Ontdef3. What is the definition of jazz?
“As far as I'm concerned, the essentials of jazz are: melodic improvisation, melodic invention, swing, and instrumental personality.” (bold not in original)
Mose Allison (1927–2016)
“An item in Talking Machine World for July 15, 1920 says, "Art Hickman (1886 – 1930) . . . insists that his orchestra, now playing on the Ziegfeld roof, is not a jazz band. 'Jazz,' says Mr. Hickman, 'is merely noise, a product of the honky-tonks, and has no place in a refined atmosphere. I have tried to develop an orchestra that charges every pulse with energy without stooping to the skillet beating, sleigh bell ringing contraptions and physical gyrations of a padded cell.” (p. 6)
Art Hickman (1886-1930)
“In this book, The Story of Jazz, I, [Marshall W. Stearns (1908–1966)], have tried not to treat jazz, or any other music, as holy. The reason for this book is quite simple: people in the United States listen to and enjoy jazz or near-jazz more than any other music. Jazz is of tremendous importance for its quantity alone. Because of its all-pervasiveness it has a great influence on most of us. Jazz has played a part, for better or worse, in forming the American character. Jazz is a fact that should be faced and studied. Like other musics, however, jazz has its aesthetics and there are crucial qualitative differences. There is good and bad jazz, and all shades between. Further, jazz is a separate and distinct art, to be judged by separate and distinct standards, and comparisons are useful when they help to establish this point. Jazz also has an ancient and honorable history, and this book is designed to deal with these varied questions. Perhaps I should add that in Part Four, "The Jazz Age," rather than list a series of locations and personnels—work that has already been done—I tried to explore the fascinating but complex process by which jazz spreads. I see no reason to maintain the melancholy pretense of absolute objectivity. I like jazz very much, and I am no doubt biased in its favor—at least to the extent of trying to find out what it is all about.” (bold not in original)
Guitarist John McLaughlin (b. 1942) was asked by JazzTimes Jim Farber:
“. . . you’ve worked with so many other great bands, from Shakti to your most recent group, 4th Dimension. Do you have a core principle that has guided you through all of it?
John Mclaughlin replied:
“I was talking about this recently with [drummer and wife of Carlos Santana] Cindy Blackman. She was telling me that she asked Wayne (Shorter), “What is the meaning of jazz?” And Wayne said, “I dare you.” [Laughs] I thought that was really cool. That means you’ve got to stand up and be yourself. It’s like when your trousers are down by your ankles. You’re naked in front of the world and you’re free. Now go and be inspired!” (bold not in original)
Jon Batiste (b. 1986): “I see jazz as a superpower,” he says. “It has never depended on popularity to maintain relevance because its value is undeniable; it represents all the nuances of the human soul. It is an honor to play this music because it is my heritage—it is the Blackest, deepest American classical music that has grown to become a universal art form. Jazz shows you that something can be from a specific experience and it can be adapted in a way that’s not appropriated.”
“Jazz is a strange thing. I think you really have to have played it a long time and been really involved in it to understand it. There’s something about the rhythm feel that’s not easy to learn. You have to really play it and have a history of working with it to have a jazz feeling somehow.” (bold not in original)
- 1 Discussion
- 2 Controversy over Defining Jazz
- 2.1 Introduction
- 2.2 An optimistic approach towards defining jazz
- 3 Assessment of the views of Gunther Schuller and Hughes Panassié
- 4 Assessment of the views of Peter Townsend
- 5 Assessment of the views of Joel Dinerstein
- 6 Assessment of the views of Scott Deveaux and Bill Kirchner
- 7 Presentation, analysis, and critique of Alan Lawrence's views on defining jazz
- 8 Critique of Donal Fox's definition of jazz at AllAboutJazz.com
- 9 Critique of Pingouin's definition of jazz at Everything 2
- 10 Critique of Rodney Dale's definitions for jazz
- 11 Critique of Stuart A. Kallen's definition for jazz
- 12 Examination of Eric Hobsbawm's views on how to recognize jazz
- 13 Assessment of Lenora Zenzalai Helm on defining characteristics of jazz
- 14 Assessment of the views of Jonathan McKeown-Green and Justine Kingsbury on jazz
- 15 Jazz as a natural kind
- 16 Principled Predictions of New Jazz Genres
- 17 Objections to Wilder Hobson's view that jazz cannot be defined because it is a language
- 17.1 (1) Languages can be defined
- 17.2 (2) Jazz is more than just a language
- 17.3 (3) Because languages can be defined, were jazz to be a language, then it too could in principle be defined
- 17.4 (4) Hobson has already proclaimed that the language of jazz is broader than merely “a collection of rhythmic tricks or tonal gags,” but instead reveals itself as “a distinctive rhythmic-melodic-tonal idiom.”
- 18 Wikipedia on Defining Jazz
- 19 The Etymology of "Jazz"
- 20 The Importance of Defining Jazz
- 21 Why jazz is not just an institutionally practice-mandated musical genre
- 22 What is Meant by Definition
- 23 How Jazz Can Be Defined
- 24 Does Jazz Have Essential Properties?
- 24.1 The Importance of Improvisation
- 24.1.1 Reasons to Believe A) Improvisation is "the most defining feature of" and "central" to jazz and (B) Armstrong, Ayler, Coleman, and Coltrane each played jazz improvisations are False
- 24.1.2 Reasons to Believe A) Improvisation is "the most defining feature of" and "central" to jazz and (B) Armstrong, Ayler, Coleman, and Coltrane each played jazz improvisations are True
- 24.1.3 Louis Armstrong (August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971)
- 24.1.4 Ornette Coleman (March 9, 1930 – June 11, 2015)
- 24.1.5 John Coltrane (September 23, 1926 – July 17, 1967)
- 24.1.6 Albert Ayler (July 13, 1936 – November 25, 1970)
- 24.2 What Is Meant By Essential?
- 24.1 The Importance of Improvisation
- 25 Are There Any Necessary Conditions For Playing Jazz?
- 25.1 Are There Any Necessary Conditions For Playing Music?
- 25.2 Necessary Conditions For A Musical Performance
- 25.3 True Necessary Conditions For A Musical Performance
- 25.4 False Necessary Conditions For A Musical Performance
- 25.5 Objection to Requiring Conscious Intention for Music Production
- 26 What are necessary conditions for playing jazz?
- 27 What Are Not Sufficient Conditions For Playing Jazz?
- 28 What Are Not Sufficient Conditions For Playing Jazz? — Middle
- 29 What Are Not Sufficient Conditions For Playing Jazz?—Added
- 30 Are There Any Sufficient Conditions For Playing Jazz?
- 30.1 A sufficient condition for playing jazz
- 30.2 The Ornette Sufficiency Condition
- 30.3 Musical practices in jazz
- 31 Is jazz a process?
- 31.1 What are processes?
- 31.2 The processes of jazz
- 31.3 Implications for jazz being a process
- 31.3.1 Individual sonorities cannot be used to delineate jazz as a musical genre
- 31.3.2 Individual sonorities can be used to delineate jazz as a musical genre
- 31.3.3 DOWNBEAT BLINDFOLD TESTS identifying musicians by an individualized sound:
- 31.3.4 Why Rock musicians have less emphasis on having a personal idiosyncratic musical style
- 31.3.5 Why jazz musicians have more emphasis on having a personal idiosyncratic musical style
- 32 Amazon Echo's definition of jazz
- 33 Krin Gabbard's Definition of Jazz
- 34 André Hodeir's Definition of Jazz
- 35 Joachim-Ernst Berendt's Definition of Jazz
- 36 Young and Matheson's Definition of Jazz
- 37 Assessment of Thomas E. Larson's characterization of jazz
- 38 Alternative Jazz Taxonomies
- 39 Chris Washburne on the politics of defining jazz
- 40 Paul Rinzler's Definition of Jazz
- 40.1 Rinzler's Fuzzy Logic Approach in The Contradictions of Jazz
- 40.2 Rinzler's Onion Model Definition of Jazz
- 40.2.1 Summary of Chapters from Rinzler's The Contradictions of Jazz
- 41 The Galactic Model for Defining Jazz
- 41.1 Why Latin, Big Band, and Free are all jazz
- 41.2 Why HSI is central to jazz
- 41.3 The Galactic Model for Jazz
- 41.4 What is Central to Jazz
- 41.5 Clearly True Claims About Jazz
- 41.6 Why need a Galactic model for jazz?
- 41.7 The Structure of a Galactic model for jazz
- 41.8 Implications of the Galactic model
- 41.9 Explanatory Power of the Galactic model
- 41.10 A Fatal Objection to the Galactic Model: Blues and Rock should count as Jazz, but they aren't jazz
- 41.11 A Galactic Picture of Jazz
- 42 Overview and Summary of Defining Jazz
- 43 Internet Resources on Defining Jazz
- 44 NOTES
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“It’s a compliment to jazz that nine-tenths of the voluminous writing about it is bad, for the best forms often attract the most unbalanced admiration. At the same time, it is remarkable that so fragile a music has withstood such truckloads of enthusiasm.”
“Jazz, after all, is a highly personal, lightweight form—like poetry, it is an art of surprise—that, shaken down, amounts to the blues, some unique vocal and instrumental sounds, and the limited, elusive genius of improvisation.”
Controversy over Defining Jazz
Numerous scholars, theorists, critics, music reviewers, and many famous jazz musicians have all disdained or pooh-poohed, or even outright rejected, the possibility of producing a successful, satisfying, and correct definition of jazz.
In 1957, Leonard Feather (1914–1994) opens his book on jazz with a belief that a definition of jazz is a "near-impossibility."
“With the belated emergence of jazz from its long-suffered role as the Cinderella of esthetics, and with its gradual acceptance in many previously closed areas, the definition of its nature, always disputed among critics and to some extent among musicians and the public, has become a near-impossibility.” (bold not in original)
Peter Townsend states, in his Jazz in American Culture (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2000) p. 162, that Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, and Duke Ellington each in effect has responded to the question "What is jazz?" by replying that "If you have to ask, then you'll never know." (For an assessment of some of Townsend's views go here.)
Let us reflect upon the Armstrong quotation of "If you have to ask, you will never know." Armstrong's claim does not make any sense at all. Suppose Thelonious already innately knows jazz. A mark of knowing is correctly answering questions about what it is that is known. If someone who did not know what jazz is were now to ask Thelonious what is jazz, should not a knower such as Thelonious be able to educate and inform this questioner with the correct answer? Of course, he should be able to answer the question if he already knows the answer. If Thelonious cannot answer the question, then this is strong evidence that Thelonious does not know.
Furthermore, in this scenario, the ignorant questioner after learning what Thelonious knows to be a correct conception of jazz has now learned the answer by asking the question thereby proving the blatant falsity of anyone claiming "if you have to ask, then you will never know." The very opposite is true, as all scientists agree. If you do not ask, then you will never know.
➢ Assuming for now that the above reasoning is correct, why would Armstrong/Ellington/Fats Waller make such a curious remark?
Clearly, the point of this remark is to get the questioner to stop asking the question. This is most certainly an anti-intellectual response and is rejecting any possible merit to any investigation into the nature of music that qualifies as jazz. Anti-intellectual knee jerk reactions are always wrong precisely because intellectual investigations always have merit even when they are mistaken. How could anyone ever find out something is a mistake if they don't first articulate the position and viewpoint? PoJ.fm's philosophy is always to ask.
In 1973 Duke Ellington (1899–1974) comments on the apparent overinclusion of too many different types of music under the jazz label.
“I don't know how such great extremes as now exist can be contained under the one heading.”
Ellington asserts that jazz may have had a defined character in the past, but that by now the category of jazz is too diffuse to have a uniform definition other than it's being an American creation based on an African foundation. Ellington makes the point with these words:
“If ‘jazz’ means anything at all, which is questionable, it means the same thing it meant to musicians ﬁfty years ago—freedom of expression. I used to have a deﬁnition, but I don’t think I have one anymore unless it is that it is a music with an African foundation which came out of an American environment.’” (bold not in original)
Closely following in the footsteps of one of the first books on jazz—Winthrop Sargent's (1906–1986) 1938 publication of Jazz: Hot and Hybrid)—noted jazz commentator Wilder Hobson (1906–1964) argues in his "Chapter 1: Introduction" of American Jazz Music (1939) that jazz cannot be defined because it is a language.
“It would be convenient to give a succinct definition of its form, but attempts to do so have lead only to such statements as “a band swings when its collective improvisation is rhythmically integrated.” The reason why jazz cannot be defined is the fact that it is a language. It is not a collection of rhythmic tricks or tonal gags, but a distinctive rhythmic-melodic-tonal idiom—as is, say, Japanese gaga-ku or Balinese gong music. And a language of course cannot be defined. A rude sense of it may be had by hearing it. Beyond that, what it communicates will be involved with what the hearer knows of its form.” (italics authors; bold and bold italics not in original)
(For objections to Hobson's reasons that jazz cannot be defined because it is a language, see PoJ.fm's Ontdef3. What is the definition of jazz?: Objections to Wilder Hobson's view that jazz cannot be defined because it is a language)
“What is jazz? It seems proper to begin our historical discussion of jazz by defining it, but this is a famous dead end: entire articles have been written on the futility of pinning down the precise meaning of jazz. Proposed definitions have failed either because they are too restrictive—overlooking a lot of music we think of as jazz—or too inclusive—calling virtually any kind of music "jazz."” (bold and italic not in original)
Benjamin Bierman in his Listening to Jazz (2nd ed. 2019) claims that any definition of jazz is "doomed to failure." Let's think about this for a moment. Is it even theoretically possible that there exists anything that cannot be defined? Is it not more likely that if it cannot be defined, then there just is no 'it' to begin with? This is a complex metaphysical question that needs to be explored elsewhere and so it is covered at PoJ.fm's Ontmeta8. On the impossibility of definition.
“Unlike many earlier texts, Listening to Jazz wisely refrains from attempting to define the word “jazz,” an exercise that is doomed to failure. Bierman explains why some of the more commonly cited, and ostensibly essential, elements of jazz (e.g. swing and improvisation) cannot serve as universally accepted criteria in formulating even a broad definition. Instead, he presents a cogent summary of the music’s origins and influences as well as the musical characteristics of its various styles and eras. (bold not in original)
Notice that if one can provide a summary of jazz's origins, influences, and musical characteristics shouldn't one then be well on their way to a definition?
And it may well be that we don't even want a definition of jazz if they end up being like that provided by Funk and Wagnall in 1920:
“Jazz spent a lot of its childhood being ignored, derided or denounced as decadent. For example, the supposedly objective Funk & Wagnall Desk Standard Dictionary (1920) defines `jazzband' as: 'A company of musicians who play rag-time music in discordant tones on various instruments, as the banjo, saxophone, trombone, flageolet, drum and piano.'”
Saxophonist and music educator Gary Bartz (b. 1940) in his "Why He Can't Teach You Jazz, But He Can Teach You Music" teaching video at JazzAcademy where he expresses disdain for jazz because he finds it too limiting. Bartz lectures that “I would like to talk to you today about the word "jazz," which I just hate, and I think everybody knows that. Because it misleads so many people down the wrong path, let me say.”
Opposed to this pessimism about the possibility of defining jazz, Peter Townsend, (senior lecturer in the School of Music and Humanities at the University of Huddersfield in England), some of whose views are examined below, writes as if it may be as easy to define jazz as it is to define anything else.
“Jazz is often thought of as being mysterious, elusive, and hard to define. But since the meaning of a word is its use, jazz is no harder to define than anything else (try defining 'popular music', for example), provided one has decided how to use the word. (bold and bold italic not in original)
Not afraid to investigate whether or not jazz has an essence and can be defined is French composer, historian, and professor of music and musicology at Sorbonne University, Laurent Cugny, in his recently translated into English and published book, Analysis of Jazz: A Comprehensive Approach (2019).
In his book, Cugny “examines and connects the theoretical and methodological processes that underlie all of jazz” and aims to define what is a jazz work based on its features and structure, including its harmony, rhythm, form, sound, or melody. Laurent Cugny tries to show how to identify jazz. He states his positions and explains his thinking with these words
“For at least a couple of decades, the concept of essentialism has fueled a strong current of disapproval in musicology in general and in the musicology of jazz in particular. It sets out that each thing—physical object or concept—would have an alleged nature (or essence) that dictates where things stand to each other without any scope for variation or change. When understood in this sense, the concept of essentialism becomes a dreadful weapon brandished as soon as the verb to be is used and in whatever context. Not only does this attitude elude the philosophical history of the concept (which is endowed with more meanings than this particular one) but it also often tends to confuse essentialism with naturalism. The latter is a different concept that has been used in history to justify many indefensible things. Once we ensure that the differences between the two currents are made clear, I see no reason why the nature(s) of jazz in our case should be a taboo. It is thus possible to envisage that, through the many-faceted process of analyzing jazz, we may touch on the question of its essence and feel free to contribute to the debate about it. For it is certain that jazz exists.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
American poet, music and cultural critic, syndicated columnist, novelist, and biographer known for his jazz criticism Stanley Crouch (1945–2020) does not shy away from the controversy over whether jazz can be defined. He at least thinks that it has central elements that virtually all reactions to jazz tend to incorporate into their music.
“I did not buy the idea that there was no definition whatsoever of jazz and that any attempt to define jazz was an attempt to "put it in a box," an idea that had come into jazz from two directions.
One direction comes from musicians of the 1960s, who considered themselves avant-garde and had rejected the word "jazz" in favor of "black music" or "creative music." When they found no takers for their wares, they angrily returned to the world of jazz—which most of them couldn't play!—and were eventually embraced by jazz critics who are, for various reasons, obsessed with exclusion and have grafted ideas about cultural relativism into the world of criticism. They love to assert, over and over, that everything is relative and jazz is whatever you choose to call it. Otherwise, they argue, you speak for an establishment trying to keep a variety of jazz musicians from receiving respect. The other direction for this thinking comes from the period in which Miles Davis and a number of first-class jazz musicians sold out to rock and produced what was eventually called "fusion," jazz-tinged improvisation over stiff, rock beats that did not swing. The result today is the instrumental pop music known as "smooth jazz."
I bought none of that. Jazz has a very solid base of Afro-American fundamentals that exclude no one of talent, regardless of color, anymore than the Italian and German fundamentals of opera do. These fundamentals remained in place from the music's beginnings in New Orleans to, literally, yesterday. Those fundamentals are 4/4 swing (or swing in any meter), blues, the romantic or meditative ballad, and what Jelly Roll Morton called "the Spanish tinge," meaning Latin rhythms. All major directions in jazz have resulted from reimagining those fundamentals, not avoiding them.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
An optimistic approach towards defining jazz
Suppose we start by presuming that it is possible to define jazz, contrary to the opinion of many experts.
One approach is that adapted by Marshall W. Stearns (1908–1966) in his systematic methodology of describing the history of jazz, and tracing its evolution, structure, forms and techniques from the music of Africa through the heyday of New Orleans to the present day of 1956. In his book, The Story of Jazz (see the three book covers in graphic below), Stearns touches on the main points in the development of jazz—the influence of the blues, minstrels, spirituals and ragtime, jazz of the 1920s and 1930s, the swing and bop era, Afro-Cuban music and rock and roll. He examines the styles that originated in New Orleans, Chicago, New York, St. Louis, and Kansas City, along with individual sketches of the great jazz personalities. The book also strives to provide a direct analysis of the technical elements, form and structure of jazz.
➢ How might one go about finding an effective definition for jazz?
One way would be to examine previously proposed definitions and see how they hold up under scrutiny. PoJ.fm does a critique of the many failed attempts at providing a sufficient condition for jazz that picks out all and only jazz. Many of the proposals are shown to fail at PoJ.fm's "What are not sufficient conditions for playing jazz."
Jazz authors Mark Gridley, Robert Maxham and Robert Hoff, in their "Three Approaches to Defining Jazz" (1989), critique three types of definitions for jazz, namely,
- (1) A strict formalist definition (swing and minimal improvisation required), or,
- (2) a family resemblance approach (so that whatever has been called jazz qualifies), or,
- (3) a scalar measure of jazzness that comes in degrees and is based on past musics considered jazz.
Throughout their presentation, the three authors are critical of the three styles of definition pointing out their strengths or advantages as well as their limitations and weaknesses. Let's find out more about what are these strengths and weaknesses? Here's what they say in their "Conclusions" section.
“The overwhelming strength of the strict definition is its simplicity. And this is then the most telling weakness of the dimensional approach because the dimension approach does not allow you to make an unequivocal statement that a particular performance is jazz. The family resemblances approach and the jazzness approach are more relativistic, and they lead to fewer exclusions, having a flexibility that accommodates jazz as an evolving art form, thereby excluding far fewer performances than the strict definition excludes. The jazzness and the strict definition are both problematic because they both require us to determine the extent to which a given element is conspicuous. For example, for both the jazzness and the strict definitions, we must determine the percentage of fresh material in every performance in order to address the improvisation requirement, though this is more severe in the jazzness approach than with the strict definition. However, in the strict definition, the amount of improvisation must exceed a critical minimum before we can call the performance improvised, whereas in the jazzness approach the amount of improvisation affects only the degree to which the performance is likely to be called jazz.” (bold not in original)
What the three authors appear not to notice is their lack of a complete follow through where it is justiably explained why each of the proposed jazz definitions fail as definitions. It is not merely a weakness when a strictly formalist definition excludes half of all previously understood music that was believed to be within the jazz camp, but likely catastrophic for that particular definition because it is excluding so much of what music lovers believed counted as jazz. Few think that Duke Ellington was not playing jazz even if there was no improvisation added to or diverging from the musical score of that composition.
