What should I ask Ted Gioia?

I will be doing a Conversation with Ted, no associated public event.  He is a musician and most of all a music historian, above all for jazz and blues, with numerous excellent books on those topics.

Here is his home page.  Here is Ted on Twitter, one of the very best follows.  Here is his latest book Music: A Subversive History, due out next week.  And there is more:

Gioia was raised in a Sicilian-Mexican household in Hawthorne, California, a working class neighborhood in the South-Central area of Los Angeles. Gioia was valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar at Hawthorne High School, and attended Stanford University. There he received a degree in English (graduating with honors and distinction), served as editor of Stanford’s literary magazine, Sequoia, and wrote regularly for the Stanford Daily.  He was a member of Stanford’s College Bowl team, which was featured on television, and defeated Yale in the national finals. Gioia also worked extensively as a jazz pianist during this period, and designed and taught a class on jazz at Stanford while still an undergraduate.

After graduation, Gioia received a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University, where he graduated with first class honors. He then received an MBA from Stanford University.

Gioia has enjoyed successes in the worlds of music, writing and business. In the business world, Gioia has consulted to Fortune 500
companies while working for McKinsey and the Boston Consulting Group.  He helped Sola International complete an LBO and IPO on the New York Stock Exchange in the 1990s.  He has undertaken business projects in 25 countries on five continents, and has managed large businesses (up to $200 million in revenues). While working amidst the venture capital community on Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley, Gioia stood out from the crowd as the “guy with the piano in his office.”

His knowledge of varied musical genres is virtually without parallel.  So what should I ask Ted?


Oh what a missed opportunity for a public event!

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Can a writer be a good music critic without being also being musician?

Jazz has derived much of its repertoire from musical theater, pop, folk etc. Which non-jazz artists within the last 20 years are writing music that you think could be repurposed as new jazz standards?

Great question. & there are singers, and ensembles who perform classic, and modern, songs from other genres.

But, increasingly, since the 1960s, many jazz musicians are writing their own music.

Which genre of music has become more interesting and which one has become less?

When will he star a regular music show, a la Ed Sullivan on You tube?

What will the music of the future sound like?

Easy: a crossover between Despacito and Gangnam Style.

Everyone will have their own personalized music composed for them in real-time by machine learning algorithms. The algorithms will be trained by feedback from sensors that monitor your emotional response.

Of course, there will still be broadly acceptable shared music for public occasions. This will be like airline food is to foodies.

Are you Ted Gioia?

I second this - it's a simple question with a not at all simple answer. It's been some time since any truly new musical genres have been created and sometimes I wonder if there is anything left to discover musically. Would love to know what a musical historian thinks the next one might be.

What do you consider to be the impact of streaming platforms on music consumption and music supply? Will streaming platforms converge to a multimedia (i.e. music, movies and series) monopoly platform? Should streaming platforms be regulated?

Something about bob dylan!

Ask him about food. He probably had good food growing up.

Rhythm or melody?

Does he view the advent of streaming as a net-gain or net-loss for the quality of music consumed by the average American? What explanation does he have for the (purported) decline in musicality of popular music since the 1960s? If there is a purported decline, is this permanent or could it swing in the other direction?

EDIT: If he does indeed view a decline, is this permanent or could it swing in the other direction?


As a musician, I found the above article fascinating, as well as divisive among friends of mine who have read it. It is a great source of interesting modern questions about the impact of music and sound. A couple question ideas:

1) Does Ted Gioia agree with Neil Young's argument that the digital compression of music is subconsciously impacting listeners' brains?

2) Furthermore, what of the NYT author's (David Samuels) interesting anecdote about his son's sensory processing disorder, and the "musical" therapy his son seems to have taken to?

In less than a century, jazz went from a massively popular form of music seen as low status and degenerate, to a pretty unpopular form of music seen as high status and boring. Today, as with classical music, it's pretty much just elites/intellectuals or wannabe elites/intellectuals listening to jazz, some of whom probably don't enjoy it and are just pretending to for signaling purposes.

What music popular today - (actually popular, like radio play popular not some modern jazz guy that Tyler and 5 other people rave about) does Ted think is likely to be treated as high status a century from now? Bruno Mars?

