Reviews of Books on Jazz
Jazz and the Germans: Essays on the Influence of "Hot" American Idioms on 20th Century German Music. Edited by Michael J. Budds. Monographs and Bibliographies in American Music, no. 17. Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2002. 213 p. ISBN 1-57647-072-5.
The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd edition. Edited by Barry Kernfeld. 3 volumes. London: Macmillan; NY: Groves Dictionaries, 2002. ISBN 1-56159-284-6.
The new Cambridge Companion to Jazz seems to have something of an identity crisis. Cambridge University Press states that
the vibrant world of jazz may be viewed from many angles, from social and cultural history to music analysis, from economics to ethnography . . . This volume of nineteen specially commissioned essays offers informed and accessible guidance to the challenge, taking the reader through a series of five basic subject areas—locating jazz historically and geographically; defining jazz as musical and cultural practice; jazz in performance; the uses of jazz for audiences, markets, education and for other art forms; and the study of jazz.1
Thus, it offers this Companion as an introduction to the field widely known as "jazz studies." In this it is quite timely, for this interdisciplinary field of inquiry is growing by leaps and bounds. However, you would never know from the book itself that this was its intent, for there is no preface that explains the "subject area" concept, nor the idea of jazz studies. After wrestling with the uneven nature and the widely ranging content of the essays, I went to Cambridge's web site seeking some justification for the organization and content of the volume and found the description quoted above.
The collection opens with an essay by Krin Gabbard on "The Word Jazz." This introduction reinforces a trend that I have noticed with increasing frequency: jazz scholars have become so concerned with accommodating every conceivable set and subset of jazz that they can no longer define the genre about which they write. In fact, Gabbard opines that even trying to do so is the mark of the neophyte. The author cites Louis Armstrong's famous quote, "If you've got to ask [what jazz is], then shame on you," as an example of musicians enjoying "the opportunity to mystify rather than clarify." One would now have to include jazz scholars in this group as well. Nonetheless, Gabbard does admit that "the word jazz has proved remarkably durable in designating a number of musics with enough in common to be understood as part of a coherent tradition," but doesn't discuss the matter further.
The rest of the article traverses familiar ground, discussing various historical applications of the word, lingering particularly on the polemics of the bop and post-bop eras. The last few sentences of the essay finally introduce the concept of the volume by accepting John Szwed's argument that jazz
now has more meaning outside the music and has a special appeal to a greater audience beyond the circle of devotees and connoisseurs. 'Jazz', (as we might now call this larger area of discussion) has outgrown its original means, moving beyond the music to become what some would call a discourse, a system of influences, a point at which a number of texts converge and where a number of symbolic codes are created. (6)
As many of the "jazz studies" programs attached to American universities do not include music scholars at all and often omit all but general discussion of the music as music (rather than cultural signifier, element of popular culture, etc.), the Cambridge Companion to Jazz is to be commended in that at least some of the chapters discuss the musical elements of jazz. This is certainly the result of the authorship; one-third of the contributors are musicologists or music scholars, one-third jazz musicians, and one-third interested parties from other fields.
The body of the text is divided into the five "basic subject areas" mentioned above. Of these, the first, "Jazz Times," seems particularly unfocused, as this "study area" covers the identity of jazz, its audience, and jazz dance. In the viewpoint of David Horn, "The Identity of Jazz" is every bit as unclear as Krin Gabbard would have us believe. Horn cites the different perception of jazz in various eras as its most apparent facet, though inserts a caution, by way of Scott DeVeaux, of assuming "an underlying organic essence uniting all of jazz, however disparate, and of the construction of a 'unitary narrative,' concepts which lead inexorably to the emergence of the notion of tradition." (9) Nevertheless, he does not want to "abandon the idea that there may be consistent factors within the process by which jazz has achieved identity and within the component parts of that identity." (10) Horn proceeds to outline historical features concerning the genre's identity: its connection with the music industry, the perception of improvisation and creativity as central to the genre, jazz as a feature of African American identity, and so on. The discussion is interesting, but often degenerates into tautological, navel-gazing contemplation. For example, the central connection between jazz and recording—that, until swing, jazz in its notated form was quite different from the way the music was actually performed—eventually becomes mired in the perceived propriety of recording the music at all:
much of the audience for jazz based the process of acquiring, developing and sustaining a knowledge and love of the music firmly around recordings . . . But the very centrality of the connection has also been a source of tension, or, more accurately, for two tensions. The first was between the record as a document of an event and as the event itself, and centered on arguments about the primacy or otherwise of the unique, unrepeatable performance . . . the fact that a record in effect froze one particular performance and had the power to repeat it ad infinitum began to be seen, by many involved in jazz (both musicians and the steadily growing ranks of jazz critics), as inimical to the ideology of a lack of closure that was being constructed on the back of the centrality of improvisation. (13-14)
In conclusion, though, Horn decides that what has separated jazz from other musics in the public consciousness is in fact rooted in the music. Though this borders on the (apparently) heretical notion that there might be some way to musically define jazz, Horn soldiers on, and makes a quite convincing case that jazz's approaches to tone color and rhythm (both elements of African American traditional musics) were so different from the dominant musical language of the United States that they constituted a new genre.
