Youth has become the most frequent topic of conversation in jazz. The talk concerns a crop of instrumentalists in their twenties and very early thirties, including the tenor saxophonists Joshua Redman and James Carter, the trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Nicholas Payton, the pianists Cyrus Chestnut and Jacky Terrasson, and the bassist Christian McBride, who are supposedly luring audiences their own age and younger to jazz.
This accent on youth could be interpreted as an effort to shake the blues of just a few years ago, when all anybody seemed to talk about was death. Sarah Vaughan died early in 1990, followed in less than three years by Art Blakey, Stan Getz, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie. Along with grief, these deaths triggered panic that time might also be running out on jazz as a commercially viable form of music. It didn't matter that there were still plenty of great musicians in or near their prime, because only a relative handful of people knew who they were. The core audience for jazz (let's define it, only somewhat facetiously, as those people able to name their second favorite bass player) is small in number, disputatious, and scattered over several continents. The sort of casual fan on whom the jazz box office ultimately depends might recognize Vaughan or Davis by name, but is unlikely to be familiar with Abbey Lincoln or Joe Henderson. Jazz was already short of marquee names when the 1990s began; the loss of five more left what threatened to become a permanent void at the top of the bill.