All last week I watched Ken Burns' Jazz series on PBS. One of the points the series makes is that all American music is interconnected. Jazz itself is like a river, with different streams feeding it, from blues and ragtime to classical and other influences. At first, no one even knew what to call it, because it was so much a part of the landscape and grew so organically. Later, for awhile, everything was called "jazz," all the popular music of the twenties and thirties.
There would be no rock music, as we know it, if not for the development and dissemination of jazz in those years. From jazz and swing we got the beat, the melody, the improvisation that led to rhythm and blues.
Yesterday I saw O Brother, Where Art Thou? at the Rialto. Mom wanted to see it, and we both also want to see State and Main, but I picked O Brother because I wanted to hear the music in it. What's called "old-timey" music is the antecedent of what we now think of as country, as well as folk and rockabilly.
And from the freedom of R&B, and the driving rhythm of rockabilly, rock and roll was born a half-century ago. For a few golden years, it had the widespread acceptance that jazz held in an earlier era. The fact that musicians have taken it in so many different directions is not a bad thing.
The bad thing is that the labels pinned on these artists and their art sometimes discourage them from listening to each other, and collaborating, and keeping the music alive and vital. So much of what I hear on the radio is either bland or imitative.
In the days of KEWB, every week Bobby Dale would introduce the new songs on the play list ("K-E-W-B Disc-covery!"). It was exciting, because you never knew what you were going to hear. It could be a follow-up to a successful record, something so similar that you couldn't tell the difference. But it could just as easily be something amazing, unlike anything you've heard before.
I miss that. I think that's why I keep searching, up and down the radio dial, for something different. It's also why I own over a thousand CDs (a number which is not increasing, by the way). If the next big thing isn't growing in the field where I'm standing, I'll move to another field, just to keep from letting my own roots grow too deeply.