Bruce Johnson's essay on the "Jazz Diaspora"—a term that succinctly describes the study of jazz reception abroad—is particularly enlightening and replaces the exclusionary tone of the opening chapters by demonstrating that what is perceived as "jazz" has more to do with social milieu and methods of reception than hard and fast associations with performance practice or musical characteristics. Indeed, the author cites these "socially grounded changes" as a way to "redeem musical pleasures made guilty by teleological discourses of excellence and authenticity." (34) Perhaps this is a bit overstated, but it is a valuable point nonetheless—without anyone to tell them what is jazz, good or bad, audiences will make their own decisions. One of Johnson's most compelling arguments is that white musicians were largely responsible for the transmission of jazz to a wider audience because of the wider distribution of recordings by white organizations. However, Johnson cautions against the tendency to lament this situation:
reactive narratives attempted retrospectively to occlude influential jazz activity which was inconvenient to criteria of folk authenticity at one extreme and artistic integrity at the other . . . This reductionist narrative has obscured the diversity of musical and ethnic streams in jazz, both in the US and powerful regional accents in the international diaspora. (39)
Jed Rasula, writing on "The Jazz Audience," revisits the same territory as the first two essays: tying jazz to a larger set of cultural phenomena. Here, though, the focus is on jazz as harbinger of (and symbol for) modernism. Rasula reveals the pervasiveness of this metaphor within early twentieth-century artistic circles, and ties the music to Dadaism, Expressionism, Futurism, and other experimental movements in theatre, literature, and the visual arts, often through period commentary.
Robert P. Crease's essay is on the frequently neglected connection between jazz and dance by contrasting so-called "rag dancing"—African American influenced dance styles that emphasized improvisational choice and free movement of the lower body—and social dancing of the 1910s.
The next "study area" is introduced by Travis A. Jackson's essay on jazz as a musical practice. Beginning by analyzing the way that others have defined jazz, Jackson then addresses the problem of "simple and orthodox" definitions centered on the qualities of improvisation and swing. He finally defines jazz "not on the basis of its characteristic forms, harmonies, and rhythms, but based on what jazz musicians do with various performative elements" (90), thus including qualities such as tone color, rhythmic approach, and fluctuating interpretation to the general perception of jazz. A complementary essay by Bruce Johnson, "Jazz as Cultural Practice," deals with the ways jazz has been regarded by the musical establishment. He cites Alan Locke's distinction between "the earthy, pagan expressions of jazz" and "its hectic, artificial and sometimes morally vicious counterpart which was the outcome of the vogue of artificial and commercialized jazz entertainment" (98) as a durable framework of jazz discourse. Its most pronounced articulations, of course, were: 1) the rift that opened between swing fans and jazz advocates who felt that New Orleans style jazz, the only true form of the art, had been horribly corrupted; and 2) the harsh polemical debates of the bebop era. After discussing the perceived shift of jazz from popular to art music, Johnson opines that "the simple fact of being so taxonomically evasive is sufficient to cause nervousness among custodians of culture in a positivistic milieu. Additionally, however, several of the categories straddled by jazz exhibit characteristics that are at odds with dominant discourses of aesthetic value in the modern era." (99)
Perhaps in Great Britain this is still the case, but I have not yet encountered any custodians of positivism (of which I suppose I am one) who are somehow unnerved or threatened by jazz. The balance of the essay has the feel of having been written a dozen years ago, when debates about the legitimacy of jazz as an area of musical inquiry were still raging. There are attacks on the gatekeepers of traditional musicology committed to "maintaining a regime of knowledge-as-control," as well as their antagonism to any music that doesn't fit into the same niche as conventional art music. Clearly the author has an axe to grind, but seems to be a little late to the attack. His diatribe against "authorized musical aesthetics" that do not recognize improvisational practices and the priority of the ear, "described by art-music discourse as musical incompetence or transgressiveness," sounds merely ridiculous in light of the flood of new research on the importance of improvisation in Renaissance and Baroque music and the acceptance of experimental and computer music as legitimate (if not always beloved) fields of academic inquiry. Overall, Johnson's is a rather shrill and largely unnecessary call for finding a place for jazz at the academic table.
