3952Re: When did Jazz die?
- Mar 17, 2007I feel that genre labels should be used for convenient identification
rather than strict definition. Each piece of music--whether recorded
or "live"--is a unique entity, so I think it's important not to
over-generalize. I subscribe to Morton's view that jazz is a style.
As such, it would seem to have characteristics, rather than qualities
which define it absolutely. During our vintage period, there were
many relatively unorthodox jazz performances (by jugbands for example,
or in the case of Waller's pipe organ works).
"Modern jazz" may as well begin with Art Tatum's solo piano sides of
1933-34. Tatum was a devotee of Fats Waller--and yet a huge influence
on Charlie Parker. I had thought that Parker's solos sounded like
Tatum solos transposed; eventually I met an artist who'd been friends
with Parker. He told me (unprompted) that during his early years,
Parker listened to lots of Bach and Art Tatum. The point is that the
chain of influences/evolution is, in a certain sense, unbroken.
Ellington also had a great deal to do with the bop "revolution,"
especially in his group with Jimmy Blanton and Ben Webster (the body
of Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" is virtually identical to Duke's "Cotton
Tail," and both Gillespie and Parker played in Duke's band).
Regarding Parker's work, my experience has been almost entirely
mental, meaning that I tend to think "this man has mastered the
alto saxophone" but I don't feel much. For me, the "best" jazz
achieves a balance between heart and head, and the problem with much
modern jazz is that it's too much "head," not enough "heart" (perhaps
vice versa for certain "Free jazz"). Still, I do feel each piece
should be judged (if at all) on its own merits, and not by a
surrounding context, though it may otherwise enhance our appreciation.
ps The delineation of certain "eras" is relevant: I think primarily
the '20s (beginning with Prohibition and Mamie Smith's breakthrough,
ending with the stock market crash) or Prohibition itself (ending
prior to the commercial "Swing" era). The most important point of
division is indeed World War II: after the war, one sees a huge
difference throughout the cultural landscape, in literature, film, and
music. Perhaps a sublimated cynicism brought about by fear of atomic
power, although I blame commercial television for lowering aesthetic
standards in general (we won't discuss fluoridation)...
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