“The biggest problem with American music right now, is that kids don’t listen. They come by it honestly, Americans don’t listen anyway. When people go to concerts, they say I’m going to see… not, I’m going to hear.”
— Branford Marsalis
OVER THE last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking and writing about listening. I just finished a reported essay about radio and connections over the airwaves. Just as I was putting the last touches on it, I saw another related tangent crawling through in my social media queues: Lots of discussions about listening — primarily the very quality of listening. Much of it circles around what has changed in this transmedia-age where information pelts us from all directions but so often without context and background.
The piece that seemed to kick it off was a repost of a spirited conversation with musician Branford Marsalis from a Jazz Times interview last October with Bill Milkowski. It wanders all over the place in the very best way, but at the core it was about communication — playing and listening and audience.
How do we convince people to listen to this? I never really bought into the whole idea of education as an answer. First of all, this music is not easy to listen to. Most of my regular friends, when they would talk about music, they would recite the lyrics. So they’re not even listening to the music. So how are you going to get a person like that to make a leap from that into pure instrumental music? How are you going to get people to make a leap from pop [music], which is an interactive music, to what jazz has become, which is kind of a passive listening experience? That’s too much of a leap for these people.
The other post that was simultaneously making the rounds — which connects to the thread expressed in Marsalis’ quote above — was a blogpost ostensibly about the shifts in our music listening habits. I posted the link on my Facebook wall and tagged a few friends with whom I either talk about music extensively with or have in the past gone to hear shows or we have formed a habit/pattern of listening.
I was really interested in the range of passionate responses. Even surprised about how emotional many of the comments were. The idea of listening “cut-to-cut” to hear an “album” unfold was something that still held a great sense of import but wasn’t a routine many could create time for anylonger. There was a real sense of longing expressed about losing space in their lives for that sort of surrendered listening. I still do it because I can’t quite focus on very much else when I’m listening to music I have to just let it take over, but I realize I listen less and less like that — also due to time, but format changes have played into that as well. I suppose connected to all of this is a sense of longing — that has to do with the time to take such a journey. That leap that Marsalis speaks of above is crucial in both inhabiting the music and letting the music inhabit you.
Are you listening?
How have your habits changed?
(image: my grandmother’s radio)