The juxtaposition between Johnson's essay and Ingrid Monson's solidly grounded overview of jazz improvisation couldn't be more pronounced. Hers is a pedagogical treatment and approach to listening to jazz that explains varying approaches to melodic paraphrase of early New Orleans jazz to the Lincoln Center concerts of the 1990s. Monson's explanations are clear and concise, yet informative, and so rooted in traditional musical discourse that one senses Johnson would disapprove. However, it is a fine demonstration of how jazz can be successfully incorporated into art music curricula.
Peter J. Martin presents yet another take on the "improvisation dilemma"—Gunther Schuller's pronouncement that improvisation is the heart and soul of jazz, which has come to be perhaps the most attacked statement in jazz literature. Unlike Monson's essay, which accepts that the reader has basic knowledge of chord changes and jazz vocabulary, Martin assumes the reader knows almost nothing about jazz improvisation. In a sense, his chapter complements the previous one by explaining the shifting body of performance practices connected to improvisation in order to "move beyond the remarkably tenacious, yet quite erroneous, view of the improviser as an inspired individual guided only by intuition." (134) He does so by framing jazz as an "art world" with conventions, schools, and methods, and by emphasizing the intense focus of artists on acquisition of technical mastery. Martin then uses the indomitable Charlie Parker as an example of how a storehouse of gestures and riffs developed into one of the most distinctive voices in jazz.
Mervyn Cooke's "Jazz Among the Classics, and the Case of Duke Ellington" would have been perhaps better placed after Johnson's essay, as he takes up the subject of jazz's position within the academy as the equal of art music. He considers looking at jazz as a "classical" music unfashionable, but declares that "as long as jazz is deemed to possess intellectual and emotional content worthy of respect and serious study . . . the parallels with Classical music . . . demand exploration." (153) Cooke highlights a number of similar techniques and approaches between the two, and closes with Bill Evans's reflection that such similarities "ensure that jazz is 'in touch with the universal language of understanding in music.'" (173)
The third "basic study area," "Jazz Changes," treats jazz after 1960. Darius Brubeck starts the discussion with "1959: The Beginning of Beyond," making the case that modern jazz began in that year. As this was the year that Miles Davis released Kind of Blue, Coltrane recorded Giant Steps, and Ornette Coleman announced The Shape of Jazz to Come, it is hard to argue with the premise. Along the way, Brubeck provides the best, and most concise, introduction to bebop and modern jazz that I've ever encountered: as a conceptual shift to perceiving jazz as a harmonic entity. "For jazz musicians, hearing 'the changes' is so ingrained and natural that they barely notice that it is probably only jazz musicians who automatically relate to music as being essentially 'the changes.'" (185) To him, it is this characteristic that separates jazz from other African American originated forms. Additionally (and proving that he is not bothered by the perception of jazz as art music), Brubeck calls 1959 the "decisive emancipation of jazz from its popular past."
Jeff Pressing next takes up "Free Jazz and the Avant-Garde." The author is clearly a true disciple of the free jazz movement, going even so far as to consider disconcerting Ornette Coleman's "conflict between his maintenance of a tonal framework and traditional song forms in his compositions and the improvisations on them." (209) Many of the artists that Pressing discusses seem more apropos of avant-garde classical music than jazz, but this aptly demonstrates how fuzzy the line between the two has become.
