It is because of this jazz trait that I can't let "The 'A'' Train" go. I can't help but ponder the popularity of the song. Is it because it's about a subway line (an unreliable one at that!) in NYC and everyone (including New Yorkers) are fascinated with anything NY? Is it because Duke did an exceptional job of promoting this song back in the day so that it became ingrained in everyday life? Perhaps it was the educational system who chose this song as it's token jazz tune, thereby brainwashing America into thinking it is the only good jazz tune. Or maybe it's because that opening line is just so damn catchy?
Why? WHY! my over analytical brain screams! Duke, and others, had so many great songs, why was THIS the one that is recognizable by almost every non-musical person out there?
And then I think...
What does it matter? Aside from perhaps wanting to discover a magic formula for making my own tunes so popular, does it really matter why audiences love "Take the 'A' Train?" At least it's a Duke tune and not some crap like "Yakkity Sax."
And the thing is, it does work like magic!
For the first set and a half, Joseph and his quartet played a great balance of standards and originals. It was wonderful playing, but they really could have been up there reciting scales over and over for all the patrons of the restaurant cared. No one applauded after solos, and no one acknowledged the band when they were introduced at the end of the set. That's not so abnormal, as the venue is after all a restaurant and bar, not a jazz hall. However, after hearing "'A' Train," the now drunk twenty-somethings were all into the music, cheering for all the tunes, and even staying for all 4 sets. All of a sudden the music was alive to them, and there was an energy and communication in the room. Isn't that what we as musicians, any musician regardless of genre, strive for? A connection to the listener?
Now I think it's safe to guess that the drunkards did not stick around because they were instantly transformed into active jazz listeners, eager to interpret the improvisations and arrangements of the tunes to come. But it is highly likely that the music created such an energy and vibe that fit the mood of the pending hook-ups, that the crowds stayed, if not for the genius of the music, but for the environment it created. I think we need to realize that our music does still serve that function. While we with our educated compositional minds do yearn to express and communicate various personal agendas with our music, we need to remember that if we want to call our music jazz, then we need to embrace the historical roots of jazz as (deep breath)... entertainment.
The word "entertainment" has a negative connotation these days. I hear "entertainment" and I think Britney Spears, cheesy chick flicks, and rag mags. But entertainment is defined as "something affording pleasure, diversion, or amusement, esp. a performance of some kind."
Our music is amazing in that it has the ability to be intricate, multi-layered, and in need of a (musically) intelligent listener to fully grasp the fullness and genius of the music. At the same time, the music can appeal to those who simply want to be diverted, pleased, and amused. We need not always have both goals within the same song, set, or performance. I do think there is a time for a more serious concert performance, and a place for the "lite" set. I also think it is possible to achieve both at that same time. Regardless of the your intent as a musician, I don't think we should value one goal above the other.