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Soundcheck Smackdown: European versus American jazz

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Some say the vanguard of jazz, America's quintessential music, is now coming out of Europe. Today, a Soundcheck Smackdown debate on whether European jazz is threatening the dominance of the US as the cradle of the art form. Joining us is Will Layman, a jazz critic who writes for, NPR and other publications and Peter Margasak, a staff writer for the weekly Chicago Reader and the author of "The European Scene" column for DownBeat magazine.


Will Layman and Peter Margasak

Comments [19]

mike from Rochester, NY

I am a jazz musician living in upstate New York and have lived in Barcelona. What a timely conversation today! plays some very nice jazz, mostly by local players there. I agree that jazz radio in the U.S. misses the mark most of the time.

And don't get me started on the MANY graduates of jazz schools the are now teaching jazz, that NEVER played four sets of jazz in a club. I was absolutely thrilled when I myself graduated from a college with a degree in jazz and could STILL PLAY, despite my experiences there.

May. 27 2008 04:39 PM

Soundcheck Smackdown: European versus American jazz

The problem with this show, as is the problem with all of your shows, is that its premise (is European Jazz better than American jazz?) is devoid of any real scholarship, and thus is merely a ridiculous contrivance!

May. 27 2008 02:56 PM
karen from highland park, nj

whoops. I meant "smooth jazz" - not soft jazz.

And I agree with some comments that were made here, eg (to paraphrase): smackdowns are meaningless; there are great musicians all over the world playing great music, just not necessarily great jazz...

May. 27 2008 02:50 PM

Re: Jazz at Lincoln Center
Say what you will about Wynton and JALC. It's one of the best paying gigs in town. And it places America's classical musical art form in a setting(financial, acoustic, institutional) equal to European musical art forms(what we know as "classical" music, opera, etc.
Any argument that doesn't consider the economics of being a jazz musician in NYC at the moment is an implicitly flawed argument.
There are a great many arguments to be made for European musicians, but as a scene NYC is still the capital in spite of the post Guiliani homogeneity of it all.

May. 27 2008 02:41 PM
Che from Jackson Heights

Not much of a jazz official... who is this robert glass guy and what song was that?
truly loved it!

May. 27 2008 02:38 PM
karen from highland park, nj

Best and most interesting jazz today? AFAIC, the USA - without a doubt - where wonderfully creative, original and innovative musicians like Greg Osby, Jason Moran, Stefan Harris, Charlie Hunter, Tarus Mateen, Nasheet Waits et al are doing their thing.

I lived in Amsterdam for 5 years ('74-'79) and heard lots of jazz at the Bimhuis and other spaces; the best was always made by musicians from the USA. Mischa Mengleberg and others in the Dutch jazz scene didn't have "it" then and as far as I can tell from the excerpt played a few minutes ago on the show, they don't have the "it" now either. And BTW, today's worst stuff is that crap called "soft jazz" - boring boring boring!

May. 27 2008 02:38 PM
Jerome Harris from Brooklyn

I can say that (as someone who researched and published a bit about the spread of jazz from the US abroad) all the arts genres and scenes in western Europe benefit from the long tradition of solid governmental support. The US governmental tendency to act as if the "free" market is a valid judge of quality (therefore governmental financial support is fragile and institution-focused rather than artist-oriented) results in mass-market commercial art swamping the channels of exposure; this is not as much the case in Europe.

May. 27 2008 02:38 PM
Melinda Hunt from East Village, New York

I agree with the statement that Jazz at Lincoln Center is institutional and dead. The space has horrible acoustics. It has none of the ambiance of the clubs. It is expensive to get tickets and then the whole thing feels staged and over processed. I don't even consider it jazz. It is just jazz marketing.

May. 27 2008 02:35 PM
Samuel from Manhattan

To me the question is moot because its proves the death of a genre. By death I mean the genre's relevance in any NEW artistic way. If jazz has been institutionalized and taught for so many years in so many different schools, then doesn't that take away from artistic integrity of music that tries to be on the forefront. In that respect, whether jazz is European or American holds as much weight as Rostropovich being Russian or German, ultimately it makes no difference.

May. 27 2008 02:35 PM
adam c.

the stone! corner of ave. c & 2nd st.

May. 27 2008 02:33 PM
kinan from Manhattan

you are suggesting Europe or the US as if Jazz does not exist anywhere else, the Jazz audience is spreading to a great level in the Arab world like Syria, Jordan, Lebanon..etc... I think it is worth it to note that you should base your argument on how is the jazz audience progressing around the world.

May. 27 2008 02:33 PM
memorexe from brooklyn

As with all the arts--doesn't the most creativity flourish where the funding support is, i.e. Europe?
There is a lot of exciting jazz still coming out of New York--but the reception is better in Europe...

May. 27 2008 02:31 PM
kim from nyc

Most of the smackdown segments are pointless.

May. 27 2008 02:28 PM
Peter Keepnews from Manhattan

The question is meaningless.

Who cares where the "best" jazz can be found? For that matter (to steal a thought from a previous comment), who can define "best" in a way that will satisfy everyone? (I won't even get into the question of how one defines "jazz.")

There are great musicians in Europe (some of them American), and there are great musicians in the U.S. (many of them European). Why not just enjoy as much great music as you can, regardless of where it's being made? Oh, I know -- because then there wouldn't be a "smackdown."

By the way, that Italian trombonist is playing a composition by Thelonious Monk, who I'm pretty sure was American.

May. 27 2008 02:27 PM
Nathanbiel Mazza from si

Poland Poland Poland!!!
TOMAZ STANKO blows away anyone I have Heard!

May. 27 2008 02:25 PM
Lindsey Horner from NYC

The conflict is mythical. The music has grown so much and European and American (and other) musicians play together so much, that a whole new music exists than did 50, 40 or even 20 years ago. I am a musician myself and my new band has 3 Americans, 2 Belgians and an African. What do we play? We call it Jazz, you can call it whatever you want.

May. 27 2008 02:22 PM
Gabriel from NYC

I think you just won the fight for America with that ICP track (or whatever they're called). It just proved how Europe sometimes just doesn't get it.

May. 27 2008 02:18 PM
John from Bklyn

Numerous ex-pat American improvising musicians who were at the forefront of the "New Thing" planted the seeds from which Euro-Jazz experimentation and "free" scenes grew. The Art Ensemble of Chicago, for example, was very popular in Europe–after moving there–almost 40 years ago.

How can anyone say what's the "best"?! Musicians all over the world (even in the U.S.! gasp!) add their own experiences and influences to create something new and hopefully interesting.

Is there a smackdown on Nigerian public radio about where the best High Life or JuJu is being made today?

May. 27 2008 02:18 PM
Steve from Manhattan

I've listened in dozens of clubs and at fesitvals in the US, Japan and across Europe. Manhattan on any given night beats the rest of the globe combined when it comes to straight ahead jazz. International clubs tends to feature more smooth and new jazz for an audience less schooled on bop or the American songbook. International players and clubs are important in spreading jazz appeal. I liken it to the expanding NBA, foreign players here enhance the "sport" with talent and traditions and grow the market internationally.

May. 27 2008 02:06 PM

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