Local Current Blog

Why don’t more modern-day hipsters listen to jazz?

Happy Apple at Icehouse (Photo by Nate Ryan)

You’ve read On The Road; I know you have. Well, I hated it. I think you may have, too. The one notable thing I took from that book was Kerouac’s regular usage of the word “Hipster,” capitalized here for effect. It was the first time I’d seen or heard it used outside of 21st century thinkpieces or derisively at house parties by people who were most assuredly hipsters.

That said, I think the connection between Kerouacian Hipsters and Sound Gallery Hipsters is stronger than history would have us believe. Both have a preference for “the high”—art and culture that is both transgressive and refined, esoteric and cool. Neither iteration particularly wants or needs you to pay attention to their interests. But they do. But not too much.

This line of thinking, which I have admittedly pulled from the night sky, makes me wonder why indie rock, eternally the flagship of art school kids everywhere, has yet to fall in love with jazz. The makings are all there. Jazz is performed in small spaces, in front of small audiences. The best jazz is performed by musicians who are chronically allergic to commercial demands, steadfastly exploring the next, the next, on and on. This would seem the most succulent honey to bees that are in constant search of idiomatic purity, musical integrity, skill, and, above all, cool.

Yet there is no notable crossover. Jazz, for its part, has dabbled to great result. Brad Mehldau and Christian Scott play Radiohead, an indie on a major. The Bad Plus play the Pixies, Vijay Iyer covers M.I.A. Jazz is trying. The only indie rock arbiter that comes to mind is Dirty Projectors, who’ve played the Montreal Jazz Fest, and at the very least warrant a barren entry at Jazz Times, while maintaining a stranglehold on Pitchfork, Stereogum, et all, largely due to their inventive vocal arrangements and expansive guitar work.

Where is the love? I’ve gone to Icehouse once or twice. I’ve watched well-intentioned MCAD students struggle to stay awake through riveting jazz sets. Many of my friends have almost no facility with modern jazz. Anecdotal, sure, but there isn’t much in the way of counterpoint. Jazz has been struggling for some time to find a broader audience without compromising itself entirely. Many jazz performers simply give up and make entire records full of covers of popular rock songs. All the while there is a waiting audience—an audience who, according the tenets of indie rockdom, should totally be into Matt Ulery. But the numbers aren’t there; the venues aren’t there.

So c’mon indie rock folk. Let’s go watch Dave King do his thing. Let’s go see Nelson Devereaux tear through some choruses. Only you can save jazz from the heap. If not, the Artist’s Quarter won’t be the last Jazzualty in the Twin Cities. And what would America be without jazz? Nothing. The answer is nothing.

Jon Tolliver’s favorite jazz (or jazz-leaning) groups of the moment:

And favorite venues for discovering jazz:

Jon Tolliver is the lead singer of Minneapolis soul revival act Black Diet.


  • Al Iverson

    This resonates strongly with me….as a fan of both indie rock and modern jazz (and classic jazz), I always wonder why more people aren’t just into more good music overall, without focusing so much on genre.

  • Richard

    About the only time jazz has crossover with anyone (not just indie rockers) is at Christmas with the Charlie Brown Christmas songs. Beyond that, seems like folks just shrug and turn away when it comes to jazz.

    Jazz is a tough nut to crack for most people. No searing guitars licks. No catchy choruses to sing along to. No hip-shaking rhythm. I would argue those conditions are met, but they are delivered in a format that is largely unfamiliar with people.

    I work in the City Center in downtown Mpls. The second floor atrium/foodcourt area plays the jazz giants throughout the day (Miles, Monk, Coltrane). I am convinced the landlord is doing this to keep people from loitering and not as an appreciation of good jazz. How cynical is that?

    I think jazz is the last branch of American roots music that has not been widely adopted/accepted into mainstream music.