December 2001 By Christopher Porter
Jazz was once sexy music. It was born in the bars and brothels, was the music of choice for dancing and courtship, represented a bohemian underworld of art and drugs and freedom.
More recently jazz has done a Pretty Woman-like move to the penthouse. In advertising it represents affluence; on PBS it’s austerely presented as America’s classical music; at Lincoln Center it has become as institutionalized as Beethoven.
Despite the continued move uptown, jazz is still downtown music at its best. A prostitute is still a prostitute. Or in the case of Lavay Smith, the singer is metaphorically both pimp and prostitute.
Smith leads our coverage in this month’s investigation into the role of sex and relationships in jazz because she is an independent woman in control of her career, her music and her image—and you should see some of the racy images she controls. One cover shot for this issue that we rejected would not have been out of place on Playboy. Smith selected the revealing image herself, which was taken by her sister, Kathrin.
Ultimately we decided to go with a photo of four feet under covers because it represents better what this issue is about. It’s not just sex we’re selling; it’s all the things that go along with it.
If you have sex you might have a baby. Bill Milkowski surveys seven married couples that are raising families in which one or both parents are full-time jazz musicians—neither the most lucrative nor most stable profession in the world.
If you have sex with persons of the same gender you are gay. James Gavin talks to some of today’s most prominent jazz musicians who are gay and asks them what it means to be a homosexual in the music world. Their answers aren’t pretty.
If you sell sex on album sleeves, is it merely a marketing device, or the continuing objectification of women? Lara Pellegrinelli traces the history of women used as LP decorations—that may have seemed innocent in the ’50s, but that has continued right into our seemingly more-enlightened modern times.
And finally, if you sell your own sexuality, as Lavay Smith does, are you the pimp or the prostitute? Are you getting over under the guise of feminism, or are you merely feeding into the thinking of women as sex objects to make a buck or two? Sean Daly trips the light fantastic with Smith and finds out it’s a little of both.
Is JazzTimes pimping, prostituting or policing this month? Yes.
Originally published in December 2001