Jazz, Straight Ahead

If NBC Entertainment President Warren Littlefield did indeed say to Branford Marsalis that "the world is the way it is, and the world does not like jazz," he betrays an astonishing amount of both ignorance and arrogance ("Call It a Commercial Break," by Don Heckman, May 22).

Arrogance because America is not the world. The rest of the world has cherished jazz since the 1920s, when this emerging art form became one of our country's most popular and enduring exports. In other countries, American jazz artists are treated like royalty. Statues are erected to them, streets are named after them, radio and television networks dedicate programs to them and commission music from them.

In America, of course, it's a different story--one of the main reasons being that the mainstream media, such as NBC and the other networks, most radio stations, newspapers and record companies, give jazz very little exposure. Naturally, the less exposure it receives, the less of an audience it has. Could this be because jazz was developed by and continues to be created primarily by African American artists? Just asking.

It's interesting to note that when Bill Cosby ruled the roost at NBC, one of the characters on his show was a retired jazz musician, and Cosby regularly brought on honest-to-goodness, jazz artists for guest appearances. Sure hurt his ratings, didn't it?

In our quixotic battle to see that jazz retains its rightful place in the cultural life of the country that gave it birth, our organization will focus much of its efforts on school-age children, who aren't quite as close-minded yet but enjoy whatever they truly enjoy and communicate that enjoyment to others.


Managing Director, JazzAmerica

Los Angeles

I am writing to protest the quote from Warren Littlefield that "the world does not like jazz." This is a myth that has been perpetuated by the music industry for some time, and I, for one, am disgusted by it.

From my 30 years of experience at being a jazz musician, I can testify to the fact that people do like jazz. All kinds of people: rock fans, country fans, you name it.

Every place that my group has played has had to turn away people as soon as they found out they could hear the music that nobody is supposed to like being played there.

The problem is that people do not have the opportunity to hear jazz. In every public place and in every workplace, formula junk is relentlessly shoved down our throats. "The Tonight Show" evidently wants to join the pack.

Nobody ever mentions the fact that the music business in this country was built on jazz: Woody Herman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong. Instead, the business has effectively killed jazz--you never see a jazz artist on the Grammy show, and I guess now you won't be seeing many on "The Tonight Show" either.



Anybody who thinks Eddie Vedder is a crybaby hasn't met Branford Marsalis. The elitist arrogance and apologetic whining that he demonstrates in his interview are exactly the kind of attitudes that keep jazz and jazz musicians in the cellar. Insulting fellow musicians and the public is not the way to win friends.

This guy sold out, and now he's crying the blues because things aren't going so great. His plan to "educate" America has flopped. The public doesn't appreciate him, his fans think he's a traitor, and the network would like him to play music people want to hear .

If people don't dig this stuff they just don't get it. We're too stooopid. Hey, guy, a lot of people who like jazz don't understand it. And a lot of people understand it and are bored by most of it. Accept it. Just because you play jazz doesn't make you the smartest person on the planet. Or the coolest.

Marsalis can insult the other talk-show bands all he wants. I've been in David Letterman's audience a number of times. When the band plays through a commercial break, the audience doesn't watch the commercials--it listens to the band.

If Marsalis is too good for the show, he should get off it and quit suffering. No one will notice.


Sherman Oaks

I was one of the people who actually used to watch "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" to hear Branford Marsalis and his band. Heckman's article just confirmed my suspicions about the diminution of jazz on the show.

It is quite clear that "The Tonight Show" now considers even lesser-known country and rock performers better guests than the greatest of jazz musicians. NBC's position is that it doesn't want to scare away its audience by playing snippets of what it considers to be inaccessible music. Yet I think the audience might surprise them.

Instead, and I don't blame Leno or Marsalis, one of America's true art forms is once again slighted.


Canoga Park

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