Why is jazz a boring genre?
Well, a lot of people don’t find jazz music boring. It also depends on the kind of jazz, like in the case of any genre. Getting these overly polite observations out of the way, let’s go through a couple of features that can certainly make this kind of music as tedious and painful to listen to as it gets for many people. And even for others, it’s only an acquired taste.
Are you used to jazz?
1. Lack of familiarity: Yep, people are simply not used to this genre anymore, since it’s disappeared from the mainstream. Although there are major changes going on in music industry these days, unless you specifically look up online jazz radios and the likes, you won’t meet this genre. Not on regular radios or TV channels, unless you make a search on certain artists. And in that case you already know what you’re looking for, so who knows, maybe you won’t find it boring.
This lack of familiarity originates from two main attributes:
A: Lack of repetition: It seems that when it comes to music (and art in general), the human brain likes a certain – rather high – level of repetition of the occurring patterns. Otherwise it loses ground as there’s nothing left to grasp onto. It probably has a lot to do with short term memory as well.
In a lot of jazz music, even in the more standard, old school jazz styles, the musicians play the main theme – the so called head – only once, then they start to improvise. Even the head is usually disguised by the player, so it doesn’t accurately resemble the original tune, at least in the case of a classic jazz standard. Then the players modify the songs further by changing the chords or the underlying bass lines as well, so the untrained listener will find it to be a bore.
Also, most of these jazz standards are pretty old songs that were once famous and well known, but they’re not in everyone’s head anymore.
Dated and boring?
All in all, when there are not enough parts that get repeated, the average person usually won’t even give it a second listen. So of course it will come off as tediously outlandish.
B: Lack of form/Having an unusual form: It’s certainly true when it comes to free jazz or avant-garde jazz, that there is either no form to recognize as familiar at all, or there’s a certain form invented by the artist. It’s usually so different from anything one can hear when listening to a usual pop or even folk song, that they simply won’t find it pleasant to sit through even once.
But even the form of only a single head followed by a lot of improvisation before another, final head is way too far from a pop tune. Most people just won’t make the effort to dive into it.
2. Lack of vocals with lyrics: Let’s admit it, the majority of jazz music falls into the instrumental category. Even when there are vocalists, they either improvise like the rest of the band (scat singing), or they supply some kind of background vocals. At least on the more monumental pieces.
But are snobs bored, too?
Interestingly, the jazz tunes (and the artists themselves) that more closely resemble pop music usually get frowned upon by the – rather snobby and uptight – jazz community (“jazz police”). These pop jazz artists are often labeled as jazz – only for marketing reasons. Now that practice is boring for sure.
I find a lot of jazz tedious for MUSICAL reasons: the constant iteration of ii_V-I progressions, the fascination and obsession with VERTICAL presentations of chords and the ridiculous notation that accompanies them, the boring noodling and “Berklee School licks” that jazz fusion types use, etc. Having said that, the Jazz Age jazz of the 1920s and 30s is far more intriguing now as time has proven that much of that music retains many of the qualities that CAN be valued in jazz: diatony and improvisation with reasonable means. 1920s traditional jazz has a certain polyphonic flair, however simple the reiterative, blues-type progressions, and seems more HONEST than the gruesome grusins, saxophone crooners and noodlers-galore that abound today. Similarly, artists like Ornette Coleman have done some great things. Even Jan Garbarek is at least an honest new age sort. I find Miles DAvis over-rated, and really a horrid trumpet player with lousy sound. Last, on the harmony note, it would appear jazzers are in love with themselves and (MJQ, Ornette apart) never got past Debussy. Understand that there are jazzbos who know about SchÖnberg, Schenker, Beethoven and beyond. But in general, jazzbos seem to “dress down” and act “mellow” to cover up their innate snobbery and masturbatory nature. Give me heavy metal, funk and Boulez any day…
Great post, Bob! I do find the jazz of the 20s and 30s (especially the 20s) intriguing as well. That era seems to be a borderline for jazz, at which it started to turn from dance or at least danceable music into something else, and gradually achieved that cerebral or downright snobby nature you mentioned.