Is Jazz Dead (on Apple Music at Least)?

I like jazz, but I’ve never been someone to really get into the genre, to know all the musicians, to keep up with the new releases. There are a dozen or so artists I like, and now that I use a streaming service – Apple Music – I often check out the new releases to see what’s happening.

I think it’s fair to say that jazz as a genre is fairly stagnant, with little real innovation, and a lot of repetition. Nevertheless, even within the norms of the genre, there is a fair amount of good music released.

I went to Apple Music this morning to find some new jazz to listen to. Previously, the top carrousel of the jazz section was filled with new albums. Today, there’s nothing but playlists. Below the carrousel, more playlists. To find new releases, you need to scroll down, and what is there is quite limited.

Is jazz dead

At just over 1% market share in album consumption, jazz is little more than a footnote in the music industry. But with about the same market share as classical music, it still has its listeners, and lots of performers. I’m sure that in big cities there’s a vibrant club scene for jazz musicians. However, not much in jazz has changed, and for the non-aficionados it can seem like a stagnant genre.

It’s telling that the top album on Apple Music is Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, a landmark of jazz, but also the jazz album that people who don’t like jazz listen to. It’s followed by Kenny G (smooth jazz has its own special circle of hell), and the top 20 includes records from 50 or more years ago by Stan Getz, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong. (And more smooth jazz; sigh.) In fact, if you look at all the classics in the top 200 on Apple Music, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the standard jazz canon is. (Monk, Bill Evans, Charlie Parker, Nina Simon, lots of Miles Davis, Mingus, etc.)

Maybe Apple has given up on promoting jazz albums as they used to, realizing that most jazz listening on their service is done by casual, non fans, who are more than happy with playlists of anonymous (to them) musicians playing a genre that is rooted in a nostalgic past.

ECM Records Now Available on Apple Music

ECM Records is now available on Apple Music. You can stream their excellent roster of jazz, classical, and world music (which they call “transcultural) on this and other streaming services.

Most of ECM’s presence is in the Jazz genre, where Apple is highlighting featured playlists, other playlists, and “new releases” – new to Apple Music, not recently released albums. (As you can see, the first is the landmark Köln Concert by Keith Jarrett.)




ECM is one of those rare labels that has their own sound; something you don’t find much any more. Check out music by Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheney, Jan Garbarek, Bill Frisell, and so many more. This 10-hour playlist will give you a taste of the ECM sound.

While ECM isn’t as visible in the classical section, they have an excellent line-up of classical recordings, including works by Steve Reich and Arvo Pärt, and the wonderful recordings of pianist Andràs Schiff. On of my all-time favorite classical recordings on ECM is the Hilliard Ensemble’s 1989 recording of music by Pérotin, a haunting recording of early polyphonic music.

This link will take you to the ECM “curator” page, where you can browse their catalog.

So, stream away that great jazz and classical music that has made ECM one of the great record labels.

Concert Review: Brad Mehldau Trio, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, UK

Last night, May 17, 2017, I got to see Brad Mehldau live for the first time. I’ve been a fan of his music ever since someone recommended his music to me and I started buying his albums on the iTunes Store back in the early days. For years, I would buy his albums as they were released on the iTunes Store, and then eventually on CD. I’m not a big jazz fan, but Mehldau is one of the jazz artists I like a great deal, and of whom I have many of their recordings; other are Bill Evans and Miles Davis.

Brad mehldau

I managed to score front-row tickets for the show, right in front of the piano; the best place to be. The venue is a smallish theater, about 600 seats, and it was full.

It was a wonderful concert, though it was marred by poor sound for the first few songs. After the second song, when Brad picked up the microphone to tell the audience what the songs were, a couple of people pointed out that they couldn’t hear the piano. As I was sitting just a few feet away, I could hear it, but it was pretty low in the mix; the drums overwhelmed the piano. But in the middle of the third song, the sound technician fixed the mix. Since the only speakers were on the front of the stage, it seemed to me that they were simply not on at the beginning. Oops. Nevertheless, aside from a bit of “feedback” sound in part of the piano, as Mehldau said, the rest of the concert sounded fine.

Brad Mehldau is an extraordinarily creative pianist, and the other members of the trio are also excellent musicians. Larry Grenadier on bass kept the music grounded, and Jeff Ballard on drums was one of the best drummers I’ve seen live. His drumming goes far beyond rhythm and is very musical. Jus listen to any of the trio’s live recordings to hear how good these musicians are, and how tight an ensemble they are.

