Astonishing Talent, Astonishing Anonymity

At the annual International Association of Jazz Educators conference, held this past weekend in New York City, one could wander through acres of hotel ballrooms filled with musicians of all ages, colors, and nationalities. And no matter what room one entered, even those chosen randomly or by mistake, one was confronted with so much talent, so much irrepressible talent. 

The place was lousy with virtuosity. And knowledge. And skill. And wisdom. And that ineffable thing we call artistry.

How inspiring — and how pleasing to the soul — to be confronted with creators and visionaries! But how depressing, too, on the crass level of commerce, to realize that all but a handful of these artistic giants operate in a state of intractable anonymity. Their peers know them. Aficionados know them. They are known to people with what jazz musicians call “ears” — not just those fleshy appendages connected to the side of our head, but “ears” in the sense of a finely developed capacity for listening to the truth as expressed in rhythm and harmony. So much brilliance, so much transcendence, and so little recognition from the culture at-large, which has neither the time nor the interest in what Rhiannon or Kenny Werner have to say, a culture that is not amused by James Moody or moved by Jimmy Scott. Alas and alack, and all that. But let us not forget that without the thousands of souls involved in the making, distributing, and archiving of jazz music, our lives would be a poorer place.

Let us honor, if only in silent prayer, the men and women of IAJE. And let us be grateful that no matter how debased the entertainment marketplace becomes, we still have ridiculously talented artists reaching for the ephemeral heights.

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