Pre-requisites for a successful definition of jazz:
- (P1): No definition can by fiat exclude what the majority of knowledgeable jazz listeners agree qualifies as jazz.
- (P2): No definition of jazz can require that jazz must always swing because of (P1). Too much music strikes experts as jazz even when it doesn't swing, so swing is ruled out as a necessary condition. It isn't sufficient either, as argued at PoJ.fm's "What are not sufficient conditions for playing jazz."
Objections to improvisation as a necessary condition for definition of jazz
Counter-examples are one method of disproving the need for improvisation for music to be jazz.
Improvisation and swing can be found in Western Swing music, but this is more country dancing music with jazz influences, than it is jazz.
The improvisation requirement will be moot if some theorists are correct that all music from any genre is improvisational at all times to different degrees. Carol S. Gould and Kenneth Keaton in their article, "The Essential Role of Improvisation in Musical Performance" (Spring, 2000). Here the authors argue that:
- (1) Improvisation is only a matter of degree, not of kind.
“We submit that jazz and classical performances differ more in degree than in kind.
- (2) Every musical performance, even previously scripted ones where performers faithfully follow a previously composed musical score involves improvisation.
If Gould and Keaton's view of improvisation being universally present in all genres of music were true, then it will not help to distinguish jazz genres from any other music genres.
For a critique that one needs to distinguish between interpretative versus compositional improvisations, see PoJ.fm Ontimpr1. What is improvisation?#Carol S. Gould and Kenneth Keaton on Improvisation.
If one requires improvisation as a requirement for music to be jazz the same judges evaluating the exact same music would end up with opposite conclusions about whether the music under consideration was jazz. Here's the example. Jazz musicians who know how to play jazz well and are now intending to play jazz perform the following tune titled "Contradiction" with these features. A three minute long song that swings throughout has the first minute with no improvisation, let's call this part 'the head,' then the second minute is improvised, with a return in the final minute to a non-improvised closing. Was this a jazz tune? It would appear so according to the strict formalist definition because there was significant swing throughout the three sections and the middle section was improvised. Also, assume that the performance of this song had many other features often found in other jazz music performances.
The strict formalist definition for jazz introduced by Gridley, Maxham and Hoff above requires all jazz music contains improvisation and uses a swing rhythm. Suppose supporters of the strict formalist definition agree that this three minute tune, "Contradiction," meets their requirements and was a jazz performance. Once it has been decided that the music performed meets all of the qualifications needed should it matter WHEN and HOW MUCH of that tune they are hearing for this music to be jazz? No, it should not matter. We record the tune under consideration specified above. We play it back to the strict definition judges. After the first minute we stop the track and ask the judges if this tune is jazz. The judges ask was anything we heard so far improvised? We tell them "No." Did it swing we ask the judges. The judges agree it did swing for that first minute that they heard. Because the first minute of the recording of "Contradictions" was swinging but not improvised the strict formalist judges conclude that the first minute of the tune "Contradictions" is not jazz because it lacks compositional improvisation. These judges have now contradicted themselves. The very same music passage of music cannot simultaneously be jazz and not jazz in any strict formalist definition. Yet this is the situation within which the strict definers find themselves. They already agreed after hearing the entire three minutes that the performance by the musicians qualifies as one of jazz, so the first minute is part of a jazz performance. It cannot also not be part of a jazz performance.
CONCLUSION: Compositional improvisation cannot be a necessary condition for every aspect of a jazz performance since parts of many jazz performances have not been improvised but rehearsed.
Objections to defining jazz using a family resemblance approach
- (2) a family resemblance approach (so that whatever has been called jazz qualifies), or,
Objections to defining jazz using a dimensional/scalar approach of jazziness
- (3) a scalar measure of jazzness that comes in degrees and is based on past musics considered jazz.
Assessment of the views of Gunther Schuller and Hughes Panassié
The Encyclopedia Brittanica entry (all Schuller quotations are from the "Jazz" article in Brittanica) written by American musicologist, composer, conductor, horn player, author, historian, and jazz musician Gunther Schuller (1925–2015), as we see below, first defines jazz, or at least attempts a detailed delineation and characterization of jazz and its origins and its musical influences, while then immediately claiming the futility of trying to define it.
“Jazz, [is a] musical form, often improvisational, developed by African Americans and influenced by both European harmonic structure and African rhythms. It was developed partially from ragtime and blues and is often characterized by syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, varying degrees of improvisation, often deliberate deviations of pitch, and the use of original timbres.
“Any attempt to arrive at a precise, all-encompassing definition of jazz is probably futile. Jazz has been, from its very beginnings at the turn of the 20th century, a constantly evolving, expanding, changing music, passing through several distinctive phases of development; a definition that might apply to one phase—for instance, to New Orleans style or swing—becomes inappropriate when applied to another segment of its history, say, to free jazz. Early attempts to define jazz as a music whose chief characteristic was improvisation, for example, turned out to be too restrictive and largely untrue, since composition, arrangement, and ensemble have also been essential components of jazz for most of its history. Similarly, syncopation and swing, often considered essential and unique to jazz, are lacking in much authentic jazz, whether [in] the 1920s or [in] later decades. Again, the long-held notion that swing could not occur without syncopation was roundly disproved when trumpeters Louis Armstrong and Bunny Berigan (among others) frequently generated enormous swing while playing repeated, unsyncopated quarter notes.” (bold not in original)
➢ What are the reasons why Gunther Schuller maintains that jazz cannot be defined?
Schuller first claims that if anything is "constantly evolving and changing," it is futile trying to define it. Initially, this might seem like a legitimate reason to reject defining something because if what we are defining keeps changing its properties, then it appears that there is nothing stable enough to identify since definitions are fixed and don't change.
However, this turns out to be a weak reason against defining something. Just because things change, by itself, does not make a definition of something impossible. Consider a simple example at first. Can the word "everything" be defined and be defined accurately and well? Why, yes, it can. The definition of everything means to include all things of any kind. Dictionary.com reports the meaning of the pronoun "everything" as saying “every single thing or every particular of an aggregate or total; all.” Notice that this, on the face of it, would seem to be a perfectly acceptable and correct definition of "everything." If Schuller's constantly evolving objection were legitimate, then the pronoun "everything" could not be defined because "everything is constantly changing and evolving," although correct is irrelevant to the possibility (and actuality) of being able to determine what "everything" as a pronoun means. For two more similar counter-arguments, see Ontdef3. Arguments for the impossibility of defining jazz where it is argued automobile can be defined even though the car industry evolves and incorporates new unforeseen styles of cars, same things with motorcycles, and also Ontdef8. What is a bicycle?. Since the word "bicycle" can be defined even though new styles of bikes come into existence, the production of new unforeseen forms will not make it impossible to have a satisfactory definition.
Maurice Mandelbaum (1908–1987), critiquing Morris Weitz's (1916–1981) arguments about art being an open concept in his "Family Resemblances and Generalization concerning the Arts" (1965), agrees with PoJ.fm that merely because things change and new properties may be found in new members of an older category does not necessarily make the category undefinable. Definability in philosophy often means a specification of necessary and sufficient conditions.
“What he [Morris Weitz] claims is that the concept "art" must be treated as an open concept, since new art forms have developed in the past, and since any art form (such as the novel) may undergo radical transformations from generation to generation. One brief statement from Professor Weitz's article can serve to summarize this view:
[Weitz quotation:] "What I am arguing, then, is that the very expansive, adventurous character of art, its ever-present changes and novel creations, makes it logically impossible to ensure any set of defining properties. We can, of course, choose to close the concept. But to do this with "art" or "tragedy" or portraiture, etc. is ludicrous since it forecloses the very conditions of creativity in the arts."
Unfortunately, Professor Weitz fails to offer any cogent argument in substantiation of this claim. The lacuna in his discussion is to be found in the fact that the question of whether a particular concept is open or closed (i. e., whether a set of necessary and sufficient conditions can be offered for its use) is not identical with the question of whether future instances to which the very same concept is applied may or may not possess genuinely novel properties. In other words, Professor Weitz has not shown that every novelty in the instances to which we apply a term involves a stretching of the term's connotation. By way of illustration, consider the classificatory label "representational painting." One can assuredly define this particular form of art without defining it in such a way that it will include only those paintings which depict either a mythological event or a religious scene. Historical paintings, interiors, fete-champetres, and still-life can all count as "representational" according to any adequate definition of this mode of painting, and there is no reason why such a definition could not have been formulated prior to the emergence of any of these novel species of the representational mode. Thus, to define a particular form of art—and to define it truly and accurately—is not necessarily to set one's self in opposition to whatever new creations may arise within that particular form.
Consequently, it would be mistaken to suppose that all attempts to state the defining properties of various art forms are prescriptive in character and authoritarian in their effect. This conclusion is not confined to cases in which an established form of art, such as representational painting, undergoes changes; it can also be shown to be compatible with the fact that radically new art forms arise. For example, if the concept "a work of art" had been carefully defined prior to the invention of cameras, is there any reason to suppose that such a definition would have proved an obstacle to viewing photography or the movies as constituting new art forms? To be sure, one can imagine definitions which might have done so. However, it was not Professor Weitz's aim to show that one or another definition of art had been a poor definition; he wished to establish the general thesis that there was a necessary incompatibility, which he denoted as a logical impossibility, between allowing for novelty and creativity in the arts and stating the defining properties of a work of art. He failed to establish this thesis since he offered no arguments to prove that new sorts of instantiation of a previously defined concept will necessarily involve us in changing the definition of that concept. To be sure, if neither photography nor the movies had developed along lines which satisfied the same sorts of interest that the other arts satisfied, and if the kinds of standards which were applied in the other arts were not seen to be relevant when applied to photography and to the movies, then the antecedently formulated definition of art would have functioned as a closed concept, and it would have been used to exclude all photographers and all motion-picture makers from the class of those who were to be termed "artists."” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Philosopher Steven Davies provides an example where one can define the concept adequately even though the scope of the things that can fall under the concept changes and new novel objects with different and distinctive properties never before included can still fall under the well-defined concept.
“With the failure of these traditional approaches, one might doubt that art is definable. Morris Weitz (1956) argues that artworks are united by a web of family resemblances, not by the kind of essence sought by a real definition. The problem with this claim is that everything resembles every other thing, so the invocation of resemblances cannot explain the unity and integrity of any concept. Weitz also maintains that definitions apply only to closed, unalterable concepts and that art, with its changing and unpredictable future, cannot be defined. Again, the claim is unconvincing. The class of meals I have eaten keeps growing and sometimes takes in new and unusual instances, but what alters is the class's membership, not its defining characteristics. It could be part, or a consequence, of the unchanging essence of art that many of its instances are created to be original in some respects.
Weitz insists that, when we look and see, we do not find any property common to all artworks. He could be right about that, but what might follow is not that art is indefinable but, rather, that the defining properties are non-perceptible, relational ones.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Davies's counter-example is the concept of a meal 🥘. Dictionary.com defines a meal as “the food served and eaten especially at one of the customary, regular occasions for taking food during the day, as breakfast, lunch, or supper.” Notice that meals are defined in relation to food. Davies's point also applies to the definability of the concept of food. Some Americans eat alligator steaks, but not everyone has had this type of food. When they eat alligator, it is food since the meat is nourishing. One can expand on the types of things eaten but this need not change the definition for meal, or for food: “Any nourishing substance that is eaten, drunk, or otherwise taken into the body to sustain life, provide energy, promote growth, etc.”
➢ Why does Schuller think that jazz definitions must be doomed to failure?
Schuller claims that any definition of jazz at an earlier phase can be "inappropriate" when applied to a later jazz period.
“[a] definition [of jazz] that might apply to one phase—for instance, to New Orleans style or swing—becomes inappropriate when applied to another segment of its history, say, to free jazz. (bold not in original)
➢ What would make a jazz definition unsuitable, according to Schuller?
Presumably, Schuller believes that were one to use swing as a necessary component of jazz, and if free jazz doesn't swing, then free jazz couldn't qualify as jazz. Yet, it is clear from his assertions that Schuller accepts that free jazz qualifies as jazz; therefore, one should not use swing to pick out all and only jazz and, this is, indeed, what Schuller then claims!
But who says swing is the correct definition for all of jazz? Swing is a non-starter as an intrinsic property for all jazz, if not all jazz swings, which Schuller already concedes.
So, on this recommendation, don't use swing as the vital component for a definition of jazz. Nothing follows from failed attempts at a definition that would establish that defining jazz is impossible. (For more discussion on the impossibility of defining jazz, see PoJ.fm's Ontdef2. Arguments for the impossibility of defining jazz and Ontmeta8. On the impossibility of definition).
Furthermore, if Schuller accepts this reasoning that jazz is always an unstable musical genre, would it not follow that jazz should present quite a challenge to recognize. Yet Schuller, just as he had first defined jazz while denying that it was possible to do so, again appears to contradict himself when he claims jazz is "instantly recognizable" and distinguishable from "all other musical forms." How could this be possible if the subject was always "changing phases"?
“Jazz, in fact, is not—and never has been—an entirely composed, predetermined music, nor is it an entirely extemporized one. For almost all of its history, it has employed both creative approaches in varying degrees and endless permutations. And yet, despite these diverse terminological confusions, jazz seems to be instantly recognized and distinguished as something separate from all other forms of musical expression. To repeat Armstrong's famous reply when asked what swing meant: "If you have to ask, you'll never know." To add to the confusion, there often have been seemingly unbridgeable perceptual differences between the producers of jazz (performers, composers, and arrangers) and its audiences. For example, with the arrival of free jazz and other latter-day, avant-garde manifestations, many senior musicians maintained that music that didn't swing was not jazz. (bold not in original)
Schuller may have had a different sort of argument in mind when he said that a “definition [of jazz] that might apply to one phase—for instance, to New Orleans style or swing—becomes inappropriate when applied to another segment of its history, say, to free jazz.” The background assumption required by his claim is that jazz develops different forms over time. The type of example he could have in mind would be if a chair existed for a time, and then a carpenter turned it into a small boat that you couldn't reasonably sit upon any longer as a chair 🪑. The previous criteria for being a chair would be inappropriate for evaluating a boat because using a chair criteria would not be an appropriate evaluative means for assessing the qualities and definition of a boat 🚣 . So, one can see that if this, namely, an earlier style of jazz's definition will not include unforeseen future radical differences in a later phase of jazz, then an initial definition for chair would be a flawed and inappropriate criterion for evaluating a future-developed boat for either the boat's chair worthiness or its boathood.
Still, jazz is hybrid music consisting of a merging of the European diatonic musical scale with an African pentatonic one. Throughout its history, jazz has incorporated and absorbed multiple musical influences from numerous, even incompatible, musical genres, including gospel, folk, blues, ring shouts, call and response, marches, and many more. Thus, perhaps jazz is like a chair boat, which helps explain some of the challenges involved in pinning jazz down.
Things can change over time more slowly so that it is easier to imagine the two falling under the same category.
➢ What things maintain their identity because of slow changes resulting in opposing properties?
A top choice has got to be humans, their bodies and their personhood, with slow changes to an individual maintaining its identity over time, resulting in having opposing properties at different times. For example, start with the human body. Except for unusual alternative philosophical perspectives, the generally accepted view is that it is the same human body from fetal formation up through death 💀. Evaluators who are biologically knowledgeable about human reproduction and human anatomy count the early formation of a unit structure from both parents remaining the same physical body because of its causal connections throughout its organically functioning (you're alive) existence. Yet, this same human body over time can have at different times contradictory properties. At birth, a head could be mostly bald, later in life completely hairy on the top of the head, then when old, one could go back to being bald. How can the same object be both hairless and non-bald? The answer is that this object has these oppositional properties at different times. The same sailing ship could first be unpainted, then painted. The paint of the ship could first be all-white 🛳 , later the same ship can be painted black . Similarly, this same type of phenomena can occur for personal identity. At one time, the very same person could first be an introvert, then later in life be an extrovert. A person could have a charming, bubbly personality, but later in life, be all gloom and doom.
Could the musical genre of jazz be like this? At one time, jazz doesn't swing, then later it does, and even later after that, it doesn't swing again? It may be possible given that Dixieland doesn't swing, then big bands do, then free jazz doesn't, if each of them still counts as being the same musical genre over time, namely each is jazz.
While it is partially true that some musicians rejected free jazz because it didn't swing, we cannot use this to rule out free jazz as a jazz sub-genre because plenty of jazz besides free jazz doesn't swing, as Gunther Schuller concedes when he states that swing and syncopation can be missing from "authentic jazz," as said in the quotation above opening this section. Much earlier jazz before swing big band music didn't swing, and some contemporary straight-ahead jazz has no swing rhythm. Swing is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for performing jazz. See PoJ.fm's "What are not sufficient conditions for jazz," and because jazz can exist that doesn't swing, it cannot be a necessary condition either.
Not all theorists agree with this. French music critic Hughes Panassié (1912–1974) held that swing was a requirement for jazz.
(Details of photographs by William P. Gottlieb; enhanced and colorized by PoJ.fm)
That this is so for Panassié is confirmed by quotations found in Jeffrey H. Jackson's Jazz French: Music and Modern Life in Interwar Paris (2008) whenever the issue is broached. For Panassié, any music that doesn't swing cannot qualify as jazz, as he makes crystal clear below:
“According to Panassié, jazz music represented a fundamental rupture in the stream of European musical style, and it demanded both a new kind of listener and a different critical audience to appreciate it. The question that the new, modern audience must ask itself is whether the music "swings." "Where there is no swing," Panassié explained, "there can be no authentic jazz." Panassié attempted, largely in vain, to describe this quality of the music. Swing "is a sort of 'swinging' of the rhythm and melody which makes for great dynamic power," he said. It is syncopation and dance, he suggested, and therefore not necessarily inherent in the melody or in how it is played. Quoting an article by Mougin, Panassié agreed that "swing is the swinging between the strong beat and the weak beat—or beats—in a measure." Such definitions were clearly tautological, but Panassié insisted that anyone acquainted with swing could recognize it objectively. Nevertheless, he quickly pointed out its subjective nature and the fact that "such a way of playing cannot be acquired by conscientious study." "Swing is a gift,"—he remarked, "either you have it deep within yourself, or you don't have it at all." On this basis, Panassié dismissed bands such as Hylton's—a recurring foil in his book—that lacked the fundamental component of swing. "An orchestra like Hylton's," he quipped, "does not, please notice, make bad jazz; it is not jazz at all." And he excluded the "symphonic style" of Gershwin and others from "real jazz" as only "distantly related to hot music." (bold and bold italic not in original)
According to Panassié, swing could not be "acquired by conscientious study." Panassié's claim should come as quite a surprise to music faculty who have been teaching their jazz students how to swing for the past fifty years, at least. Enough said. So, swing is teachable, and it does not require an innate ability. When Panassié claims that "either you have it [swing] deep within yourself, or you don't have it at all," this can be proven false. Start with a beginning jazz student who does not yet know how to swing, then teach him or her how to swing, and then the proof is that before being shown, he or she could not swing, but after instruction and training, the student now can swing musically. Our thought experiment proves that swing is not innate and can be acquired through education and training, as has now been known by jazz students and jazz faculty for at least the last fifty years.
“No music could be real jazz if it did not swing, but there was more than one way for a band to do so. Real jazz could be played straight or hot. To play "straight" meant "playing the piece just as it is written, without modifying it." Straight performances were tied to the notes on the page, yet they could be done in a swinging style. To play hot "means to play with warmth, with heat.' and was based on variations of melody and intonation that were improvised anew with each performance." Although both hot and straight were still real jazz because both were based on swing, Panassié elevated hot music as the ultimate form. It came from the personalized interpretation of a composition given to it by each musician rather than merely playing the notes as they appeared on the page. Hot jazz, he said, came from the musician's soul. (bold and bold italic not in original)
Even in 1958, jazz writer and music critic Nat Hentoff finds Panassié's parochial tastes too limiting if they end up eliminating from the jazz pantheon the musical works and jazz musicians from the later and more modern jazz sounds of Bebop and beyond, including the improvisational mastery of Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, or the fiery trumpet work of Dizzy Gillespie, or the many modern styles of jazz represented by the music of Miles Davis.
“In view of Panassié's religious belief that most modern jazz isn't jazz at all, do not expect to find any records by [Charlie] Parker, [Dizzy] Gillespie, [Miles] Davis, etc. (bold and bold italic not in original)
➢ Who counts as legitimate jazz musicians, according to Panassié's discography of jazz?
Nat Hentoff tells us some of the musicians Panassié includes in his jazz discography:
“There are large sections for [Duke] Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, [Fletcher] Henderson, [Jimmy] Lunceford, [Count] Basie, Big Bill (Bissonnette), [Earl "Fatha"] Hines, [Fats] Waller, and [Chick] Webb, among others. The often eerie imbalance caused by Panassié's pontifical taste leads not only to the omission of the moderns but to the inclusion of only four Billie Holiday titles contrasted with over ninety for [Mezz] Mezzrow who is, Panassié assures us, the only white man capable of playing the blues like a Negro.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
In the "Preface" to the 1960's revised and expanded edition of The Real Jazz (initially written in 1942), Panassié emphasizes that he has changed his mind regarding his prior assessments of real jazz players, having been based too much on only hearing white jazz musicians. He now realizes his previous estimates of players resulted from his inexperience in hearing excellent African-American musicians. He now claims INSERT QUOTATION "jazz is black music" and what counts as good (he says "real") jazz, and he is not so humble as not to contradict his prior estimates of the best jazz players. INSERT QUOTATIONS.