Stuart Nicholson tackles fusions and crossovers in a particularly engaging way, beginning by emphasizing that jazz itself is a fusion of American vernacular music styles, and that "mass culture and modernist high culture have been in dialogue since the mid 19th century."(217) Thus, jazz-rock fusion was more or less inevitable. His is a rare and reasoned survey of the style, from the earliest experiments (pre-Miles Davis fusion recordings by Larry Coryell and the Free Spirits in 1966) through the present, free from the judgmental tone that accompanies many such discussions. Nicholson is not afraid to praise normally unacknowledged sources of fusion, such as the rock band Cream, and cite artists who make fusion albums in an "accommodation with commercialism" (i.e. Herbie Hancock) as the bad apples that give the style a bad name. Nicholson also discusses a number of nationalist jazz fusions; his encapsulation of the "Nordic tone," a fusion of Swedish folk music and jazz, makes for particularly enticing reading.
Part IV, "Jazz Soundings," is rather a grab bag. David Ake's essay on "Learning Jazz" focuses on the ways that "jazz musicians have acquired and handed down to others the practical knowledge of their craft," (255) which would seem a better fit with Monson and Martin's articles. Though he avoids judgments, the author points out some of the consequences of institutionalized jazz education: the development of absolute standards to evaluate improvisation, educational materials that value the same skills as required by "light" music, and the "decidedly European" bent to jazz-pedagogy aesthetics. In general, Ake seems to believe that collegiate jazz pedagogy is a bad thing, in that it creates bad (or average) musicians, a not uncommon take on jazz in the academy.
David Sager's "History, Myth, and Legend: the Problem of Early Jazz" really belongs in the first section of the text. It is aimed at newcomers to jazz historiography, as its primary function is debunking of common jazz myths: New Orleans as the "birthplace" of jazz, Buddy Bolden as the father of jazz, and so on. This is a valuable service, but Sager is rather hard on the first historians of jazz, blaming their pioneering attempts for creating and perpetuating myths about early jazz and its musicians.
Thomas Owens tackles the various methods of "Analyzing Jazz" from informed theoretical analysis to the "pseudo-intellectual verbiage and scrambled terminology that sometimes characterizes jazz writing for the general reader." He surveys formal methods of analysis (descriptive, reductive, set theory, etc.) and adequately identifies some of the challenges and shortcomings, dealing mostly with transcription and notation. It is not surprising that in the end he agrees with Ekkehard Jost in determining that there is no single method of jazz analysis, as "each is, after all, saying the same thing: this music has value, let me show you why." (297)
Part V, "Jazz Takes," covers different ways of viewing jazz. "Valuing Jazz" by Robert Walser is almost pure invective. It criticizes any discussion of jazz (beginning with a 1987 Congressional resolution to declare jazz a national treasure) that does not simultaneously engage all possible viewpoints of its producers, background, and the social milieu of all applicable minority groups. His theory is that the historian's task is not to identify which one of a multitude of descriptions of jazz is correct but "to embrace them all in order to apprehend the music's full cultural significance." Indeed, this is admirable, but Walser implies that any discussion of jazz that omits any single one of these viewpoints is inherently suspect in undervaluing jazz—and somehow sinister to boot.
Daive Laing's essay on "The Jazz Market" is a contribution "toward a systematic study of those 'economic circumstances' in which jazz is produced." (321) He defines three different types of music markets (traditional, popular, and art) and establishes that jazz has been aligned with each at different times. He also tries to locate jazz in the three sectors of the music business—performing, composing, and recordings—and includes a fascinating discussion of the economies of jazz and the now central position of subsidies within that framework.
Krin Gabbard returns to close the volume with an essay on the images of jazz. It is a popularist, interdisciplinary survey of how jazz is presented in film, literature, and the visual arts. He offers a myriad of possibilities for study of jazz—racial, feminist, capitalist, elitist—basically, whatever sociological angle of culture you wish to explore, jazz has something for you. Had this been the introduction to the collection, the whole would have been greatly strengthened. The only drawback is that a great deal of material is covered; in my opinion, each of these angles would have merited an individual chapter. As a whole, I suppose the Cambridge Companion to Jazz is similar to its definition of the genre itself: uncertain and open to interpretation.
