The Sad Relegation of Jazz to the Shopping Mall

I was walking through one of Warsaw’s giant shopping malls the other day in search of some pants that would fit a non-European-proportioned man when a familiar guitar voice came through the mall’s speakers – George Benson. I love this man. He took bebop, infused it with funk and came up with a guitar sound totally his own and totally awesome. (Of course then he started singing, he does have a superb voice, and adding all kinds of orchestral accompaniment and his sound became decidedly mall-suitable.) But I am not afraid to admit that I love George Benson, even when he’s coming through the far-away-sounding speakers of the apotheosis of postmodern inadequacy, the shopping mall. And this isn’t the first time I can recall hearing Benson in a mall. A few years ago I heard him in an outdoor strip-mall somewhere in northern Holland. It is a very good thing that his sound – unlike the sound of someone like Joe Pass (also amazing) – is able to reach so many ears. The bummer is that no one really hears anything in shopping malls. Like many artists in contemporary jazz, Benson possesses extreme chops; but the problem is no one listens to jazz, so no one buys jazz records, so jazz artists make no money, so they are forced to pop-up their inner bebop to get access to hotel lounges, elevator vents, porn scores and shopping malls. And sadly these are the kinds of places where the point of music is not really to be heard.

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