ever, but the Beatles surpassed him. Why? Because their musical palatte was far more complex than Contrane’s sax, piano, bass and drums and they created vastly more complex music. Popularity doesn’t diminish that. Of course, the 60’s and 70’s pop culture created a lot of garbage, too.

  31. It’s not dead, it’s hibernating. These things go in cycles, Indians say it’s a 70-75 year cycle, give or take a generation, that’s about right.
    You get a time period where a group of individuals start a strong groove and it feeds itself. New ground is dug up, seeds are planted and life is strong. Then you get hit with a drought and you move on.

    The time period you’re talking about has a soul and it’s eternal. Monk isn’t dead, he’s in a machine on my desk. Kenny Dorham isn’t dead either, he’s hanging out in my car.

    The important thing is to keep your groove going and moving forward, everything else is just talk.

  32. We do protest, but it’s hard to find a milder critical description of the fabled boomerista herd trampling & peeing our way thru those verdant fields of cultural clover.

  33. Jazz won’t die officially until Wayne Shorter does.

    Till then, I’m still holding out for hope & change.

    U know, that Obama slogan.

  34. My Favorite Jazz Memory: I knew Brooks Kerr. I often went to hear him
    at Gregory’s and the West End Cafe. Now and then, one of his friends
    would show up. That’s how I met Sonny Greer.

    It was a pleasure to listen to his stories about being on the road with the
    band. But, he also spoke about the dangers black musicians faced in
    certain parts of the country – one false move and you’re dead. Don’t
    let your eyes stray. Don’t get comfortable. Watch what you say.

    As a cosseted, sheltered white boy who knew little about the real world
    (still don’t) this was an important thing to know.

    The world Sonny described to me is getting reconstituted at this
    moment, right before our eyes. People get ready.

  35. We’re done, boomers, in our dying days that can’t come too soon, for the sake of the world. The lack of appreciation and support of jazz and all the arts is a lesser sign of our intellectual and moral decay. So many reasons -shifting education to serving the labor market, rather than true education, tv and other media misinforming, anesthetizing and manipulating us, deifying of the $$ and greed, etc. So much of beauty and peace in this world has been thrown away. We have only ourselves to blame.
    So the author spits into the raging wind. Give him his sorry, grief, rage and mourning. If it hurts you, perhaps it’s because deep inside you see the coming shadow too. Let us stand up in the hell we have made and have the decency and fortitude to try and make it better! Check out your local jazz and blues club, support these musicians (and other types of musicians too, and other arts). Consider what else you can do to bring more love, peace and joy into life. Chances are it won’t involve chasing those $$…

  36. This is a discouraging article. Ironically, there is more amazing twenty first century jazz out there right now than ever! We have WWOZ and WTUL in New Orleans, playing a lot of good current ( and earlier) jazz. The tradition is ongoing. There are so many great players now! Oh yeah, I was born inn1947…

  37. Live jazz of the late 40s, the fifties, and early 60s was not accessible to a large audience. A handfull of small clubs in New York City would cater to maybe 100 people a night. That is just not enough exposure for all the Bay Boomers to get hip. It’s not their fault.

  38. I too mourn jazz’s ‘passing’, but many boomers’ rejection of it was part of the more generalised rebellion against the older generation, with the rise of the ‘New Left’, and all the alternative lifestyle movements. And it wasn’t so much rejection of Miles, ‘trane, Nina, Charles, Rahsaan, Eric, Max, Thelonious, Cecil or all the other jazz greats who were musically and politically edgy, but overwhelmingly it was against a mainstream jazz that came to be seen as symbolising the status quo and not really questioning the oppression, discrimination and exploitation that was all round for everyone to see — like ‘trad jazz’, white jazz or ‘acceptable’ black jazz like Duke Ellington (who came to be seen by many as Uncle Toms), as bulwarks of the older generation who ruled. This mainstream jazz was the ‘pop music’ of the older generation and was seen to symbolise their complacent lifestyle.

    So we saw the rise of rock and roll, which wasn’t so politically rebellious but was more culturally so, expressing the needs of boomers who so desperately wanted to break free of uptight, stultifying Cold War cultural and morality codes that not only were being undermined by the contraceptive pill but were drafting many young people into the US’s dirty losing war in Vietnam, and murdering any black who failed to act as a slave.

    For a time rock music did subvert the ruling class’s cultural environment, attacked their sexual mores, and gave young people anthems to protest with. And those anthems had their roots in folk, blues, and jazz. We had The Grateful Dead, The Mamas and the Papas, The Doors, but also Dylan, who captured the zeitgeist, along with John Lennon, one of the few politically explicit pop/rock artists (whom Nixon despised). And we had the cynics and satirists (eg, Frank Zappa), but also bands that did at least draw a rough working class line, like Creedence Clearwater Revival.