Ironically, he is still wrong in his assessments and probably somewhat for the reasons he gives for his previous misjudgments, namely lack of exposure to the music and how it gets produced. He leaves out the modern players of Bebop that were available for hearing from 1946–47 onwards. Indeed, when he wrote the original 1942 volume, we can forgive him since Bebop had not yet been formed. In a revised 1960 edition, Panassié no longer has any excuse for excluding the most modern jazz musicians of this period.
Panassié recognized an essential point about (good) jazz performers. They must themselves be excellent composers because they are improvising concurrently with their playing. (See PoJ.fm's Ontimpr1. What is improvisation?).
“Panassié emphasized the importance of improvisation to hot jazz precisely because it shifted the traditional balance between composer and performer, thus producing another distinction between jazz and art music. (bold not in original)
Having made this observation that helps distinguish jazz from non-improvised music, it should be a surprise for Panassié to exclude Beboppers from his jazz universe. The Beboppers were superior improvising composers, plus a fascinating thing about this whole debacle of Panassié's is that much of Bebop did swing! For an outstanding example of a swinging song, listen to "Star Eyes" on Amazon or Youtube's original album version of "Star Eyes" by the Charlie Parker quartet recorded in 1951 with Miles Davis on trumpet, Walter Bishop, Jr. on piano, Teddy Kotick on double bass, and Max Roach on the drums, or the even hotter live version of "Star Eyes" at Youtube.
Anyone who recognizes swing will undoubtedly hear it in this tune. At this point, Panassié could go one of two ways, both disastrous for his exclusion of more modern jazz performers. Either he could agree that "Star Eyes" is swinging so counts as jazz, proving Bebop should not automatically be excluded from jazz or all of the modern players who have performed the song, or Panassié could deny that "Star Eyes" was a Bebop song, which it is when Bird plays it, so that he would be wrong again.
Assessment of the views of Peter Townsend
In his book, Jazz in American Culture (pictured here)
Peter Townsend, at the time of his book's publication in 2000 was a Senior Lecturer in the School of Music and Humanities at the University of Huddersfield, writes about the question of defining jazz. He seems initially to state that there is no problem defining jazz, then proceeds to cast doubt on that suggestion.
“Statements about jazz beg questions of definition. Jazz is often thought of as being mysterious, elusive, and hard to define. But since the meaning of a word is its use, jazz is no harder to define than anything else (try defining 'popular music,' for example), provided one has decided how to use the word. The preferred definition of jazz in this book stays close to the musical basis for the reasons already stated. But jazz can be defined relatively narrowly or relatively broadly. Some writers have restricted its usage to the musical styles they prefer, like the 1940's revivalists who denied the word 'jazz' to any of the post-New Orleans styles. On the other hand, some recent exponents of Jazz Studies have expanded the term to include the entire phenomenon of jazz, including all its representations, derivatives and social implications. These shifts in the meanings of the word could be made transparent by other signals, such as marking them 'jazz (1),' 'jazz (2)', 'jazz (3),' and so on. It is probably wiser to accept Krin Gabbard's conclusion that jazz is 'the music that large groups of people have called jazz at particular moments in history,' and then to use the word in the sense that emphasizes the qualities that one considers important.” (bold not in original)
When Townsend remarks above in his opening sentence that "statements about jazz beg questions of definition," he is not referring to the well-known fallacy by the same name wherein a premise presupposes the truth of its conclusion. Instead, he merely means that someone should ask the question of what is jazz. His second sentence stating that jazz is no harder to define than anything else is implausible. If jazz were so easy to identify, why doesn't Townsend go ahead and define it?
Merely deciding how one will use the word "jazz" brings us little closer to defining it successfully. (See PoJ.fm's Ontmeta8. Stipulative definitions explaining the issues with such definitions). But suppose we follow Townsend's advice and say we decide how we want to use the word "jazz" for a style of music that we distinguish from other genres of music that are non-jazz. Now we know how we want to use the word, but there remain unanswered questions as to the features of jazz that can distinguish it from other non-jazz music. Townsend remains mute on this hard question even though he claims not to when he states that his (or anyone's) 'preferred' method for defining jazz "stays close to the musical basis." But what is that musical basis, and how can we use it to distinguish jazz from non-jazz?
As can be seen, many, many possible musical bases fail sufficiently to distinguish jazz from non-jazz regardless of how jazz gets defined more broadly or more narrowly. (See Ontdef3. What are not sufficient conditions for playing jazz?). Townsend's suggestions do not work whether one tries a narrower or a broader approach. First, consider his narrow proposal of limiting jazz to "the 1940's revivalists who denied the word 'jazz' to any of the post-New Orleans styles." This doesn't work if one believes jazz includes music other than just a New Orleans Dixieland style. If we stuck to this definition, then almost all other music that has been called jazz would be excluded from being jazz, and this is just unacceptable. It would eliminate virtually all jazz music developed since the 1940s, which is the vast majority of music that has been (correctly) thought to be jazz, including Bebop, big band swing, modal, cool, soul, or even the more suspect jazz-rock fusion, smooth jazz, free jazz, and so on. Hence, drawing too narrow a boundary around jazz excludes music that most theorists wish to include at least some other types other than just New Orleans styles of jazz.
Townsend next notes, second, a broader definition of jazz that “expand(s) the term to include the entire phenomenon of jazz including all its representations, derivatives and social implications.” Does this help better to define jazz? Not really. First, music's representations and derivatives are far from being clear. What are these? Is a jazz event a derivative or not? Are Matisse's jazz series of paintings a representation of jazz, and to what extent? Likely Townsend believes that the most significant of these three (representations, derivatives, and social implications) is the social implications. Consider, however, that a genre of music's social implications might mirror and be the same as a different genre of music. Two different types of music could have the same social connections, as may, for example, possibly be true of the equally African-American inspired music labeled the blues. If blues and jazz had comparable social effects, then bringing in social implications may well not permit distinguishing jazz from non-jazz. Furthermore, suppose that both of the following claims were true: (T1) Free jazz is a form of jazz, but (T2) Free jazz has some different social implications (as well as various representations and derivatives) than other types of straight-ahead jazz. If true, and it is incredibly likely that it is, social implication differences are irrelevant for defining jazz were (T1) to be accurate, which it probably is since free jazz has less overall social acceptability than has straight-ahead jazz. On this basis, free jazz could not be considered jazz were these social implications of free jazz different than those for straight-ahead jazz, thereby contradicting (T1).
Townsend then finally settles on accepting a suggestion by Krin Gabbard's that “jazz is "the music that large groups of people have called jazz at particular moments in history" and then to use the word in the sense that emphasizes the qualities that one considers important.” Neither of these suggestions is useful or acceptable for defining jazz. We cannot just accept as an intellectually satisfying definition of jazz that it is a music determined by what people have called jazz since some music that has used the nom de plume of jazz, such as acid jazz, turned out not to be jazz. (See Ontdef3. Why 'so-called' acid jazz is not a sub-genre of jazz). Emphasizing the conditions that you think are important is just as much another failed suggestion if the qualities you find essential are found in other music genres besides jazz. If you believe that swing were essential to jazz, it turns out that this feature is unhelpful for defining jazz since some non-jazz music has swing, such as rockabilly music or western swing, and some jazz fails to swing as does much modern mainstream jazz, not to mention free jazz or Latin jazz.
“A related premise of this book is that what is called jazz is, in any case, a certain segment or area selected out of a continuous terrain of American musical styles. It has no precise boundaries, and at its fringes it shades off into a range of other musics. The territory of jazz touches 'pop' music, 'country' music, the blues, 'classical' music, rock and roll, and so on, and at times can hardly be distinguished from them. There are styles and artists that pose questions about boundaries and classifications: was Frank Sinatra a jazz singer? Was Louis Jordan a jazz musician? Was 'Western Swing' part of jazz or of country music? The idea of the limits of a music like jazz, of its boundaries, should be reassessed in the way that Gregory Nobles proposes for the idea of the 'frontier': as an area characterized by a 'complex pattern of human contact,' not simply as a cut-off point between well-defined separate entities!” (bold not in original)
Regarding the boundaries of jazz as a style of music, Townsend may well be correct that when we get into more fringe types of musical areas that jazz can be more undetermined as jazz. Paul Rinzler supports the idea that jazz boundaries can be ragged in his masterwork, The Contradictions of Jazz, where Rinzler defends that one should understand jazz as having a fuzzy logic whereby jazz can be along a continuum with varying strengths and degrees of jazz. Still, Townsend appears to go too far if he believes that there are times when jazz “can hardly be distinguished from” pop music, or country, the blues, classical music, or rock and roll. While it is true that Third Stream is a combination of classical music and jazz and jazz/rock fusion synthesizes jazz with rock, it still is hyperbolic to proclaim that jazz and these other forms at the fringes cannot be distinguished from each other.
Townsend continues his development of these lines of thought by marking jazz out as a region of music.
“Jazz is more like a region than a nation. Nevertheless, it is still possible to state some positive characteristics that mark out the region. For positive definitions, one can refer to a useful brief version by Lewis Porter: "Jazz is a form of art music developed by black Americans around 1900 that draws upon a variety of sources from Africa, Europe, and America." Jazz as a segment of American music is, by a consensus of most writers, identifiable by reference to its rhythms, its repertoire, its use of improvisation and its approach to instrumental sound and technique, and these features are reflected in the description of jazz as a music in Chapter 1.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Staying with his fundamental approach of defining jazz in musical terms, Townsend proposes to accept what he finds to be a "useful version" for determining jazz put forth by Lewis Porter. If we evaluate Porter's suggestion as a way to define jazz, it is easy to see that Porter's description remains unsuccessful for the primary reason that it applies equally to blues music that was also primarily developed by African-Americans around the turn of the century with musical sources deriving from Africa (using a pentatonic scale), Europe (using a diatonic musical scale), and (North) American influences (work songs, call and response, gospel, and so forth).
Lastly, the idea that jazz can be identified by its rhythms, repertoire, improvisational sonic techniques, and approaches is welcomed, but also cannot be by themselves either necessary or sufficient conditions for jazz. (See PoJ.fm's Ontdef3. What are necessary conditions for playing jazz? and Ontdef3. What are not sufficient conditions for playing jazz?). Is there such a thing as a distinctive jazz rhythm only used in jazz music? This doesn't sound correct. Certainly, repertoire cannot distinguish jazz from non-jazz because many jazz standards came from non-jazz songs, such as Sonny Rollins's "I'm an Old Cowhand" from Rollin's album "Way Out West," or his jazz version of "Surrey with the Fringe on Top," or all of the jazzers who covered it, or John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" from the non-jazz musical "The Sound of Music" that no one considered this song to be jazz until performed by Coltrane. Many non-jazz kinds of music incorporate improvisation into their respective non-jazz musical genres, including Indian ragas from Indian classical music, country, blues, rock, rap, and on and on. Hence, while certainly relevant to jazz, Porter's list does not yet constitute a definition that would pick out all and only jazz.
Assessment of the views of Joel Dinerstein
Joel Dinerstein, author of numerous tomes on coolness, when reviewing John Gennari's book, Blowing Hot and Cold, holds that jazz critics managed a "unique intellectual achievement" by developing, shaping, and codifying the 'formal categories' by which jazz is to be analyzed and understood. Here is how he puts these claims:
“Blowin’ Hot and Cool [by John Gennari] simultaneously functions as a history of jazz, an intellectual history of jazz, and a survey of jazz discourses—no small feat—all as rendered through the guru of the jazz critic. As opposed to jazz musicians, who have often refused to categorize jazz, “emphasiz[ing] the social messages embodied in the music,” the achievement of a personal sound, and “jazz . . . as a form of communal bonding, [and] ritual,” jazz critics have inhabited a range of modernist stances predicated on cross-racial exchange. [John] Gennari casts the music’s white proselytizers, columnists, and impresarios along a continuum of paternalism, patronage, friendship, primitivism, and vernacular patriotism, and its black writers and impresarios (Amiri Baraka, Stanley Crouch) as tightrope walkers of integrationist and separatist ideologies, cultural affirmation and diasporic identity, neoclassicism and avant-gardism. From the moment John Hammond and Leonard Feather stepped into the Savoy Ballroom in 1935 with the explicit intention not to dance but to listen—“the Ur-stance of the jazz critic”—they positioned themselves as discursive gatekeepers “distinct from the dancing mass body, caught up in an imagined sense of privileged intellectual and emotional communion with the music.” Gennari seeks neither to redeem nor delegitimize their cultural work but to highlight their unique intellectual achievement: they shaped an undervalued popular music into a vernacular art music by successfully creating the formal categories through which the music is understood. (bold and bold italic not in original)
➢ Is it true that jazz writers and critics are fully responsible for the categories used to analyze and appreciate jazz?
Doesn't this emphasis on jazz writers and critics (presumably for both Gennari and Dinerstein) production of formal jazz categories and concepts used to 'understand' jazz ignore another important causal source for jazz category analytical constructions, namely the jazz musicians and their compositions themselves? Don't we want to give some credit to the performers of the music themselves, and not just to the people who write about jazz phenomena? Should not Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Ornette Coleman, etc. be given credit and responsibility for the, as Dinerstein writes it, development of the "formal categories through which the music is to be understood"?
If the above musicians had not developed their compositions that helped produce bebop, or big band compositions representing themes, such as Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy," or Mary Lou Williams's 'sacred music,' or the harmolodic style of music developed by Ornette Coleman and his players, or George Russell's, "Jazz in the Space Age," third stream style, there would not exist the music that jazz writers and critics end up analyzing with their 'formal categories.' If the music itself did not exist, there would be nothing for the writers to discuss, or anything for that matter to analyze. Doesn't the source for the formal categories, the musicians and musical compositions, themselves shape what those categories are to become? It would seem so.
Assessment of the views of Scott Deveaux and Bill KirchnerSome people believe that jazz and its concept may conform to Morris Weitz's (1916–1981)  of open concepts where the things falling under that concept are unstable making it impossible to specify any set of necessary and sufficient conditions that captures all current and future objects that might fall under such a concept. (For arguments disputing these claims and showing how games can be defined, see PoJ.fm's Ontmeta8. Wittgenstein's family resemblance problem and defining jazz). The content of an open concept is continually changing and cannot be pinned down. As soon as anyone can define jazz (or art), a performer will accomplish something in the spirit of jazz outside the current definition, and then it is unclear what to say about this new music, or so it is often claimed.
This point of view is represented by Scott Deveaux, Professor of Critical & Comparative Studies at the University of Virginia in the McIntyre School of Music, holding that one should avoid defining jazz “in musical terms.”
“Defining jazz is a notoriously difficult proposition, but the task is easier if one bypasses the usual inventory of musical qualities or techniques, like improvisation or swing (since the more specific or comprehensive such a list attempts to be, the more likely it is that exceptions will overwhelm the rule).” (bold not in original)
But herein lies madness. How else could one come up with a definition of jazz as music if one ignores its "musical qualities," as recommended by Deveaux? Of course, for anyone who thinks that there is nothing in common between different jazz genres and that they have just been lumped together under the jazz umbrella due to historical accidents, this would be a way to ignore jazz's musical qualities. For more discussion on these points, see PoJ.fm's Ontdef3. Why jazz is not just an institutionally practice-mandated musical genre.
Undaunted, Deveaux continues by providing various reasons for rejecting jazz/rock fusion or free jazz/the new thing/avante-garde as qualifying as jazz. You should be especially sensitive when reading the below quotation for what would appear to be a blatant contradiction in his theory. First, he denies that jazz can be defined, yet below argues that there is nevertheless an "essential nature to jazz" and then second, adds insult to injury by claiming the essential nature of jazz "is the process of change itself" while incredibly denying that jazz fusion and free jazz qualify as jazz even though these are the very changes to which he refers.
“Much as the concept of purity is made more concrete by the threat of contamination, what is not is far more vivid rhetorically than what it is. Thus fusion is "not Jazz" because, in its pursuit of commercial success, it has embraced certain musical traits—the use of electric instruments, modern production techniques, and a rock- or funk-oriented rhythmic feeling—that violate the essential nature of jazz. The avant-garde, whatever its genetic connection to the modernism of 1940's bebop, is not jazz—or no longer Jazz—because, in its pursuit of novelty, it has recklessly abandoned the basics of form and structure, even African-American principles like "swing." And the neoclassicist stance is irrelevant, and potentially harmful, to the growth of Jazz because it makes a fetish of the past, failing to recognize that the essence of Jazz is the process of change itself.” (bold not in original)
How can there be "contamination" on Deveaux's jazz views if the nature of jazz is to change? The only way to change is to incorporate 'contaminations' into jazz, so he contradicts himself again.
Deveaux is far far from being alone in rejecting the possibility of defining jazz. For example, this belief that it is fruitless to try to define the nature of jazz music appears to be the view of Bill Kirchner, in his “Introduction” to The Oxford Companion to Jazz, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 5):
“Throughout the—roughly speaking—century-old history of jazz, there have been numerous attempts to ‘define’ what the music is or isn’t. None of these has ever proven successful or widely accepted, and invariably they tell us much more about the tastes, prejudices, and limitations of the formulators than they do about the music. You’ll find no such attempts here.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Presentation, analysis, and critique of Alan Lawrence's views on defining jazz
At All About Jazz, author Alan Lawrence gives his views on problems with defining jazz in his article What is jazz? Part Two (December 9, 2002). To make it easier to assess the merits of Lawrence's assertions (in green font), critique of his remarks are interspersed in blue font.
What is jazz? Those three words form one of the toughest questions in music. Ask a hundred people and you are likely to get as many different answers.
That there might be diversity in people's answers on how to define jazz is not relevant for whether or not there can be an adequate or useful definition of it. If you asked 100 people to define gall bladder, you would get a lot of blank stares and different answers, but this would in no way show that gall bladder cannot be identified. The gall bladder is the small sac-shaped organ underneath the liver where bile is stored upon secretion by the liver and before its release into the intestine.
In fact, we don't want to ask random people for their opinions about jazz. Instead, we want to address music experts and especially those knowledgeable about jazz. Here it seems apparent that many many responses from the experts would be in accord with each other. There would be less diversity. Additionally, the fact that some genres of jazz are found suspicious by some experts would not show that of the music that virtually all experts agree is incontestably jazz that there may be something in common with the incontestable jazz that one could use to define it.
Few things have given me more pleasure in life than listening to the music we call jazz. Even after hearing several thousand recordings in over 15 years and seeing countless live shows, I cannot offer a definitive definition of the word "jazz."
The fact that Alan Lawrence cannot define jazz says nothing about whether or not jazz can be defined. Perhaps Lawrence cannot delineate what is a gall bladder either. Suppose he worked at a butcher shop and had seen thousands of cow gall bladders. It still wouldn't follow from Lawrence's ignorance about the function of a gall bladder that this organ cannot be defined.
The challenge may lie in the term "jazz" itself. Can a living music, one that may well be the most colorful and varied art form in the world, be defined by a single word?
Is this a believable claim? Absolutely not! Art itself in the wide-open art world is much more "colorful and varied" than jazz. Art in the art world includes many styles and types of art, from conceptual art to Impressionism and from Pop art to earthwork installations to Christo's wrapped island to Chris Burden having himself shot with a .22 caliber gun in the arm. Now there's some real variety in action with a living art world continually challenging itself, and all of it is under the same one word "art."
Sure there are a lot of types of jazz, and for a list, see Ep16. Jazz Sub-Genres and for characterizations of each genre see PoJ.fm's Ontology: Types of Jazz & Related Musics, but it still doesn't follow that because there are many types of something that the unifying element could not be defined. There are a really vast number of automobile types, but the meaning of "automobile" can still be determined. For proof of this and its relevance for delineating jazz see PoJ.fm's Vehicle Counter-example to the Multiple Styles argument that shows that (S1) Anything with many styles cannot be successfully defined is false.
After pondering that question for this feature, I'd have to say no. The music that falls into the jazz idiom takes on infinite faces and influences, including swing, bebop, cool, fusion, smooth, and avant-garde. As jazz spread across the globe, the music took on more and more sounds.
Surely Lawrence is being hyperbolic here when he mentions "infinity." It is certainly false that jazz has had an infinite number of anything related to it. There has not been an infinite number of causal factors creating jazz because there have only been a finite number of events or causes since the beginning of time after the start of the Big Bang in our universe. He then mentions not an infinite number of jazz styles, but a total of six measly jazz types. Jazz as music did spread across the globe and has taken on new sounds and influences from other kinds of music, but not an infinite number of them, which is not even theoretically possible.
Let's go back to our fictional survey of 100 people. What kind of responses would we get? Some may call anything with saxophone or trumpet jazz. Others may base their definition on the feel of the music. Does it swing? Still, others base their views of what defines jazz on the reputation of the musicians. Some say there must be improvisation for it to be jazz.
As argued above, the mere fact of disagreement amongst people surveyed for their definition of jazz proves nothing other than there is a lack of agreement; it doesn't make it impossible to define something because many things have definitions over which people still disagree, like whether injecting bleach would be effective against Covid-19. We can still define both bleach and Covid-19.
Let's consider these fictional people's responses.
- Is any music played with a saxophone or trumpet jazz? This is an absurd answer because musicians use them in many kinds of music other than jazz, such as in classical music or rock and roll.
- Can one base a definition for jazz on the "feel" of the music? What kind of feel is this? Presumably, Lawrence may have in mind something like, "If it feels like jazz, then it is jazz (to me)." This feeling argument has been refuted here at Ontdef4. Unhelpful definitions of jazz — Jazz is a Feeling. Furthermore, this is somewhat ridiculous since many people might think a saxophone solo in a rock song is jazz when it is not jazz. No one should want arbitrary, subjective responses to inform correct answers to any questions, period.