Jazz was never that popular. Eg, its sales peaked @ 5% of total units sold in 1990.

Today it would be a tiny fraction of THAT.

Umm, err, jazz was probably at its peak popularity in the twenties and thirties and into WWII, dropping off after the war. There is a reason the 1920s is known as the Jazz Age.

That's easy. First will be classic rock. Then hip-hop. Then 2000s pop...etc.

Every popular music of its time is eventually relegated to high status. Beethoven was the popular music of his time, and now it is high status and "boring" to modern listeners.

This is already happening. Listening to and minutely analyzing classic rock songs for their artistry and lyrical inventiveness is already 'high status'. Or at least higher than just saying "oh yeah cool song, got a good beat"

We've all endured the rock snob at a party going into great detail about the majesty of Pink Floyd or the Beatles or Bob Dylan.

Ask him about that decline in orgasticity in Finland. Is there a conspiracy to sap us of our precious bodily fluids? Just so he doesn't have to answer all those boring questions that are only about music.

His favorite cross-pollinators in the jazz world who started in or were primarily known for their work in other genres, e.g. his fellow Sicilian-American raised in California (though born in Baltimore), Frank Zappa?

Does he think that our collective memory for music is decaying more rapidly because communication technologies are so much faster?


Decay has a negative connotation.

I share this opinion. Forgetting about John Lennon is a positive thing

My experience as a child, the only music I heard was the vinyls of my parents at home and the car radio. The only reason I know about John Lennon is because among the few vinyls at home, one was from the Beatles. My parents refused to buy cassettes to play in the car, sound quality and all that....it's fun to think they were hipsters in the 1980s haha

As teenager my elder brother, 5 years older than me, filtered the music for me. He had money, he could buy CDs, I was basically indoctrinated by my brother into grunge. I have detoxed myself thereafter ;)

Streaming has made music more accessible. Today, any teenager with access to Internet has the choice to listen whatever he or she wants. Freedom above all.

I really like the analysis from FT Alphaville because it brings attention to the monetary value of old recordings. Music will probably stay with us, but the crazy valuation of old recordings might be a bubble that will pop sooner than later.

Why didn't he major in music? Why English?

Jazz was the basis of popular music in America from the late 19th century until the dawn of rock and roll. Did popular music move away from jazz, or did jazz move away from being popular? Why? As modern popular music becomes tired and repetitive, how can we cultivate a populist jazz movement once again?

Which classic blues musicians are over/underrated?
Where does Prince rank among pop songwriters? Allen Toussaint? Bernie Worrell?
At what point, if any, were/are older pop music fans correct to say that pop music all sounds the same in comparison to what they "grew up on"? Or same question, but for any sub-genre of pop?

Or: Which artists have been best at transforming their music live (for the better)

In the early 90s an "alternative" listener would be into a wide variety of music: John Zorn, Big Black, Anthony Braxton, Hanatarash, Diamanda Galas, Negativland, Brian Eno, and so forth. You would see some of the same audience members at any shows with these artists who had nothing in common except weirdness. What happened?
There is an online essay titled "Have You Heard of Eugene Chadbourne?" that goes into this question. Is it just an age effect or did something really change?

Since he's well versed in music and business, ask him about the relationship between those styles of music and kinds of management structure in business. Here's the kind of thing I have in mind:

And, with this contrast, we return to our major theme, composition and improvisation as the organizing patterns of Western and African-American culture, respectively. It is not difficult, for example to see a thematic similarity between classical music and football, on the one hand, and jazz and basketball, on the other hand (on games and cultural style, see Roberts, Sutton-Smith & Kendon, 1963). Football involves highly specialized players organized into elaborately structured units, enacting preplanned plays, and directed by a quarterback representing the coach/composer. Basketball uses a smaller number of players, whose roles are less rigorously specialized, and involves a free flowing style of play which is quite different from football. A football game is composed while a basketball game is improvised. African-Americans dominate basketball but, while they are prominent in football, they have been kept from the key role of quarterback, the director of the coach's composition.

