Jazz has long subsisted as an underground music -- an esoteric, impervious art form sheltered from consumer politics. But a drastic turn in the record industry -- the disruptive force of Internet file-sharing -- penetrated the vulnerable jazz industry. To compensate, traditionally jazz record labels (Blue Note and Verve, the most prominent) are delving into pop culture idioms hoping for the payoff, leaving the jazz musicians to ask: what will happen to the art?
"I don't have good predictions," says Jimmy Bruno, Philadelphia native and jazz guitarist on Concord Records. "I think people will worry about increasing their audience and not move the music forward."
Throughout its history, jazz has harbored a spirit of innovation. Louis Armstrong to Charlie Parker, Miles Davis to Weather Report -- with each decade the music changed, evolved into something new, unaffected and unrestrained by the world around it.
Today, Diana Krall and Norah Jones are being marketed as "jazz artists," yet they create in the realm of the consumer. They are products of a commercialization movement by jazz record labels. Diana Krall's 1999 release, When I Look in Your Eyes (Verve), catapulted her into the mainstream, and three years later Norah Jones won an extraordinary eight Grammy Awards for her album, Come Away with Me (Blue Note). Both artists garnered financial success and critical acclaim.
A victory for the jazz community? Maybe not. Many musicians have said that Jones and Krall are merely pop musicians in jazz packaging.
"The record companies are in such bad shape that unless you're Chick Corea or Herbie Hancock, it's hard for them to sell your records," says Bruno.
"The record stores just don't want them. All the companies want a Norah Jones or a Diana Krall."
"I like Norah Jones," says Bruno, frankly. "But is she a jazz singer? No, not at all."
For Bruno, there is an inherent problem when commercial and economic concerns bleed into art -- the artist loses control, the public loses its perspective and "the true artistic communities disappear." Without the sanctuary of artistic independence, jazz music will change drastically or simply fade away.
"I'm afraid," says Bruno, "that the roots of this music may disappear entirely"