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Next NMSU colloquium topic: Frank Zappa and the future of classical music and jazz

"Jazz is not dead... It just smells funny."

Dr. James Shearer, NMSU professor of music (Courtesy Photo)

"All the good music has already been written by people with wigs and stuff."

These quotes have been attributed to the late musician Frank Zappa, the man who gave music such album titles as "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" and "Lumpy Gravy."

James Shearer, professor of music at New Mexico State University, will address the future of classical music and jazz - and how to bring audiences back to these kinds of music - in a colloquium called "Frank Zappa was Right! Perspectives on the Future of Jazz and Classical Music." The event will be held from 3:30 to 5 p.m., Tuesday, March 14, in Room 107 of the NMSU Science Hall. The event is the fifth in a series of nine NMSU College of Arts and Sciences colloquia events this semester.

NMSU President Michael Martin, a Zappa fan, said the enigmatic musician will go down in music history with some of the stellar innovators and re-interpreters of American music.

"Zappa always came across as more peculiar than genius, but as the peculiarity fades in the background, the genius will come forward," Martin said.

Shearer said Zappa had been playing classically-oriented music all along, but many people did not realize it. He added that Zappa warned of a troubling trend: Many of today's classical and jazz musicians are writing music that nobody wants to hear and then daring audiences to like it.

Shearer also will discuss funding for the arts and the state of arts education in the U.S.

"There is this school of thought that if the arts cannot support themselves, they shouldn't be funded," Shearer said. "There was this whole move to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts. The problem with that thinking is that, as far back as 50 years ago, the arts were being cut out of education and now we have third- and fourth-generation people who have never had any interaction with the arts. They have no worldview that tells them whether they like it or not. So you can't abolish funding for the arts and at the same time abolish education that might support it privately."

In his speech, Shearer also will address the issue of critics.

"Jazz critics will write horrid reviews for magazines like 'People' and that ticks me off because these critics will have access to an audience that has never once listened to a jazz performance. They might hear someone like Norah Jones and like her, but they'll say, 'Don't buy this album. It's repetitive twaddle.' Norah's not Billie Holiday and she doesn't play like Thelonious Monk, but she has access to a group of people that jazz has never had access to and if they come to her and go from there, to Sarah Vaughan or Billie Holiday, our job is done. We've doubled our fan base, just like that."

Shearer contended that movies like "Ray," based on the life of Ray Charles and "Amadeus" and "Immortal Beloved," based on the lives of Mozart and Beethoven respectively have helped some people learn more about jazz and classical music. However, he said it's not enough. He wants them back in music's mainstream.

The colloquia series will continue with:

- "Crustal Extension and Historical Earthquakes in Central Greece" - Greg Mack, Department of Geological Sciences, March 28, 2006
- "Engine and Enigma: A Learner's Journey" - Kevin McIlvoy, Department of English, April 11, 2006
- "Saving the Ranch: Conservation Easements in New Mexico" - Jack Wright, Department of Geography, April 18, 2006
- "Mexican Descent Youth at the Crossroads of Sameness and Difference: A Mosaic of Youth Cultures and Border Identity" - Cynthia Bejarano, Department of Criminal Justice, April 25, 2006