Similarly, it is not difficult to see a likeness between classical music, football, and the hierarchical structure of large corporations, the ones that are now "downsizing" and "delayering" to cut costs and gain flexibility. When we consider jazz and basketball in this context, what comes most quickly to my mind is the advice of current management gurus about the need for a very fluid corporate structure, one which changes quickly and has multifunctional workers organized into relatively flat structures. Thus Tom Peters (1992) uses the carnival as one of his key metaphors. Carnivals run lean, quickly adapt to changing markets, and have employees who play multiple roles. Carnivals, and the corporation of the twenty-first century, are improvisatory. Likewise, when Michael Maccoby (1990, pp. 474-475) talks of the need for "corporate men and women who can work interdependently within a corporate structure that stimulates and rewards individual initiative and continual improvement" he describes a pattern of vigorous individuality in service of a group creation which is a fundamental requirement of jazz. Duke Ellington's sidemen were all individualists who played their best music in Ellington's band; leaders such as Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, and Miles Davis were known for so successfully fostering the growth of their musicians that many of them went on to become leaders themselves. Jazz culture stresses the importance of finding your own voice, your own style, even to the basic sound a player gets from his or her instrument. In contrast, classical culture stresses adherence to an ideal sound and is doubtful about individuality, even from virtuoso soloists. Thus it is no surprise that the business world is beginning to see books with titles like Leadership Jazz (DePree, 1992) and Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity (Kao, 1996).

From an old article of mine, "Music Making History: Africa Meets Europe in the United States of the Blues", in Nikongo Ba'Nikongo, ed., Leading Issues in Afro-American Studies. Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press, 1997, pp. 189-233.

FYI, Ted's brother is Dana Gioia, a noted expert on poetry.

And Dana was chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts between 2003 and 2009.

Say I want to help a non-musician understand what makes jazz jazz, but they don't know anything about keys, scales, intervals and so on. What models, analogies, communication strategies etc. can help them begin to recognize its underlying structure? Or is it better for a non-musician to simply experience the music without knowing why it works?

Do the love song's origins come from a time when most people were not actually experiencing romantic love in the way we think about it?

What is the best evolutionary explanation for the importance of music cross-culturally? Signalling fitness doesn't seem to be enough of an explanation.

* What musical artists from the last 30 years have had the biggest influence and impact despite not selling that many records?

* Looking at the entire history of music throughout the world -- what areas of music are we most oblivious to that are the most revelatory? What have we chronically underinvested in?

* What sociological theory of the origins and purpose of music is most compelling to you? Fertility advertisement, social display of coordinated power, or something else?

* What is the best Autechre album?

What is his favorite tuning?

Who are his favorite all-time musicians (can be composers or performers)? What popular music does he listen to?

Both tech companies (in the Bay Area) and jazz musicians (in NYC) face a tension between network effects and cost of living. Any differences between how this tension plays out in the two situations—e.g., is NYC more likely to be dethroned as the jazz capital than the Bay area is the tech capital, or vice versa?
Is it better for a jazz musician to grow up in NYC (where overall opportunities are highest) or some other place, e.g. Houston (where opportunities may be more available to musicians at a younger age, among other things)? How about technologists and the Bay Area?

I can answer this one from experience. If you are world-class, best to start in a world-class city. If you're good, but a step below that, best to start in a less prominent city and try to work your way up. I rose up in the ranks of the Washington, DC jazz scene 15 years ago and got pretty good. Moved to LA at the age of 30 and was immediately humbled by all the insane talent competing with me for gigs. Lasted a couple of years and then decamped to Las Vegas where I'm happily playing casino gigs.

If one were to 'follow the money' in the jazz world, is the jazz business now a pyramid teaching scheme which lives on student debt?
Were the formal possibilities of tonal jazz fully explored by Miles, by 1970? Briefly breath some life into 'is jazz dead?'

What does he sing in the shower?

Good one.

Also: our dishwasher plays "The Trout". What does yours play?

