“They Just Don’t Make Music Like That Anymore”

Music has recently taken a back seat on longitudes.  Most know that my first love is rock music (the good stuff, anyway).  For this post, I’m profiling a jazz radio station I just discovered.

First, some quick history:

I’m a baby boomer, so I often struggle with the lightning-speed changes that occur these days, especially technological.  In the 1960s, I was a stripling when “Top-40” pop music dominated the AM-radio airwaves.  I reached puberty in the 1970s, when FM-radio “free-form” programming gave preference to album cuts over singles.

By 1976, record executives had sunk their largest claws into the music.  I watched with dismay as stadium-rock acts like Boston, Foreigner, Journey, Styx, and Pat Benatar assaulted the airwaves, along with my ear canals.  Concurrently, promoters were charging ever-higher concert ticket prices, and rock albums became alternately generic-sounding or pretentious.  (Like it or not, that’s when Punk Rock sprang into action, which gave way to New Wave and Alternative Rock and beyond.)

Plastic, plastic, take the modern way…

Convenience, everything is clean and easy

—Gentle Giant, “Convenience”

The technology left me equally dizzy.  First it was 45 rpm singles, which had replaced 78 rpm records.  Then 33 1/3 albums.  (We didn’t need the distinction “vinyl” back then.)  Then we were conned into buying clunky 8-track tapes for our cars.  Cassettes replaced 8-tracks and were a distinct improvement, especially if you collected bootleg Grateful Dead.  Then the revolution of compact disks, which claimed to have better sound, convenience, and indestructability.  Then MP3s…the format was now invisible!

I think I still owe them money.

Now?  Invisibility through Bluetooth, I guess, accessible anytime and anywhere you want.  But in the whirlwind of convenience and digital blips, something intangible disappeared.  That almost personal relationship with the artist and their music became lost.  Which, I guess, is why we’re now returning to vinyl.

Anyway, to get to the point: despite the return of vinyl, it’s an incontrovertible fact that most of today’s rock music sucks (“today” for me being anything after the early 1980s). My Toyota Prius agrees with me, since it came equipped with neither a cassette deck nor CD player (despite my dashboard resembling an airplane cockpit).  Basically, if I want music while driving, it’s either neatly packaged crap delivered by robots—the occasional public radio station notwithstanding—or the extremely limited options now available on SiriusXM Satellite Radio.   

Thankfully, and without having to cross paths with Howard Stern, I discovered a good Sirius station: Real Jazz

What is “real” jazz, you ask?  Who the fuck knows.  But I think this label is used to distinguish the music from “Smooth Jazz,” which is more lightweight and poppy and closer to Easy Listening than jazz, and aimed at less-discerning listeners.  Smooth Jazz became popular in the 1970s with songs like George Benson’s “Breezin’” and artists like Chuck Mangione.  Suddenly, jazz began sounding like TV show theme music.  This trend peaked (or bottomed out) in the early 1990s with much-maligned saxophonist Kenny G.

“Real” jazz dates back to the early 1900s.  It encompasses Dixieland, Big Band, Swing, Bebop, Hard Bop, Cool Jazz, Modal Jazz, Latin Jazz (including Bossa Nova), Jazz-Funk, Free Jazz, and Jazz Fusion.  It’s the kind of music my dad loved (Big Band, Swing, and Bossa Nova) and which I discovered in college, deejay’ed in the ’80s, and still enjoy (Bebop, Hard Bop, Cool, and Modal).  All these styles are on Sirius XM, depending on the show, which depends on the day and time.

SiriusXM jazz deejay Nicole Sweeney

I’ve been listening to Real Jazz regularly for several weeks now, and unlike rock or Smooth Jazz, I’ve yet to hear the same song twice.  Part of this might have to do with the fact that good jazz is improvisational in nature.  There are established charts and written arrangements, but these are just blueprints that allow the musicians to “blow,” or exercise their individual creativity.

Rock/pop, on the other hand, discourages studio creativity.  Rock has a fan base exponentially larger than jazz, therefore there are more cooks in the kitchen—agents, managers, producers, record execs, broadcast affiliates, lucrative contracts waving in the air—to make sure artists toe the line and keep things musically dumb…and to maximize profits and feed the beast.

There are always exceptions.  But you won’t hear them on the radio, unless you occasionally strike gold at the left end of the dial. 

