Why Jazz Still Matters American jazz articles influence Academy of Arts and Sciences
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Why Jazz Still Matters American jazz articles influence Academy of Arts and Sciences
Early sound technology such as phonograph records and radio spread jazz around the world, and the speed with which it spread frightened many people in its early days, especially because the music in its inception appealed so powerfully to the young. Jazz emerged in the twentieth century, the Age of Music, when people not only heard more music than ever before but consumed it more voraciously than ever before in human history, largely attracted to music for its emotional and psychological effects. Jazz became the first, though not the last, popular music to be trapped by its intellectual pretensions, on the one hand, and its anti-intellectual appeal, on the other. Jazz has been condemned and promoted by various political ideologies and governments: Nazis called it “Nigger-Juden” music; 12 the Soviets thought of it as music of the workers and the dispossessed, on the one hand, and a sensationalized, bourgeois art, on the other; in the United States, it was once considered low-class, dance hall music, on the one hand, and the music of democracy, the Only Original American Music, on the other. So powerful was the presence of jazz when it first emerged that it is the only music that has a social epoch named in its honor: the Jazz Age . As Ingrid Monson wrote, “The art music known variously as jazz, swing, bebop, America’s classical music, and creative music has been associated first and foremost with freedom. Freedom of expression, human freedom, freedom of thought, and the freedom that results from an ongoing pursuit of racial justice.” One has only to read, for instance, historian Michael H. Kater’s Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany or author Josef Skvorecky’s extraordinary novella The Bass Saxophone to know how profoundly true Monson’s observation is – that jazz was a beacon, an act, a trope of freedom, an expression against repression that inspired many people around the world. But if jazz was, at one point in its history, about freeing oneself from artificial and arbitrary constraints in both popular and classical music, about freeing society from its restrictions and repressions, then, for many of its fans and practitioners, it has now become about preserving and conserving a tradition, an ideology, a set of standards, a form of practice. Today, jazz is an art that can satisfy the compulsions of the liberationist and the conservative, of those who seek change and of those who prefer stasis. 16 Is jazz still a relevant form of artistic expression, still a significant force in the world of popular music or the world of art music? In other words, is jazz so insufficiently hip that its pretensions and its conceit no longer matter as either a theory or a practice? Has it become, in many respects, like mainline Protestantism, a theory and a practice prized by its followers because of its limited and slowly declining appeal and its glorious history as something that once did matter? Is jazz simply a music trapped in the memory of itself, technically exhausted and imaginatively hampered, shadowed and sabotaged by its pop and R & B commercial doppelgänger, smooth jazz? Fifty or one hundred years from now will more accessible and commercial jazzers like saxophonist Kenny G and trumpeter Chris Botti be more remembered than trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and pianist Brad Mehldau? To be sure, for many of its fans and followers, jazz has gone from being an anti-establishment to an establishment art form, something that may have drained the art form of its purpose and its emotional correlatives. If jazz has acquired a new power, a new appeal, then what precisely is it and what is the relationship of this new power, this new appeal, to the power and appeal that jazz once had when it was the dominant music of the United States? Has jazz transcended the marketplace or is it a music that deserves to be protected from the desecrations of the market as we try to protect classical music? Protectionism, when it comes to the arts, has usually been a lost cause. Jazz’s advocates and supporters say that jazz is more popular, more listened to than ever despite its low market ratings, and this may be true: it certainly shows up in unexpected places such as, for instance, two unrelated Tom Cruise movies, 1996’s Jerry Maguire and 2004’s Collateral . And there continues to be art-house films about jazz, such as Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead about Miles Davis, Robert Budreau’s Born to Be Blue about jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, and