24 nov. 2009

Jazz is not "America's classical music." Just think about it a moment. It's kind of like the "champaign of beers" logic. All the prestige in the comparison comes from classical music and flows toward jazz. The terms cannot be reversed: you can't call Mozart an Austrian jazz musician, can you? The phrase is based on a dehistoricized construction of classical music, a term that wasn't even used until well into the 19th century, and a dehistoricized view of jazz as well--one that tries to sever the links between jazz and various forms of popular music. It's a purely aspirational sentiment meant to improve the prestige of jazz by associating it with already prestigious forms of music.

You don't need to "make a lady" out of jazz, improve it to make it more classical. Once you start calling it America's classical music you get Wynton Marsalis.

11 comentarios:

Matt dijo...

pretty sure wynton marsalis is the one who came up with that actually, ha

Vance Maverick dijo...

I understand the impulse behind the phrase, but it belongs to a bygone era. Once it was urgent to challenge the prestige of (European) classical music in American life -- the hegemony of the middlebrow. That prestige is now lost forever. (I see Grover Sales' book of this name is from 1984, pretty late already, I would have thought. But even in the late '70s it was possible for a strange kid like me to grow up with the idea that classical music was the only music.)

Jordan dijo...

Matt: bingo.

JM: you see noise composer Glenn Branca's cri de spleen?

Ross Brighton dijo...

And it's dishonest about the Jazz impulse - it's a civilising, defanging impulse. Jazz does not represent (as Classical music does now) a safe cultural bastion. It is a breaking of things. Listen to Cecil Taylor and it breaks things.

I should be being more eloquent, but I can't right now. Sorry.

Vance Maverick dijo...

I'm somewhat sympathetic to that angle, Ross, but I don't think it works. First, you're giving Taylor credit for a radicalism he shared with many of his generation -- and much of that music is 50 years old now. While that flowering occurred, however controversially, within the framework of jazz, "jazz" as we know it today is largely a survival or restoration, not a continued renewal. (For comparison, there was a "new wave" of invention in movies 45 or so years ago; do we still associate that with "the movies" or even with "French movies"? No, it's historical.)

Second, of course, there's been lots of radicalism in the history of the music we know as classical. A good performance of Berlioz or Wagner, or Schoenberg, or Xenakis, gets that going even now.

That is, jazz has been "defanged" in a similar sense -- the difference is that this happened in living memory.

nnyhav dijo...

YM champaign-urbana of beers? but actually champagne of beers is not a necessary implication, rather the idiom indicates its placement relative to the culture (the American version of which often regarded as a degraded form of the European).

Stephen Baraban dijo...

One of my mentors, the late Prof. Jack Clarke at SUNY/Buffalo, was a jazz keyboardist and such a jazz partisan that he said once that any really good musical passage, in say Mozart or Beethoven or whatever, should be called 'jazz'.

But as far as the more usual "jazz is American classical music" claim, at least it declares how sophisticated the music is, as is also true when certain musical traditions of, say, China or India are said to be the "classical music" of those nations.

Maybe there would be less not-so-great "jazz poetry" if the poets reflected on the sophistication of jazz, which can't be captured by certain superficial verbal techniques.

And of course, the formula is very often "jazz is 'African-American' or 'Black' classical music". I wouldn't argue with African-American pride regarding their leading role in jazz.

Stephen Baraban dijo...

The late Steve Lacy has spoken of some jazz as "defensive" and some as "offensive". "Defensive" jazz is more restrained and "offensive" more agressive (sp.?), but I don't think he meant a value judgment as Silliman does between Quietist and Avant poetry. I think it's very interesting that both "defensive" and "offensive" refer to war, conflict or danger; and I do hear a high level of tension as a constant feature of jazz. Well not always--not for instance in Sonny Rollins. And I think that's why I took a long time to appreciate Rollins.

Jonathan dijo...

So you can only be proud of something if it's "classical"?

Vance Maverick dijo...

Picking this up late -- I wish I could remember where I first encountered the formula "black classical music". (Maybe Joni Mitchell? like the liner notes on Hejira?) Wherever it was, the explicit parallel was that musicians are expected to learn old styles as the background to contemporary music-making. This fails, I think, on even brief pursuit, but that was the claim, and it makes the association with Marsalis inevitable.

Word verification: rellim, like all those jazz titles that are backwards names.

Jordan dijo...

Vis a vis that great Lacy dichotomy, I saw elsewhere today a reference to Jon Hassell's concept of "coffee-colored music."