Most of the Real Jazz I listen to is on weekdays while tooling around between grocery store, library, and soccer games.  I’ve established close personal relationships with hosts Nicole Sweeney and Andromeda Turre (love that name). 

Yesterday, while visiting the music store and library with my granddaughter, Rory, I was treated to Bill Evans’s classic “Peace Piece.”  If you haven’t heard this understated but lovely solo piano piece, click the digital blip below.  Be prepared to wipe a tear. 

It’s been said many times, but I’ll say it again: They just don’t make music like this anymore.


14 thoughts on ““They Just Don’t Make Music Like That Anymore”

    • Thanks, I’ll check them out. I dabble in “Americana” (folk-rock, Newgrass, outlaw country), but pure jazz never seems to disappoint…highly unusual for a born critic like me.

  1. I really miss the album covers. With the great graphics and lyrics. It was a special treat when it came with some sort of booklet inside the sleeve. The CD covers were too small and the printing inside was tiny! I am not a fan of “jazz” (elephants in garbage cans all listening to a different backing track if you ask me!) but if this peace piece is jazz it’s nice!

    • Ha! I love your elephants analogy, even though I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it. Jazz is an acquired taste these days. Sounds like you feel about jazz what I feel about classical.

      But we’re in total agreement about album sleeves. I have a “music room” upstairs with 4 or 5 gatefold sleeves displayed. And in university I gave a speech in speech class on LP cover artwork. Got an A!

    • Pure jazz is an acquired taste in a world of rock and pop. Takes some effort, but in my view it’s a fun journey. Fusion (Return to Forever, Jeff Beck, Weather Report) was a good stepping stone for me. Regarding smooth jazz, I do find it relaxing as background sound, like while in the dentist’s chair.

  2. I, like you, keep forms of Jazz in my personal musical rotation.

    Well, Bill Evans, is/was Bill Evans, but “like that” is still around. Vijay Iyer, Ethan Iverson,* Brad Mehldau, Craig Taborn, and Jason Moran come to mind. None aim to be exactly Bill Evans, and like Evans the levels of abstraction in their playing can vary. But there’s lots of solo and small group jazz tradition pianists out there. Now of course radio play is another thing, as is radio (take it from one who used to work in the back end of a radio network).

    My old car still has a CD-player to supplement radio. I think the modern assumption is that most newer car owners have a cell phone and that’s the way they carry & listen to music.

    *If you want a deep, I mean really deep, dive into music theory and artists, Iverson’s blog is incredibly rich in material. It’s over a million words, and if one was to read, and deeply absorb it you’d have the equivalent of a high-end music education. I take it in micro-doses whenI have time and energy to spare. https://ethaniverson.com/

    May music find a way!

    • Thanks, Frank. I read part of the Wynton Marsalis essay at the Iverson site. I love the guy – where would jazz be today without him – but don’t agree that jazz must swing or have blues to be considered jazz. Evans is a case in point. Guess this goes back to “What is real jazz”?

      I too worked at a (jazz) radio station. The program director color-coded the albums, and jocks eventually had to play a certain quota of albums (the largest quota) that were coded for pop-jazz and very bad fusion. One of the reasons I quit, though I’m glad I had the experience.

  3. Back off the trail to listen to some cool music huh?. I’m with ya. It’s the genre I listen to the most. Sounds like you found a good place to tune in. I get locked into all the different styles of this music they call jazz. Speaking of your buddy Bill, I have a neighbor who recently dropped off Bill’s ‘Complete Riverside Recordings’ (along with Ellington’s ‘Blanton/Webster Recordings’ (must be living right. Im really not that nice of a guy).
    PBS is having a Ron Carter doc on this week. I wont miss that one. One cool, nice man who is a connection to a lot of this music we love. Bill and Ron played together, probably more than once. Later fella.

    • Great to hear from you, Baby. Seems like Ron Carter played with everyone. Fantastic bass player. Have you heard Evans’s Village Vanguard Sessions, with bassist Scott LaFaro? After Kind of Blue, that’s the one that clicked for me.

      Anyway, it’s so nice to be hearing good music again, after struggling to find it on the radio for years, and since giving up on NPR news during the 2016 election run-up. It’s honest and soulful…qualities this world sorely lacks.

      Take care, bud!

      • The “Vanguard” stuff is top shelf like most of his music.
        I havent listened to radio for years I have enough sources that I miss all the bs and chatter that just distracts me from enjoying the music. Like Townese’s mom said “Just play Townes dont talk” something like that.
        You take care also fella.

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