- Can swing be the definition for jazz? Absolutely not. Some jazz exists that doesn't swing, such as plenty of modern jazz performances, and some music swings that isn't jazz, such as rockabilly.
- Jazz can be defined based on the reputation of the musicians doesn't even make any sense because the same musicians might play music in more than one genre. Maybe what Lawrence had in mind is that jazz is the music played by musicians who have a jazz reputation. This won't work any better as a determiner of jazz because these very same musicians sometimes play music that is not jazz, as when sitting in with a rock band, for example.
- Musicians achieve improvisations while playing any music styles, so improvisation cannot be sufficient for jazz. See PoJ.fm's Ontimpr1. What is improvisation? and Does Jazz Have Essential Properties?
There is little argument that two critical elements of jazz are improvisation and swing. Let's briefly look at each:
Unquestionably, most jazz involves a degree of improvisation. In most jazz settings, someone is usually improvising. But, not all improvised music can be called jazz. The Grateful Dead rarely played what was written, but they certainly are usually not considered a jazz band. Conversely, not all music found in the jazz bins is improvised. Consider some of Duke Ellington's tightly arranged suites. While improvisation is, without a doubt, an integral part of jazz music, it is not an absolute. (For more discussion of improvisation's status in jazz see PoJ.fm's Ontdef3. Proposed necessary conditions for performing jazz).
Lawrence certainly is correct here about improvisation being neither sufficient nor necessary for music to qualify as jazz and for the reasons he supplies. Non-improvised jazz exists (Duke Ellington compositions performed without improvisation), and improvised classical music or blues music is not automatically jazz. For further discussion on necessary and sufficient conditions for jazz, see PoJ.fm's Are There Any Necessary Conditions For Playing Jazz? and Are There Any Sufficient Conditions For Playing Jazz?
Swing is even harder to define. What is swing? It is a feeling more than a concrete concept. Swing is that element that makes you move your body or want to dance. It is a buoyancy that lives in much of what we call jazz . . . the propulsive beat and forward momentum.
Swing is not just a feeling, and it has a well-defined concept, contrary to Lawrence's assertions. His remarks are better suited to "being in the groove," when the rhythm section players (often piano, bass, and drums) are locked in together and playing an insistent rhythm. The reason swing is not just a feeling is because it is a way to play music by having a particular rhythmic pulse, and rhythmic pulses are not feelings but ways to play music. The concept of swing refers to “a particular rhythmic technique (most commonly associated with jazz but also used in other genres) that involves alternately lengthening and shortening pulse-divisions.” What Lawrence seems to have in mind is the more colloquial use of the word "swing" that is better associated with the concept of a "groove," as explained at Wikipedia:“The term swing has two main uses. Colloquially, it is used to describe the sense of propulsive rhythmic "feel" or "groove" created by the musical interaction between the performers, especially when the music creates a "visceral response" such as feet-tapping or head-nodding (see pulse).”
But, does jazz always swing? Absolutely not. Anyone familiar with the works of Cecil Taylor or Anthony Braxton knows that their music is the antithesis of swing, yet most would define their music as jazz.
So, that brings us back to the main topic, "What is jazz?" In his book "Jazz Styles," Mark Gridley offers that music need only be associated with the jazz tradition to be called jazz. Instead of a strict definition, we use the word "jazz" to describe a character of the music. The lines have been blurred. Is Bitches Brew jazz or rock? I'd file it under jazz. My father would call it rock.
Can there be such a thing as a jazz tradition if we don't know which music counts as jazz? It doesn't seem possible. Should we count any music associated with the jazz tradition as jazz? Absolutely not since blues music is associated with the jazz tradition, but it is not jazz. Is Miles Davis's album "Bitches Brew" jazz? Well, it is jazz-rock fusion, so both Lawrence and his father are correct to that extent at least.
What you call jazz, I might not consider jazz at all. I can't tell you how many times I mention my love of jazz, only to hear, "Oh, I love Kenny G." To me, Kenny G and the rest of his so-called smooth jazz cronies do not play jazz. It certainly neither swings nor contains much, if any, improvisation. To them, Cecil Taylor or Sun Ra is the furthest thing from jazz. They might think it is noise.
Bottom line: If it feels like jazz to you ---- It is jazz. That's the beauty of this music! (bold and bold italic not in original)
Could there be any worse conclusion? The assertion is baldfacedly false. People cannot just call any kind of music jazz because they "feel like it" and always be correct. There is plenty of music that is not jazz, period! Lawrence was trying to put a positive spin about jazz as his concluding sentence, and for this, he can be forgiven, but not his reasons, which are bogus.
Critique of Donal Fox's definition of jazz at AllAboutJazz.com
"Thinking Outside The Musical Box" by Donal Fox 🦊
“What is jazz? It is a state of mind, a spiritual quest for true unfettered artistic expression, a human expression of individual freedom, social freedom, and love. Jazz is also about diversity. Diversity is important, isn't it? We expect it in our social lives. We demand respect and honor in our society as artists and as human beings because we need to help maintain equality and social justice among all the people of the world. In our music and in the jazz community, we must strive to honor and respect our musical diversity as well. (bold not in original)
Let's go through Fox's list one at a time. Is jazz a "state of mind"? A state of mind can include many different types of mental states, including attitudes, perspectives, outlooks, approaches, moods, dispositions, frames of mind, mindsets, or way of looking at things. These are not all the same because some are intellectual cognitions, while others are emotional.
Must one be in any particular state of mind to play jazz? There is little reason to believe so because one can be playing music and have opposing mindsets at different times. One could play a jazz tune while happy, then later while sad or morose. It might affect one's playing and sound, but it could be jazz both times, even with opposing mindsets.
CONCLUSION: There are no states of mind one must be in to play jazz, other than those required for effective music-making.
Many excellent improvisers such as Kenny Werner or Kenny Barron claim to clear their minds as much as possible, i.e., no mindsets at all, before they improvise so that their thoughts and states of consciousness are not blocking, getting in the way, or interfering with the flow of musical ideas during performances.
Spiritual quests for artistic expression are virtuous. Can they only be achieved while playing jazz? Hardly. Does jazz achieve individual freedom? Many jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker felt constrained playing jazz in big bands while feeling freer when playing in smaller combos.
Diversity is another good thing. Does jazz aid in promoting equality and social justice? Perhaps to some extent, it does, yet institutional racism exists in the 21st century throughout the world, even with jazz now a global phenomenon.
Each of these categories, "states of mind," "spiritual quest for artistic freedom," "social freedom," "love," and "diversity" can be associated with many other things besides jazz. Do these qualities help to define or describe jazz as a musical form? No, they do not. At best, these items are ethical values to support. Many of the arts besides jazz, such as painting, dance, or rock and roll, can support love (in the lyrics of a song), and be promoters of artistic expression, social diversity, and equality. Hence, these factors do not delineate jazz from other arts or of different types of music.
What is jazz? Improvisation is definitely an essential element. Remove creative improvisation and we don't have jazz. Jazz has a strong improvisational quality that has developed into a very sophisticated art form. The skill that a musician needs to play their instrument in order to successfully render and navigate the music's rhythmical structures and melodic designs with the utmost of virtuosity is nearly unparalleled in other music. (bold not in original)
Technically, being an 'essential element' typically means the specification of a necessary ingredient for identity. Improvisation, by itself, is neither sufficient nor necessary for playing jazz. (See PoJ.fm's Ontdef3. Are there Any Necessary Conditions for Playing Jazz?) Neither is improvisation sufficient for jazz (since many musical genres besides jazz improvise, as in country music, the blues, or Indian ragas, nor a necessary condition since some jazz tunes are sometimes played straight to the musical score. (See PoJ.fm's Ontdef3. What are not Sufficient Conditions for Playing Jazz).
CONCLUSION: Some jazz is not improvised, proving improvisation is not a necessary condition for jazz. On the other hand, some non-jazz music—blues, rock, Indian ragas, country—is improvised, proving that improvisation fails to be sufficient for playing jazz.
Fox commits himself to improvisation as a necessary condition for jazz when he claims that its removal eliminates jazz. Interestingly, Fox's argument supporting the claim switches from focusing on music to a jazz musician needing to be a capable improviser, which is an entirely different claim. PoJ.fm has already pointed out that improvisation is not necessary for jazz (see the discussion about (N6) and (N7) at Ontdef3. Proposed necessary conditions for playing jazz) while agreeing that all capable jazz musicians must be improvisers.
Swing is another important element of the music, but if it doesn't 'swing,' does that mean it is not jazz? Sometimes focusing on swing and the periodic rhythms of swing can interfere with the poetic expression and flow of the sound and structure of the music. Some of the greatest jazz ballads have been most soulful when not swung. (bold not in original)
Here Fox concedes that not all jazz must swing or have a swing rhythm, so swing is not essential to jazz.
What about dynamics, musical narrative, textual variety, harmonic colorings, rhythmical counterpoint, etc.? Jazz is an art form, and clearly distinct from today's popular musical forms in its emotional and harmonic complexity, instrumental virtuosity, structure, and architectural exploration. We know this. The petty arguments and in-fighting among various factions among colleagues and in the jazz music industry must stop. United we stand and divided we fall! The proverbial pie is too small to be split up any more than it already is. We must all learn truly to think "outside the box." We need diversity. Free jazz, straight-ahead jazz, Latin jazz, experimental jazz, hip hop jazz, jazz electronica, soul-jazz, post-bop jazz, European jazz, etc. the list goes on. As Duke Ellington said, there are only two types of music: good music and bad. Or, as my friend and colleague Oliver Lake likes to say, "Put all my food on one plate! What kinda music you play? The good kind!" (bold not in original)
We can find this list of musical features in all sorts of genres of music besides jazz. Classical music performed by a full orchestra might perform a non-jazz piece of music containing everything in Fox's list: dynamics, narrative, variety of textures, harmonic colorations using rhythmical counterpoint.
Is jazz "clearly distinct from today's popular musical forms"? Is hip hop jazz actually 'clearly distinct' from jazz?
Fox proposes that contemporary jazz has more "emotional and harmonic complexity, instrumental virtuosity, structure, and architectural exploration" than pop music. Some pop music still without being jazz has emotional complexity for sure. In fact, in a 2012 publication "Emotional Cues in American Popular Music: Five Decades of the Top 40," by University of Toronto psychologist of music, Dr. Glenn Schellenberg, and sociologist of emotions at the Institute for Sociology at Freie Universität Berlin Prof. Dr. Christian von Scheve found that over the past few decades emotional complexity in pop music has drastically increased by switching from major keys to minor ones, as reported by psychologist Dr. Christian Jarrett.
“The researchers analyzed the tempo (fast or slow) and mode (major or minor) of the most popular 1,010 pop songs identified using year-end lists published by Billboard magazine in the USA from 1965 to 2009. Tempo was determined using the beats per minute of a song, and where this was ambiguous, the researchers used the rate at which you’d clap along. The mode of the song was identified from its tonic chord – the three notes played together at the outset, in either minor or major. Happy sounding songs are typical of fast tempo in a major mode, whilst sad songs are slow and in a minor. Songs can also be emotionally ambiguous, having a tempo that’s fast in minor, or vice versa.
Schellenberg and von Scheve found that the proportion of songs recorded in minor-mode has increased, doubling over the last fifty years. The proportion of slow tempo hits has also increased linearly, reaching a peak in the 90s. There’s also been a decrease in unambiguously happy-sounding songs and an increase in emotionally ambiguous songs.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
“But through the 1980s and '90s, the dominance of the major key in the Top 40 began to shift, slowly at first and then quite radically: "By 2009," Schellenberg says, "only 18 out of [the Top] 40 [songs] were a major key." That means that the majority of the Top 40 songs, 22 of 40, were in a minor key—the official sound of complexity and sadness. Consider "Dead and Gone" by the rapper T.I., which hit No. 12 on the charts in 2009. In a way, the message of the song is pretty positive; it's a song about leaving behind self-destructive behavior. But the minor key makes the song sound foreboding. (bold and bold italic not in original)
Still, Fox is right to believe that contemporary jazz usually has higher instrumental virtuosity, more complex structures, and more 'architectural' explorations than most pop music. However, classical music with a large orchestra can have all of these features as well, so they are not unique to jazz and cannot be used to delineate all and only jazz.
I've heard great pop, and I have heard completely uninspired, bad jazz. Jazz is not immune from mediocrity and the mundane. Playing jazz technically well doesn't exempt you from faltering into the world of mediocrity. Beware. Music needs unfettered imagination. Don't let the genre police and the jazz police influence or dictate your expressive desires. As musicians and artists, we must maintain our quest for spiritual and dialectical truth. I call on all artists and musicians to reach deep into your creative souls and imagination and find and nurture your individual voices. We need to share these inner voices with the world. The world needs our voices! If a musician has searched and developed a concept and sound that you don't particularly agree with or like, make sure that you show respect for his sincere and skillful need for expression and diversity of thought. (bold not in original)
Jazz musicians do strive to "find and nurture their own individual musical instrumental 'voices'." Fox rightly asks everyone to keep more of an open mind when hearing expressively skillful new music. An example might be Shabaka Hutching's Sons of Kemet, who use the unusual lineup of two drummers, a tuba and a saxophone.
They have been nominated and won several prestigious awards, such as Best Jazz Act at the United Kingdom's 2013 MOBO Awards.
We are all one musical family: Wynton Marsalis and Henry Threadgill, Jason Moran and Marian McPartland, Cecil Taylor and Brad Mehldau, Bob Belden and Butch Morris, Joe Lovano and John Zorn. Support and cherish our musical diversity and honor our differences and be joyous in the abundance of creative imagination that jazz brings to the cultural, artistic, musical and social landscape. We need it in our art, and we need it in our lives. (bold not in original)
“Swing is a relative thing. Remember, most music critics didn't think John Coltrane was swinging when they first heard him. "Sheets of sound," they would say, or Elvin Jones’s polyrhythms were incomprehensible to the straight-ahead cats. To them, it wasn't swinging. What do they know? Most critics tend to be behind the eight ball anyway. We create. They follow. A follower cannot lead. Think outside the box. Express your musical thoughts with sincere conviction. Don't worry about critics and the status quo constantly imposing a type of conformity upon our creative impulses. All artists, young and old, search for the unknown. Strive to find the artistic truth that lies within you, and once determined, create without fear.
Donal Fox is a composer, pianist, conductor, arranger, and educator. His numerous awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship (1997) in music composition. He was the first jazz composer in residence with the St. Louis Symphony. He is presently touring with his "Blues on Bach" and "Monk and Bach” projects for jazz trio. Mr. Fox has recorded for New World Records, Evidence Records, Music & Arts, Yamaha's Original Artist Series, Passin Thru Records, and Wergo Records. He has collaborated with John Stubblefield, Quincy Troupe, David Murray, Oliver Lake and studied with Gunther Schuller.
This article first appeared in the December 2002 issue of All About Jazz: New York. All material copyright © All About Jazz or the contributing writer or visual artist. All rights reserved.
Critique of Pingouin's definition of jazz at Everything 2
At the website, Everything2, author Pingouin presents his views about the nature of jazz. To make it easier to assess the merits of Pingouin's assertions (printed in green font), PoJ.fm intersperses critique of his remarks in blue font.
“["Jazz"] It's a loaded word. The word "jazz" for at least some people may well satisfy the definition of an item of loaded language, defined as "words, set phrases or idioms that have strong positive or negative connotations beyond their ordinary definitions." Uncomfortably for the term "jazz," there may not be any ordinary definitions for this word, so it would not technically satisfy this definition for being loaded language. Nevertheless, Pingouin wishes to emphasize that the word "jazz" can have some negative connotations for some people who find jazz to be disreputable in sundry ways. It means something, but the meaning has gotten twisted over the decades, for the profit of some and to the irritation of others. If it means something, then tell us what it means; otherwise, this is not a helpful remark. You might see a "jazz musician" in a television commercial, maybe a twentysomething black man, well-groomed, in nice clothes, invariably playing a saxophone; whatever the product is, this is some attempt to imbue it with "sophistication" or some sort of "mature," no-green-hair hipness. You might see, in some other commercial, an older jazzman, black, of course, in nice clothes that invoke an earlier era of hip. A fedora or pork-pie hat speaks a thousand Madison Avenue words. So that's jazz. Jazz is hip and sophisticated. You need read no further. OK, jazz is hip and sophisticated, but so can other genres of music, so this does not delineate or better help define the nature of jazz per se.
Actually, that's just a lie used to sell you stuff (including CDs). Jazz is neither hip nor sophisticated; it's just music. Now, this is odd. Is the argument that we should rule out any music that is hip and sophisticated from being considered jazz? That seems like a lousy reason since some people see jazz as a hip and sophisticated music. It is undoubtedly sophisticated when that term gets defined under any of these definitions from dictionary.com as either:
- (1) of a person, ideas, tastes, manners, altered by education or experience, so as to be worldly-wise and not naive,
- (2) pleasing or satisfactory to the tastes of sophisticates, or people who are educated, cultured, and worldly-wise, as in sophisticated music,
- (3) complex or intricate, as a system, process, piece of machinery, or the like, or
- (4) of, for, or reflecting educated taste, knowledgeable use.
- (1) of a person, ideas, tastes, manners, altered by education or experience, so as to be worldly-wise and not naive,
Jazz musicians are not naive musically because it takes a lot of training and worldly musical experience to play good jazz. Many sophisticates admire jazz, satisfying definition (2). Jazz is a complex musical form with many intricate techniques, thereby meeting definition (3). Jazz's music language requires knowledgeable use by educated musicians satisfying definition (4). There are traits that vary from era to era, but there is a commonality to those traits that transcends the epochs. If there are such common traits, why not inform us as to what they consist? What are these common traits that 'transcend' any epoch?
There's improvisation at the center of it all. Pingouin is correct that jazz improvisations are central for any competent jazz musician. Any jazz musician who cannot improvise is considered a poor player of jazz. This makes improvisation essential and therefore 'central' to jazz as musical practice. First and foremost, improvisation refers to the spontaneous creation of melody and of its rhythm. Traditionally, that creation was buttressed by a framework - a song, with its preset melody and chords. An improviser solos, i.e., creates a new melody based on those chords; singers became part of the mix, thanks a great deal to Louis Armstrong, who evolved a vocal translation of his trumpet style, influencing singers like Billie Holiday and Bing Crosby, and just about any other jazz singer since. Pingouin makes an excellent point that improvisation can be the spontaneous creation of melody or rhythm, often based on a song's chord structure. However, as he is aware, not every improvisation uses chord structures, as free improvisations in free jazz do not. Louis Armstrong's scatting did not influence Billie Holiday per se since she did not herself scat, although Pingouin is correct that Armstrong's singing style influenced many vocalists.
But even the background was improvised. The remaining musicians often had only the melody and chords to fall back on, just the basics one would find on a minimally-scored piece of sheet music, so there was no indication of, say, how exactly the drummer should keep the 4/4 time, or what exact notes the pianist should play to voice the E Major chord. These are excellent observations showing the need for jazz musicians to be prepared and flexible to create music with other musicians by bringing their talents to make music to the fore where it was not all pre-scripted beforehand. In early jazz, you also had horns improvising melodies in support of the lead (or soloist) horn, a concept of collective improvisation brought back over the decades in various forms, like the contrapuntal duets of Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, and, in its most enduring form, the all-out each-in-one's-own-musical-plane simultaneity of free jazz, often far removed from the song form and blues roots of earlier forms, but still containing the ineffable essence of jazz. Here we see that Pingouin agrees that free jazz qualifies as jazz because it contains the “ineffable essence of jazz.” What, though, is this? He does not justify the claim that there is something ineffable here, meaning "incapable of being expressed or described in words; inexpressible." There is always something paradoxical about such a usage because "ineffable" is itself a word therefore the ineffable can be described in word(s), contrary to its own definition. Furthermore, since essence means "basic, real, and invariable nature of a thing or its significant individual feature or features" if there are no features or nature, then there cannot be an essence. If something is ineffable then it cannot have features since if it had features they could be described using words making the object under consideration fail to be ineffable. But if it's just about improvisation, that means Merle Haggard (from the tradition of "country jazz", i.e. the Western Swing of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys) and Eric Clapton (improvisational roots in the blues, without which there would be no jazz) are jazz musicians too, right? Maybe so. That's part of the problem: if there is no "jazz police", patrolling the streets with eternal vigilance, then everything can ultimately call itself jazz. There need not be any police involved. It is not whether something can be 'called' by the name of jazz, but whether calling it jazz is correct. The so-called jazz police will end up being everybody interested in truth. Can rock and roll as performed by Eric Clapton be correctly called jazz? No, it cannot. If improvisation was a sufficient condition for jazz (which it isn't--see What are not sufficient conditions for playing jazz) then as Pingouin points out, it would be jazz. Just because improvisation is central to jazz fails to make it a sufficient condition for performing jazz since many non-jazz musical genres also use improvisation, as Pingouin has pointed out. Therefore, not just "maybe not," but just not for whether Bob Wills or Eric Clapton are playing jazz while improvising in non-jazz musical genres like Western Swing or Rock and Roll.
