The fact that jazz is our current mode of expression, has reference to our time and the way we think and talk, is interesting; but if jazz music weren't itself good the subject would be more suitable for a sociologist than for an admirer of the gay arts. Fortunately, the music and the way it is played are both of great interest, both have qualities which cannot be despised; and the cry that jazz is the enthusiastic disorganization of music is as extravagant as the prophecy that if we do not stop "jazzing" we will go down, as a nation, into ruin. I am quite ready to uphold the contrary. If--before we have produced something better--we give up jazz we shall be sacrificing nearly all there is of gaiety and liveliness and rhythmic power in our lives. Jazz, for us, isn't a last feverish excitement, a spasm of energy before
Jazz is good--at least good jazz is good--and I propose to summarize some of the known reasons for holding it so. The summary will take me far from the thing one hears and dances to, from the thing itself. The analysis of jazz, musically or emotionally, is not likely to be done in the spirit of jazz itself. There isn't room on the printed page for a glissando on the trombone, for the sweet sentimental wail of the saxophone, or the sudden irruptions of the battery. Nor is there need for these--intellectually below the belt--attacks. The reason jazz is worth writing about is that it is worth listening to. I have heard it said by those who have suffered much that it is about the only native music worth listening to in America.
Strictly speaking, jazz music is a new development--something of the last two years, arriving long after jazz had begun to be played. I mean that ragtime is now so specifically written for the jazz band that it is acquiring new characteristics. Zez Confrey, Irving Berlin, Fred Fisher, and Walter Donaldson, among others, are creating their work as jazz; the accent in each bar, for example, is marked in the text--the classic idea of the slight accent on the first note of each bar went out when ragtime came in; then ragtime created its own classic notion,
It is not only syncopation that makes us indebted to negro music. Another element is the typical chord
I put the strange harmonies of jazz first, not because they are its chief characteristic, but because of the prejudice against them. The suggestion is current that they are sounds which ought never to be uttered; and with this goes an attack on the trick instruments, the motor-horns, of the battery-man. The two things have nothing in common. The instruments of the jazz band are wholly legitimate and its characteristic instrument was invented by a German, after whom it is named, in the middle of the last century, and has been used in serious music by (and since) Meyerbeer--I refer to the saxophone. There is no more legal objection to the muted trombone than to the violin con sordino. And the opponents of jazz bands will do well to remember that the pure and lovely D-minor symphony of Cesar Franck was thrown out as a symphony because it used the English horn. The actual sounds produced by the jazz band are entirely legitimate. We have yet to see what use they make of them.
In Krehbiel's book the whole question of rhythm is comparatively taken for granted, as it should be. Syncopation discovered in classic music, in the Scot's
"Berlioz in his supremest effort with his army of drummers produced nothing to compare in artistic interest with the harmonious drumming of these savages. The fundamental effect was a combination of double and triple time, the former kept by the singers, the latter by the drummers, but it is impossible to convey the idea of the wealth of detail achieved by the drummers by means of exchange of the rhythms, syncopation of both simultaneously, and dynamic devices."The italics are mine. I am fully aware of the difference between savage and sophisticated, between
Freedom with rhythm is audible--should I say palpable?--everywhere. Stumbling (Zez Confrey) is in effect a waltz played against a more rapid counter-rhythm, and is interesting also for its fixed groups of uneven notes-triplets with the first note held or omitted for a time, and then with the third note omitted. A similar effect with other means occurs in the treatment of three notes in Innocent Ingenue Baby, by George Gershwin, where the same note falls under a different beat with a delightful sense of sur. prise and uncertainty. Mr Hooker's words are equally tricky, for it isn't "Innocent-Ingenue-Baby" at all; it is Innocent Ingenue (baby). In By and By Gershwin has shifted an accent from the first to the second simply by giving the second the time-value usually given to the first, a fresh, delightful treatment of a sentimental expression. The variety of method is vastly interesting. Louis Hirsch, whom I rank fairly low as a composer for jazz, has done perfectly one obvious, necessary thing: stopped syncopating in the middle of a piece of ragtime. In the phrase "shake and shimmy everywhere" in It's Getting Very Dark on Old Broadway, he presents the
It is a little difficult, unless one has the piano score, to determine what part is the work of the composer, what of the jazz orchestra. You can only be fairly certain that whatever melody occurs is the composer's, and that rhythmically he is followed with some fidelity. All you need to do is to listen to the violin, piano, or whatever instrument it is which holds the beat, to realize what the composer has given. Harmonization is often, and orchestration nearly always, left to other hands. Mr Berlin makes a habit now of giving credit to his chief collaborator, and he deserves it.'