The program for the show, which lasted about 1:45, was as follows:

Untitled original blues
Untitled original
Untitled original waltz
And I Love You
The Green Deva
Si tu vois ma mère

River Man
It’s All Right with Me

The first three originals were pretty new; Mehldau and the other musicians had charts for them. After that, the arrangement of And I Love You (the Beatles song) was lyrical and moving. The Green Deva, another original, was intricate, and Si tu vois ma mère, a Sidney Bechet song that the trio has been playing live for several years, was slow and mellow.

The two encores were perfect, and showed the range of Mehldau’s music. His arrangement of Nick Drake’s River Man is one of my favorite of the songs he performs, and the Cole Porter song It’s All Right with Me brings in a quirky which was well suited to the final song.

It’s worth noting that all of these songs were quite long; at least ten minutes, if not more. I checked my watch after the first three songs, and 45 minutes had passed. As often in Mehldau’s live shows, the songs stretch out with improvisations and solos, and the band showed off its skills on each number.

I’m very happy to have been able to hear this concert, especially from the front row, and I’ll try to see Brad Mehldau every time he comes to the UK in the future. He’s playing in Bath in two days, and I wish I had bought tickets for that show as well.

Rudy Van Gelder, ‘A Love Supreme’ Engineer, Dead at 91 – Rolling Stone

Rudy Van Gelder, legendary jazz engineer and operator of the Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey studio where classic LPs by John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and Wayne Shorter were recorded, died Thursday at his home. Van Gelder’s assistant confirmed his death to the New York Times. He was 91.

A legend.

Source: Rudy Van Gelder, ‘A Love Supreme’ Engineer, Dead at 91 – Rolling Stone

Larry Coryell – Toronto Under the Sign of Capricorn

I finally tracked this down. I had the album this track was on – European Impressions – back in the 70s, and I loved what Coryell could do with an acoustic guitar. I managed to figure out bits of this piece, but not much. It’s a long suite with parts ranging from atonal solos to jazzy strumming. This is a video of him performing the piece live, sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s. I saw him perform this solo acoustic stuff once, of all places at the Rasthaus in the Queens College student union (I think). It was an amazing concert. I’d love to get this album; it’s out of print, and I don’t have turntable, so if anyone has it, get in touch.

In any case, enjoy this 9+ minute example of true guitar artistry.

The Tranquility of Miles Davis’s Electric Period – The Atlantic

Electric Miles grabs us in three ways: musically, symbolically, and politically. Musically, because Miles was channeling Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, and the tearing noise at the edge of a James Brown scream, while sounding nothing like any of them. Symbolically, because the music represented creativity at full tilt, at a pitch of invention almost indistinguishable from the destruction (aesthetic and, as it also turned out, personal) necessary to establish its conditions. And politically, because Miles was a militantly autonomous black artist, a whitey-scorning, Uncle Tom–excoriating, no-shit-taking man of his time–and this music, above all, was his statement.

An interesting overview of the time when Miles Davis discovered electricity. It’s not his most accessible music, and it took me a long time to appreciate, but I could some of the recordings from that period – In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, and others – as some of his best work.

Source: The Tranquility of Miles Davis’s Electric Period – The Atlantic

Classical and Jazz Streaming Each Represent only 0.3% of the Market in 2014

Nielsen’s 2014 Music U.S. Report shows a lot of interesting numbers about the music industry. What stands out the most for me, however, is the very low rate of streaming of classical music or jazz. As you can see below, each of these genres represented only 0.3% of the total streaming market. (The total comes to less than 100%, presumably because other genres are not listed.)

Streaming nielsen

It’s possible that people don’t stream this music, and buy CDs instead. (But only 1.4% of total sales for each genre). Or it’s possible that streaming services aren’t very good for these genres, preventing people from steaming a lot. Either way, these numbers are very bad. And I assume that, for classical music, they also include “crossover” albums which, while not strictly classical, get counted as such.

Coming Soon: Miles Davis Bootleg Series Vol. 4, At Newport: 1955-1975

Miles davis bootleg4I spotted this on Amazon. (, Amazon UK) The fourth volume of the Miles Davis Bootleg series is due for release in July: Miles Davis At Newport: 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4. According to a press release:

“The four-CD box set, comprised of live performances by Miles’ stellar band lineups in 1955, 1958, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1973, and 1975, in Newport, Rhode Island, New York City, Berlin, and Switzerland, will be the lynchpin for a 60th anniversary commemorative weekend of events at this summer’s annual Newport Jazz Festival (July 31, August 1 & 2).”

