I don’t mean to sound like a complainer, or to rehash the complaints that countless others have already expressed before me, but wasn’t 2021 supposed to be better than 2020? Or was that just a grand delusion under which we all were suffering?
You could argue, justifiably, that the jazz world has seen some major signs of improvement this year. COVID vaccines are here, and they generally work. Clubs are open again. Festivals actually took place this summer and fall. Colleges, universities, and conservatories are back to holding in-person classes, with educators in the same room as their students. This is indeed progress.
And yet, as I compiled this issue’s Farewells page, taking note of the names within it and the number of those names, I have to confess that I felt rather differently about the situation. In 2020, a year that everyone agrees was catastrophic for the music, we lost (and this is a conservative estimate) more than 80 well-known members of the jazz community. So far this year (again erring on the conservative side), we’re at about 60 gone. And it’s only mid-October as I write this.
Very few, if any, of these deaths can be blamed directly on the pandemic. They’re more indicative of the passage of time and the inescapable fact that many of jazz’s greatest living practitioners—the ones whose importance no one can dispute—are senior citizens. But I can’t help thinking that COVID played a role nevertheless. It’s taken a lot out of us all, and it’s going to be a long time before we recover.
With that in mind, as we enter the holidays and reflect on the closing weeks of another long year, I urge you to take some time to treasure this music, and this life. Allow yourself to be grateful for who you are and what you have, even (maybe especially) if neither who you are nor what you have are exactly what you intended.
At its best, jazz teaches us to live in the moment, and to appreciate the moment. Sometimes that moment is joyous, sometimes it’s painful. But the crucial thing is that the moment is there, and that we are in it. Without that, nothing else is possible; with it, everything is. That’s worth remembering as we say goodbye to 2021.