Cynthia Mort’s Nina about jazz/folk singer Nina Simone. Jazz is a complex, highly blended, sometimes contradictory music and, indeed, since its inception, it has been hotly debated exactly what forms or styles constitute this music. Is it music theory or a technique that is applied to music? Is it one music or several loosely grouped forms of music that deal with improvisation? Its roots are African and European, classical and popular, dance music and art music. It has been called both cool and hot, earthy and avant-garde, intellectual and primitive. It has been influenced by Latin American and Afro-Cuban music, by Middle Eastern, Indian, and other forms of Asian music, by African music, and by varieties of religious music including gospel and the Protestant hymnal. Jazz also has roots in the American popular song , the blues, hokum and circus music, marching band music, and popular dance music. It is known for being improvised and touted for the freedom it permits its players, but jazz in its heyday of swing was largely composed and tightly arranged; although many jazz players have soloed, relatively few, as might be expected, were exceptional, memorial, or highly influential soloists. In any case, why did so-called free music generated on the spot by the player become more highly valued by jazz players and audiences than notated music that, by its very nature, is presumed to have a greater range of expressiveness? Improvised music goes back to Western classical composers like Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, who were superb improvisers, but has also existed elsewhere around the world for millennia. What makes jazz improvisation different? Singers made jazz popular, but the music is mostly instrumental, and the great instrumentalists are considered its most important innovators. Because most of the great singers were women – from Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, and Peggy Lee to Cassandra Wilson and Dianne Reeves – male bias on the part of both the musicians themselves and of critics likely skewed our sense of this music. 11 J azz improvisation celebrates the heroic genius improviser, but, as musicians know, that brilliance often depends on the collective magic of the right band: individuals who compliment, anticipate, inspire, and upset each other into a communal whole greater than the sum of its parts. Indeed, two of the most influential heroes in jazz – Miles Davis and John Coltrane – are known by the brilliance of their quartets and quintets, which became the most revered models of group interplay. These collective musical relationships became generalized into idealized concepts of community that pervade our contemporary understanding of jazz. For Wynton Marsalis, the jazz ensemble is democracy in action: participatory, inclusive, challenging, competitive, and collective. 7 For the interracial musical scene of the forties and fifties, jazz improvisation was often viewed as the ultimate integrated music, crossing the color line and social categories with aplomb. 8 For others, black musicians created idealized and woke communities of color, which inspired the development of progressive black social and spiritual movements. Freedom links the musical aesthetics of jazz and its sociopolitical ambitions: associated with improvisation and desperately needed for racial justice and inclusion. For some, the political and cultural associations of jazz are primary, indeed, above the music itself, which can make jazz seem like a branch of social theory. Ralph Ellison criticized this tendency by wryly critiquing Amiri Baraka’s Blues People by noting that “the tremendous burden of sociology which Jones would place upon this body of music is enough to give even the blues the blues.” 9 For others, the music must be addressed to the exclusion of the social and cultural. Music theorists are more comfortable on this terrain, but the most interesting recent work on jazz has emphasized the sound of the music, the embodied experience of listening and performing as the link between the musical and the social. 10 Why Jazz Still Matters American jazz articles influence Academy of Arts and SciencesWhy Jazz Still Matters American jazz articles influence Academy of Arts and Sciences Every dimension of jazz outlined above is the subject of academic and critical study in a variety of fields including English, history, American studies, musicology, African American studies, studies of the Americas, and culture studies. Indeed, jazz studies as an interdisciplinary field of research and pedagogy formally exists and has its own journal, Jazz Perspectives . What is this all about, anyway? And why should those with no interest in jazz care about any of this?
