Is Jazz Dead (on Apple Music at Least)?

I like jazz, but I’ve never been someone to really get into the genre, to know all the musicians, to keep up with the new releases. There are a dozen or so artists I like, and now that I use a streaming service – Apple Music – I often check out the new releases to see what’s happening.

I think it’s fair to say that jazz as a genre is fairly stagnant, with little real innovation, and a lot of repetition. Nevertheless, even within the norms of the genre, there is a fair amount of good music released.

I went to Apple Music this morning to find some new jazz to listen to. Previously, the top carrousel of the jazz section was filled with new albums. Today, there’s nothing but playlists. Below the carrousel, more playlists. To find new releases, you need to scroll down, and what is there is quite limited.

Is jazz dead

At just over 1% market share in album consumption, jazz is little more than a footnote in the music industry. But with about the same market share as classical music, it still has its listeners, and lots of performers. I’m sure that in big cities there’s a vibrant club scene for jazz musicians. However, not much in jazz has changed, and for the non-aficionados it can seem like a stagnant genre.

It’s telling that the top album on Apple Music is Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, a landmark of jazz, but also the jazz album that people who don’t like jazz listen to. It’s followed by Kenny G (smooth jazz has its own special circle of hell), and the top 20 includes records from 50 or more years ago by Stan Getz, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong. (And more smooth jazz; sigh.) In fact, if you look at all the classics in the top 200 on Apple Music, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the standard jazz canon is. (Monk, Bill Evans, Charlie Parker, Nina Simon, lots of Miles Davis, Mingus, etc.)

Maybe Apple has given up on promoting jazz albums as they used to, realizing that most jazz listening on their service is done by casual, non fans, who are more than happy with playlists of anonymous (to them) musicians playing a genre that is rooted in a nostalgic past.

8 thoughts on “Is Jazz Dead (on Apple Music at Least)?

  1. I like jazz, and I wish it were more popular, but I find it difficult to argue with your viewpoint. In the iTunes Store, many of the top jazz albums and top jazz hits are decades old.

    I also like Blues, and I would make a similar observation. At this moment, the top hit in the iTunes Store in the USA is by Canned Heat, a group from the 60s. Many of the top songs and albums are from Howlin’ Wolf, Van Morrison, Buddy Guy and the like. All are great artists with great songs, but the number of new Blues releases, IMHO, is only a bit higher than the number of new Jazz releases.

    By the way, there is a genre named Blues, and there is one named R&B, where the “B” also stands for Blues. I’ve never understood why there are two genres that contain the name “Blues”. To me, the two “Blues” genres have little in common, yet for some reason share a name. Maybe something to comment on in your next Next Track podcast.

  2. Hmmm. I find the vast array of playlists and new releases almost intimidating. There are more than 100 new releases listed along with 50 different playlists.

    I think jazz has never been more alive. The Apple Music approach to navigating the enormous catalog – well, more than 100 ;-) – useful.

    I have more than 20 “jazz playlists” in my list and I re-visit them on a regular basis.

    Once ECM showed up on Apple Music I knew I was in trouble.

  3. I listen to the Pure Jazz radio station on iTunes. I rarely skip over a selection in the array. I am not a big fan either but I have always loved it live in a cafe type setting. Your point is well taken Kirk.

  4. There’s a little tiny label in Maryland called Cuneiform Records (http://cuneiformrecords.com) that puts out new jazz and prog albums. I have no connection other than I’ve known about them for 30 years or so and occasionally buy a few of their new releases. They put out some really interesting jazz. Unfortunately, very little of what they release is available on Apple Music. One of their new more-prog-than-jazz albums is available but I can’t find any other recent stuff: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/risk/1437460778

  5. There is lots of contemporary Jazz music, from Classic to Avant-garde/Free Jazz/experimental, but don’t expect Apple to tell you about it.

    Apple’s visible selection of Jazz is really extremely limited and reflects more the 3 albums (old stuff, 1960‘s or older) in the collection of whatever plutocrat/executive is in charge of music at Apple. reality based it certainly is not. The same can be said for Blues and a couple of other genres which are all much to unruly for Apple’s vision of the world.

    I even mostly gave up using the “Create” station feature as it invariably edges towards 1960s and older music, even as I start out with very contemporary tunes.

    The whole thing (Jazz) is alive and very well.

    • But Apple used to highlight a lot of new releases; that’s my point here. That they seem to have given up on that, perhaps because a bunch of playlists has proven more popular with users.

  6. The problem with jazz is that 1) it isn’t promoted in online music markets and 2) has almost no one writing new music. Players like Diana Krall must rely on 60- to 80-year-old classic jazz compositions to fill out their repertoire. And younger generations who are never getting exposed to the genre can’t begin to relate to it. Like all marketers, Apple probably feels they need to be on the front edge of selling to those younger generations.

    I love jazz and classical music, and much prefer them over rock music which I see dissipating into a pop generic. But whether jazz or classical has true adherents or casual listeners, you can bet that marketing will always play a hard card in deciding what genre is worth promoting.

  7. Certainly entitled to your opinion about jazz, but you seem to not care for the genre or know much about it. Let me suggest a simpler explanation: perhaps the latter months & January are particularly slow for new releases in the genre. Rather than promote months old releases, they decided to use playlists that appear to have just received new cover art.

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