“The newest entry in Columbia/Legacy Recordings’ critically-acclaimed Miles Davis Bootleg Series, NEWPORT 1955-1975 clocks in at 296 minutes, nearly four hours of which is previously unreleased. From Miles’ debut performance at NJF in 1955 (a hastily arranged jam session featuring Thelonious Monk and Gerry Mulligan, that immediately led to the trumpeter’s Columbia signing), to his final public perform ance of the ’70s in 1975 (at Lincoln Center during NJF-NY, the singular “Mtume” named for Miles’ favored percussion ist of that decade), the box set traces the ascendance of Miles’ music as the ne plus ultra of jazz. The full-length concert performances alone of Miles’ famed “Kind Of Blue” Sextet (with Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb), and ‘second great quintet in ’66 and ’67 (with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams) represent templates that reverberate in jazz and popular music to this day.”

Nobody Buys Jazz Records Any More

The Jazz Line reports that “Jazz is officially the least-popular genre in the U.S.” According to Nielsen’s 2014 Year-End Report, jazz album sales have plummeted to only 5.2 million for the full year. This is all jazz recordings, by all artists.

Jazz is also pretty moribund on streaming services, with only 0.3% of music streamed coming from that genre.

The Jazz Line says:

“This is indicative of an aging listenership that is slow to adapt to new technologies. As more and more traditional record stores go out of business, it’s becoming harder for these veteran stalwarts of the genre to access new releases, while the few digital natives that actively listen to jazz are finding it difficult to carry the numbers.”

Yet some would suggest the decline is simply because jazz is boring.

I’m a sort-of jazz fan. I like several artists – Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Brad Mehldau, Theolonious Monk, John Coltrane – but I don’t have the knowledge of the genre to know the names of the B-list musicians, as I do with classical music. I’ve got so much great music to listen to from those artists, that I really don’t have time to explore much more. If I did have a streaming subscription, I might delve into contemporary jazz, but I see so little progress in the genre that it’s good enough for me to stick with the greats.

Essential Music: Bill Evans Live in 1980

Bill evansBill Evans may have been the greatest jazz pianist ever, but his life was, unfortunately, too short. Born in 1929, he died on September 15, 1980, of a bleeding ulcer, cirrhosis and pneumonia. A drug addict for much of his career – he had periods where he was hooked on heroin, and others on cocaine – his death was what a friend called “the longest suicide in history.”

Yet when Bill Evans sat down at the piano, magic come from his fingers. From playing piano as a sideman, such as on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (, Amazon UK), widely considered to be the best jazz album of all time, to his first live recordings, Live at the Village Vanguard (, Amazon UK), made in 1961, and through dozens of solo and trio recordings over the following two decades.

In 1980, Evans didn’t know he was at the end, but there is a feeling of wistful nostalgia in his live performances of those last months. Fortunately, many of them were recorded, and there are three essential box sets of music from this period.

In June 1980, Evans played several dates at the Village Vanguard, and a six-disc set of these performances, Turn Out the Stars (, Amazon UK), was released in 1996. Recorded from June 4 to June 8, with bass player Marc Johnson, and drummer Joe LaBarbera, there is just over six and a half hours of music on this set, with notably a number of very long performances of Miles Davis’ Nardis, which was Evans’ signature jamming song. (It allowed both the bass player and drummer to take extensive solos.)

From August 31 to September 8, 1980, Evans played a series of dates at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco. Again, there are extensive recordings of these shows, with two 8-CD box sets available: The Last Waltz (, Amazon UK) contains music from the first sets, and Consecration (, Amazon UK) has tracks from the second sets. Just a week before his death, Evans was playing some of his finest performances. These were recorded on the sly, but the quality of the sound is excellent.

Evans played a combination of standards and his own compositions, and his improvisational ability is such that you barely notice it at times; it often sounds like the songs were written exactly as he played them, but as you listen to different versions, you can hear the changes.

I have long loved Evans’ music, and particularly these recordings from the end of his life. I first bought Turn Out the Stars in 1996, after listening to bits of it at a record store. My knowledge of jazz was quite limited then (and isn’t a whole lot more extensive now), but I immediately heard Evans’ masterful playing. When the other two box sets came out in 2000 and 2002, I bought them immediately. I have many Bill Evans recordings – I bought a couple of box sets of his complete recordings on different labels – but these are the ones I return to most, along with the 1961 Village Vanguard recordings. If you like jazz piano, these are essential recordings to own. If you just want one of the sets, I’d recommend Turn Out the Stars, which, with six discs, covers a wide variety of the songs Evans played.