- How can we bring improvisation back to classical music? How can we get classical performers committed to adding it as a musical skill? Should we?
- Is streaming a net positive or negative for artists in jazz and other somewhat less mainstream genres?
- What jazz ensemble from the last 20 years is most comparable to the John Coltrane Quartet or one of Miles's Quintets?
- Herbie Hancock or McCoy Tyner?
- Best living jazz vocalist?
- I don't know how much he travels, but: Best non-American city to hear 'local' jazz (local meaning we're excluding American artists on tour in that city)?

please consider asking him if he thinks it is possible he is the guy I lent a 20 dollar bill to in a night club in a not very fashionable suburb of Oakland somewhere past midnight on a specific day in the late afternoon of the 1980s - there was a real good Hammond "organist" at the "'club", playing with a small rhythm section and a guy with a trumpet - I kid you not, the oranges was the star, he (the organist) sold autographed LPs after the show -

and there was a guy, when I was waiting to pay the check, who looked an awful lot like a younger version of 2019 Ted Gioa (sans moustache, a dire la verite) whose Diner Club card had been declined

and without a hitch in his delivery he told the cashier "that is surprising" and then he told his Titian-haired companion (if I remember correctly, dressed in a fetching version of the then popular 'matelot' style from the waist up - I am observant and have a good pictorial memory, but I really do not know what said companion was wearing to accompany the matelot style blouse - maybe trousers, maybe a long skirt, God only knows now) - then he told his red-headed companion "this is not a problem" and then he looked at me (also ready to pay up and leave for greener venues) and said - hey lend me a twenty I got no cash I'll give it back to you next week at the coal mine - (we had been talking, earlier that late evening at that club, strangers though we were, about a certain set of musicians who had referenced coal mines in their best days, by then long gone, but that is another story) and I did not say anything, just smiled at him in a very unusual way (although not at all unusual to anyone who had seen the great late actor John Cazale deploy that exact smile in multiple roles) and I handed him a 50 and he said no I just need a 20 and I took back the 50 and handed him a 20

all of which I did because of an interesting and supremely amusing conversation we had had, earlier that evening while the musicians were on a break, about my amazement that he and me both really appreciated both Beiderbecke for his cornet work and Louie Armstrong for his trumpet work - I forget the details of that conversation, sadly, but I do have a near photographic memory for certain turns of phrase that I think are unsurpassable, and whether the guy I handed that 20 back to or not was a Gioa or not, or some guy named Smith or John Doe, or some other name, I remember it like it was yesterday, he said when I handed him the 20 (the Titian-haired wench (wench is a good word in this anecdote)

"this is not a problem my friend I'll give this back to you next time I see you at the coal mine - Monday next week, am I right?"

and I , who have not as many gifts in this life as I would like, but more than enough gifts - I who have the gift of not wanting to have the last word just looked at him for a moment and then looked away forever, away from the guy who looked like Ted Gioa without a mustache and his beautiful companion, never expecting to see that 20 again , that 20 that I was more than willing to depart with forever in tribute to a fellow aficionado of the great Bix.

If he is that guy, ask him if he has contributed to no-kill puppy shelters over the years, if he has, great, if he hasn't, ask him if he wouldn't mind sending a 20 that way in memory of old times, not to repay a loan, but in memory of old times

Thanks for reading

and if you think I only wrote this to explain to my TOEFL students that yes, "we had had" is a real thing that real people who speak real English really say, well maybe you are right, and maybe you are wrong

Recount this. James, where John had had "had", had had "had had". "Had had" had had the examiner's approval.

now I remember .... I seriously had forgotten that!

by the way, the "Titian haired wench" was from one of the scriptwriters of the first filmed version of Batman, referring to Lesley Gore as a young friend of Catwoman, who had only wanted to be a GIFTED SINGER

at the Milkshake a go go

Adam West and Lesley Gore must have loved filming that episode together

misplaced phrase?

****away from the guy who looked like Ted Gioa without a mustache and his beautiful companion, (the Titian-haired wench (wench is a good word in this anecdote), never expecting to see that 20 again, that 20 I was more than willing to depart with forever in tribute to a fellow aficionado of the great Bix. ****

Are tonality and functional harmony linked to the idea of progress?