Jazz harmony, for most of the 20th Century, has been based on seventh chords: a root note, with three other notes, successively a third higher than the previous one. The "seventh" comes from the fact that that last note is a seventh away from the root. The flavor of the chord comes mainly from the quality of the underlying triad - major, minor, diminished, or augmented. Jazz harmony is more complex than just being based on 7th chords. So Steely Dan is a jazz band, and so are The Beatles, since such chords occur in many of their songs. And both bands featured a little improvisation as well. Pingouin appears here to commit himself to claiming that if you can find 7th chords being used in a song then this is sufficient for a musician to be playing jazz, but this is just not true. One can use such chords outside of playing jazz while playing a genre of music other than jazz. Steely Dan have jazz elements for sure in some of their music and they often incorporated actual jazz musicians into their performances or recordings, such as jazz saxophonist Phil Woods, saxophonist/bass-guitarist Wilton Felder(founding member of the Jazz Crusaders), jazz percussionist/vibraphonist/keyboardist Victor Feldman, and (smooth) jazz guitarists Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour, jazz saxophonists Wayne Shorter, Pete Christlieb, and Tom Scott, knowledgeable jazz drummers Steve Gadd, Rick Marotta and Bernard Purdie, jazz pianist Joe Sample and ex-Miles Davis jazz pianist/vibraphonist Victor Feldman. Hence, it is no surprise that jazz elements show up in Steely Dan's music, but generally speaking, virtually none of Steely Dan's songs are thought of as simply jazz tunes, rather they incorporate elements found in jazz.
But none of these aforementioned examples (from Merle [Haggard] to Lennon & McCartney) are jazz. This reveals that Pingouin agrees that his former examples where music incorporated swing or improvisation, by itself, is insufficient to establish that a musician is playing jazz. Something is missing, and it's not melanin. But what is it? The melanin remark refers to the pigmentation in skin that makes it darker or lighter in appearance. His rejection of this aspect shows that Pingouin finds race irrelevant for whether or not a musician is playing jazz. He then asks and answers what is needed to make the music be jazz. Jazz might be best described as the set of jealously-guarded canons that have endured over the decades, even musics that divided one set of jazz police from another, once upon a time. The answer provided is the set of "canons enduring over decades." This answer does not include anything from the future since the unknown future cannot be 'jealously guarded' nor is it included in a past set of jazz canons. Big band jazz, the orchestras of the likes of Fletcher Henderson, Paul Whiteman, Duke Ellington, and many others, introduced detailed, written-out arrangements of instrumental parts, but it still included improvisation, and was, musically, thoroughly in the then-young jazz tradition. The big rift came in the 1940's, with the advent of bebop, a loose, small-group form of the music, not really all that far-removed, in retrospect, from swing-era jazz. But the added harmonic and melodic complexity, plus the change from making-music-to-dance-to to an art for art's sake aesthetic, alienated much of the jazz audience of the day.
It is very significant that Pinguion accepts that Bebop was “not really all that far-removed, in retrospect, from swing-era jazz ” because not everyone believes this, although upon reflection how could it fail to be true since these were swing era jazz musicians striving to make the music they were already familiar with and using it as a base for introducing more harmonic complexity into the music.
Bop would become the mainstream, i.e., the center of gravity of the collection of canons, and would evolve over the decades into its own little subgenres, like cool jazz, hard bop, and such. The mainstream of today would include swing-era stuff, and bebop in all its forms - the NPR version of "what jazz is". The more adventurous would include the 80s/90s mainstream: music derived from [[Ep16. What are jazz legend's notable accomplishments?#Miles Davis | Miles Davis's] pre-fusion groups, music championed by the likes of the latter-day alumni of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, such as Wynton Marsalis. And, yes, they all wear nice clothes, something especially important for the marketing of "Young Lions" like Joshua Redman.
Bebop did impact all future jazz because musicians in the jazz genre were expected from now on to be capable of playing jazz at this level of difficulty. Bebop did not last that long as a sub-genre of jazz because that was 75 years ago. Anything that old in the 21st century will have undergone massive development due primarily to increases in technology and the sophistication of modern schools of jazz instruction. However, it is not true that cool jazz evolved from Bebop because it was a reaction to the style of Bebop. Architects of cool jazz such as Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans, and Lee Konitz when these gentleman were all in New York City had a softer and less frenetic vision for jazz than embodied in a usual Bebop number. Gil Evans, in particular, wished to expand the harmonic and color palette of jazz with French horns and tubas. Later on, out on the west coast of the United States, primarily in California, players like Stan Getz, Chet Baker and others continued with a cooler jazz sound and tempo to produce West Coast cool jazz. These were new approaches for jazz and not just an extension of Bebop into an evolved anything.
Since the 1950's, jazz musicians have been extending the tradition in ways that alienated critics and audiences, akin to the days of the boppers; pianist Lennie Tristano had even tried free improvisation as early as the 1940's. Cecil Taylor began to find a way to fuse his love of Ellington and Thelonious Monk with the Prokofiev and Stravinsky and Henry Cowell of his conservatory training, and to improvise from structures completely removed from the preset chords and melodies of jazz tunes. This came to be known as free jazz, which, in turn, developed its own amorphous, overlapping set of subgenres over the decades, like free improvisation, "energy music", or freebop, for instance. Via the aforementioned Miles influence, some of this music has made its way, in somewhat manicured (and often subtle) form, into the mainstream, while the wilder or more non-conformist aspects remain as underground as they were in 1961. Those who sit in hope of the canonization of the avant-to-the-max Frank Wright or Sunny Murray will wait in vain, but many musicians, over the years, have become elder statesmen of the avant-garde, like the members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Taylor, Peter Kowald, and Peter Brotzmann, among many others. Some have received subsidies, such as MacArthur Foundation Grants, or have found careers in the academic world. But you will probably never hear them on NPR, nor see their latest CD hyped by retailers and portals.
The most commercially popular form of jazz over the years is Not Jazz, that is, watered-down jazz-like musics that are user-friendly enough to be hyped by the retailers and portals of the day. Often the music is made by real jazz musicians, which gives it even more of a veneer of validity, from the saccharine balladry of Harry James, to soul jazz, to the trendy R&B instrumentals of Ramsey Lewis, to the smooth jazz and the it's-jazz-by-virtue-of-sampling-old-jazz records of today. While indie labels have pretty much always been the media midwife of real jazz, large labels, aggressively marketing a combination of Not Jazz and conservative jazz vocalists, have usually been able to define, by sheer brute force, "what jazz is", much as Intel and Microsoft define all that is "computing" for a large number of people. Not Jazz is a varied tradition in its own right, and is often the centerpiece of "jazz" festivals worldwide.
Which is why the word tends to be a bit off-putting. If someone intones the word "jazz" (especially if it's preceded by an adjective like "cool"), I get the same sort of queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that I would if a telemarketer were calling. Someone is trying to sell me something that I, a casual/hardcore jazz fan since childhood, wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole, or it's a product, musical or not, being sold by invoking the idea of "jazz". Miles Davis, once the embodiment of the hip, well-dressed jazzman, abandoned the word sometime around 1965, for various reasons, including not wanting to be lumped in with the swirling commercial ghetto of musics called, rightly or wrongly, "jazz", especially in the face of the commercial ascendence of Beatles-era rock.
Other terms have sprung up since then. The musics Miles made after abandoning the word came to be known as fusion, and "smooth jazz" has its roots both in soul jazz and the more dumbed-down aspects of fusion; someone coined the word "fuzak" back in the 70's, in the wake of major labels like Warner (now part of AOL Time Warner) and CBS Records (now owned by Sony) flooding the market with slickly-recorded Not Jazz (also known, very briefly, as "Triple Z" jazz). Those two record labels, either for fear of alienating jazz fans, or fear of scaring away pop buyers, even had ads that extolled the new products of their jazz divisions, but deliberately failed to mention the word "jazz".
Others, irreparably divorced from the marketers' definition of jazz, would come up with new names: "creative music", "creative improvised music", "music in the (jazz) tradition", or the AACM's notion of "Great Black Music", part of the Art Ensemble of Chicago's motto, tying together the Dogon, the field holler, Charlie Parker, and James Brown, et al. These terms were mainly meant to invoke the connection between free jazz and the jazz musics that came before; fancier than the term "free jazz" - a relevant quote from saxophonist Chico Freeman: "Free jazz" means I don't get paid, a quip with multiple truths to it, from an era when loft jazz musicians were not yet welcome in large numbers. (The same applies to the "free music" of Germany's FMP). Dr. Billy Taylor, a mainstream pianist and educator whose career goes back to the late swing era, promoted jazz as "America's Classical Music", a uniquely home-grown musical artform that had grown as high-falutin' as anything in Carnegie Hall, and, now, the advent of such latter-day institutions as Jazz at Lincoln Center is a testament to the high-falutin' mindshare that the mainstream has won over the past quarter-century.
But, at the end of the day, it's just music. And "jazz" is still a loaded word, always ripe for more loading. (bold and bold italic not in original)
Critique of Rodney Dale's definitions for jazz
“My definition of jazz is: 'The syncopated, often improvised, music that arose primarily in, and spread from, New Orleans in the first quarter of the twentieth century.' Although, like most people with strongly held views, I have become more benign with age, I have yet to come to a full appreciation of the more extreme forms of modern jazz. However, the more acceptable and respected jazz becomes and the more it is taught as an academic subject, the further it travels from its roots and the less its modern practitioners know about its roots, the less it owes to those roots. So this book is concerned with roots—the beginnings of the music—and concentrates on jazz up to World War II (about which there's plenty to say), although I will tell you about bop and the New Orleans revival, with particular reference to jazz in Britain. This book is for anyone who, for whatever reason, wants to start at the beginning and learn about, or be reminded of, exactly where the music came from.” (italics in original but not bold)
Start by considering the adequacy of Dale's definition for picking out jazz. He finds that jazz is a syncopated and often improvised music developed and emanating from the city of New Orleans, Louisiana in the first quarter of the 20th century (1900–1925) in the United States. This description is also (mostly) true of a non-jazz genre, namely the blues. It is definitely true that the blues is often improvised and contains syncopation. The blues's origins are broader than only being from one city—rather from the deep South, and in particular from Mississippi, Texas, and Oklahoma. Also, the blues, according to Wikipedia: Origins of the blues, has an earlier origin in time from jazz by about thirty years or so (1870–1900).
“Blues has evolved from an unaccompanied vocal music of poor black laborers into a wide variety of styles and subgenres, with regional variations across the United States. African American work songs were an important precursor to the modern blues; these included the songs sung by laborers like stevedores and roustabouts, and the field hollers and "shouts" of slaves. The first appearance of the blues is not well-defined and is often dated between 1870 and 1900, a period that coincides with the emancipation of the slaves and the transition from slavery to sharecropping and small-scale agricultural production in the southern United States.” (bold not in original)
Certainly something similar can be said of jazz whose existence is largely determined by Afro-Americans whose near relatives were likely slaves or emancipated ones.
“Several scholars characterize the early 1900s development of blues music as a move from group performances to a more individualized style. They argue that the development of the blues is associated with the newly acquired freedom of the slaves.”
“Then we look at the background to jazz—the three elements of music (rhythm, melody and harmony) in the musical strands that came together to provide the environment from which jazz emerged. We continue this history by looking at what happened to jazz after it emerged—where it spread to and what it developed into.”
“We begin with a survey of the range of (western) musical instruments normally used in jazz. This gives some information about how the instruments work and how they are used in bands. . . . . Then you will find a fairly detailed exposition of the musical structure of jazz; . . . . ”
► “Defines jazz by looking at its origins and development.” (bold not in original)
“Many books about jazz begin by trying to define what jazz is and tell you that definition is very difficult. A lot of definitions are difficult. . . .
“To define jazz, I need to use terms which themselves need explaining, but I will give a definition now and return to the subject later. Jazz is a type of music which differs in at least three ways from non-jazz:
1. In jazz, the player is of far more importance than in non-jazz; jazz depends more on interpretation by individuals than on adherence to a score. I know that orchestral soloists and conductors 'interpret,' but they do so within constraints. Sir Peter Hall suggested that, if classical music is the search for anonymous perfection, jazz is about individuality. Andre Previn is quoted as saying: 'The basic difference between classical music and jazz is that in the former the music is always greater than the performance—whereas the way jazz is performed is always more important than what is being played.'
2. Carrying the first point even further, jazz invites—depends on—not only improvisation but collective improvisation by several players at once.”
“3. Finally, because jazz is a freer music, the rhythms may become very complicated—and note that there is a difference between 'rhythm' (what the music is doing) and 'beat' (the steady pulse on which it does it).” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Critique of Stuart A. Kallen's definition for jazz
Multiply published author (over 250 books) Stuart A. Kallen mirrors Joachim-Ernst Berendt's tripartite definition for jazz that defines it using the elements of swing, improvisation and a personal sound in his book The History of Jazz (2003). PoJ.fm's comments are in blue font with Kallen quoted directly in green font.
Swinging and Jamming
“Jazz music is defined by three main elements: swing, improvisation, and a distinctive voice. Swing is the driving rhythmic beat that makes people want to dance, clap along, or tap their feet. Jazz composer Duke Ellington immortalized this feeling in his song "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." Jazz artists can make music swing by accenting particular rhythms. Most early jazz was played in a steady repetitive beat, known as 4/4 time, because there are four beats to every measure. When the players hit a note a little before or slightly after the beat, the music has syncopation. When this happens, the music is described by players as "swinging," or having an "edge" or "groove."”
Right away we have a problem if you accept that there is jazz music that does not swing. Early jazz, such as Dixieland, did not swing, free jazz and avant-garde jazz do not swing, and some mainstream jazz, such as from some Lennie Tristano (1919–1978) sessions, do not swing. Therefore, swing should not be used as a necessary condition for jazz performance, as has been admitted by several jazz theorists.
Second, not all jazz tunes contain improvisation (other than mere embellishments or interpretations). Therefore, improvisation is neither necessary nor sufficient for jazz. Some jazz is not improvised and some improvised non-jazz exists (e.g., rock, blues, country, or Indian ragas). So, so far two swings and no hits.
Third, Is jazz the only music where musicians can have 'a distinctive voice'? Of course not. Singers have distinctive voices and so do rock stars. Stevie Ray Vaughn (1954–1990) has a distinctive way to play his guitar as well as a unique vocal style. “AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine described Vaughan as "the leading light in American blues" and developed "a uniquely eclectic and fiery style that sounded like no other guitarist, regardless of genre".” (bold not in original) Even some classical players, such as violinist Jascha Heifetz (1901–1987), have their own sounds and idiosyncratic ways of playing non-jazz. Wikipedia: Jascha Heifetz reports that this was so: His style of playing was highly influential in defining the way modern violinists approached the instrument. His use of rapid vibrato, emotionally charged portamento, fast tempi, and superb bow control coalesced to create a highly distinctive sound that makes Heifetz's playing instantly recognizable to aficionados. . . . Heifetz believed that playing on gut strings was important in rendering an individual sound.” (bold not in original) Therefore, three strikes and you're out. These three cannot define jazz as a distinctive musical genre.
Through the use of syncopation, musicians can create a variety of feelings. When playing slightly after the beat, musicians can get a laid-back or soulful sound. By playing before the beat, the music can sound exciting and put listeners on the edge of their seats or make them get up and dance. Another method for creating swing is called polyrhythm. This is the simultaneous playing of two or more independent rhythms, which gives the music a danceable, swinging momentum.
Jazz musicians also thrive on improvisation—that is, they create melodies on the spot rather than reading from previously written music scores. Improvised musical passages are called "riffs" or "licks" by musicians. The act of improvising is known as "jamming" or "ad-libbing." When jazz musicians jam, they take turns playing solos. This allows individual players in a group to show off their creativity and musical skills, or "chops." Jazz players believe an infinite number of melodies can be played within any song. As jazz legend Louis Armstrong once joked, "Jazz is music that's never played the same way once."
Improvisers often imitate singing with their instruments—gliding, swooping, and soaring through seemingly endless cascades of notes. Musicians (especially horn players) create "blue" notes by bending or wavering between two different tones.
The best jazz players aspire to create a unique sound, or "voice." Individuals create a voice by varying tone, creatively selecting notes, and having a distinct sense of rhythm. Because of the individual voices possessed by jazz greats, most fans can identify the playing of Miles Davis or the saxophone riffs of Charlie Parker. The musician's voice is a product of his or her emotional state, which may move an audience through a cascade of emotions.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
(Illustration from 1660 showing the Ptolemaic geocentric model of the universe developed by the Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy/Klaudios Ptolemaios (lived c. 100–c. 170 AD) with added PoJ.fm logos as well as Latin inscriptions in the upper left and right corners inside of the scroll work)
Examination of Eric Hobsbawm's views on how to recognize jazz
Eric John Ernest Hosbawm (1917–2012), writing under the pseudonym of Francis Newton (named after Frankie Newton (1906–1954), a Communist jazz trumpeter, who played on Billie Holiday’s (1915–1959) ‘Strange Fruit’ (1939)), was a world-famous English Marxist historian who was the jazz critic for the New Statesman from 1956 to 1966. As shown in his 1959 publication of The Jazz Scene, he was an astute observer of jazz who has many insights about how to recognize jazz. He was not correct in all of his assessments about music because he predicted in 1963 that the Beatles would soon fade from prominence in less than thirty years! However, much later (in 2010), Hobsbawm admits how wrong he was about the Beatles.
Hobsbawm was writing about jazz from the perspective of jazz as it had developed up through 1958. His comments address the same issues and objections to defining jazz as if he were speaking from jazz knowledge from the 21st century. The number of new jazz genres musicians developed since his book The Jazz Scene makes his prescience in 1959 even more impressive.
In his book The Jazz Scene, Hobsbawm
Can someone give criteria for recognizing X that could not be used to define X? Or, isn't it true that if one can use specific criteria for recognizing X, then those same criteria should be able to be used to define X?
To see the relationships involved let us make up an example and see if one could recognize X, but could not define X. Suppose someone tells you that through the use of five criteria X is recognizable, but not definable. Wouldn't the first thing we might ask be why can't you define X, if you can recognize it using five specific criteria?
PoJ.fm proposes to evaluate in the following section the arguments Hobsbawm provides for why definitions of jazz are impossible.
NOTE: His text from the chapter on how jazz can be recognized is presented below in green font with comments interspersed by PoJ.fm in blue font.
The Jazz Scene (1959) by Eric Hobsbawm
Hobsbawm opens his essay in this chapter of The Jazz Scene by explaining how to recognize jazz music for the uninitiated. PoJ.fm assumes all agree that what is suitable for the uninitiated must equally be good for the initiated. If it weren't, it would be disqualified as appropriate for the uninitiated. When quoting Hobsbawm below, the passages in bold were not in his original writing.
Hobsbawm carefully chose the word "recognize" for what he wanted his five characteristics of jazz to accomplish. What is required for recognition to occur?
The Google/Oxford Languages dictionary's first definition for "recognition" is undoubtedly the one Hobsbawm intends:
- 1. identification of someone or something or person from previous encounters or knowledge.
In our particular case, the 'something' is music that qualifies as jazz, and how one achieves such recognition is through the knowledge that Hobsbawm's five characteristics provide for jazz delineation. Notice that in this sense of recognition, one is identifying jazz.
Various dictionaries state the meaning of what is required to identify something: “The process of recognizing someone or something, and stating or proving who or what they are. The ability to name or recognize someone or something. To recognize someone or something and say or prove who or what is that person or thing. To establish or indicate who or what is someone or something. The verb "identify" means to perceive or state the identity of someone or something. Identity means "the condition of being the same something." The state or fact of remaining the same one or ones, as under varying aspects or conditions. Identity means "the condition of being itself, and not another; the conditions or characters that constitutes that thing and not something else."
This interlude may be safely skipped by the informed reader. It is addressed to readers who, while interested in the subject, know nothing whatever about jazz, are unable to recognize a jazz record when they hear one, and do not care to consult friends or relatives on the subject. It is also addressed to readers who have put the question 'What is jazz?' to aficionados and who have been met (as is extremely likely) by noise and confusion. The previous sentence strongly suggests that Hobsbawm intends to inform his readers of the answer to the question "What is jazz?" and this implies that one seeks a definition for jazz. Isn't it true that if one can answer the question of what makes music fall within the jazz genre, one should be able to define it musically? It contains a fairly cursory description of jazz, or rather 'recognition-model', and a brief list of some of the chief artists and some of the characteristic records of this music.
There can be no firm or adequate definition of jazz except in the most general or non-musical terms, which are of no help in recognizing it when we hear it. Let us be clear. This last sentence is merely a claim. Up to this point, Hobsbawm gives no reasons yet as to why we should believe that it is true that 'there can be no adequate definition for jazz.' The following sentences he offers as reasons to justify his current claim about the indefinability of jazz. It behooves the reader to pay close attention as to the acceptability of these alleged justifications for rejection of any jazz definition. “As we have seen, jazz is neither self-contained nor unchanging. The mere fact that a phenomenon can change over time or include new members does not preclude a definition for its subject matter. For a critique of these points, see PoJ.fm's the criticism of these same arguments Hobsbawm uses made by Gunther Schuller. For two more similar counter-arguments, see PoJ.fm's Ontdef3. Arguments for the impossibility of defining jazz where it is argued automobile can be defined even though the car industry evolves and incorporates new unforeseen styles of cars, same things with motorcycles, and also Ontdef8. What is a bicycle?. Since the word "bicycle" can be defined even though new styles of bikes come into existence, the production of new unforeseen forms will not make it impossible to have a satisfactory definition. In his next sentence, Hobsbawm supplies what he has in mind when he claims that 'jazz is not 'self-contained.' No frontier line, but a vast border zone, divides it from ordinary popular music, much of which is in varying degrees tinged by it and mixed up with it. No fixed frontier divides it from the older types of folk-music out of which it has emerged. Until the last war, the frontier between it and orthodox art music was much sharper, but even that has been made hazier by raids across it from either side. The jazz theorist and author of The Contradictions of Jazz, Dr. Paul Rinzler, agrees. Rinzler believes that jazz comes in degrees and that fuzzy logic should be used to understand the jazz genre, and that jazz has quite fuzzy boundaries. Still, it is unlikely that people will think that two different musical genres are the same genre. The reason we have musical genre categories—Disco, Country, Blues, Easy Listening, Electronic, Contemporary Folk, Hip Hop, Pop, R&B and Soul, Rock, Heavy Metal, or Punk Rock—is because we can tell them apart. They have 'frontier lines' even if the frontiers have fuzzy boundaries. As we have also seen, jazz has, in its short history, changed to a remarkable degree, and there is no guarantee at all that it will stop changing. The brief history referred to is merely from 1895 to 1958, and Hobsbawm was correct that jazz continued to add new jazz styles. Since 1959, jazz has added cool jazz, modal jazz, soul jazz, hard bop, free jazz, jazz/rock fusion, smooth jazz, and jazz hip hop. Just as a definition of jazz which described it adequately in 1927, had to be modified and widened to describe the jazz of 1937 and again to describe that of 1957, so it is extremely probable that any incautious description today will in turn grow out-of-date. Describing jazz in 1927 would be to talk about traditional New Orleans jazz as practiced by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and solo improvising piano players. Ragtime reached its peak popularity between 1895 and 1919. Dixieland may be regarded as denoting the jazz revival movement of the late 1930s to the 1950s as much as any particular subgenre of jazz. The essential elements that were accepted as within the Dixieland style were the traditional front lines consisting of trumpets, trombones, and clarinets, and ensemble improvisation over a two-beat rhythm. It was a revival of the older New Orleans music and promotion away from swing and Bebop. The jazz of 1937 would definitely include big band swing music. In 1947, we would have Bebop and more emphasis on five-person combos of bass, drums, and piano, with a trumpet and saxophone playing lead instrument roles. By 1957 journalists and record companies described a new current within jazz that incorporated influences from rhythm and blues, gospel music, and blues, especially in saxophone and piano playing known as hard bop.
