Is Rock and Roll Becoming Jazz?

I love Rock and Roll.  I love classic hip hop, classical, jazz, and the blues as well, but no where near as deep.  I have albums from about every era and like to think in the last several years in particular, I’ve become knowledgable in its history.  I was recently watching the show Treme and the characters’ discussions of jazz history got me thinking in a new direction about where rock is today.

It’s been a while since rock dominated the charts.  After a resurgence in the nineties it’s again taken a back seat to hip hop and mainstream pop in terms of popularity.  That’s not to say it’s not popular at all, but until recently rock and roll had been the dominating genre of popular music.  Sure things like disco may have shoved it aside temporarily, but it always came back.  This happened because while those other genres took the crown temporarily, there was always a rock movement going on underneath it, waiting to come forward.  I still remember well an issue of Entertainment Weekly in 1991 discussing how rock and roll had fallen out of fashion and a comeback seemed unlikely.  I think AC/DC’s The Razor’s Edge was the only recent big seller.  While they were discussing rock’s demise, Kurt Cobain was waiting in the wings to shake things up.

Now we’re back in a similar place, but I don’t know if there’s a new movement in rock ready to surge forward.  Sure there are great bands, but I don’t know if they have the chart-shattering potential to change the game.  Is there a modern equivalent to the alternative rock scene of the eighties and early nineties?  I don’t know that there is.

This takes me to Jazz.  Jazz is a truly great, American form of music.  It dominated the popular music scene for the first half of the twentieth century.  It’s music that crosses nationalities and cultures and it’s greatest songs will probably live forever.  By the fifties, though, a lot of its juice was gone.  Again, there were great jazz musicians still blazing new ground but in terms of the popular landscape, it had spent its energy.  By the time The Beatles arrived in America, it was done as our dominant music.

Today, great jazz music is still created and performed.  It still has the power to inspire people, but it no longer holds the public imagination like it once did and it probably never will again.  So, is rock and roll headed this way?  Has hip hop taken over its place in popular music for the long haul?  Or am I just out of the loop and there’s yet another movement ready to grab the flag? 

If my thoughts are correct, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.  I have nothing against hip hop as a musical form.  I don’t find the current scene as inspiring as the “old school era”, but again I’m not up on it enough to have a definitive opinion.  Hip hop still has a lot of room to grow and therefore a lot of exciting potential for the right artists.  If now is its time in the sun, I hope they make the most of it before something else comes along.


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