Chad Becks raises the dilemma that many genres of guitar including the jazz and classical varieties are experiencing a lack of growth in comparison to other more popular genres. Though I’ve not observed an actual decline of interest in classical or jazz guitar within the musical community, I can certainly relate his observation to the acceptance and support of musical creativity. Becks’ observation between pop music and jazz or classical guitar differentiates between two vastly different levels of creative complexity within written music, and is analogous to the continually growing popularity of cover-bands versus lesser-supported original music at the local level.
Having lived in Centre County now for eight years, I can certainly say that musical interest among the general public favors popular music over original music – or at least the typical downtown band line-ups selected by our venues make it appear this way.
With State College holding a large population of the county, it’s common to hear local musicians blame the venues and their student patrons for this lack of variety. True or not, many naturally relate the demand for sing-along bands to the thirsty student patrons that stimulate the borough’s night life economy. On the contrary, bluegrass – an example far from sing-along pop music – has much local support not only from musicians but more importantly the community. So it is not truly fair to say that State College night life only caters to popular music. Though bluegrass’ local popularity may be largely attributed to its American roots, other roots genres such as blues and jazz do not share the same steady niche that bluegrass holds in and around State College.
Again using bluegrass as our example – there is another reason for why it is a more successful contender than jazz in a community where pop seems to flourish. Centre County already has numerous popularized gathering circles for bluegrass music. They are hosted on a regular basis by local churches and cafes and offer a free open-to-any-skill-level environment to learn how to play bluegrass music. The circles provide a unique opportunity for musicians to collaborate and meet each other, and it’s my belief that these circles have created an unintended movement over time. The result is a stronger community foundation for bluegrass to thrive in the county. American root genres or not, the same cannot be said for jazz, blues, jamband, and funk, though, some intimate downtown atmospheres such as Zeno’s Pub (and occasionally Bar Bleu) show that there is a consistent interest in such creative music styles.
For whatever reason, there are not many gatherings in Centre County to bring attention to jazz guitar and much more generally, original music. I too agree with Becks, and generally speaking, I believe that it is up to our musical community to establish localized “cells” of musicians to hold playing circles that encourage growth of original music in the community. Numerous local organizations and venues already exist to thrive on the music and musical relationships generated at such creative music circles. Though, much like the circles that assist the interest in bluegrass among the public and local musicians alike, I believe the original music circles must occur regularly and encourage participation at every skill level to successfully increase awareness that original music is indeed a community interest.