It is not a requirement on a satisfactory definition for automobile that a definition need include all possible future materials or ideas incorporated into all future styles of cars. Similarly, it is not a requirement for any satisfactory definition for defining a musical genre or style. The question is not whether an earlier period of jazz must be able to predict new previously unknown jazz genres, but rather what Dixieland, big band swing, Bebop, and hard bop have in common that makes each a sub-genre of jazz. Hobsbawm seems not to notice this. Jazz lovers and critics, inhabitants of an argumentative and exclusive universe, have tried to find arbitrary definitions which will safely separate 'jazz' from 'pop music,' or whatever they consider the 'true jazz' from its degenerations. Hobsbawm claims that any attempt at defining jazz uses 'arbitrary definitions.' He supplies zero arguments supporting the claim of arbitrariness other than his implicit question-begging assumption that no definition for jazz could possibly capture the phenomenon. The claim that if a phenomenon constantly changes, it cannot be defined has already been shown above as a flawed reason for establishing the impossibility of producing a definition. Therefore, Hobsbawm cannot justify his claim that any definition of jazz must be arbitrary based exclusively on the mere fact that new sub-genres of jazz will be invented or discovered. When scientists discover a new species of unknown butterfly a definition of butterfly can still be provided. Wikipedia: Butterfly 🦋 reports that "Nearly all butterflies are diurnal, have relatively bright colours, and hold their wings vertically above their bodies when at rest." They "are insects in the macrolepidopteran clade Rhopalocera from the order Lepidoptera, which also includes moths. Adult butterflies have large, often brightly coloured wings, and conspicuous, fluttering flight. . . . Butterfly fossils date to the Paleocene, about 56 million years ago." Given that there are "about 17,500 species of butterflies in the world, and around 750 species in the United States" and they have been around for 56 million years not all species and butterfly variants were known all at once. Could Hobsbawm's argumentative structure work for butterflies since he could have argued that any definition of butterfly would have to be arbitrary since new butterfly species would be discovered in the future? No, this would not prevent a non-arbitrary definition for butterfly so long as each new species shared butterfly characteristics with all the other group members. Similarly for jazz, one could propose all newly discovered jazz variations share comparable characteristics chosen non-arbitrarily so that a definition remains possible. When Hobsbawm asserts that jazz theorists have “tried to find arbitrary definitions which will safely separate 'jazz' from 'pop music', or whatever they consider the 'true jazz' from its degenerations” we might be surprised when Hobsbawm himself strives to accomplish this very thing when providing his five point recognition model for jazz! By way of introducing his 'rough guide' to recognizing jazz using five, presumably non-arbitrary characteristics, Hobsbawm claims to show that “There is a difference between jazz in the strict sense and commercial pop music.” Surely, he is close to contradicting himself here! It cannot be done; not because it is impossible to make and establish such conventional definitions—the orthodox arts are doing it all the time—but because jazz, being a modern popular art, has hitherto lacked the authorities and institutions which can make such definitions stick. Extremely interesting is Hobsbawm's notion of institutions being able to make things 'stick', as he puts it. What we know is that even institutions may not be able to make things stick where this means prevents innovations that in the future become the norm contrary to any 'institutions' that strove to prevent this from taking place. The English language certainly has had institutions that tried to maintain a strict order about proper English language usage. Yet there cannot be preventions of any natural language from incorporating elements which the status quo previously found unacceptable that can become new conventions within that language. For example, all natural languages no matter how restrictive they might have tried to be have adopted the words "OK," the word "robot," and the word for the business product "Coca Cola." Author David A. Ake has written about the status of Wynton Marsalis's (b. 1961) attempt to constrain jazz as a musical genre devoted to playing music with a blues and swing foundation—the so-called neo-traditionalist movement promoting straight-ahead jazz. Here we have a leading jazz figure in Marsalis and an important institution with Jazz at Lincoln Center attempting to limit the musical content of jazz. Marsalis succeeded for perhaps some twenty odd years from 1980 through early 2000s, but could not maintain a stranglehold on jazz. Here is Ake's assessment:
“Marsalis’s hold during this time—roughly the middle 1980s through the first decade of the new millennium—was such that he shaped everything from how and what jazz musicians should play to what they should say and wear on stage. Given his widespread exposure, the specificity of his narrative, and the fervor with which he expressed his vision of jazz, it should come as no surprise that some musicians, journalists, and scholars began to bristle at what they perceived to be Marsalis’s excessive influence, even as others continued to celebrate his accomplishments and champion his cause. Whatever one feels about Wynton Marsalis’s efforts, I think we can all agree that his days of dictating which sounds, looks, names, and places get recognized and valued as authentic jazz are over. Truth be told, they have been for a while now.” (bold not in original)
Army musical schools, singing masters, and ballet academies may impose a 'correct' way of playing cornets, singing coloratura, or moving one's feet, which can be broken only by deliberate technical revolution or secession. Tradition, in custom-bound pre-industrial societies, can impose an equally 'correct' repertoire for the player, dancer, or singer. But jazz is in the position of the famous Hollywood producer who, when told he could not put a rendering of Mozart playing the Blue Danube Waltz into a film biography of that composer, said: 'Who's going to stop me?' Nobody. There is a difference between jazz in the strict sense and commercial pop music. There may well be a point in the evolution of jazz where it might be better to stop calling it by that name. But it is in its nature a music without precise boundary lines.
Nevertheless, as a rough guide it may be said that jazz, as it has developed up to the present, is music which contains the following five characteristics; jazz-coloured pop music contains some of the first three or four but not the last, or the last only in considerable dilution:
Here we have Hobsbawm listing the five characteristics that jointly can pick out jazz. Hobsbawm already recognizes that what he calls 'jazz-coloured pop music,' which is not jazz itself, can have all five of his characteristics, although the fifth characteristic, which is that jazz is “a players' music subordinated to the individualities of the players where the performer is supreme (over the composer).” Western classical music has the composer supreme over virtually any classical performer of that music.
Furthermore, Hobsbawm accepts that jazz inherently has fuzzy borders since from its inception it has continually incorporated musical influences from other musical genres. First by using a hybridized system of combining the European diatonic seven note musical scale with an African oriented pentatonic five note scale.
Jazz notoriously incorporates syncopated rhythms that is found in earlier forms of non-jazz music.
1. Jazz has certain musical peculiarities, which arise mainly from the use of scales not usually employed in European art music, but derived from West Africa; or from the mixing of European and African scales; or from the combination of African scales with European harmonies. The best-known expression of these peculiarities is the combination of the `blue' scale—the ordinary major scale with the third and seventh approximately flattened—which is used for melody, and the common major scale, used for harmony. (The flattened notes are the so-called 'blue notes'.)
2. Jazz leans heavily, and probably fundamentally, on another African element, rhythm. Not indeed in the African forms, which are normally much more complex than most jazz. However, the element of constant rhythmic variation, which is quite vital to jazz, is certainly not derived from the European tradition. Rhythmically jazz consists of two elements: a steady and unchanging 'beat' —normally two or four to a bar, at least approximately—which may be stated or implied, and a wide range of variations round it. These may consist of various kinds of syncopation.
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(the placing of an accent on a normally unaccented beat or the omission of an accent from a normally strong one), or of a much subtler ranging round the beat, placing the accent just before or after it, or of other devices such as 'attack' and intensity. The interplay of the various jazz instruments, each of which has rhythmic as well as melodic functions, complicates the matter further. Rhythm is essential to jazz: it is the organizing element in the music. It is, however, extremely difficult to analyse, and some of its phenomena, such as that vaguely called 'swing', have so far resisted analysis altogether. They can merely be recognized. It is for instance difficult to see why good drummers, while maintaining a rock-steady beat, can and do give the sensation of continuous acceleration, or 'driving'.
3. Jazz employs peculiar instrumental and vocal colours. These derive in part from the use of instruments uncommon in art music, for though jazz has no specific instrumentation, it happens that the jazz orchestra has evolved out of the military orchestra, and therefore normally uses string instruments very little and brass and woodwind for purposes unusual in symphony orchestras. It also uses exotic instruments from time to time, e.g. vibraphones, bongo-drums, and maracas. However, in the main the colour of jazz comes from a peculiar and unconventional technique of playing all instruments, which developed because many of the pioneer jazz musicians were entirely self-taught. They therefore escaped the long-established conventions of European art music as to the 'correct' way of using instruments or trained voices. This standard European convention has aimed at the production of a pure, clear, accurate instrumental tone and of a voice as nearly as possible like a special kind of instrument. The simplest way of explaining the jazz tone is to say that it automatically and spontaneously took the opposite road. Its voice is the ordinary untrained voice, and its instruments, so far as possible, are played as though they were such voices. (It is even reported that the great cornetist King Oliver, when on bad terms with his bandsmen, refused to talk to them and 'talked' to them only by means of his cornet, or that 'eighty-five per cent of what Lester Young says on the sax you can understand'. There is no such thing in jazz as an illegitimate tone: vibrato is just as legitimate as pure tone, 'dirty' ones as clean one's.
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Some players, influenced by orthodox music, have from time to time—notably in cool jazz—experimented with orthodox instrumental tones, but so far as jazz is concerned this is merely another proof that any sound which comes out of the instrument is a legitimate sound. Jazz players are also great experimenters who try to explore the utmost technical resources of their instruments, for instance, by trying to play a trumpet with the flexibility of woodwind, or a trombone in the normal register of the trumpet. Such pieces of often excessive craftsman's bravura produce their own unorthodox tone-colours. But at bottom jazz has used instruments as voices for most of its history. Since the voices on which the instruments based themselves, and what they had to say or felt, belonged to a particular people living in specific conditions, the colours of jazz all tend to belong to a particular and recognizable spectrum. For instance, it is rather likely that, if brass and reed instruments had been developed in an analogous way by Bengalis or Chinese rather than by Southern Negroes, their sounds, though equally unorthodox by conventional European standards, would be very different. The pitch and inflexion, the general pattern of expression, are obviously not the same in Dacca or Canton as in Vicksburg.
4. Jazz has developed certain specific musical forms and a specific repertoire. Neither are of very great importance. The two main forms used by jazz are the blues, and the ballad, the typical popular song adapted from ordinary commercial music. The blues, an extraordinarily powerful and fruitful foundation of jazz, is normally in music a unit of twelve bars and in words a rhyming couplet of iambic pentameters (the blank verse line) with the first line repeated. The pop ballad varies, but is often of a standardized thirty-two bar type. Both, in simple or complex forms, serve as the basis of musical variation. The repertoire consists of so-called `standards'—themes which, for one reason or another, lend themselves to profitable jazz playing. They may be drawn from any source, the traditional blues and the current popular song being the most important. 'Standards' tend to vary from one style or school of jazz to another, though some have proved suitable for all. The listener
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who hears a band announce the title of one of these—either a blues, say, or one of the evanescent pop songs of the past which have been given permanent life as jazz standards—can be pretty certain that the band at least intends to play jazz. (It does not follow that it will.) Once he knows his way around he will probably also know by the title what type of jazz the band intends to play: there was a time when "Margie" or "Avalon" would almost certainly produce a 'Dixieland' number; "Christopher Columbus" a number in the style of the thirties; "How High the Moon" or a Cole Porter number, 'modem' jazz. By now a body of more elaborate jazz compositions or arrangements is also in existence.
5. Jazz is a players' music. Everything in it is subordinated to the individualities of the players, or derives from a musical situation when the player was supreme. A musician or impresario who wishes to get together a jazz band looks round not merely for so many trumpets, trombones, reeds, etc., but like a producer casting a play, or a selector of a goods sports team, for a Buck Clayton on trumpet, a Henry Coker on trombone, a Sonny Rollins on tenor sax.
Until recently the composer, the key figure in Western art music, was, with rare exceptions, a wholly secondary figure in jazz. His place was taken, if at all, by the modestly and correctly named 'arranger'. The conductor remains totally unimportant, at least in his orthodox role. The traditional jazz composition is merely a simple theme for orchestration and variation. A piece of jazz is not reproduced, or even recreated, but—ideally at least—created and enjoyed by its players every time it is played. Hence—once again ideally—no two performances of the same piece by the same band should be exactly alike, and if two performances of the same piece by different bands sound identical, even in the same arrangement, then one of them is deliberately imitating the other. Every jazz player is a soloist, and just as the operatic listener ought to be able to recognize the voice of Flagstad or Schwarzkopf after a bar or two of an aria, so the jazz listener ought to be able to identify Armstrong, or Hodges, or Miles Davis—or, if he is very expert, some scores or hundreds of lesser recorded players—after a few notes.
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It is therefore natural that individual and collective improvisation plays an immense part in jazz. A good deal of nonsense is naturally talked about this. Jazz musicians play a limited repertoire far too often, and the possibilities of improvisation on a given theme are in practice too limited for their performance not to become standardized to some extent. Literate musicians find scored music too convenient not to use it. Just so it is quite certain that even such improvised performances as those of the old commedia dell'arte in time settled down into routines, collections of standardized gestures, expressions, and business which actors would string together, quite possibly recording them in a rough sort of notation. To talk as though the only legitimate jazz was the one which was never heard before is silly romanticism. (Anyway, what is wrong with a player who, having hit on a good idea and elaborated it in a series of performances, decides to stick to what he now regards as an adequate solo?) Jazz is not simply improvised or unwritten music. But it must, in the last analysis, be based on the individuality of particular musicians, and very likely on their actual improvisations, and it ought to leave room for improvisation.
Nor is this difficult, for even with great technical efforts jazz cannot at present be adequately noted down on paper, and if it could, would almost certainly be far too complex for players to sight-read, and perhaps even to learn from the score. A piece of jazz, unless recorded, copied by ear, and checked against the record (which in jazz takes the place of the score) time and again, cannot be reproduced by anyone else even in approximately identical form. The effort to do so has sometimes been made, for instance by devoted `traditionalists' attempting to reproduce with complete fidelity the sound of some cherished band of the past. But for most jazz purposes—and especially for the routine of ordinary bread-and-butter performance—the effort is too great to be worth the time and trouble. Most jazz scores, if they exist at all, are therefore rather simple and rough approximations, which leave at least the detail of tone, rhythm, inflexion, and the like to the jazz instincts of the players.'
I do not propose to discuss the attempts to define jazz in narrower terms which have often been made; for instance, the one which holds that its essence
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“is 'collective improvisation' and that anything which lacks this characteristic is 'not jazz'. Such definitions are normally manifestoes of what jazz ought to be, not descriptions of what it actually is. Nor is there any need to describe jazz-influenced popular music. It is extremely unlikely that any man or woman in the Western world has escaped the constant bombardment by barrages of such music from theatres and cinemas, records, dance bands, radio, and television. Much of this music, though disavowed by the strict jazz-lovers, claims to be jazz—generally by adopting one of numerous trade names such as 'jazz', 'hot', `swing', 'jive', 'cool', 'ragtime', 'blues', 'bop', 'syncopation', 'rhythm', `dixieland', and the rest, not counting the names of dances. (Such trade names change rapidly with fashion: a dance band wishing to advertise its connexions with jazz would, in the early 1920s have said it played 'jazz' or 'syncopation,' in the late twenties 'hot' or 'dirty,' in the thirties 'swing' and so on.) Just as there has always been a public which actively dislikes the idea of jazz, so there has always been one, including the jazz-lovers but much more numerous, which is strongly attracted by the idea of jazz. Since pop music exists by selling itself on the market to buyers, the jazz trade-mark has been a distinct selling point from time to time.
At the risk of offending purists, it must be said that such hybrid and diluted jazz has a perfect right to the name. Though the jazz-lover may have fits at the idea, the reporter can no more deny the right of the late Paul Whiteman to call himself a jazz musician, the late Al Jolson a jazz singer, or the least and most cretinous rock-and-roller to claim jazz citizenship than the literary critic can deny the right of the average businessman to claim that he writes English. The world of jazz as a cultural phenomenon of our times includes anything that calls itself jazz, or borrows enough from the jazz idiom to be significantly affected by it. However, just as the critic who writes about English literature will not spend his time on business letters or Christmas-card doggerel, so the jazz-lover need not trouble much about the technicalities of pop music, except in so far as it has influenced the sort of jazz which is, rightly, the subject of critical enjoyment and appreciation.
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Internet Resources on Eric Hobsbawm and Jazz
Read Hobsbawm's Diary: "My Days as a Jazz Critic," London Review of Books, Vol. 32 No. 10, May 27, 2010.
Read Eric Hobsbawm's Obituary in The Guardian by Martin Kettle and Dorothy Wedderburn, October 1, 2012.
Read Joe Brien's "Eric Hobsbawm and All That Jazz," New Histories: The free online History magazine, Volume 13, 2019–2020, updated February 15, 2022. Accessed March 4, 2022.
Roger Fagge, "Eric Hobsbawm and the Significance of Jazz," in Cultural and Social History, 15:5, 2018, 745–762, DOI: 10.1080/14780038.2019.1568027.
Read Sir Richard Evans's (b. 1947) "Eric Hobsbawm and All That Jazz," excerpted from an extended obituary of Eric Hobsbawm (1917–2012), in Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the British Academy, published in December 2015. Accessed March 5, 2022.
Read Dr. Roger Fagge (Senior Tutor in the History Department, University of Warwick), "Eric Hobsbawm and the Importance of Jazz," in Cultural and Social History, 15 (5), 745–762. doi:10.1080/14780038.2019.1568027.
Assessment of Lenora Zenzalai Helm on defining characteristics of jazz
In a short video presentation,musician and music educator at North Carolina Central University Lenora Zenzalai (pronounced "ZenZAYLay" ) Helm Hammonds (b. 1962) lectures on "Defining Characteristics of Jazz" or "What is Jazz?." Dr. Hammonds received her Doctor of Musical Arts in Music Education from Boston University in 2021. She has a Master of Music in Jazz Performance from East Carolina University (2010) and a Bachelor of Music in Film Scoring and Vocal Performance from Berklee College of Music (1982). She also is a Duke University John Hope Franklin Fellow in Digital Humanities.
In her presentation for her online course "Vocal Jazz Online," intended as “an instructional segment outlining elements in Jazz music that distinguish it from other genres” (click on quotation for source), she focuses on two main elements—swing and improvisation—adding that swing uses a walking bass. Below, PoJ.fm considers how successfully these three characteristics define jazz as a musical genre and concludes that her definition for jazz is too narrow since it excludes any jazz that lacks walking bass, or improvisation, or swing of which there are plenty of examples, such as Latin jazz (often with no swing rhythm), free jazz (need not have swing or walking bass, although it could have these at times), or Duke Ellington (1899–1974) compositions played through without any improvisation, just for some quick examples. Surprisingly, her definition is also too broad because non-jazz music exists that can swing with a walking bass while improvising, such as swing blues music that improvises, as discussed below.
During her presentation, as can be seen in the composite of screen captures from that lecture above, Dr. Hammond identifies what she calls "two important elements for defining jazz", namely, (1) music having a swing feel (with a walking bass) and (2) improvisation. For ease of reference, call these the WIS characteristics (Walking bass, Improvisation, and Swing) using their acronym when they all exist in a musical performance. Now, this would end up as three essential elements, not two, if swing rhythms do not require a walking bass or if a walking bass can occur without a swing feel.
Do jazz performances exist with swing from African-inspired rhythm(s) with a walking bass and improvisation, namely WIS? No one should think otherwise or disagree. Are these characteristics unique to jazz musical performances? By no means are these musical features unique to jazz. As shown below, many non-jazz genres have a swing rhythm, use a walking bass, or improvise.
Any philosopher worth her, their, or his salt should ask: Are there any non-jazz musical performances exhibiting WIS?
Before answering the global WIS question, first, investigate if the three WIS features exist individually in non-jazz genres. So, can musics other than jazz either have a swing feel, or a walking bass, or improvisation without being jazz? The answer to all three questions is "Yes."