Far more focused is Jazz and the Germans, a collection of conference proceedings demonstrating a similarly varied nature of jazz discourse, in this case framed by reception of the music in Germany after World War I. In his introductory essay, editor Michael J. Budds declares that the intent of the volume is to "understand a phenomenon unprecedented in the history of Western Civilization, as well as one of the defining aspects of the past century: the growing influence of American society on the course of contemporaneous developments in Europe." (2) The first part may be a bit overstated, but the second is unquestionably true. Budds considers the "young upstart" nation infusing the venerable German art music tradition with new influences to be "nothing less than historic." This is perhaps so, but it is hardly the reason that most readers will pick up the book. However, those hoping for a volume of essays on the reaction of the Third Reich to jazz will be somewhat disappointed, though consolation can be found in David Snowball's contribution, "Controlling Degenerate Music: Jazz in the Third Reich." Rather, the collection deals with the reception of jazz in a Germany wracked not only by political turmoil, but also by a rebellion against the established artistic order. Just as European musicians were rethinking musical tradition and searching for new influences, American and French troops arrived bearing jazz; not surprisingly, it quickly entered both popular and high art culture in a very short period of time. The essays in the collection demonstrate the trajectory of jazz reception, jazz as material for art music composition, jazz as resistance, and the explosion of a thriving German jazz scene after World War II.
In "Jonny's [sic] Jazz: From Kabarett to Krenek," Alan Lareau analyzes the German cabaret character Jonny, the stock icon of the jazz musician that conflates characteristics of Blackness (both African and American), Capitalism, Socialism, and Judaism. The author explores the different contexts in which Jonny appears and is used, whether as the "poster boy" of the famous Entartete Musik [Degenerate Music] exposition of 1938, the Communist representation of the triumph of the common man, or, most famously, the main character of Krenek's opera Jonny spielt auf.
The seminal jazz scholar Frank Tirro contributes an essay on the dissemination of "hot" music that in practical terms deals with jazz reception in Europe as a whole. By and large, it serves as a reminder that jazz was distributed largely through recordings, and much of what was received as jazz in Germany was ragtime or syncopated popular music. E. Douglas Bomberger expands on this theme with an essay on "European Perceptions of Ragtime." After reiterating Gunther Schuller's speculations on the appeal of ragtime—specifically, the extensive use of syncopation and cross-rhythms—the author analyzes the ragtime-inspired works of Stravinsky and Hindemith to assess how they use musical materials from African American music. The essay is an interesting study of the way that different individuals perceive "key" characteristics of ragtime.
Dane Heuchemer returns to Jonny spielt auf to explore how Kurth Weill and Ernst Krenek employed American popular music in their attempt to create a Zeitoper, an "opera of the time" accessible to a larger public than traditional German opera. Much of "American Popular Music in Weill's Royal Palace and Krenek's Jonny spielt auf" deals with the reception of jazz, rather than the jazz elements employed in the works; in fact, Heuchemer spends more time discussing Weill's use of the tango than anything else, thus revealing what these composers considered to be the "sound" of American music.
Kathryn Smith Bowers contributes a fascinating study of Mátyás Seibèr, a student of Zoltan Kodály who started the first jazz studies program in the world at the Hoch'sche Conservatory of Music in Frankfurt in 1928. The head of the institute, composer Bernhard Sekles, believed that the teaching of jazz "was not only the right but the duty of every up-to-date musical institution. The majority of our musicians find themselves permanently or temporarily compelled to play in jazz ensembles. Aside from this practical consideration, a serious study of jazz will be of the greatest help to our young musicians . . . it will help develop a wholesome sense of rhythm . . . " (122) Sekles was certainly not universally supported in this belief, but it is surprising to see this viewpoint emerge so early in Germany, when the teaching of jazz was so bitterly opposed in the United States. Seiber also wrote a jazz method book in 1929, and emphasized in its preface that jazz was useful for establishing rhythmic freedom, crucial to performing the works of modern composers like Stravinsky and Bartók. Unfortunately, Seiber, who was Jewish, was dismissed from his post in 1933 and the jazz program at the Hoch'sche dismantled, but he moved to England in 1935 and emerged as a champion of "third stream" jazz.
