Evan Haga Introduces the April 2013 Issue

Jazz’s Gen X and what lies ahead

Chris Potter image 0
Karen Brundage-Johnson, PhD.

Chris Potter

I consider part of my duty as JazzTimes‘ editor to relate secret histories. So many of the jazz books and documentaries we receive for review avoid the contemporary. If you want documentation of the ’20s through the onset of fusion, you’re in luck. As far as the epochs that have passed since the first half of the ’70s-not so much.

This is perfectly understandable. Our cover subject, Christian McBride, is only 40 years old, so it’s a bit premature for memoirs and definitive biographies. It’s never too soon for informed, comprehensive reportage, however, which is why Nate Chinen’s McBride profile is important. In the larger cultural landscape, sociologists and pop critics have written zillions of words on the exploits of post-baby-boomers. But what about the jazz guys?

This month’s main features, on McBride, electric bassist Matthew Garrison and saxophonist Chris Potter, should provide some answers. Gen-X jazzers, like all of their peers, witnessed a flux of digital and online technology that few outside of NASA and IBM could have foreseen. (They also, of course, experienced that technology’s liberating yet devastating effect on their creative industry.)

More specific to jazz musicians born in the ’60s and ’70s was a challenge to reconcile the past and the present, and to find middle ground between apprenticeship and the allure of young stardom. Think about the conflicting value systems facing these three men through the ’80s and ’90s: As the still-thriving jazz record industry rewarded-some would say exploited-fresh-faced neo-conservatism, pop styles and fusion were offering up bold new ways to think about groove. There was a very real temptation to play jazz a certain way or not at all.

McBride, Garrison and Potter made the most of the dichotomy. McBride became an effortlessly commanding acoustic bassist, but sated his appetite for funk and fusion. Garrison, blessed and cursed with the hype of having a jazz icon for a father, mastered the music’s fundamentals but became a quintessentially modern player and a tech-savvy entrepreneur. Potter became the sort of virtuoso equally at ease in a tribute project, leading his Underground band through smart, head-bobbing jazz-rock, or inventing his own empathic shade of modern jazz on his recent album, The Sirens. It’s inspiring-thrilling, even-to think about what lies ahead.