Starting with swing, Dr. Hammonds asserts that it is a necessary feature of jazz when she uses the word "need" in two places for both swing and walking bass. However, swing is not a required or necessary feature for all jazz genres. Jazz exists that doesn't swing or that does not use a walking bass. A significant counter-example is Latin Jazz.
“Comparing Latin jazz with straight-ahead jazz: In comparison with straight-ahead jazz, Latin jazz employs straight rhythm (or "even-eighths"), rather than swung rhythm. Early Latin jazz rarely employed a backbeat, but contemporary forms fuse the backbeat with the clave.”  (bold and bold italic not in original)
Some music can be described as having Latin swing as is heard in this tune "Perdido" played by Chucho Valdés (b. 1941) and Bebo Valdés (1918–2013) that has “a nice rhumba-ish feel with a subtle clave and swings all night.” (click on quotation for source)
“In swing rhythm, the pulse is divided unequally, such that certain subdivisions (typically either eighth note or sixteenth note subdivisions) alternate between long and short durations.” (bold not in original)
“Certain music of the Baroque and Classical era is played using notes inégales, which is analogous to swing. In shuffle rhythm, the first note in a pair may be twice (or more) the duration of the second note. In swing rhythm, the ratio of the first note's duration to the second note's duration can range: The first note of each pair is often understood to be twice as long as the second, implying a triplet feel, but in practice the ratio is less definitive and often much more subtle. In traditional jazz, swing is typically applied to eighth notes. In other genres, such as funk and jazz-rock, swing is often applied to sixteenth notes.” (bold not in original)
Furthermore, numerous non-jazz musical genres use swing rhythms establishing that swing is not a sufficient condition for playing jazz either.
“Genres using swing rhythm: Swing is commonly used in swing jazz, blues, jazz, western swing, new jack swing, big band jazz, swing revival, funk, funk blues, R&B, soul music, rockabilly, neo rockabilly, rock and hip-hop. Much written music in jazz is assumed to be performed with a swing rhythm. Styles that always use traditional (triplet) rhythms, resembling "hard swing," include foxtrot, quickstep and some other ballroom dances, Stride piano, and 1920s-era Novelty piano (the successor to Ragtime style).” (bold not in original)
For more reasons why improvisation is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for jazz performances, see PoJ.fm's Ontdef3. Reasons to believe improvisation is not the most defining feature of jazz.
➢ What is walking bass?
“A walking bass line walks between chords, outlining the harmony and using quarter notes to keep a steady rhythm. We generally walk with a swing feel, so we are more likely to play a walking bass line in styles where swing is most commonly used, like jazz and blues.” (bold italic not in original)
Notice that the author in the above quotation mentions that walking bass could occur without a swing feel, thereby proving swing feel and walking bass are not identical.
Several authors at the website Stackexchange.com address the differences between jazz and blues walking bass in "What are the differences between blues and jazz walking bass?
The first response by Eichhörnchen claims that the main difference between blues and jazz walking bass is primarily stylistic.
“Just to add to these answers, a blues walking bass line tends to me much more repetitive and pattern oriented. They're much more likely to play the same major pentatonic pattern over the progression throughout the whole tune. For Jazz, the lines tend to be more improvisational, different every time around and moving more with the music rather than having a set, rehearsed part.”
The fourth response to the differences between blues and jazz walking bass is by Brad Szonye, who explains:
“Walking bass is popular in many genres, as it’s very flexible stylistically. A “walking” line needs to move rhythmically and harmonically, so you won’t hear steady bass pedal tones, but that doesn’t rule out much. That means that the bassline can easily reflect the usual stylistic tropes of each genre. Blues and jazz share some stylistic elements, like groove, improvisation, and comping, but they often differ in degree or approach.
The bass has a vital role in establishing rhythm and harmony, and that’s where the distinctive elements of each genre will show through. As a general rule, jazz tends more toward experimentation and complexity, whereas blues tends more toward tradition and simplicity. Blues tends to stick closer to a simple, 12-bar I–IV–V chord progression, whereas jazz wanders more harmonically, using the ii, iii, and vi chords more. Rhythmically, the blues line is more likely to play straight quarters, while a jazz bass will use more grace notes, ghost notes, and swing.
A big part of the difference comes from the blues genre’s emphasis on expressive melodic improvisation by soloists rather than rhythmic or textural complexity. This means that everyone except the soloist (usually a lead guitar) plays much simpler music in support of the lead. Thus, a blues bassist is likelier to play a simple, repetitive arpeggio progression. In contrast, a jazz bassist has more freedom to improvise and play around with rhythm, scales, chromatic passing notes, and so on.” (bold not in original)
Walking bass can be found in numerous non-jazz music.
- Any 12 bar, 1 4 5 Blues tune.
➢ Is jazz the only musical genre that combines and uses all three?
Can blues music swing?
- Check out "How to Swing" with playable examples of no, light, medium, and heavy swing on the same tune. Blues swing tends to differ from typical jazz swing. Blues uses a shuffle beat with emphasis on the snare drum, while jazz often uses a swing beat and emphasis is on the cymbal.
- See and hear Count Basie's big band playing "Swinging the Blues," second tune in video.
- Allegedly swinging blues tracks:
- 1. "Meanstreak" — Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets
- 2. "Your Love Is Real" — William Clarke
- 3. "Easy Street" — Long John Baldry
- 4. "Solid Gold Cadillac" — Mitch Woods And His Rocket 88's
- 5. "Sure Seems Strange" — Little Charlie and The Nightcats
- 6. "Can't Quit The Blues" — Tommy Castro
- 7. "Confessin' The Blues" — Jay McShann
- 8. "Can't Buy A Break" — The Chris Cain Band
- 9. "Layin' In The Alley" — Big Joe And The Dynaflows
- 10. "It's Obdacious" — Greg Piccolo
Assessment of the views of Jonathan McKeown-Green and Justine Kingsbury on jazz
(1) “We are hard-pressed for criteria distinguishing even central cases of jazz from most nonjazz. (2) Much canonical jazz does not emphasize improvisation; much country and folk music does. (3) People who enjoy central cases of jazz from one subgenre are not especially likely to enjoy jazz from other subgenres. Such disunity is easily explained historically. (4) For example: influential swing soloists invented bebop; their experiments influenced swing performance style; since swing was jazz, it was natural to authorize bebop. Rock ’n’ roll, despite sharing many features with swing, had roots in rhythm and blues and country. (5) By covering some styles more than others, DownBeat and other jazz journals steered readers toward those styles.” (numbered sentences not in original; bold and bold italic not in original)
Wow, a lot to talk about after that, right? Break it on down sentence by sentence and give the ideas a good read and see how they hold up, right?
(1) “We are hard-pressed for criteria distinguishing even central cases of jazz from most non-jazz.
This is just blatantly not true. Of course, it depends upon what you mean by "criteria" for “most non-jazz.” Nevertheless, on any standard reading for “most,” meaning “in the majority of instances,” it is easy to tell what is and isn't jazz. For proof, go into any record store and count all music not under the jazz label, then count all recordings in the jazz section, and one discovers that only 2-3% of all albums are jazz. This is also true in the music market in general—jazz no longer sells well. So, rather than not being able to tell, it is easy to tell. Almost 98% of all music sales are not considered to be, nor is it, jazz.
“However, just a year later, in 2012, [jazz sales] fell to 2.2%. It rose slightly to 2.3% in 2013 before falling once again to just 2% in 2014. That 2% represents just 5.2 million albums sold by all jazz artists in 2014. In comparison, the best-selling artist of 2014, Taylor Swift, sold 3.7 million copies of her latest album ‘1989’ in the last two months of 2014 alone.” (bold not in original)
So, no, it is just not true that jazz cannot be easily told apart from most non-jazz. By what criteria this is happening is a separate question. Still, these criteria are well known. Country music, while it can be improvised by some performers (see below), and it is an essential part of their music, in its recorded song version it is not typically improvised because it doesn't need to be. Nor does it use standard jazz harmonic musical language, nor does it have complex syncopation (using odd rhythmic patterns), and so forth. Wikipedia on country music describes it as “often consists of ballads and dance tunes with generally simple forms and harmonies accompanied by mostly string instruments such as banjos, electric and acoustic guitars, steel guitars (such as pedal steels and dobros), and fiddles as well as harmonicas.”
On the other hand, jazz usually does not use only "simple forms and harmonies," but rather complex forms with intricate harmonies. Regardless of the criteria used, everybody, especially record store owners, is seldom confused about where to place Patsy Cline, Bob Wills, or even Gary Clark, Jr. in the categories used in their store.
McKeown-Green can respond that the above misses his point. He didn't claim people couldn't tell jazz from non-jazz but that there are no criteria for accomplishing this. Maybe. Still, if he agrees that at least 90% of all record sales are not considered jazz mustn't there be some criteria by which this successful separation distinguishment is occurring?
So, what might McKeown-Green's explanation for how an unknown criteria category, which he claims right for jazz, can be so successfully distinguished from all other forms of music? He might attempt to account for jazz being distinguished from 97% of all other music by basing his answer around past historical judgments about previous artists and their music and how it was already categorized. If the music business classifies Miles Davis's albums in the past as jazz, then Davis's next album should be so as well based on precedent.
Isn't there a big problem with this approach using inductive reasoning and historical evidence for determining what is the musical genre of an album? Of course, this cannot be a correct model for determining genre classifications. An artist who had an album under a previous musical genre could now be playing the music of a different genre, as Miles Davis did sometimes during his career.
The major failure of any such historical inductive model for determining musical classifications is that it is not bothering to listen to the music and then deciding what genre that particular music falls under or within.
CONCLUSION: It cannot be only past historical classifications that determine what musical genre a new album of music should fall under.
What other non-criteria motivated classification schemas might McKeown-Green appeal to besides the historical inductive one?
McKeown-Green provides several suggestions for how to define jazz without using any sonic or experiential properties. We can label four possible non-sonic approaches for defining jazz suggested by McKeown-Green:
- (1) using “our intuitions and classificatory trends,” or
- (2) using a “recursive-historical definition,” or
- (3) defining jazz in terms of how jazz “performs a particular function in our cognitive or social lives,” or
- (4) using a “relevant institution” to determine what qualifies as jazz.
Let's first read McKeown-Green's suggestions about these possible definitional attempts then critique them afterward.
“Perhaps a serviceable, accurate, future-proof characterization of our folk conception that respects the fuzziness of the boundaries is recoverable [(1)] from our intuitions and classificatory trends, but surely it would invoke properties other than sonic and experiential ones. It might be a [(2)] recursive-historical definition that details how an event gets to be jazz if it is suitably related to prior jazz. A successful definition of this kind would plot a pattern through the evolution of our conception, revealing either deep stability in that conception or a network of different, but related, conceptions that change and cross-fertilize in ways that can be explained systematically. Alternative characterizations would say that an event gets to be jazz just when or to the extent that it [(3)] performs a particular function in our cognitive or social lives or is [(4)] accepted as jazz by a relevant institution. Because of the unruliness and consequent unpredictability of jazz’s development, I doubt that any definer could reliably discern a recursively describable historical pattern or diachronically stable function. Perhaps an institutional definition would fare better, but such definitions are subject to well-known difficulties, and I will not speculate here about the prospects of characterizing our conception of jazz in this way. What matters for what follows is that, because of border skirmishes and especially future uncertainties, we cannot usefully define our conception of jazz solely in terms of sonic or experiential properties or intentions like those that Kania invokes in his definition of music.” (bold and parenthesized numbers not in original)
- (1) McKeown-Green's first proposal of using intuitions and classificatory trends for determining jazz sub-genres inclusion under the broader category of jazz cannot be a serious suggestion because he doesn't believe there exist any coherent, principled reasons for such additions. According to McKeown-Green, jazz sub-genres falling under the genus of "jazz" are arbitrary and lack guiding principles. Therefore, any intuitions or classificatory trends someone might use could be anything.
- (2) Regarding his second suggestion, McKeown-Green cannot give much credence to the use of any recursive-historical definition for jazz since this requires the possibility of "detailing how an event gets to be jazz" because it is "suitably related to prior jazz." McKeown-Green does not accept that later jazz has any intrinsic connection to earlier jazz sub-types. Therefore, the recursive-historical approach that is supposed to show "a deep stability" in our conception of jazz, according to McKeown-Green, shall never find such a thing since he presumes it doesn't exist. Neither would McKeown-Green believe that jazz has a "network of different, but related, conceptions that change and cross-fertilize in ways that are explained systematically" since he doesn't find any systematic connections between jazz sub-genres.
- (3) Does jazz play a unique function in our "cognitive or social lives" per McKeown-Green's third suggestion? It is hard to see how it could be unique to jazz whatever anyone might come up with as an answer. If there are no unique jazz cognitive or social functions, this will fail as a definitional attempt. Additionally, whatever is the answer here would not be so much about the music itself as it would be about the perceivers of the music. That is the wrong subject matter for a definition of jazz for this reason: suppose all fire trucks played a unique cognitive or social function in people's lives. Does knowing this help better to understand what fire trucks are 🚒? No, it does not, so this is a failed suggestion from the start.
- (4) Regarding the use of a relevant institution to determine the status of jazz sub-genres for inclusion or exclusion under the jazz umbrella, it doesn't seem like there are any relevant institutions. McKeown-Green himself appears to admit this when he writes that “No rigorous constraints govern the evolution of the criteria for identifying instances of jazz. No Academie de Jazz arbitrates. Nor does jazz, like atoms and mammals, play a well-defined causal role in some theory about the world’s workings. Thus, the story of jazz could easily have gone differently.” According to McKeown-Green, there are no relevant institutions, and any institution's position could be overturned in some possible world. Additionally, McKeown-Green is loathed to speculate about an institutional determination for a definition of jazz because of the “well-known difficulties,” not to mention the problem, according to McKeown-Green, of “the unruliness and consequent unpredictability of jazz’s development.”
- Lastly, when McKeown-Green writes that “What matters for what follows is that, because of border skirmishes and especially future uncertainties, we cannot usefully define our conception of jazz solely in terms of sonic or experiential properties or intentions” that this doesn't follow. If it did, whenever there exists "borderline cases" (presumably what McKeown-Green means by “border skirmishes”) and “future uncertainties,” then definition would be impossible because these two problems exist for all definitions. Anything you try to demarcate will have potential borderline cases where the objects in question are potentially problematic for a definition. By itself, this cannot be a definition stopper or definitions would be impossible. Since definitions do exist, this is a reductio ad absurdum argument because borderline cases and future uncertainties do not prevent jazz's possible definition.
“However, this verdict does not apply to all institutionally-mandated kinds. Disjunctive definitions of chairs, letterboxes, beds, toothpicks, and mental states are almost certainly criterially inadequate; in each case, a more unified account is available, which picks out the condition in virtue of which the things in question count as things of the kind in question. To be preferred in such cases are definitions in terms of some function which they perform, or are designed to perform, or are well-adapted to performing, or once performed when things of that kind first came on the scene . . . . Even if there were only a small number of ways to make chairs, it would probably be better to define chairhood with reference to some functional role than to build a disjunctive definition from an exhaustive list of sufficient conditions. Even so, we think that in some cases—and jazz is probably one—a disjunctive definition will be adequate.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Notice that they appear to concede that if one could come up with a definition of jazz that could provide “a more unified account” because it “picks out the condition in virtue of which the things in question count as things of the kind in question” that this would “be preferred in such cases.”
Continuing now with McKeown-Green's second sentence from his paragraph above where we found him asserting that:
(2) Much canonical jazz does not emphasize improvisation; much country and folk music does.
Why does McKeown-Green even bother to say this? Presumably, the reason is to block any move that stresses the importance of improvisation for picking out jazz as a musical genre and stopping this move because of other musical types using improvisation besides jazz. Still, while most theorists concede that some canonical jazz did not have any full-blown improvisation, such as a few Duke Ellington orchestra numbers (possibly, "Black, Brown, and Beige"), it cannot be said that this is true for most canonical jazz, however canonical jazz ends up getting cashed out. Improvisational jazz skills have always been, and continue to be, highly touted and praised. Jazz does emphasize great improvisations and great improvisers such as Charlie Parker, Lester Young, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Sonny Rollins. The list is a mile long in jazz. There are superb country music improvisers as well, such as Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, or the somewhat lesser known Marty Stuart. From the more traditional country family of improvising musicians, we have Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, Hank Williams, or the American bluegrass duo, the Stanley Brothers. Charlie Haden reports that these classic country stars were not always “following a score; they’re improvising.” Country musicians are going to improvise for the same reasons that jazz improvisers do because it is fun, challenging, and helps eliminate boredom. Bluegrass musicians are well known for having a lot of improvisation in their music.
It is true that Duke Ellington's orchestra often, especially when playing live, had a significant amount of improvisation included during their jazz performances. For a 'canonical example,' take Paul Gonsalves's twenty-seven improvised choruses during his live performance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival of Ellington's "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue." As reported at Wikipedia, this was not an uncommon occurrence for Gonsalves and the Ellington orchestra.
(3) People who enjoy central cases of jazz from one subgenre are not especially likely to enjoy jazz from other subgenres. Such disunity is easily explained historically.
Now how does McKeown-Green know this to be true? Has he taken a survey or just speculated? It is true that if you like jazz, you might not especially like jazz-fusion. On the other hand, Miles Davis's album "Bitches Brew" brought a lot of rock and roll aficionados into more appreciation for jazz. Let us speculate ourselves. Suppose you like jazz from the 1940s through the 1950s, which includes big band swing and Bebop. It is a safe bet that you probably also enjoy soul jazz, hard bop, cool jazz, modal jazz, bossa nova, and Latin jazz. If correct for a significant portion of the jazz listening community, this would refute McKeown-Green's assertions in (3).
Of course, he may have in mind that jazz lovers may not care for free jazz or jazz-rock fusion, or even smooth jazz. Whether history can explain this remains to be seen.
(4) For example: influential swing soloists invented Bebop; their experiments influenced swing performance style; since swing was jazz, it was natural to authorize Bebop. Rock ’n’ roll, despite sharing many features with swing, had roots in rhythm and blues, and country.
Here is where McKeown-Green purports to provide such a history, and he does so in the next sentence. However, McKeown-Green appears to contravene his assertion that if you like one sub-genre of jazz, you might dislike the next. Swing soloists, like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, helped invent Bebop, and many jazz enthusiasts, not all, found Bebop an acceptable jazz form that they enjoyed. Rock n roll did not come from jazz, but from R & B and country, so little wonder Rock n Roll is not considered, nor is it, jazz.
(5) By covering some styles more than others, DownBeat and other jazz journals steered readers toward those styles.
If all that is meant by this sentence is that publicity, public exposure, and publicly revealed accolades from admired critics may influence public opinion, no one would disagree. However, this is not the radical picture McKeown-Green promotes. He maintains that editors and writers at Downbeat could determine what counts as jazz no matter what genre the touted music might be better thought of as falling within.
Is it believable that if some crazy editors at Downbeat were to start touting Elvis Presley, or better yet, Elvis Costello, as the next jazz superstar, that the jazz community would find this acceptable? Instead, the magazine would fire them because of the enormous backlash that readers of the magazine would have done as pushback on the baloney involved.
Downbeat editors covered new jazz styles because they correctly judged that these new styles merited attention as falling under the jazz umbrella. It is also true that in the 1970s, the magazine started covering rock. (And, the year Jimi Hendrix died in 1970 the Downbeat readers voted him into the Jazz Hall of Fame purely out of respect and not because of his jazz prowess). To see what connections there are between Jimi and jazz see the late music critic Keith Shadwick's (1951-2008) "Jimi Hendrix and Jazz" at the Jazzwise website.
➢ How believable is it that Bebop not be jazz?
“No rigorous constraints govern the evolution of the criteria for identifying instances of jazz. No Academie de Jazz arbitrates. Nor does jazz, like atoms and mammals, play a well-defined causal role in some theory about the world’s workings. Thus, the story of jazz could easily have gone differently. The Beboppers might have left jazz critics behind, attracting new listeners. Bebop might then not have been regarded as jazz. Fledgling rock ’n’ roll might have occupied more space in DownBeat. Nothing in the previous practice signaled that certain styles, and not others, would count as jazz later. Nor is it likely that actual jazz history reflects a more principled, strategic, elegant, or otherwise defensible program than all counter-factual ones.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Start with his first sentence concerning no rigorous constraints governing jazz genre identifications. McKeown-Green cannot just assume this is true without begging the question. An opposing view to his position is that there are at the very least constraints on jazz genre identification, and those constraints are the musical features found in jazz itself. If someone only plays standard and typical polka music, they are never playing jazz because polka music does not meet the parameters used to play jazz. Polka is rigidly structured dance music with limited variation in musical forms, and “a standard polka song always has a 2/4 beat structured around four verses and a chorus, which is sung after each verse or after every two verses.”
IMPORTANT PRESUMPTION FOR EVALUATING WHAT COUNTS AS JAZZ: Indeed, jazz history and jazz critics' perceptions and audience judgments are influenced and may change because of economic, cultural, religious, or societal circumstances and factors. That is not the crucial issue. That is not the fundamental issue. The more critical question concerns how to judge particular counter-factual situations, and who should be the judges. Possible counter-factual judges from these alternative jazz histories are not appropriate evaluators since they would undoubtedly find that Bebop does not qualify as jazz. No. The only acceptable, non-question begging judges must be from, and only from, the current and actual past jazz history, and not some possible history, which might affect all judgmental and evaluative assessments. The question concerns the real history of jazz up to the current situation and only from there making judgments about what can and cannot qualify as jazz. Judges of jazz genre inclusion must consider actual jazz history when evaluating future jazz sub-genres inclusion. However, the mere absence of the new sub-genre from past jazz history cannot be the only reason for excluding it, or there would only be one sub-genre of jazz since soul-jazz is not Dixieland yet still qualifies as jazz.