Gerald Early , a Fellow of the American Academy since 1997, is the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters and Editor of The Common Reader at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of A Level Playing Field: African American Athletes and the Republic of Sports , One Nation Under a Groove: Motown and American Culture , and This is Where I Came In: Black America in the 1960s . Ingrid Monson is the Quincy Jones Professor of African American Music at Harvard University. She is the author of Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa , The African Diaspora: A Musical Perspective , and Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction . This issue of Dædalus explores both the legacies of jazz and its futures from the perspectives of artists and academics engaged in multiple fields of study. The interdisciplinarity of the contributors emphasizes the fact that jazz, as stated above, was never only a music but rather was a music that served as a muse for an arts movement, enchanting and bewitching other creative artists to make and to critically examine their art: from novelists like Ralph Ellison, Albert Murray, Jack Kerouac, and John Clellon Holmes to poets like Amiri Baraka, jazz articles influence Allen Ginsburg, and Michael Harper to painters like Romare Bearden and Jackson Pollock to dancers like Fred Astaire, Agnes de Mille, Norma Miller, and Savion Glover and to hip hop and spoken-word artists like the Roots, Kendrick Lamar, and Beyoncé. The essays in this issue critically examine the achievements of jazz as an artistic movement through historical case studies, engagement with contemporary jazz innovations, and projections of the art form’s future. A mixture of historical reckoning and utopian possibility bracket the ever-changing character of jazz now. One of the reasons that the early music in New Orleans and after was so disapproved of by the bourgeoisie was because of the association with sex. The same reaction would occur roughly thirty-five or so years later with the advent of rock and roll, another rebellious form of music with a name associated with sex. Because jazz in its early days before World War I was performed in brothels, as well as at picnics and parades, an association with sex and the erotic is not surprising. As Gerald Early observed about Miles Davis, the black male body came to define a kind of black male existentialism functioning as “a symbol of engagement and detachment, of punishing discipline and plush pleasure that operated cooperatively, not in conflict, if rightly understood.” Furthermore, this new kind of sexuality, first associated with jazz and the margins, became, over time, idealized in mainstream culture. 4 American Academy of Arts & Sciences  |  Web Policy There is no question that jazz is still present in the culture, but the larger question is: does jazz still matter ? We think it does in ways that are rather astonishing in their implications. Jazz artists like Robert Glasper and Kamasi Washington and avant hip hop artists like Kendrick Lamar may forge a new synthesis of jazz, the avant-garde, and the popular that rivets new audiences or may provide a radically new relationship between art and the popular. The Black Lives Matter movement has inspired a florescence of socially engaged artistic expression in jazz , popular music , and hip hop that models itself on the artistic vision of jazz. We suggest that jazz improvisation remains a compelling metaphor for interrelationship, group creativity, and freedom that is both aesthetic and social. Improvisation transforms, one-ups, reinterprets, and synthesizes evolving human experience and its sonic signatures regardless of their classical, popular, or cultural origins. The most innovative popular musicians are returning to its acoustic power, representing the screams of Aunt Hester, as Fred Moten has put it, with the unconventional timbres and tones of haunting jazz. 17 Understanding what has happened to jazz can tell us a great deal about the nature and influence of popular music as both a national and international art form. I’d rather play something that you can learn and like that you don’t know. I don’t want people to know what I am. Many jazz musicians never liked the word “jazz,” among the most notable being Duke Ellington, drummer Max Roach, saxophonist Rashaan Roland Kirk, composer Muhal Richard Abrams, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and Miles Davis, who said to his interlocutor in 1985: “You know I don’t like the word jazz, right? You’ve heard that? I hope that’s one of the things you’ve heard.” 5  Many African American musicians viewed the word as a music industry label created by whites that demeaned, stereotyped, and limited them artistically. Bill Crow ends his meditation on the word jazz by noting: “As we enter the 1990s the sexual connotation of the word has almost completely faded away. ‘Jazz’ is now used to identify musical forms, as well as a style of Broadway theater dancing, a patented exercise regimen, a toilet water, a basketball team, a brand of computer software.” 6 Within this metamorphosis lies a tale. Jazz has always sought a popular audience with varying success but, since its earliest days, it has been a music that is often performed by musicians for musicians. This has made many listeners impatient with it, feeling that if one needs practically a degree in music theory to appreciate it, its practitioners should not expect untrained or casual audiences to be bothered with it. But on the other hand, its technical pretensions have made jazz a kind of status music with some audiences. Whatever jazz today has lost in the size of its audience as compared with forms of popular music with bigger market shares, it has gained in the high esteem in which it is held in the business and art worlds as a sophisticated artistic expression and in the institutionalization it has experienced as a formal course of study at many colleges and universities. Indeed, if