EmT10. Is jazz more than music?
Initially, most people consider the word "jazz" as a category in the genres of music. Some theorists find that jazz has a wider scope and can refer in addition to a genre of music to be a lifestyle or even a movement.
One such author printing jazz as a wide ranging phenomenon is English historian Eric Hobsbawm.
“It The Jazz Scene was also a wide ranging study, offering sections on the history of the music, its contemporary significance, including its relationship with other arts, the jazz business, politics, audiences, and even appendices on the average British jazz fan, as well as the language of jazz. The overwhelming message of the book was that Jazz was now an important global cultural force. He argued jazz was not just a type of music, but a cultural form that had made ‘an extraordinary conquest’ and was a ‘remarkable aspect of the society we live in.’ This was illustrated by the presence of jazz in most of the major cities of the world and moreover the fact that ‘British working-class boys in Newcastle play it is at least as interesting as and rather more surprising than the fact that it progressed through the frontier saloons of the Mississippi valley.’ (Hobsbawm (1961), 1–6) Hobsbawm argued that this was remarkable not least because jazz had developed and changed so quickly, but that it had grown from its folk roots and become a global force amidst commercialized culture as both a popular and art music. In the process it had never been overwhelmed by the ‘cultural standards of the upper class’. (Hobsbawm (1961), 4-10, 33) In this reading, popular culture was not an undifferentiated mass, and jazz, unlike most other folk forms, could remain authentic, creative and periodically renew popular music. Jazz could also be participatory through watching, playing or talking about it, and it’s appeal rested on offering the originality and excitement that was lacking in other areas of popular culture.” (bold not in original)
“One of the most significant aspects of the book was the assertion of the importance of jazz, including Hobsbawm’s belief that jazz represented an unprecedented force in popular culture. Jazz is ‘the cultural phenomenon of our century’ he wrote, adding ‘the fact that British working-class boys in Newcastle play it is at least as interesting as and rather more surprising than the fact that it progressed through the frontier saloons of the Mississippi valley.’ The global reach of jazz is noted throughout the book, including the fact that as he was writing ‘in the spring of 1958’ that ‘there is probably no major city in the world in which someone is not playing’ jazz or blues.30 This linked to an awareness of jazz’s relationship to other ‘folk’ musics and the hybridity that emerges, and this extended around the globe with Hobsbawm suggesting that ‘Probably South Africa is today the most flourishing centre of creative jazz outside America.’31 – a relatively rare mention at this time of Jazz in Africa.
Hobsbawm argued that the fact ‘that Jazz had become a world idiom’ was remarkable, not least because it had developed so quickly ‘and changed with startling rapidity’ but that from its folk music origins it had survived and flourished amidst mass commercialised culture as both popular and art music. 32 Indeed, Hobsbawm argued, as the music of the poor and working class of the cities, and especially black America, it had only recently attracted middle class attention, and as it emerged it had ‘never been swamped by the cultural standards of the upper classes.’33 This argument was significant as Hobsbawm argued that this meant contemporary popular culture was not a monolithic force, and that subcultural forms, most notably jazz, could survive, influence, remain creative and sometimes help renew mainstream culture. It also meant that the audience could have agency – Hobsbawm pointed out that whilst mass culture had a passive side, the audience also wanted to participate whether in a football crowd, or watching, playing and talking about jazz. Jazz offered something participatory and more interesting than much popular culture, including choice, with Hobsbawm noting that ‘the appeal of jazz has always been due to its capacity to supply the things commercial pop music ironed out of its product’.34 (bold not in original)