What is the future of classical music now that mainstream streaming services have reduced everything to a “song” or “track” (as opposed to a multi-movement symphony) with an “artist” (as opposed to multiple interpretations by different performers based on an individual composer)? Does search or discovery (and this relevance) of classical break down when “artist” is assumed to be both composer and performer?

What is the future of traditional music driven by an oral tradition (such as Irish music) when the transmission of ideas is increasingly de-localized?

If I ask Alexa or Siri to “play some classical/jazz music,” why is the result so bad?

How would he update his views on what is "cool" today as opposed to ten years ago (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OfwYms9yQg)?

How did he find business school and does he think it is a useful? Wouldhe recommend it to young people today?

What does he make of management consulting as a profession?

Do Jazz musicians take more risk than other musicians? Are they justly rewarded for those risks? What can this teach us about risk taking?

Is venture capital broken?

Have we reached some sort of musical stagnation and is it tied to possible economic stagnation?

What can be done to support innovation in music and maintain appreciation of diverse musical styles as opposed to the sort of global EDM/Kpop sounds that dominate the airwaves today?

The word "jazz" has meant many different things at different times and places. It isn't one "thing".
Charles Mingus defined it as the "word that separate the musicians from the money". Indeed, every musician knows if you can get people to classify your music as rock or pop you are going to make more money.
As for a question, what is the deal with so-called "world music"? Was it not originally a term used by certain labels to promote certain African musicians (although nothing prevented it from extending or narrowing its meaning subsequently, as with the word "jazz").
Another question: Why is music so bad now? Is it because people now like bad music, or rather is it that they aren't being offered good music? Has it always been this bad, but we don't remember, because only the best few hits have been preserved. That is definitely true for music from the Big Band Swing Era of the late 30's to about 1945.
Final question: What is the best way to write a hit song?

also let him know I know nobody cares about my efforts to be eloquent

and I know that

that is what is so good

God loves us all

isn't it nice to know that someone who can be supremely eloquent just does not care

because that means

all the people who are not eloquent or who cannot really carry a rhythm even though they would like to

are equally loved by God


my friends

is exactly how you talk to jazz artists when you get the chance to talk to a jazz artist

hope you heard and saw what I did there

all time is redeemable

that is what I teach my friends who want to learn how to play the drums

I have known that since a long time ago

all a good drummer needs to know is that

all time is redeemable, beginning right now

Life is simple, art is easy, God loves us all.
Please remember that.

Look (and now I am gonna start explaining the sort of thing that usually gets deleted when I write it on some website that I did not pay for, and that never bothers me, I know I am just some 2019 version of some unusual old-school preacher on some AM radio from a few time zones over that nobody would bother listening to if they were not driving down an interstate highway and were not listening to some generally inaccessible AM radio station - amirite? maybe yes, maybe no, keep reading if you want, if you don't want that is fine too )

.....I know you are probably not one of God's obvious chosen in this world (you are one of God's chosen, that goes without being said, but .... let us be honest, here, tonight. There are fortunate exceptions, and maybe you are one ..... but You are probably not a prince of this world, no more than I am, you are probably not a princess of this world either, and your dream that some prince or princess will make your life better is not the dream you should be dreaming .... you have better dreams to dream , trust me , I can see what this world looks like to someone who has seen what it looks like from centuries long traversed in a future that looks back with such compassion at the past .... just saying, trust me or not, but I do remember ....I know how good this world is to anyone who can think, without resentment, that maybe, just maybe, they were not really one of God's obvious chosen but that it DID NOT MATTER it did not matter at all BECAUSE GOD LOVES US ALL

- (and as for me, I have been a champion of the trillions of cockroaches, all with a little cockroach soul, God bless their hearts, and a champion of many similar apparent losers in life who were, believe it or not, loved by God - I remember - and even if I forget some day, the trillions of cockroaches who KNOW IN THEIR LITTLE COCKROACH HEARTS THAT I PRAYED FOR THEM will remember)

the dream you should be dreaming is this
God needs you to wake up and understand that
HEAVEN is something you remember in addition to something you hope for

and you can be so important to everyone you know simply by working to wake everyone up and tell them God loves them and God is not gonna wake them up if there is even the slightest chance

their friends are gonna wake them up.

and yes you can make fun of me all you want but you have no idea what it feels like to know that trillions of cockroaches, in their limited little way, are obscurely joyful that you prayed for them.