Joachin Lucchesi's "Hanns Eisler: Jazz as a Weapon," returns to the theme of artistic paradigm shift to explore the impact of jazz as both music and symbol in post World War I Germany. To him, "authenticity" or lack thereof was far less important than the idea of jazz as "image of the times," akin to the futurist movement in the visual arts. His discussion is framed around the figure of Hanns Eisler (1898-1962), a Leipzig-born student of Schoenberg who employed jazz in his art songs because, as a music of the people, it coincided well with his Communist political leanings.
David Snowball's aforementioned essay on jazz in the Third Reich deals largely with the Nazi's suspicion of jazz as a vehicle for spreading Bolshevik, Jewish, and African ideals. Unable to completely eliminate the music due to its popularity, the regime limited access to certain kinds of jazz, instituted downright silly regulations to lessen "polluting influences" and finally, tried to co-opt to genre by creating Aryan jazz.
Carlo Bohländer, who founded one of the first jazz clubs in Germany in 1952, revisits his memories of these years and the heady climate after the cessation of hostilities in World War II. The former are particularly fascinating. For example, the opening bars of "Harlem" by English pianist Eddie Carroll were whistled as a secret sign of recognition among jazz fans in Frankfurt, and names of jazz standards were altered to disguise their true origin from officials in the Music Ministry, who couldn't differentiate between big band and popular charts. After the war the jazz culture resurfaced quickly. Bohländer claims to have started gigging on military bases nine days after surrender to the Americans and quickly established ties to the cutting edge of American jazz. As a result, German players were some of the first, outside of the US, to embrace bebop and cool jazz.
The volume concludes with Heinz Werner Zimmerman's essay on "The Influence of American Music on a German Composer," namely himself. This is a fairly self-indulgent cataloguing of the influence jazz played in his musical language and provides a less than satisfying conclusion to an otherwise very interesting look at jazz reception at a critical juncture of European history.
Along with the much heralded "new" New Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the second edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz has also arrived. Barry Kernfeld, general editor, states that the new edition was needed to accommodate the "explosion in recent jazz scholarship," and describes it as a "drastically revised and expanded version of the first." Now three volumes instead of two, the "new" New Grove Dictionary of Jazz includes about 2000 additional biographies (particularly on important international jazz artists), expanded essays on jazz studies topics, and more detailed coverage of most subjects. While Kernfeld claims that the only articles that have not been significantly altered are definitions of standard jazz terms, some have been changed only slightly. The entry on Duke Ellington, for example, contains a few sentences about newly published orchestral scores of his works, but is otherwise identical to that of the first edition. However, works lists and bibliographies have been updated; these include URLs for credible and relatively stable web sites. Other biographies have been greatly enlarged and incorporate up to the minute information, as have articles on a variety of topics. An example is the entry on jazz in film, which now includes a discussion of the cultural meaning of jazz in films and expands treatment of all other areas. The article on jazz itself has been enlarged, and, in keeping with recent trends, removes the musically based definition of jazz that appeared in the first edition; it now states only that jazz is "a unique type [of music], it cannot safely be categorized as folk, popular, or art music, though it shares aspects of all three." Basically, the second edition not only brings the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz up to date, but portrays a new and wider genre in terms of culture, gender, and significance. Nonetheless, the musical analyses are sharp and thorough, and every care has been made to ensure that the articles are as correct and impartial as possible, as is the standard for Grove dictionaries. The most valuable feature of the second edition, however, is its availability as an on-line, searchable database, necessitating a subscription or access through a collegiate library server. This is incredibly handy for late night research questions: if one needs to know the personnel of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings at 3 a.m., there's now no need to wait until morning. In a way, it returns jazz scholarship, unlike the music, to the popular sphere.
1Cambridge University Press Catalogue, "Cambridge Companion to Jazz," n.d., http://www.cup.org/titles/catalogue.asp?isbn=0521663202, accessed 24 May 2003.