Ep0. Why and How should (the history of) jazz be studied in Philosophy of Jazz?
Why the History of Jazz is Important to Philosophy of Jazz
Although the question's answer may seem obvious that the history of jazz would be studied in the philosophy of jazz, it nevertheless behooves philosophers of jazz to justify and explain jazz's history as relevant for doing philosophy of jazz.
What reasons and arguments explain and justify the relevance of the history of jazz for doing philosophy of jazz?
For example, if jazz's history had been different how would this affect the philosophy of jazz?
What at first might seem likely a trivial pseudo-problem can quickly turn into a genuine problem. To reveal some of the difficulties suppose that what on Twin Earth (from Earth's perspective) what twin Earthlings call rock 'n roll is what on Earth is called jazz.
But, how is this known? In the original description it was stated as a fact that Twin Earth rock was really Earth-like jazz. But this is cheating. You can't just specify it. Of course, because in the thought experiment one can simply have specified that the two Earth's have identical histories up to a point, but if they diverge at some point so as to have different features, then it is no longer certain that just because two songs are both called "Honeysuckle Rose" it certainly doesn't follow they are the same song.
How could one tell the Earth version and the Twin Earth version are or are not the same song?
There will be many different answers to this question depending upon your theory of song or musical work identity.
- Sonicism and Nelson Goodman's Perfection Requirement for musical work/song identity both require note for note identical scores. Julian Dodd's sonicism even requires performance identity note for note to count two performances as being of the same song.
- Common sense would begin by saying to listen to the two songs and hear if they sound alike. But here a problem raises its head. No two performances ever sound exactly alike so clarification is needed for what has to be alike in the two performances and how they are alike and justify why these are the relevant factors for determine song or musical work identity.
But we all know common sense can often be wrong. Common sense does not think the Earth is spherical or that there could be a limit to how fast things can be accelerated. Common sense doesn't recognize the limitations that Einstein's theory of relativity forces upon accelerating masses.
For an example of a pseudo problem turning into a real problem, imagine that on Twin Earth they switched labels and what on Twin Earth is called jazz is what on Earth is called rock 'n roll and vice-versa.
How would they determine that this switch of labels is accurate so that Earth's rock is what is called jazz on Twin Earth?
How the History of Jazz is Relevant to Philosophy of Jazz
- The history of jazz is not what philosophers explicitly study or investigate. The history of jazz is determined by a historian of jazz, but not a philosopher of jazz. Just as an historian might study the causes of World War II, but a philosopher would only study the nature of war, say, but not its causes in particular circumstances.
- An historian and a philosopher do not serve the very same functions or roles. They have different problems from each other.
- Could a philosopher of jazz argue about the nature of jazz improvisation without knowing anything, or very little, about the history of jazz? It does seem possible.
- Philosophy can be done regarding the nature of free will without knowing anything about the history of China, for example. On the other hand, philosophers of physics cannot properly analyze arguments in the philosophy of physics if he or she is entirely ignorant of physics. What accounts for these differences between the free will example and philosophy of physics pursuits?
What should be studied in the history of jazz
An actual answer by an historian of jazz has been given during a probing interview by Pierre Crépon. Crépon inquired of cultural historian and Director of the Black Arts Research Center, Nyack, New York as well as veteran bibliographer John Gray what decisions and evaluations he made when compiling his two improvised music bibliography's, 1991s Fire Music: A Bibliography Of The New Jazz, 1959–1990 and 2013s Creative Improvised Music: An International Bibliography of the Jazz Avant-Garde, 1959– Present.
“Pierre Crépon: Contrary to what it might seem from the outside, the process of compiling a bibliography is not purely mechanical. It involves a lot of decision making regarding what to include, exclude and how to hierarchise the material. What makes Fire Music the resource it is, I think, is how you treat primary sources and the importance placed on providing access to the musicians’ own voices. Can you talk about your approach to the question?
John Gray: From the start of my career, I’ve always viewed my work as a form of guerrilla scholarship, a way to challenge conventional narratives surrounding black cultural forms. The bibliographies are my way of doing this. Each book starts from the same premise, that the topic in question, whether it’s the jazz avant garde or hiphop, deserves the same rigorous in-depth scrutiny usually reserved for western art forms. In order to achieve this I try to include as broad a cross-section of the known corpus, both popular and academic, as I can, with particular attention given to historical and critical materials as well as works that privilege the voices of the artists themselves. Just as musicians like to blur the lines between musical styles, I like to range across disciplines to capture materials that I think might be relevant whether they come from Black Studies and Musicology or Gender, Race and Literary Studies. The same applies to the types of materials included, which can encompass everything from writings found in jazz, experimental music and scholarly music journals to newspaper reportage and music documentaries. If I think a work offers details or perspectives that might be useful to a researcher, I cite it.
Since I view the bibliographies as a form of cultural and intellectual history, I am also particularly interested in representing perspectives and subtopics that have been overlooked or marginalized in previous works. Occasionally though this is made impossible due to gaps in the literature. This is particularly true for topics which remain undersourced or artists whose careers, for whatever reason, have been largely ignored by journalists and academics. In these cases only time can fill the void.
In Fire Music I did my best to represent as comprehensive a picture of the published literature on free jazz and free improv, and the many competing viewpoints on its history and value. However, it was created in a different age, long before the advent of Google, Amazon and the dizzying array of databases which are now standard fare in libraries. Thus it reflects some of the limitations of its time, the much more limited universe of finding tools then available, the paucity of academic writing on the subject, and the virtual absence of any archival collections on avant garde jazz artists. (bold and bold italic not in original)
- John Gray is a veteran bibliographer specializing in the expressive culture of Africa and the African diaspora, including Music of Sub-Saharan Africa, Hip-Hop Studies, Afro-Cuban Music: A Bibliographic Guide (2012), and more than a dozen other titles. The book Baila! A Bibliographic Guide to Afro-Latin Dance Musics from Mambo to Salsa, won the 2015 Vincent H. Duckles Award for best book-length bibliography or reference work published in 2013 from the Music Library Association.
- "Free jazz research and guerrilla scholarship: an interview with John Gray," The Wire, September 2019.