    But we shouldn’t forget either the service that pop/rock music performed in reviving and spreading the blues in the US beyond the ghettos and bayous, when white bands like the Rolling Stones, Eric Burdon and the Animals, the Beatles too, came to the US with ‘race music’. To me, the Rolling Stones’ most perfect album was Beggars Banquet, which captured so well the blues and was probably also their most ‘left’ wing album. And it’s been argued their infamous Altamont concert signaled the end of the 60s.

    But because rock music was never overwhelmingly explicitly political, and it was relatively easy to co-opt. But rock didn’t kill jazz. In fact, both were at their artistic pinnacle in the 1960s. This might seem a rather odd and loud claim, but how so? Perhaps it can be seen if one asks a simple question: how many memorable pop melodies came from the 60s compared to the 70s and beyond (Abba perhaps being an exception that proves the rule for the 70s) — many of which were from one-hit wonders?

    And in jazz, to this day who has surpassed artistically and for sheer creativity Monk, Dolphy, Mingus, Miles and ‘trane and all the others who made 60s jazz as powerful and vibrant as it was? Jazz today has been stultified also by lack of ability to create memorable melodies, instead relying and improvising on riffs. And, parenthetically, why must so many of today’s jazz groups have drummers who feel they must be Elvin Jones on every piece, and belong more in a weightlifting gym than than a musical combo?

    For this long time, following the 60s, pop music increasingly became over-produced, tuneless dreck, a product of lowest-common-denominator corporate profit maximisation. But with independent music production and streaming now growing in dominance, there appears to be a shift toward a more creative, even political, period and hopefully it will reflect and inspire these dire but also hopeful times, as did the pop music of the 60s. Maybe even some memorable melodies might emerge from some one-hit online wonders. Hopefully also, the same is happening with contemporary jazz, but I’m not informed enough to really make any judgements on that score, still mostly stuck in the ‘avant-garde’ jazz of the 60s, with some infusions from the early 70s.

    So it’s hard to argue that pop-rock music ‘killed’ jazz. Its murderer was a much more widespread, if imperfect, ‘anti-establishment’ uprising that ‘killed’ jazz. Pop music was merely one of a number of daggers being sunk into the ‘pop’ music and other cultural icons of the older generation holding power.

  39. Pretty pretentious twaddle. All music (art) genre’s have their masters, movements, usurpers, monitizers, people who love it and hate it. Music/art is not created in a vacuum, but influenced by the era and the surrounding cultures. Think 1920 labor protest songs, 1970’s reggae, or 80’s hip-hop. Jazz is just one such form, but it’s the only one about which I been told by aficionados that “people who don’t like Jazz just don’t get it”. Now, like everything else, I do not define a community by it’s most distasteful elements. Still, in my youth working in dance, theatre, performance and with bands of several genres, I found a lot of jazz to be exhibition music. Virtuosos, exhibiting their skill, and/or essentially playing for themselves with the audience as voyeurs.

    Then again, Just wow! Rick Beato on Oscar Peterson.

  40. This is news!? I’ve been saying this for 40 years.Historian Eric Hobsbawm has something to say about this as well — about the effect of 76 million baby boomers reaching adolescence with money in their pockets. It’s wealthy baby boomers as they reached adolescence, 13-15 year olds with their parents’ money, underdeveloped sensibilities, and limited education who, without any specific ill will, pulled the market towards milking them for their easily spent money.

    The trouble with looking at things this way is that one can be fooled into thinking that the unusually rich period of high level popular art that preceded the late 60s was normal. It wasn’t. It was the culmination of a most unusual period in popular art that began sometime in the late 19th Century. What we are living in today, unfortunately, is historically far more normal. At least as important, and far more mysterious, is to try to figure out what combination of influences produced the enriched period that preceded the late 60s. I have no answer to that question.

  41. Jazz isn’t dead. Here in Miami we have WDNA 88.9 FM Serious Jazz and Tracy Fields on WLRN 91.3 FM. Plus there’s Spotify, YouTube, MP3, FLAC, etc. Radio might be dead, I don’t listen to the radio much anymore. Republicans, Democrats and Clear Channel killed radio. They consolidated and automated the radio stations to death. They attempted to kill genres like jazz, metal, reggae, rock, blues, classical, folk, etc. but people who love music will still find a way. IMHO they also tried to destroy the USA and planet Earth with right-wing hate radio (Rush Limbaugh on every other radio station). But, paraphrasing Gloria Gaynor, we will survive because we love good music. I’m a boomer who loves going to concerts but I won’t do it in this climate of division, confusion, disease and destruction. I was a member of Columbia House and have Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Billie Holiday, etc. in my collection along with Chuck Berry, Elvis, Beatles, Kinks, The Who, Black Sabbath, Chicago (with Terry Kath), Megadeth, Donna Summer, Kraftwerk, Jimmy Cliff, Santana, Johnny Cash, Robert Cray, Anthrax, Clash, Madness, Gato Barbieri, etc. etc. etc.

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