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The Oxford Companion to Jazz by Bill Kirchner

One reason for the general public’s hostility or confusion regarding avant-garde art is that it receives so little attention in schools and in the media. There’s a time gap during which the public has to catch up with the innovations of great avant-garde artists, many of whom go underappreciated through most or all of their lives. Postbop music from the ’50s is only now being appreciated outside the hardcore jazz community, accounting for the success of the young lions who play it. Often educators, editors and scholars have no interest in experimental art, especially if produced by those younger than they are. I have friends 10 years younger than me, in their early 50s, who were into Coltrane and Miles Davis during the 1960s and today still can’t get into anything more modern. Some are musicians.

Ken Burns’ nearly 20-hour jazz documentary was criticized for months prior to its release for devoting only two hours to the last 40 years-or 40%, of jazz history-and some of that time wasn’t devoted to innovative music. The Columbia/Verve five-CD set, a companion to Burns’ series, has some good, if obvious, selections on it, but the chronologically last CD contains cuts by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Dexter Gordon, all of whom made their major impacts before 1960, by the reactionary Marsalis and his retro Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and by the commercial Grover Washington Jr. The primary reason to study history is for the light it sheds on current events. Cut off from the present, it loses much of its value, which is a major cause of Burns’ documentary falling short.

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