4 jun. 2009

Take "Dixieland" jazz. Armstrong's Hot 5 and Hot 7 sessions are perfectly listenable today. They still sound fresh and new. But any attempt to play in this style, by anyone after about 1940 who wasn't part of the music in its day, is absolutely vile, in all cases, a priori and forever, categorically, amen.

While I don't appreciate the hard bop of the "young lions," I think it is still a legitimate style. Hard bop still doesn't sound dated even today. Diana Krall, though she is not all that good in comparison with Ella, Sarah, Nancy, Dinah, etc... , can still be listenable at times, but the same problem of datedness applies. It's not simply a matter of not being as good: there is a fundamental wrongness to the return to an ossified style.

Why can't you write like Keats today? It is obvious that you can't. It simply can't be done. The results would be vile pastiche. Yet you can still read Keats fine... Why is Campion's Latin verse, undoubtedly, lacking in aesthetic interest. It is the relation to the language itself that changes. Imagine an adept forger of Picasso, in 2030. If we like Picasso, wouldn't it make sense to train people to make new cubist paintings, in that exact style? But almost everyone would agree that there is not point to that. Anything interesting that might come out of trying to paint like Picasso at a much later date would be in its radical difference from Picasso. This shows that what makes modern art valuable is its relation to its own time, its radical contemporaneity. And this applies to "modern" arts of the past two. Horace was his own contemporary. He is still a modern, so to present him in "modern dress," to contemporanize him, is fundamentally misguided. There is no "past," there are only other times that used to be the present.

What defines an epoch? What makes the past the past? What is "pastness"? Is it the sense of irrecuperability? Alienness? Datedness? It is us who define the past as such. In other words, the past is deictic.

8 comentarios:

Matt dijo...

"But any attempt to play in this style, by anyone after about 1940 who wasn't part of the music in its day, is absolutely vile, in all cases, a priori and forever, categorically, amen."

I don't know... I think Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks are pretty great. That's still my favorite kind of jazz to listen to...

Jonathan dijo...

They do incorporate post dixie-land elements into their music, so that's no really a propos. It's more like early swing with a 2 beat. And what's the point of playing music (now) that's almost as advanced as Fletcher Henderson? It's like reinventing the variable foot. I just don't get it. These kind of reconstructions get the language more or less right, the idiom, but not the feeling behind the idiom.

michael dijo...

it's the concept of the past as something which is gone & unusable today, that's the cant of the contemporary moment. these critical notions--that a (metaphorical!) progress occurs, & according to which, one can be left behind--they are meant to enforce conformity to that cant.

there are other ways to look at it. a large tool-box, some of them worn & old, some of them shiny & new: what MORAL meaning can be attached to using, or refraining from using, a particular tool?

isn't it the most obvious thing about us, that the times are broken? that the facade has split? that we dwell in NO PARTICULAR TIME?

m.

Jonathan dijo...

It ought to be that way, Michael--that any past language is available today. But it isn't that way, somehow. I'm trying to understand the reasons for this. Just to call it a modern "cant" doesn't get me anywhere.

We have these past languages there for us to enjoy, but somehow we know that they can't be used anymore to say what we want to say. It's not even that there is progress. I don't think Keats is worse or less developed than any subsequent poet, but we can't write that way any more. Louis Armstrong is the greatest there was, but his style is not available. In someone playing like that today there would be only the corniness of it, not the freshness.

It is a moral imperative too. You can't just have a second cubism as though the first had not existed. It's a vile reactionary lie. White guys playing dixieland should be shot on sight.

Jordan dijo...

> White guys playing dixieland

Some of my best friends are white guys playing dixieland.

Jonathan dijo...

Some of my best friends are people who start sentences with "Some of my best friends..."

Jordan dijo...

Well played!

Vance Maverick dijo...

I grew up listening to Dixieland -- my dad loved it, played it in college. At the time I bracketed it by concentrating on classical music instead. Later, when I got to know better jazz, my unease was crystallized by LeRoi Jones' magnificent takedown of appropriated Dixieland in Blues People. Definitely agree with your dismissal.