The blues in New York — and black music on No Depression
Earlier today I posted this bit about coverage of Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck at Madison Square Garden, and the near media blackout surrounding the performance one week earlier of B.B. King and Buddy Guy at the United Palace Theater. The New York Times published a three-column photo and concert review and advance feature on the two great British pretenders to the throne of world’s most famous blues guitarist, while completely ignoring the two American blues originals everybody acknowledges are longer-dues paying, closer-to-the-experience, still hot and not exactly unknown. Only London’s Financial Times sent a reporter to account for that show.
This made me wonder (not for the first time) about the treatment of American roots music by mainstream media. Are the sounds at the core of our society throughout the 20th and into the 21st Century more aesthetically palatable and/or commercially viable at one or more steps away from the source? Then I look at No Depression, and seeing the relative dearth of commentary of blues and jazz here, have to ask if there’s no crossover in the audience for alt. rock, traditional country, singer-songwriters and folk with music more directly of African-American heritage? Is blues and jazz too gritty, too urban, too urbane, too modern to appeal to music lovers who read and write here?
Last week I included a link to an article I’d written for City Arts – New York’s Review of Arts and Culture about how the Apple is a blues-challenged city, within a blog post that reviewed the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis reviving the bluesy repertoire of Count Basie’s original territory band. Why does we treat blues as an irrelevant, embarrassing cultural artifact or a museum piece to get all reverent about? It’s always been music for grownups’ dancing, drinking and carryin’ on, expression one’s soulful troubles and transcendence to resolve. Has something emerged that replaces the blues? And nobody told me?
I’m teaching “Arts: The Blues” this semester at New York University’s School of Professional and Continuing Education, and lecturing about “The Blues Today — And Journalism About It” at Baruch College CUNY on Thursday, Feb.25 — 2:30 pm, 24th and Lexington NYC, free to the public, y’all come. I’m trying to figure out what to tell students and anybody else about old blues, new blues, jazzy blues and bluesy jazz, from a current, not a historical perspective. And I would think No Depression stakeholders would have some thoughts on this. Is there interest in/love for the black music that’s influenced every vernacular sub-species of vernacular music in the U.S. since, oh, 1899 (publication of “Maple Leaf Rag”) — Broadway show tunes, movie soundtracks, tv theme songs and ad jingles only arguable excepted? Forgive me for asking, I don’t mean to be rude, I’m new to this forum, I just wanna to know. Your comments are more than welcome . . .