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TURN ON THE radio for music and you will hear vocals. Sure, your city may have a public radio station with a jazz show (usually rebroadcast from another location) or perhaps a few hours of orchestral music. But you will have to look hard for either and maybe wake up early or stay up very late to hear the show. The rest of the time, and on every other station, you will hear no instrumental music.
Smooth jazz is the last genre of popular music I can recall where an acoustic instrument can “star” rather than merely back up a singer. But over the past two years at least fifteen major markets, and several smaller ones, have dropped smooth jazz from the radio altogether. That includes New York; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; Denver; and Houston. In other words no radio station in those metropolitan areas today broadcasts smooth jazz.
Okay, some of us might say smooth jazz never deserved to be on the air in the first place. Some might say it isn’t really even jazz. That’s not the point. The point is that it features musical instruments more often than vocals and is spiraling down the same drain as all other jazz.
Here’s another disturbing fact: About three years ago the national music chain, Guitar Center, reported for the first time in its history the sale of guitars was down rather than up. That means fewer people now take the trouble to learn the instrument. Some may be learning keyboard instead but that is because of computers and digtal music, not because they are becoming concert pianists.
A couple of weeks ago I went to Hollywood to get my clarinet overhauled. It is the top repair shop in southern California. The guy who works on my instrument has a reputation as one of the best in the country. He says things are a little slow, especially because fewer young people now play clarinet. The same is true of the guys in the shop repairing flutes, oboes, bassoons, and English horns. They stopped selling and working on saxophones nearly twenty years ago.
Do you detect a trend?
Times change. Instruments evolve. Tastes vary. Nonetheless I find the demise of instrumental music very disturbing.