JAZZ: Gary Giddins, W.W. Norton & Company
"Giddins on jazz"

RUNNING TIME, 1:40

For jazz, mainstream seems to be a moving target. What is the mechanism within jazz that seems to help it defy convention?

Mainstream is one of the curious words in jazz semantics. It became part of the jazz lexicon in 1958 when an English-born critic who worked with Duke Ellington as a publicist in sort of a Boswell [role and] name[d] Stanley Dance coined the term mainstream to describe all of the great soloists who came out of the swing era - like Coleman Hawkins, like Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Wilson – whom he felt were being ignored because everybody was just paying attention to modern jazz. The bebop guys, the cool school, the hard bop, the soul school - the things that the young players were doing in the ‘50s. And it's true – most of these older guys, the so-called mainstream players were not getting a lot of work. A lot of them moved to Europe - Ben Webster died in Copenhagen – and things were not good. But as – and Stanley Dance would have hated this – as the music progresses, whoever's out of the limelight becomes the mainstream. So that the height of the avant-garde, suddenly it was, you know, the Dizzy Gillespie generation that was the mainstream. Those are the guys that were being ignored. Mainstream now means whatever facet of jazz is sort of the lingua franca, the basic mode of jazz that's not in the spotlight, that's not on the radical edge, and that is also in a purely historicist interest, like, for example, New Orleans traditionalism. It's the basic language of the music. The mainstream today is by far the largest area of jazz.