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The evolution of jazz is. A survey of American art form from Scott Joplin to Lenny Tristan Oliver. The evolution of jazz is a tape recorded feature presented under the auspices of Northeastern University by the Lowell Institute cooperative broadcasting Council. Nat Hentoff associate editor of Downbeat Magazine discusses the growth of jazz from its roots in Europe and Africa. And considers the musical as well as the sociological forces that shaped it. Mr Hentoff. There are generally two ways to approach the study of jazz. One is that you realize by a few of the older musicians and some of the fervent of his he and I doze of the art it is perhaps best demonstrated by an anecdote possibly apocryphal of a party some years ago at which the right jazz pianist Thomas Fats Waller was invited to play
an elderly lady of considerable classical music background was increasingly absorbed by Mr. Waller's jazz improvisations as this was the first time she had really listened to jazz. Eventually she approached the piano and asked Mr. Wyler tell me this is all so new and so exciting to me. What exactly is jazz. Thomas Fats Waller pondered for several moments and finally said ruefully. Lady if you have to ask you'll never know. The Contemporary Jazz Man the jazz critics most of the ever increasing number of jazz partisans both in this country and all over the world and a growing body of musicologists all agree that this kind of approach to jazz is however epigrammatic vastly inaccurate. Jazz has a long and rich history and the more one can learn of that history and of the evolution of jazz techniques and standards the more one can enjoy the remarkably diversified pleasures of what has become a major form of musical expression in the opinion of many who are
oriented in both classical and jazz music. Jazz is America's uniquely valuable contribution to the history of music. A study of jazz also as we shall discover provides much pertinent information on certain aspects of the social history of the United States. Incidentally the reason the lady had to ask what jazz was is that only a small proportion of the population is ever exposed to relatively undiluted jazz so that at first hearing it is indeed apt to strike the air as unfamiliar. Despite its their early Afro American origins oddly jazz is usually less seriously regarded here as an art form than in certain European countries like France Sweden Germany and England. In fact all over the world including Southeast Asia and Japan and South America. And excluding the Iron Curtain countries where jazz is banned jazz is a highly valued music and America's cultural prestige
abroad has often been enhanced more by its jazz musicians than by the works of its classical composers. Before investigating the sources of jazz in the music of Africa it is necessary to clarify first what jazz is not. This is an essential prerequisite because of the profusion of misconceptions that has arisen around the word jazz few words I expect have as Shady a set of unpleasant connotations as jazz. There is they listen to classical music for example who some really dismisses jazz as that stuff you hear on the radio all day long here exist the most widespread misconception the conviction that the mass of most ballads saccharine love songs and what the e cummings might call on novelty tunes that these are synonymous with jazz they are not. They have in part been influenced by jazz but the general relationship between the stultifying standardized really manufactured popular songs as played by the disc jockeys and the
relationship. With jazz is similar to the relationship between the skillfully formula short stories and one of the popular magazines and let us say the short stories of Jean Stafford or Frank O'Connor the fact is that while there was an enormous amount of pop music on the air jazz is rarely heard on the radio in most cities for example there are many many more hours of classical music on the air than jazz so jazz is not that stuff you hear on the radio all day long. Another misconception concerns that odd phenomenon called symphonic jazz. This term is used to encompass all manner of inflated works from George Gershwin's more ambitious compositions to the more recent explorations of Robert Gretton who City of Glass as recorded by Stan Kenton is a particularly pungent example of the way the term is often used. Actually symphonic jazz is neither symphonic nor jazz. I'm not quite sure what euphemism should be applied to it but it resolves generally from a jazz oriented writer is imperfect assimilation of classical music or less frequently from the attempts
of a classical composer to write in the jazz idiom. So far neither hybrid approach has been successful. There have however in classical music pairs say been a number of valuable instances of classical composers using the jazz idiom and that will be the subject of a later lecture. One final category of misconceptions about jazz I found this particularly endemic to music critics were the major exceptions of Virgil Thompson and VH Hank and the feeling is that jazz is at best capable of expressing only superficial emotion and lacks in any case the profundity and cathartic effect of the best of classical music. It is true that jazz lacks the structure thus far of classical music and as a result what it does express is apt to be fragmentary and in terms of memory more transitory than an experience of classical music. But jazz is certainly capable of communicating depth complexity of emotions. In fact all that is part of human existence. Here
for example it is a set of improvised variations by a group of contemporary jazz men recorded during the course of an evening at a Boston jazz club. It indicates one of the many ways in which jazz is now being played our main purpose will be to discover how jazz with origins partly in Africa arrived at this point. This particular recording too may serve as an initial illustration an introspective line of the Communicate of potentialities of jazz musicians are Alto as Paul Desmond drummer heard a barman and pianist Dave Brubeck who is a former pupil of Dante is me. It might also be instructive as well as challenging to keep in your mind as you listen to the basic melodic line of the song you go to my head it is stated briefly at the beginning of both the alto and piano solos but thereafter it serves only as a base for the original extemporize ations
of the musicians.
