So, say in your TikTok toilet scroll, between the food influencers at The VIP List telling you what they order at Via Carota and clips from "Family Guy" collaged with videos of cell phone games and hands crushing slime, you see a TikTok on your "For You" page whose narrator announces, "Today, we're doing New York City jazz club recommendations." You click on the hashtag that accompanies it, #NYCJazz, and see that that video's 300,000 views are only a sliver of the hashtag's total view count of 4.7 million, populated by more and more videos of the same kind. "Jazz clubs are one of the best ways to spend a night in New York City, and here are some of the best," explains Nigel Roxbury of the New York City influencer crew the East Villains.
In many of these TikToks, what you're witnessing is a version of the Sofar Sounds strategy of transmuting New York's live music heritage into curated and anonymized Experiences for the young and upwardly mobile who are desperate for something like a genuine encounter with New York culture. There are consulting firms nowadays that exist to use hospitality spaces to "drive value to real estate projects"—you could imagine a smirking tycoon plotting to stick a jazz cafe in the retail space of a building that charges $8,000 a month in rent, then milking the bastards with $19 whiskey cocktails on their Bumble dates. Is "living in New York and going to jazz clubs" becoming a minor TikTok aesthetic, right beside Dark Academia and Clean Girl?
But jazz has been used as mere musical furniture for as long as most of us have been alive, so is it fair to freak out on these TikTokers? "There's definitely a subculture within jazz now that is defined by this aesthetic of apolitical, high-society nostalgia," Giovanni Russonello, a jazz critic at the New York Times who wrote last year about the death of the jazz club, told me via text. These TikTokers are just using that aesthetic—all those tuxedos and sequined gowns and other segregation-era ephemera, the swing dancing and $19 whiskey cocktails that dominate the global understanding of jazz—for familiar ends, a shortcut to sophistication. The Times reported in 2021 on Gen Z patrons borrowing nostalgia for stuffy Upper East Side mainstays like Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle.
Everyone wants to feel discerning. Discernment allows us to feel in control when we can't stop the rent from going up, or stop our favorite bar from closing, or when we don't know what algorithm is being deployed to populate our "For You" page. There's something deeply sympathetic about the drive to try to become a person who physically inhabits the city in the way you imagine you should…through posting.
But even as powerlessness makes discernment more desirable, the irony is that reducing culture to a talisman of your own savvy can only ever create more jazz cafés in more airports. Discernment can only truly be earned with experience. It can't be curated for you by Sofar Sounds, or recommended to you by an influencer. Just go out into New York and find a room where something's happening that really fucks you up.
If you want, there are dustier places in New York to find what you might call jazz. There are jazz clubs in Park Slope where they might laugh at the jazz clubs in Hell's Kitchen, and clubs by Myrtle-Broadway where they might laugh at the clubs in Park Slope. Ultimately, the true value of aestheticized sophistication is selling you your own discernment. That’s how they rent that $8,000 apartment and sell that $19 whiskey cocktail.
But where can you find those rooms where those fucked up things are happening? If you were at one jazz bar in Park Slope on Tuesday, you might have heard one bar goer answer that "places like that don't exist anymore, rent is too fucking high," and reminisce about closed Miami punk bars. You might ask him what's driving people in New York City away from unforced encounters with culture, and into the embrace of the TikTok recommenders. His answer: "Real estate."
Happy hump day. Here are some more things to freak out about: