But the simple truth is that a great deal of music falls into four simple stylistic categories: folk and traditional music, classical music, jazz, and popular music. There are some interesting blends out there and there are certainly many pieces in one style that are influenced by other styles, but these general categories are still fundamental. This does not prevent, however, a lot of articles in the mass media from either ignoring or seeking to obfuscate this simple truth.
I just ran into an, ahem, "classic" example of this. In today's Wall Street Journal there is an article titled ‘TranceClassical’ by Maya Beiser Review: A Cello Bows to All Genres. Maya Beiser is a cellist with a new album that they describe as follows:
During her lengthy career, cellist and composer Maya Beiser has explored sacred songs, the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, Woodstock-era rock, and numerous pieces by contemporary classical composers ranging from Philip Glass to Michael Gordon. On her new recording, “TranceClassical” (Innova), she brings these disparate interests together in what amounts to a philosophical retrospective and a career-spanning playlist. Rather than deliver a pastiche, she unites her interests with characteristic flair.This is the kind of criticism we have these days: it must always consist of unalloyed praise. Let's have a listen to one of the tracks from the album. This is an arrangement of the Air from Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3:
The video aside, what we have here is a very old-fashioned, 19th century style slow tempo performance with a great deal of vibrato. Nothing wrong with that, but it is rather soppy and melodramatic. Let's listen to another sample from the album. This is an arrangement by David Lang of the Velvet Underground tune "Heroin":
Maya Beiser is certainly a very versatile artist, but I didn' t quite get the feeling from the first two clips that that was where her central focus was. Frankly, just about any reasonably well-trained cellist could have managed those performances. But the last one is more individual and telling, I think.
So what sort of artist is Maya Beiser? What category is most comfortable for her? She is really not a classical artist, I don't think, nor a pop artist. Certainly not a folk or traditional one. No, I think it is pretty clear that she is a jazz musician.
The reveal is found at the very bottom of the Wall Street Journal article describing the job title of Martin Johnson, the writer of the article:
Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.