Proverbs 8 explains this better than I ever could.

Guess which jazz improviser I pastiched there halfway through for a few moments

"God is not gonna wake them up if there is even the slightest chance their friends are gonna wake them up"

I phrased that a little awkwardly, as I often do, but Don't worry, if they don't have friends, God always was and always will remain the best friend they ever had.

Don't feel sorry for anyone who does not seem to have a friend in this world

God loves the friendless

Miles or Coltrane?

What is the consensus among classic musicians and music historians regarding the shift in popular music to almost exclusively electronic-based production, and why are the people that hold that opinion right or wrong?

Here's my question (I'm a 66 year old white guy) -- is popular music today really as horrible as it seems? Or am I just old?

Blue Note Records in the 1960s, overrated or underrated?
CTI Records in the 1970s, overrated or underrated?

Please ask him to comment on this WSJ article about the heavy metal and globalism


I’d like to know about his music playback equipment - his amps, speakers, any headphones, turntables, cables.

Qsk him if Oxford's PPE programme was valuable to him in any way

What are his thoughts on what gave rise to musicians like Ellington, Mingus, Davis and all the others at that period in history.

We know that Mingus and Davis explored new sounds, and Evans tried classical crossover, has he ever thought about what Evans would have explored if he lived a longer life.

How many listenings is a particular record given before being selected for a "best of" list?

I'm always suspicious when I see "best of" lists containing hundreds of records. Presumably there are many, many other offerings that didn't make that list. Given that there are only so many hours in the day, how is it possible to fully appreciate a record if it's only listed to once or twice?

As a southern Californian, what did he think of La La Land? As a jazz critic?

Jazz and Classical music are both flourishing from an artistic perspective (there seem to be more amazing musicians than ever), and yet musicians struggle more than ever to make a living playing music. What are the best trends of the past fifteen years in art music? What are the worst?

Ted also wrote a great book on jazz standards, which is the currency of collaboration for many jazz musicians (I can get together with any other jazz musician in the world and play "Autumn Leaves" and sound good). That said, much new jazz is focused on original music. What is the role of standards in society today and how will that change?

What's your opinion about music criticism nowadays? Is jazz criticism becoming extinct?

I've been following his best albums of the year for quite some time now. Ted Gioia listens to close to a 1000 different albums a year. Given that much input, does the idea of desert island discs make sense for how he listens to music? If so, what are his desert island discs?

"Gioia was raised in a Sicilian-Mexican household in Hawthorne, California, a working class neighborhood in the South-Central area of Los Angeles. Gioia was valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar at Hawthorne High School, and attended Stanford University."
You are the dream of college admissions people - came out of a working-class area and were chosen by big-deal schools and made a stellar career. This leads me to several questions: How did you do it? Came from the manufacturer a natural genius? Supernatural levels of grit? Desperate urge to get the Hell out of Hawthorne?
How did Stanford do it? Outreach to low-yield schools, including yours? Were they particularly insightful in plucking your application out of the stack and putting it in 'admit', or did you give them lots of clues?
How did Hawthorne High School do it? Particularly inspired teachers who told you you could make it in the big time? Or did your family provide particular academic strength? Are we leaving behind a lot of Hawthorne kids whose lives could be made better by a great college?
Do you think your life would have gone this well if you had gone to Cal State Fullerton?
Globally, do you think big-deal universities are handling their admissions well, from the point of view of getting the students who will most enrich national life after graduation?

Ask him if he has a general model of how well-educated, well-behaved, conscientious young people who progress quite far along the standard "cursus honorum" track of modern life somehow find themselves inexorably slouching—often against their will—towards successful careers in the arts.

Jazz embracing a wide variety of styles versus jazz focusing on expression of its rich traditions.

Scofield versus Marsalis.


How many new album does he listen to 3 or more time in a year?
Desert island playlist or album list.
What music genre is most relevant today? Or, what artist(s)?

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