Mr Berlin's masterpieces (June, 1923, but who shall say?) in jazz are Everybody Step and Pack Up Your Sins. I have written so much about him in connexion with song and shows that I can say little
Two composers are possible successors to Berlin if he ever chooses to stop. I omit Jerome Kern--a consideration of musical style will indicate why. I am sure of Gershwin and would be more sure of Cole Porter if his astonishing lyrics did not so dazzle me as to make me distrust my estimate of his music. Gershwin is in Berlin's tradition; he has almost all the older man's qualities as a composer (not as a lyrics writer; nor has he Berlin's sense of a song on the stage). That is to say, Gershwin is capable of everything, from Swanee to A Stairway to Paradise. His sentiment is gentler than Berlin's, his "attack" more delicate. Delicacy, even dreaminess, is a quality he alone brings into jazz music. And his sense of variation in rhythm, of an oddly placed accent, of
The other way is still open--the way of Sissle and Blake, of Creamer and Layton, of A. Harrington Gibbs. The last is a name unknown to me ten days before the moment of writing; I do not know if it represents a Southern negro or a Welshman. But--if he has composed anything, if Runnin' Wild isn't a direct transcript of a negro devil-tune--he is in the school of the negro composers and he has accomplished wonders already. For Runnin' Wild is a masterpiece in its genre. Note the cleverness of the execution: the melody is virtually without accompaniment; it consists of groups of three notes, the interval of time being simple, and the interval of pitch in the group or between two successive groups, is quite conventional.
More must be said of the negro side of jazz than I can say here. Its technical interest hasn't yet been discussed by anyone sufficiently expert and sufficiently enthusiastic at the same time. In words and music the negro side expresses something which underlies a great deal of America--our independence, our carelessness, our frankness, and gaiety. In each of these the negro is more intense than we are, and we surpass him when we combine a more varied and more intelligent life with his instinctive qualities. Aggravatin' Papa (don't you try to two-time me) isn't exactly the American response to a suspected infidelity, yet it is humanly sound, and is only a little more simple and savage than we are. The superb I'm Just Wild about Harry is, actually, closer to the American
I shift between the two teams, Sissle and Blake, Creamer and Layton, uncertain which has most to give. Sissle and Blake wrote Shuffle Along; the others accomplished the intricate, puzzling rhythm of Sweet Angelina, one or two other songs in Strut Miss Lizzie, and Come Along, I'm through with Worrying. Of this song a special word can be said. It is based on Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, and imposes on that melody a negro theme (the shiftlessness and assurance of "bound to live until I die") and a musical structure similar to that applied to the same original by Anton Dvofak in the New World Symphony. I am only a moderate admirer of this work; I am not trying to put Come Along into the same category, for its value is wholly independent of its comparative merits; nor am I claiming that jazz is equal to or greater or less than symphonic music. But I do feel that the treatment of a negro melody, by negroes, to make a popular and beautiful song for Americans ought not to be always neglected, always despised. I say also that our serious composers have missed so much in not seeing what the ragtime composers have done, that (like Lady Bracknell) they ought to be exposed to comment on the platform.
