Celebrities Don’t Dig Jazz

Tuesday afternoon I had a meeting at the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship at the Harvard’s Beth Israel complex and I spent that night at a hotel nearby.  Fenway Park was three blocks away.  The Tampa Bay Rays are my team because their AAA club is the Durham Bulls, who might be better than some bottom feeding MLB teams.  The Red Sox are a big spending rival of the Rays.  But if I’m three blocks from a game in Fenway I will find a way into that stadium most of the time.

After my meeting it was pouring rain and the Red Sox-Mariners game was postponed until Wednesday when I had to be on a plane to Chicago for a JLP event.  Disappointed, I retreated to my hotel room and decided to go through every Celebrity Playlist on iTunes and count the number of jazz tunes among the recommended tracks.  It was the second time I’ve done this, the first being several years ago.   Maybe it’s the kind of dreary thing you do when your baseball game is rained out.

There were 87 Celebrity Playlists on iTunes this week.  Among the roughly 800 tracks recommended by the celebrities, I counted just 27 jazz tunes.  17 of those 27 selections were accounted for by Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, and William Shatner.  It figures.  Nothing against those three guys, but this is not an encouraging picture for jazz.

The rest of the celebrities were the kinds of names you’d find in any current airport Hudson News magazine stand:  LeBron James, Judd Apatow, Gucci Mane, the casts for TV shows True Blood, Breaking Bad, and Greek. Also, Zach Galifianakis, Demetri Martin, Holly Hunter, Chris Rock, Kate Hudson, Jack Black, and Garrison Keilor.

There were even some serious music names like Johnny Marr, Thom Yorke, Elvis Costello, Dave Mustaine, Rob Halford, Sarah McLachlan, Alicia Keys, and Rufus Wainwright.

From all this comes almost no jazz.  Of the 27 jazz tracks, the only one that was recorded after 1960 was a Michael Brecker tune picked by actor Kevin Kline.  There wasn’t a living jazz musician represented.

This information seems almost worse to me than the jazz sales figures.  But maybe not.  Maybe it was always this way.  There wasn’t any classical music on the list, either, except a few tracks picked by film composer Hans Zimmer (whose recent work on Inception probably motivated the iTunes staff to include him now).

But it bothers me that jazz is relegated to moth balls (even though I happen to like moth balls a pretty good bit).  Can it be made hip again?  What if Marcus Strickland and John Ellis played opposite each other at the Jazz Standard and they staged a brawl in the green room in between sets?  The brawl spills into the audience where a patron has his head smashed by one of those break-away chairs they use in pro wrestling.  A gun goes off somewhere.  Police evacuate and rope off the scene.  Residue of white powder is found in several locations in the Standard.  Ray Lewis and Jeremy Shockey are reported seen at the bar with posses and scantily clad women.  The man whose head was smashed turns out to be Harvey Weinstein and he files a lawsuit that drags on and on.  In the court proceedings it is revealed that A-Rod and Anne Hathaway were sitting together at Weinsten’s table.

A Hollywood publicist could make this work.  Strickland and Ellis would sell more records than they ever have, make a few iTunes playlists.

Ultimately, though, this discussion is sort of like the one I had with the medical experts at Harvard earlier on Tuesday:  The problem of primary care in America was decades in the making.  So it won’t be fixed overnight.  Maybe it’s unfixable.  Surely jazz has more hope than health care.

- Sam Stephenson


  1. Michael Steinman Said,

    August 27, 2010 @ 1:10 pm

    Oh, woe — but not surprising. My response is perilously old-fogey, I am sure, but just because no one is reading Byron on the subway doesn’t mean that Byron is outmoded, obsolete, irrelevant. Jack Teagarden and Grant Stewart and Jon-Erik Kellso and Frank Hewitt and Neal Miner will still be alive in the cosmos, musically, long after the names of these “celebrities” have been forgotten. “Celebrity” of this sort, celebrated by iTunes, is in itself ephemeral. So take heart, Sam. Look in places that make your optimism full-hearted, not on iTunes. An aging opinion, of course.

  2. JazzMan Said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

    Some celebrities dig jazz and some don’t. Hollywood is about the popular culture. We can still keep jazz alive though and we are doing it.