It is unfortunate when someone who at first appears quite articulate (visually and audibly) allows there argument to degenerate into generalisations and accusations at anonymous parties. Furthermore, the emotional intensity to which Jason Marsalis' diatribe builds to only serves to make him sound like an upset toddler who hasn't gotten his way. This results in an argument that is disjointed and ineffective. Granted, this video seems to be shot off the cuff, and without rehearsal (and maybe even without a clear thought process), but, seeing it seems to be doing the rounds, I thought I'd write something about it.
As an introduction and conclusion Mr. Marsalis emphasises 'playing for the people'. According to his argument, playing 'for the people' means playing 'standard tunes' that 'hundreds upon hundreds of people have.....sung along...and learned', say 'George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer' etc. etc.. It also means, at least I'm surmising this from what he goes onto say, that it does not mean playing in 'odd times' or playing 'straight rhythms' or 'playing chromatic solos'. At the closing of the video, Mr. Marsalis paints the picture of someone playing all of these things to (presumably) some lamen that is not 'getting it', and a bunch of other J.N.I. members who are cheering him on because of the technical achievements in the music.
Unfortunately for Mr. Marsalis, this argument is dealing with unsubstantiated generalisations. In the case of audience, it is unrealisitc and even arrogant to assume what audience members want to, and should, hear. An artist's job is to respect his craft. To explore and refine his or her conception and methodology. The artist should not allow himself to be affected by what he perceives to be consumable and fashionable. When we follow this road, we end up as people playing functional music and nothing else. The most obvious example of this in our society is the 'D.J.', who plays hits from whatever era that they know almost everyone will sing along to.
Rather, audience members are free to make their own mind up about a set of music, free from politics and competing ideologies. In fact, if I have a stab at some of the musicians who Mr. Marsalis is referring to, I know J.N.I. members are open to many, many different kinds of musics, (unlike, seemingly, our orator), who only wish to create music that is informed and highly crafted. They understand that experiencing music is just that.
When we consider this approach to music making, we can see how it contrasts with arrogance and bigotry presented in this clip.
What this speech really highlights for me though, is that some people's experience of creating music is about labels and politics, and others are concerned with something greater. It takes all kinds, from Art Blakey, who played the same style of music his entire career, to John Coltrane and Miles Davis, who were never willing to be bound but what 'should' be done. The key thing to remember here (and probably what Mr. Marsalis should be reminded of) is that it is not our place to judge peoples tastes, it is out place to make what we consider the best music possible.