I say the negro is not our salvation because with
Nowhere is the failure of the negro to exploit his gifts more obvious than in the use he has made of the jazz orchestra; for although nearly every negro jazz band is better than nearly every white band, no negro band has yet come up to the level of the best white ones, and the leader of the best of all, by a little joke, is called Whiteman. The negro's instinctive feeling for colourful instruments in the band is marked; he was probably the one to see what could be done with the equivocal voice of the saxophone--a reed in brass, partaking of the qualities of two choirs in the orchestra at once. He saw that it could imitate the voice, and in the person of Miss Florence Mills saw that the voice could equally imitate the saxophone. The shakes, thrills, vibratos, smears, and slides are natural to him, although they produce tones outside the scale, because he has never been tutored into a feeling for perfect tones, as white men have; and he uses these with a great joy in the surprise they give, in the way they adorn or destroy a melody; he is given also to letting instruments follow their own bent, because he has a faultless sense of rhythm and he always comes out right in the end. But this is only
For instance, there is his travesty of the marriage ceremony. To the jazzed tune of the good old classic "Wedding March" Lewis puts a snowy, flower-decked bridal veil on the sleek, pomaded head of the trombone player. He puts it on crooked, with a scornful flip of his slender, malicious hands. Then he leads forward the hardest-looking saxophone player, and pretends to marry "Ham" and "Eggs"--and incidentally draws the correct conclusion as to marriage as it exists in America to-day. Perfect satire in less than three minutes.Well, this is extraordinarily tedious and would be hissed off the stage if it were not for the actual skill Lewis has in effecting amusing orchestra combinations. His own violence, his exaggeration of the temperamental conductor, his nasal voice and lean figure in excessively odd black clothes, his pontificating over the orchestra, his announcement that he is going to murder music-all indicate a lack of appreciation of the medium. He may be a good vaudeville stunt, but he is not a great jazz leader. Again Mr Haviland:
It is not music. It has the form of music, but he has filled it with energy instead of spirituality. What is the difference? You'll understand if you hear his jazz band. It interprets the American life of to-day; its hard surface, its scorn of tradition, its repudiation of form, its astonishing sophistication--And again no. Lewis may have a perfectly trained orchestra, but the sense of control which one absolutely requires he does not give. He has violence, not energy, and he cannot interpret those qualities which Mr Haviland so justly discovers as being of our contemporary life because he isn't hard and scornful and sophisticated himself-he is merely callous to some beauties and afraid of others, and by dint of being in revolt against a serene and classic beauty pays it unconscious tribute. (I fear also that Lewis imagines the "Wedding March" classic in more senses than one.) It may be noted also that the tone of travesty is not correct for contemporary America; we require neither that nor irony. Parody, rising to satire, is our indicated medium--Mr Dooley, not Ulysses.
 In "The Spice of Variety," which he conducts for Saucy Stories.
and most important, its mechanical, rather than spiritual civilization.
The orchestra of Vincent Lopez I take as an example of the good, workmanlike, competent, inventive, adequate band. It plays at the Hotel Pennsylvania and in vaudeville, and although Lopez lacks the ingenuity of Lewis in sound, he has a greater sense of the capacities of jazz, and instead of doing a jazz wedding he takes the entire score of "that infernal nonsense, Pinafore," cuts it to five characteristic fragments, and jazzes it--shall I say mercilessly or reverently! Because he likes Sullivan and he likes
Jim Europe seemed to have a constructive intelligence and, had he lived, I am sure he would have been an even greater conductor than Whiteman. Today I know of no second to Whiteman in the complete exploitation of jazz. It is a real perfection of the instrument, a mechanically perfect organization which pays for its perfection by losing much of the element of surprise; little is left to hazard and there are no accidents. Whiteman has been clever enough to preserve the sense of impromptu and his principal band-that of the Palais Royal in New York-is so much under control (his and its own) that it can make the slightest variation count for more than all the running away from the beat which is common chezLewis. Like Karl Muck and Jim Europe, Whiteman is a bit of a kapellmeister; his beat is regular or entirely absent; he never plays the music with his hand, or designs the contours of a melody, or otherwise acts. I know that people miss these things; I would miss them gladly a thousand times for what Whiteman gives in return. I mean that a sudden bellow or a groan or an improvised cluck is all very well; but the real surprise is constructive, the real
