What is the current state of jazz, you ask? You might ask genre-bending musician/producer/rapper Stephen Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, who also happens to be the nephew of John and Alice Coltrane. In a recent interview, Ellison lamented “it’s all gone quite stale over the past 20 years” and imagined that if Miles Davis “came back to Earth and heard a lot of these jazz cats, he’d be mad. He’d literally be mad, and he’d just go back to where he was dead at.” Given Miles’ infamous temper and disdain for the conventional, this isn’t hard to imagine at all. But whether you could call today’s jazz “elevator music” is a point I leave to others to debate.
Ah, but what is the state of digital jazz preservation? Now, that is a question I can answer, at least in some small part, by pointing you toward Jazz on the Tube. This online resource bills itself as three wonderful things in one: “a searchable database of thousands of carefully hand picked and annotated jazz videos”; “free Video-of-the-Day service”; and “up-to-date directory of jazz clubs, jazz festivals, and jazz organizations world-wide.” You’ll also find there podcasts and worldwide listings of jazz radio stations. But as its title implies, its most fulsome service offers a list of 2,000 videos from an A-Z of several hundred artists---Abbey Lincoln to Zoot Sims.
Fancy some of that never-complacent Miles Davis magic? Check him out at the top doing “Sanctuary/Spanish Key” in 1970 at the Fillmore (opening for Santana—he also opened for Neil Young and the Grateful Dead that year). Dig some classic hard bop? Check out the Thelonious Monk Quartet in Poland, 1966. Like that N’Orleans’ sound? Do not miss Bunk Johnson below.
Whether it’s the avant-funk jazz stylings of contemporary trio Medeski, Martin & Wood or the trad big band swing of Cab Calloway you seek, at Jazz on the Tube, you will most surely find them. The breadth of artists, styles, and periods represented demonstrates the incredible range and adaptability of jazz. If it’s truly gone stale these days, I think we may anticipate that jazz will eventually find new forms its worthy ancestors approve of.
Perhaps you will fall in love with Jazz on the Tube. Perhaps you may find that it’s exactly what you need. If so, you should know that they also need you. Although their impressive archive of content is “all free to you,” it is not free for them to produce and maintain. They are currently asking help in the form of monthly memberships or one-time donations. Given the amount of curatorial work they’ve put into this digital jazz database, and how much enjoyment it's likely to bring you, it seems only fair to give back to what they proudly describe as a “labor of love.”