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Do Ya Think I’m Savvy? Rockers, Crooners and the Hijacking of the Great American Songbook

Rod Stewart (photo: Andrew McPherson)
Rod Stewart (photo: Andrew McPherson)

One sultry evening this June, Wynonna Judd took the stage at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, clad in DeBeers diamonds and a black evening gown. “I’m not country and western tonight,” she firmly announced, “I am jazz.” Then she flashed a smile at her backing band-one Wynton Marsalis Septet-and ventured a well-intentioned crack at “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).”

The occasion was Jazz at Lincoln Center’s spring gala, and Ms. Judd was one of numerous artists graciously lending star power and support. The evening, which raised more than a million dollars for JALC, hinted at the cultural capital that jazz has now amassed. But to take a more cynical view, it also confirmed a lingering impression of the music as status symbol and lifestyle accoutrement; something to slip into, like Wynonna’s gown.

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Originally Published
Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen is the director of editorial content for WBGO and a longtime contributor to JazzTimes, which published 125 installments of his column “The Gig” between 2004 and 2017. For 12 years, he was a critic for The New York Times; prior to that, he wrote about jazz for the Village Voice, the Philadelphia City Paper, and several other publications. He is the author of Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century (2018) and the co-author of George Wein’s autobiography Myself Among Others: A Life in Music (2003).