The title of this essay is provoked by that of the best and bitterest attack launched against the ragtime age--Clive Bell's Plus de Jazz. (In Since Cezanne.) "No more jazz," said Mr Bell in 1921, and, "Jazz is dying." Recalling that Mr Bell is at some pains to dissociate from the movement the greatest of living painters, Picasso; that he concedes to it a great composer, Strawinsky, and T. S. Eliot, whom he calls "about the best of our living poets," James Joyce
Appropriately it (the jazz movement) took its name from music-the art that is always behind the times. . . . Impudence is its essence-impudence in quite natural and legitimate revolt against nobility and beauty: impudence which finds its technical equivalent in syncopation: impudence which rags. . . . After impudence comes the determination to surprise: you shall not be gradually moved to the depths, you shall be given such a start as makes you jigger all over. . . .It is understood that Mr Bell is discussing the whole of the jazz movement, not ragtime music alone. I do not wish to go into the other arts, except to say that if he is jazz, then Mr Joyce's sense of form, his tremendous intellectual grasp of his aesthetic problem, and his solution of that problem, are far more proof than is required of the case for jazz. Similarly for Mr Eliot. It is not exactly horror of the noble that underlies Mr Joyce's travesty of English prose style, nor is it to Mr Eliot that the reproach about irony and wit is to be made. In music it is of course not impudence, but emphasis (distortion or transposition of emphasis) which finds its technical equivalent in syncopation, for syncopation is a method of rendering an emotion, not an emotion in itself. (Listen to Strawinsky.) Surprise, yes; but in the jazz of Lewis and not in that of Whiteman, which does not jeer or grimace, which has wit and structure--i.e., employs the intellect. Nobility--no. But under what compulsion are we always to be noble? The cocktail drinkers may have been told a lot of nonsense about their position as arbiters of the arts; precisely the same nonsense is taught in our schools and preached by belated aesthetes to people whose claims are not a whit better--since it doesn't matter what their admirers
. . . Its fears and dislikes-for instance, its horror of the noble and the beautiful are childish; and so is its way of expressing them. Not by irony and sarcasm, but by jeers and grimaces, does Jazz mark its antipathies. Irony and wit are for the grown-ups. Jazz dislikes them as much as it dislikes nobility and beauty. They are the products of the cultivated intellect and jazz cannot away with intellect or culture. . . . Nobility, beauty, and intellectual subtlety are alike ruled out. . . .
' . . And, of course, it was delightful for those who sat drinking their cocktails and listening to nigger bands, to be told that, besides being the jolliest people on earth, they were the most sensitive and critically gifted. They . . . were the possessors of natural, uncorrupted taste. . . . Their instinct might be trusted: so, no more classical concerts and music lessons. . . .
The encouragement given to fatuous ignorance to swell with admiration of its own incompetence is perhaps what has turned
most violently so many intelligent and sensitive people against Jazz. They see that it encourages thousands of the stupid and vulgar to fancy that they can understand art, and hundreds of the conceited to imagine that they can create it. . . .
Even to understand art a man must make a great intellectual effort. One thing is not as good as another; so artists and amateurs must learn to choose. No easy matter, that: discrimination of this sort being something altogether different from telling a Manhattan from a Martini. To select as an artist or discriminate as a critic are needed feeling and intellect andmost distressing of all-study. However, unless I mistake, the effort will be made. The age of easy acceptance of the first thing that comes is closing. Thought rather than spirits is required, quality rather than colour, knowledge rather than irreticence,It is not so written, but it sounds like "Above all things, no more jazz!" A critic who would have hated jazz as bitterly as Mr Bell does, wrote once, alluding to a painter of the second rank:
intellect rather than singularity, wit rather than romps, precision rather than surprise, dignity rather than impudence, and lucidity above all things: plus de Jazz.
But, beside those great men, there is a certain number of artists who have a distinct faculty of their own, by which they convey to us a peculiar quality of pleasure which we cannot get elsewhere; and these, too, have their place in general culture, and must be interpreted to it by those who have felt their charm strongly, and are often the objects of a special diligence and a consideration wholly affectionate, just because there is not about them the stress of a great name and authority.--and beside the great arts there is a certain number of lesser arts which have also a pleasure to give; and if we savour it strongly and honestly we shall lose none of our delight in the others. But if we fear and hate them, how shall we go into the Presence?
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