Mm. Hmm. And. One last preliminary concept is essential. And for that I'm
going to quote from one of the earliest serious studies of jazz. Winthrop Sargent's jazz hot and hybrid. It helps to explain why jazz at first sounds so strange to many people who graduated to the European tradition of music composition and performance. Sajid writes The Improv is a tour a freedom of the folk musician is far into the art of concert music. We have made a distinction unknown alike to the primitive folk musician and to the musician of non-European musical culture is between the composer and the creator of elaborate plans for musical performance and the interpretive artist whose function it is to embody the conceptions of the composer in sound. The noblest department of Western concert music has become the art of composition. This art of composition is not concerned directly with the creation of music that is sound but rather with the creation of plans from which music may be subsequently created and its domination by the planner rather than the manipulator. A musical system is
unique and its because early era days have obscured for many of us the fundamental nature of musical expression in its primitive essential as the art of music has nothing whatever to do with the institution of the composer. Actually improvisation the art of creating music directly with vocal or instrumental means is far more fundamental to music than is the complex difficult and specialized art of planning compositions on paper. We do not stop to think when we consider the creative activity of a Beethoven or a Bach that these artists were using an already highly developed musical language that as a whole can be traced to improv as a Tory beginnings. I do not refer to here says Sargent to the occasional use of contemporary folk idioms that are to be found in the work of almost every composer. But the very substance in which the composer embodies his musical thought. Beethoven was the heir to a traditional language of sound that had been previously developed by Haydn Mozart Bach and others who were in turn indebted for their means of expression to the Italian contrapuntal style of a century before
to the Lutheran chorale to the Gregorian chant to the folk music of medieval Europe and to other sources of these the Italian contrapuntal style was itself evolved from various sources to which instrumental in choral improvisation contributed. The Lutheran chorale had its roots equally in the improv as a Tory singing of masses of people and the Gregorian chant as the lineal descendant of music that was created at a time before our notation and the composer were never heard of in Europe. If we may alter the familiar opening of Genesis to suit yet another connotation in the beginning was improvisation. The composer came later as the flower of an altogether special type of musical art in which the creative functions had become split into the departments of composition and interpretation. I bet you waited to thinking in terms of composers and performers. The Western music lover does not readily picture to himself an art of music without composers an art of which the individual works are not treasured up and perpetuated for posterity's benefit an art in which creation and
performance are won and occur at the same instant. Yet the great bulk of the human race creates and enjoys its music precisely after this fashion. And the roots even of Western music lie deeply embedded in the same improv as a door a process a bit of the Western music lover things of improvisation as a rambling musical past time or as a peculiarity of primitive meaning childishly simple music. Yet even a cursory study of the music of such oriental cultures as those of India or Arabia reveals that the art of improvisation may achieve certain complexities I'm known to our own music. That whole musical cultures have existed enlisting the services of renowned performers even of critics and prolific writers on Musicology and musical as aesthetics. And yet they have been wholly without that particular activity which we designate as musical composition. So is that quote from Winthrop Sargent's jazz hot and hybrid jazz from its
beginnings has been just that an art in which creation and performance are one and occur at the same instant. Recent jazz has experimented with the formal aspects of composition but even in these experiments there are large sections in the work in which the soloist are expected to create to create and perform simultaneously. So it really is a waste of effort and polemics to compare with the idea of saying which is better. The jazz tradition with the European classical tradition of the past five centuries. Both the goals of the two traditions and their very conception of the nature of music making by so different. And I think we are wiser to enjoy the fact that both traditions exist than to argue over their respective merits. Whereas in classical music there is a Solomon or a decent king inter-breeding to the best of his skill and intuitive understanding what Beethoven meant a composition to sound like in jazz there was an Art Tatum who transmutes a basic melodic and harmonic pattern into a highly personal and often complex composition of
his own a composition that exists only so long as he is playing it and that can be retained only in memory or on recordings. This is true of even a standard popular song when played by jazz musicians. Each time it's played not only by different jazzman but by the same one. It can be almost a new composition. Here is how a group of Dixieland and New Orleans musicians transform the old hymn when the Saints Go Marching In. Into their personal musical statements. Oh.
