Carnegie Mellon University
October 23, 2013

The Internet and the Death of Jazz

On Community, Visibility, and Improvisation


Margret Grebowicz is an Associate Professor of Philosophy, Goucher College

Is jazz Black music or the music of white conservatories? Is it commercial music or avant-garde? Is New York really the only place to be, or is jazz indeed everywhere? In the wake of record labels, who will/should fund our projects—granting agencies, Kickstarter, venues? Should everyone be composing original music or is playing standards really what jazz is all about? I am interested in how the Internet affects our approach to these questions. There are many deaths of jazz announced at the hands of the Internet. Most famously, jazz is dead because the Internet means the death of record labels, which means that anyone can-self produce and there is no more meritocratic “weeding out” mechanism. It is also dead because artists can no longer support themselves with record sales. More importantly, the internet has fundamentally changed the nature of visibility in contemporary life in a way that is at odds with jazz. I argue that the constant surveillance introduced by social technologies is anathema to the way jazz has historically existed in sites of non-visibility: the darkness of nightclubs, the deliberate opacity and inaccessibility of the avant garde. The death of jazz at the hands of the Internet won’t have been about the economic shifts that result from filesharing, but the cultural shift away from the deep investment in invisibility and silence that is at the heart of improvisation.

Wednesday, October 23; 4:30-5:50 PM
Adamson Wing, Baker Hall 136A