it were not for colleges, universities, and high school jazz bands, and institutions such as Jazz at Lincoln Center and SF Jazz, it is quite possible that few young people in the United States would be playing or hearing jazz today. This issue of Dædalus gathers noted writers, artists, and scholars to explore the validity of three basic contentions about the “life” and “death” of jazz, which is, without question, the “deepest,” most technically difficult “popular music” ever created: 14   first, that jazz was never simply a form of music or a congeries of musical styles, but was in fact a larger modernist artistic movement both in the United States and internationally that was a rebellious response against and, contrarily, a powerfully evocative intensification of the new mass consumer culture that signified twentieth-century urban life; second, that jazz’s transformation from dance to art music, which occurred during and immediately after World War II , was one of the profoundly cataclysmic changes to occur in American popular culture that both reflected and affected larger social , political , and cultural shifts that were swirling in the United States at the time; third, that jazz was, to a great extent, a pluralistic music during the years of its greatest popularity in the United States and that it has since become a vibrantly global art form, not only in Europe and Asia, but also in Panama, South Africa, and Ghana. Whether its future lies as a high-culture, transnational, privileged form of taste and practice or in a new synthesis joining jazz artistry with global hip hop and the popular is an open question. In either case, jazz today is a form of cosmopolitanism. But perhaps that was always what it was striving to be. As New York Times jazz critic Ben Ratliff put it: “There is no American popular music so well miscegenated as jazz.” 15 Perhaps, like Miles Davis, jazz itself is a mystique wrapped in an enigma, an essential or inescapable unknowingness that makes this music attractive for its audience. But if jazz is partly – through its challenging demands as a musical form, through the various changes through which it has sustained itself over the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, and through its aspirations to both embody and transform modernity – a music of clear and revealed intentions, it remains an art that many, even many of its devotees, do not fully understand. Even the word “jazz” itself is wrapped in mystery. How did the music come to be called this and what does this word mean? Jazz bassist Bill Crow points out that some have thought the word comes the French verb jaser , or to chatter. Others say that the word “arose from corruptions of the abbreviations of the first names of early musicians: ‘Charles’ or ‘James’ .” Some have thought it came from the slang word for semen or that it came from “jazzing,” a slang word for fornication. 2 Anthropologist Alan Merriam notes that there are also Hausa and Arabic words that may be related to the term: jaiza , the rumbling of distant drums, and jazb , allurement or attraction. 3 Jazz is, of course, about race in America not only because African American musicians were so central in its creation and African American audiences so important in their creative responses to it, but because whites played such a dominant role in its dissemination through records and performance venues and its ownership as intellectual and artistic property. 13 It is a music that has always attracted intellectuals and artists, and thus the music’s influence can be felt far from the bandstand or the dance floor or the recording studio. Jazz has spawned an influential, international lifestyle, an attitude toward life – the hot, the hip, and the cool – that is secular, obsessed with youth, fixated on the marginalized, and detached yet passionately self-centered, and that has attached itself to other forms of popular music, like rock and hip hop, as jazz has become, for many young music lovers, passé. This attitude of the cool and the hip has influenced literature, including the production of the so-called jazz novel and jazz poetry, as well as art, speech, dress, and antibourgeois habits of indulgence such as using illegal drugs like marijuana and heroin. Even interracial sex, considered rebellious by some and deviant by others, was associated with the demi-monde of jazz. Spring 2019 Why Jazz Still Matters Authors Gerald Lyn Early and Ingrid T. Monson View PDF To Dædalus issue Abstract Jazz: it has been called both cool and hot, earthy and avant-garde, intellectual and primitive. It is improvisational music touted for the freedom it permits its players, but in its heyday was largely composed and tightly arranged. It tells a story about race in America: not only because African American musicians were so central in its creation and African American audiences so important in their creative responses to it, but because whites played such a dominant role in its dissemination through records and performance venues and its ownership as intellectual and artistic property. But is jazz a relic of the past, or does it continue to have meaning and influence for today’s artists and audiences? And while it may still be present , does it still matter ? This issue hopes to begin to answer for readers: What made and continues to make jazz different from other forms of music? Why did jazz happen? How did jazz, as popular music, gain and lose its popularity or, put another way, how did it lose its status as a music for the ordinary or casual musical palette? How did jazz’s close association with the repertoire of the Broadway musical, a song form that itself ceased to dominate popular music with the rise of rock and roll, affect its reception and reputation and its future? How did and how do musicians in other countries change jazz and how much did that change affect how Americans performed it? How have the changes that affect the selling of music affected jazz? what was jazz music like in the 1920s