Yes. At. The end.
Jazz in serious books on the subject is generally referred to as Afro American music. When the negro was taken here as a slave he brought with him a musical tradition from Africa. From the interaction of this tradition and they already have a genius American musical culture jazz came into being in pointing out the African sources of jazz. One important point must be made because there has been a widespread myth often used against the negro as part of a stereotype to the effect that only Negroes can play jazz well or with authority. Ernest Borneman wrote a series of articles called the anthropologist looks at jazz printed in the record changer magazine in 1944 that marked a major stage in the evolution of jazz historiography in the course of the series he had this to say on the subject. If jazz is here considered in terms of its African roots I do not wish to imply that Negroes alone are capable of producing jazz nor that the African idiom to the extent that it survives in
jazz is a racially inherited quality. On the contrary the more we learn about the survival of cultural patterns the more clearly do we notice that all of them are matters of social habit and tradition rather than biological characteristics that perseverance and survival appear to be due to the fact that children receive them before their consciousness is formed as they become semi automatic patterns of behavior and appear in practice as almost motor reactions. In this manner children of musical parents tend to be more musical than those who have never heard music in their earliest childhood days. This gives then rise to the misconception that musical talent is inherited. Actually white boys growing up in the Negro districts of New Orleans have acquired the jazz language right from the beginning of its formation African isms included. Whereas northern Negros growing up in regions where no jazz was ever heard failed to recognize and understand the New Orleans language. Now a matter of tracing the roots of jazz in Africa has its problems as one man wrote in another article for the Paris periodical play zone south looking at
the characteristics of African music during the last three hundred twenty five years have changed so greatly that any parallel between contemporary African music and the music of three centuries ago was extremely suspect. However as more and more musicologists and anthropologists study the African culture and bring back field recordings it is possible to draw several areas of valid relationship but without any dogmatic certainty. Further complicating the situation has been the existence of rival and quite valuable schools of criticism. Those who claim that American Negro music was entirely derived from Africa and those will maintain that the African influence was relatively negligible and the main Matrix was European. The answer I think has been supplied by Professor Richard Waterman in the statement that traits of African musical style have become intertwined in a wide variety of ways and in many different places with elements derived from Europe to produce a series of well integrated vigorous and peculiarly American hybrid.
Another note on this subject has been supplied by folklorist Harold Courland who points out that the phenomenon of jazz is presumed to have made one of its first major appearances in the general region of Louisiana an area populated by people of French Spanish Creole British and African extraction. Not to mention the American Indian. Despite obvious African an Afro American influences there isn't jazz so much that is non african that one must be prepared to consider a possible French Spanish and other contributions. Should one attempt to show for example that a particular jazz beat is African and it would be essential to know that the same rhythm does not commonly appear in say Spanish folk music. Also important is the study of the hybridized folk music of southern United States that is American folk music for in a sense this is a musical culture somewhat separate from pure Spanish people French people British are pure West African culture. Jazz developed out of and drew upon not only the mother cultures but the hybridized offspring as well. To borrow a technical term from another field there's been a
The Evolution of Jazz
Episode Number
Introduction, Part One
Producing Organization
WGBH Educational Foundation
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
The first part of the opening program in this series discusses the differences between jazz music and the more established concepts derived from the European classical tradition.
Series Description
Jazz historian Nat Hentoff presents a series that traces the history of jazz, from its musical and cultural roots to its contemporary forms. "The Evolution of Jazz" was originally broadcast from WGBH in 1953-1954, and was re-broadcast by the National Educational Radio Network in 1964.
Broadcast Date
Asset type
Music--Europe--History and criticism.
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Host: Hentoff, Nat
Producer: Hentoff, Nat
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 55-32-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:16
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Chicago: “The Evolution of Jazz; 1; Introduction, Part One,” 1953-11-06, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 28, 2022,
MLA: “The Evolution of Jazz; 1; Introduction, Part One.” 1953-11-06. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 28, 2022. <>.
APA: The Evolution of Jazz; 1; Introduction, Part One. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from