Thus, let us answer the questions regarding some of McKeown-Green's claims:
➢ Could Beboppers have left all jazz critics behind in any possible universe?
One can easily conceive that there is a possible world where critics eschew Bebop and find only earlier jazz styles are authentic forms. That scenario is what happened in the actual universe, ours, up to a point anyway.
It is well established that there was significant pushback from the jazz community against the Beboppers because it was music more challenging to play. It represents jazz as artful music, technically demanding, perceived as less pleasant to listen to by some. So, this possible world is actual and exists as a genuine possibility.
Furthermore, suppose that Nazi Germany won World War Two. In this scenario, imagine all jazz critics are loyal followers of the Nazi party and agree that Bebop for numerous reasons is not jazz because jazz gives glory to whatever, so Bebop gets shunned and disqualified as counting as genuine jazz because it is produced by . . . (fill in any reason).
CONCLUSION: All jazz critics could have shunned Bebop.
WAIT! Yes, we grant that the Nazi jazz critics scenario is a possible universe. That, however, is not the crucial question. The fundamental question concerns whether the Nazi critics were correct that Bebop doesn't qualify as jazz from our current points of view regarding what constitutes jazz.
What arguments prove that Nazi critics were mistaken that Bebop is not jazz
➢ Why do the Nazi critics believe Bebop is not jazz?
The Nazi critics' reasons for discounting Bebop as not qualifying as jazz are inappropriate for this kind of assessment. They reject the music primarily, if not exclusively, on racial grounds, and who produced and caused that music to exist. Racial considerations are irrelevant for determining musical genre types; the music remains unconcerned and unchanged regarding who plays it. Musical sources, such as finding out some music was created in Cheraw, South Carolina by mill workers, tells us nothing about what kind of music they played. Therefore the Nazi critics can be wrong if Bebop counts as a type of jazz.
➢ Why believe that Bebop is a type of jazz?
It is false that anyone could arbitrarily attempt to combine two or more musical genres, thereby automatically creating a new style. Suppose some producer says, “I'm going to make a new genre of music called Country Opera by just taking country albums and Opera albums and putting them together on the same CD.”
➢ Has this producer now invented, created, or even discovered the music genre of country opera?
Certainly not. There is no genre of music country opera. Even if the CDs 💿 sold well, it could just be that country albums sell well, and the buyers ignore the opera. If the same people were to like both country and opera music, it does not follow that there would now exist a new style of music called country opera.
➢ What do we require for creating a new musical genre of country opera?
Country opera could exist if a composer became successful at making opera that featured country music components in significant ways. The operas are about the same themes as are many country songs. There are country musical instruments played from the orchestra like slide guitar, banjo, guitar, yodeling maybe, and so forth.
What does this establish as an argument? Not all musical genres are identical to all others arbitrarily. If you are playing the blues, you are not playing opera, or jazz, or polka music. Just because some critic regards Bebop as not jazz, it does not follow that it isn't still jazz.
➢ What makes it possible for Bebop to be jazz?
Suppose that there are legitimate musical reasons to justify that Bebop qualifies as being in the jazz universe. What would they be?
On the Galactic model defining jazz, the super black hole towards which all jazz genres gravitate, we have HSI (hybridization of the diatonic and pentatonic musical scales, syncopation, and improvisation.) While none of these by themselves is sufficient or necessary for music to be jazz, most jazz, importantly including Bebop, has all three. Thus, Bebop contains features that help put it onto a jazz continuum.
If we add to the three features of hybridization/synthesis of the diatonic with the pentatonic, syncopation, and improvisation, a fourth one emphasized by Beboppers, now called "standard jazz harmonies" utilizing “harmonic progressions and intervals such as 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths to chords,” then this is a sufficient condition for jazz. For a defense of this sufficiency claim, see PoJ.fm's Ontdef3. A sufficient condition for playing jazz.
Additionally, the better musicians are at performing with HSI's three properties (Hybridization of the diatonic and pentatonic musical scales, Syncopation, and Improvisation), especially resulting in quality improvisations, generates more regard for them within the jazz community. The greatest Bebop players all had strengths in these three areas. However, some critics might find that Coleman Hawkins, an influential jazzman in anyone's book, had less ability playing the blues than Lester Young. Therefore, Nazi critics would be wrong to judge that Beboppers were not playing jazz judged by today's standards on actual planet Earth.
Jazz as a natural kind
➢ Is McKeown-Green right that jazz as a musical genre is not a natural kind? Is it true that “ . . . jazz, like atoms and mammals, [does not] play a well-defined causal role in some theory about the world’s workings”?
This is an interesting question. If McKeown-Green does not provide any argument(s) for this claim, he would be begging the question. What are his reasons for denying natural kindhood to jazz that can play a causal role in a theory of the workings of the universe?
He supplies at least two considerations, or perhaps they are better thought of as proposals, for believing that jazz cannot be a natural kind were his proposals correct.
Critique of McKeown-Green Proposal #1
McKeown-Green Proposal #1: If jazz was not a natural kind, then “the story of jazz could easily have gone differently. The beboppers might have left jazz critics behind, attracting new listeners. Bebop might then not have been regarded as jazz. Fledgling rock ’n’ roll might have occupied more space in DownBeat.”
Let us assess this first proposal. Could jazz be a natural kind (of music) and still have had a different history than it had? Possible jazz worlds are non-contradictory, consistent scenarios describing possible jazz universes. Few philosophers and theorists, besides Spinoza, would reject the existence of a possible world a lot like the actual world up to a specific point in time, but then something gets changed. For example, it is imaginable that any famous figure in jazz might not have existed. If Louis Armstrong had never lived, then jazz history would have been significantly different. Yet, it is reasonable to accept that even if there had been no Ornette Coleman, musicians would still discover free jazz, assuming a possible world scenario more or less the same up to Ornette's entry onto the music scene. It is well known that Lennie Tristano and Warne Marsh before Coleman had dallied with free form jazz-like structures, and Ornette, while hugely influential, was not the only jazz influencer who developed and promoted free jazz. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that in a possible universe up to Ornette Coleman, free-type jazz might emerge and be part of some jazz musicians' repertoire even without Coleman and his musical compositions.
This counter-argument parallels a claim sometimes made about Albert Einstein and his theory of (special) relativity of 1905. He was ahead of his time, but inevitably, and likely within the next 20 to 50 years, even without Einstein, scientists would have discovered relativity theory.
➢ Why is it inevitable that relativity theory was discoverable, even without Einstein?
- Theorists often mention the Lorentz equations and Poincare's mathematical discoveries as leading to relativity theory.
- The negative findings of the Michelson-Morley experiment could contribute to motivating a relativistic account and explanation. Jeroen van Dongen, "On the role of the Michelson-Morley experiment: Einstein in Chicago," Institute for History and Foundations of Science & Descartes Centre, Utrecht University & Einstein Papers Project, Caltech, reports on Einstein’s knowledge of the Michelson-Morley experiment before 1905.
- The problem of the perihelion orbit of the planet Mercury was not going to go away. Physicists needed to consider how to account for this precession other than using Newtonian mechanics, which could not explain the orbit's properties with high accuracy.
- Maxwell's equations were already well known, and relativity theory is a helpful step; even given all of relativity theory's weird counter-intuitive implications, scientists need it to account for much well known unusual physical phenomena. Nothing else would do the job, and the ideas once found are consistent with much theorizing in physics.
➢ Without the existence of Ornette Coleman, was the discovery of free jazz inevitable?
On similar grounds to that argued for Einstein's theory of relativity, one can claim the same sort of inevitability for free jazz under some circumstances. Just like other physicists produced material from which relativity could be discovered, some musicians could work on expanding jazz vocabulary and providing new genre production. Some musicians such as Albert Ayler or John Coltrane and numerous European musicians struck out on their own, like Peter Brötzmann. Brötzmann (b. 1941) might have continued working on jazz in a freer fashion, even if Ornette Coleman (1930-2015) had not been born.
➢ Do any of these considerations about the possible inevitable discovery of other forms of jazz, such as perhaps modal, soul, cool, third stream, or free jazz, support the claim of jazz as a natural kind?
Sure. Why not? In the same way relativistic laws of nature govern the interactions in space-time and speeds of physical objects because these laws structure the universe, one can argue, as Platonistically inspired realists maintain, all musical compositions antecedently exist as abstract objects and are only discovered by their composers—not created—since they are eternally existing. Certainly, this would make them have some sort of natural kind status because of their being abstract objects.
➢ Why believe in natural kinds anyway?
Natural kinds, according to Wikipedia, are non-artificial in the sense that they are types that exist independently of any person's classifications and categorizations. They already are a type under which only objects having these same features qualify as being tokens (of that type).
“In analytic philosophy, the term natural kind is used to refer to a "natural" grouping, not an artificial one. Or, it is something that a set of things (objects, events, beings) has in common which distinguishes it from other things as a real set rather than as a group of things arbitrarily lumped together by a person or group of people. If any natural kinds exist at all, good candidates might include each of the chemical elements, like gold or potassium. Physical particles, like quarks, might also be natural kinds. That is, they would still be groups of things, distinct from other things as a group, even if there were no people around to say that they were members of the same group. The set of objects that weigh more than 50 pounds, on the other hand, almost certainly does not constitute a natural kind. A more formal definition has it that a natural kind is a family of "entities possessing properties bound by natural law; we know of natural kinds in the form of categories of minerals, plants, or animals, and we know that different human cultures classify natural realities that surround them in a completely analogous fashion" (Molino 2000: 168). The term was brought into contemporary analytic philosophy by W. V. Quine in his essay "Natural Kinds", . . . According to Quine, . . . kind-hood was logically primitive: it could not be reduced non-trivially to any other relation among individuals. Cultural artifacts are not generally considered natural kinds.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy supports the understanding of natural kinds as existing outside of the purview of human arbitrary categorizations.
“Scientific disciplines frequently divide the particulars they study into kinds and theorize about those kinds. To say that a kind is natural is to say that it corresponds to a grouping that reflects the structure of the natural world rather than the interests and actions of human beings. (bold and bold italic not in original)
There are a couple of things that require clarification. When Molino above in the Wikipedia quotation describes natural kinds as “entities possessing properties bound by natural law," this is ambiguous. On the one hand, what isn't bound by natural law? Everything in the natural universe is bound by natural law, so on this conception, everything is a natural kind. This is probably not what someone like Molino has in mind. More likely, what Molino had in mind is that natural kinds are the property types found in laws of nature, as when we say force is identical to mass times acceleration, or in e=mc2 where c is a natural kind referencing the speed of light. This speed is non-arbitrary and no persons or groups arbitrarily determine it. Neither has any group of people arbitrarily stipulated what the properties of light are. No humans could ever have imagined that light has wave-particle duality; it's just too weird and alien to all past human thinking. Wave-particle duality was forced upon investigators so they might reconcile the results of experiments; it was a discovery of an antecedently existing phenomenon and did not get created through human conventions or arbitrary stipulations.
Still, the final sentence quoted above from Wikipedia that "cultural artifacts are not generally considered to be natural kinds" would seem to impact upon music and musical genres since these are cultural artifacts.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Natural Kinds from a realist perspective requires scientific natural kinds to fulfill six criteria.
“1. Members of a natural kind should have some (natural) properties in common. This is a necessary condition of kindhood, but not a sufficient condition, for objects of very different kinds may share some natural property. As Mill (1884) remarks, white objects do not form a natural kind. Natural properties here are often taken to be intrinsic properties. . . . Some, it should be noted, hold that not all natural properties are intrinsic.
2. Natural kinds should permit inductive inferences. This is a point emphasized by Whewell (1860) and Mill (1884) and is central to Quine's (1969) discussion of natural kinds (see Section 1.2.1). On its own, this criterion also does not help distinguish natural kinds from sets of objects sharing some natural property, and in that sense does not go beyond criterion 1. Criterion 2 is also necessary but not sufficient condition on natural kind classifications.
3. Natural kinds should participate in laws of nature. This may be considered as a stronger, metaphysical version of criterion 2. It is correspondingly more contentious: if something is a duck, then it has webbed feet; but one need not hold that such inductively obtained conditionals regarding biological kinds must constitute laws of nature. Even if this is a necessary condition, like criteria 1 and 2, it fails to be a sufficient criterion. For laws of nature may concern natural qualities and quantities that do not define kinds (e.g., Newton's law of gravitation).
4. Members of a natural kind should form a kind. Criteria 1–3 supply related conditions that fail to be sufficient for kindhood. We may expand on Mill's example of white things, which do not form a natural kind; neither do negatively charged things, nor do things with a mass of 1 kg. It is not immediately clear what this criterion requires, but we may say that an adequacy condition on a satisfactory account of what kinds are must address this ‘kindhood’ question (Hawley and Bird 2011).
5. Natural kinds should form a hierarchy. If any two kinds overlap at all, one is a subkind of the other, or they are identical (Kuhn 2000; Ellis 2001, 2002). This is exhibited, for example, by Linnaean taxonomy in biology. If any organisms from different species are members of the same genus, then all members of both species are members of that genus.
6. Natural kinds should be categorically distinct. There cannot be a smooth transition from one kind to another (Ellis 2001). For then, the borderline between them could not be one drawn by nature, but one that is somehow or other drawn by us. In which case, the kinds would not be genuinely natural. The chemical elements exhibit this.” (bold not in original)
➢ Does jazz as a musical genre satisfy all six criteria?
Jazz sub-genres can meet criteria (1) because they do have some natural properties in common. Regarding criteria (2), there are inductive inferences one could make about jazz situations. Criteria (3) would seem to be the hardest for jazz to satisfy since there seem to be no laws of nature with the kind jazz entering into the equation. While McKeown-Green would deny that jazz forms any coherent (or consistent or unified) type, other theorists believe that jazz may form a kind, thereby satisfying criteria (4). Does jazz as a kind rank in a hierarchy with different types? Who knows what this means or implies for jazz. Criteria (6) is not satisfied by jazz as a musical form since someone like Paul Rinzler holds that jazz comes in varying degrees of jazz. He uses fuzzy logic as a background assumption for assessing and evaluating different degrees of falling within a specific musical genre such as jazz. For more discussion of Rinzler's use of fuzzy logic to support jazz coming in degrees, see PoJ.fm's Ontdef3. Rinzler's Fuzzy Logic Approach in The Contradictions of Jazz.
Sometimes it is said that electrons are candidates for being natural kinds, yet electrons have wave-particle duality. The application of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle requires that some categories be indeterminate since there is a "fundamental limit to the precision with which certain pairs of physical properties of a particle, known as complementary variables, such as position x and momentum p, can be known." It isn't just that these complementary properties are unknown, but that it is physically impossible to know both of them simultaneously because of the inherent indeterminacy. Hence, even natural kinds can have some of their properties with categorical indistinctness or indeterminacy. If natural kinds can have some indeterminacy, criteria (6) may be mistaken, thereby permitting jazz that comes in degrees be a kind too.
At the end of Proposal #1, McKeown-Green suggests that rock and roll might have ended up as counting as jazz. Well, this is kind of correct for the music labeled as jazz/rock fusion. That is not what McKeown-Green has in mind, however. He imagines a much more radical proposal where, for example, every song on the Beatles's "White Album" could be considered jazz in some possible world.
➢ Is it believable that the Beatles played jazz on every song of their "White Album"?
Intuitions may differ. On the one hand, it is not inconceivable that this gets reported as accurate in an influential publication such as DownBeat. But, can the claim be justified is the more important question? Again, if all evaluators in a non-actual possible world were to judge all songs from the "White Album," are they using the same conception of jazz as here in the real universe? McKeown-Green has a problem here. He cannot argue that there is no stable conception of jazz in the actual world merely because there is a possible world that uses the word "jazz" with a different conception. Such an argument would prove the impossibility of any stable conceptions, which we know already is false.
To see this problem for him more clearly, we can presume that McKeown-Green accepts that there are at least some stable conceptions and that some refer to and maintain their stableness because they reference pre-existing natural kinds that don't change over time. Let us assume gold is such a stable concept. If you don't like gold, substitute any other idea that you believe is stable over time and then argue as follows. Assume that Earth Two is a possible universe where their term "gold" picks out the same things as on Earth One except Earth Twoians include both the metal gold as well as domestic cats as part of their conception of what gets referenced by their concept of gold. In our actual world terminology (and conceptions), we would describe Earth Two as using the word "gold" to mean 'gold or a cat.' When Earth Twoians see a cat, they say there goes by some gold. Do these two different conceptions and the changes in the use of the word "gold" prove that gold, as referenced on Earth One (the actual Earth), does not pick out a natural kind? No, it does not. Therefore, it doesn't disprove it when on Earth Two the word "jazz" from the point of Earth One conceptions understands the Earth Two conception of jazz to mean 'jazz or rock and roll.' Just like gold could be a natural kind in the actual universe, so could jazz be such a kind in the real world. At least, it is not disproven by jazz meaning 'jazz or rock' on possible Earth Two.
Critique of McKeown-Green Proposal #2
McKeown-Green supplies a second proposal for believing jazz is not a stable musical kind. He cites the apparent hodge-podge generation of future jazz genres that maintain the jazz name. He discounts any historical account as reflecting a principled way of justifying what we include or reject as jazz. Here's how he puts these points:
“Nothing in the previous practice signaled that certain styles, and not others, would count as jazz later. Nor is it likely that actual jazz history reflects a more principled, strategic, elegant, or otherwise defensible program than all counter-factual ones.” (bold not in original)
➢ Are there any previous practices or principled reasons accounting for jazz sub-genres inclusions as jazz?
The question is broad and contentious. Part of the contentiousness comes from musical sub-genres that some theorists wish to exclude from falling under the jazz genus, and they are perhaps not even sub-genres of jazz. Possible candidates in this disputed area can include jazz/rock fusion, free jazz , acid jazz, or smooth jazz. For the moment, leave out any easily contested jazz sub-genres and focus on just those that the vast majority of music theorists know for sure fall under the genus of jazz. These sub-genres include swing, big band, modal jazz, cool jazz, West Coast jazz, soul jazz, hard bop, Bebop, etc.
➢ Regarding just these uncontested sub-genres, are there any "principled reasons" or "previous practices" that permit predictions of their inclusion under the jazz umbrella?
Whatever sub-type of jazz you believe to be jazz can be shown to have musical affinities with all of the other uncontested sub-genres of jazz. Big bands did not always swing, but the very same jazz big band song can be swung or not swung. Why is either one jazz? The point is that the swung version and the unswung version would still have a lot in common. The swung version differs from the non-swung version in having different rhythmic emphases. Every other feature could be virtually identical. If the unswung version counts already as jazz, it is hard to see why the swung version with only some different rhythmic emphasis couldn't also count as jazz.
Bebop uses many musical features and techniques from earlier jazz styles, including hybridization of the diatonic and pentatonic musical scales, syncopation, and a lot of improvisation. What Bebop added were extending chord forms up into 11ths and 13ths and using more advanced harmonic techniques. Speed of execution, 16th notes, 32nd notes, and technically demanding performances on their respective instruments also was featured during Bebop performances. If you are already playing jazz and only moderately speed it up, it doesn't seem like it would end up being non-jazz merely from notes and chords' faster executions.
Many future jazz sub-genres remained true to being music suitable for dancing, including big bands, swing music, soul jazz, and especially Latin jazz, where every tune is danceable. Gunther Schuller explains that playing for dancers was an important motivation for performing jazz in his "The Influence of Jazz on the History and Development of Concert Music." He reports that “In its earlier history and development from a true black folk music through a nationally popular entertainment music to a world art music, jazz was indeed primarily a dance music, and proud of it. It derived much of its strength and sustenance from being a dance music. But jazz has long ago moved beyond the realm of dance and entertainment functions, those being limitations not inherent to the deeper nature of jazz.” (bold not in original)
Anyone bases predictions on specific historical periods and relevant contexts from which they estimate reasonable likelihoods. From the fact that early jazz music was danceable, one could predict with some degree of reasonable probability that currently unknown future sub-genres of jazz will also be danceable.
This is relevant because even though there are other styles of music besides jazz that are danceable, McKeown-Green's claim that there are no principled ways of predicting properties of future unknown sub-genres of jazz seems mistaken. Does the danceability of some jazz genres help refute the claim that there are absolutely no principled ways for successful predictions regarding future jazz genres? That people find some jazz music danceable is such a principle, thereby refuting McKeown-Green's assertion to the contrary.
McKeon-Green would perhaps not dispute the above so far as it goes. He will undoubtedly argue that some modern jazz, especially free jazz, is not that danceable. How then could one predict that different genres of jazz would be both danceable and (basically) undanceable? Free jazz is mostly undanceable since it need not use any consistent rhythm. Even within jazz's first century, so-called jazz 'genres' include ones that have opposing properties. How, then, could there ever be any consistent principled way of predicting such inclusions under the same jazz name? What might anyone argue back to address this?
To McKeown-Green's second point regarding the indefensibility of actual jazz history having any more precedence as a model for jazz than any other possible counter-factual musical history, Paul Rinzler in The Contradictions of Jazz takes offense at this notion. Rinzler argues there that the only way to characterize jazz's traditions requires one to turn to its actual historical developments. He maintains that the jazz tradition in the real world is the only correct standard for evaluating and best characterizing jazz as a type of music.
“If there is something in the music that makes us call it jazz, then that aspect of the music is part of the tradition and definition of jazz. Tradition defines identity, much like definition does. Tradition is logically necessary if we are to talk about something we call ‘jazz.’ The question is not whether there is a tradition in jazz, but what that tradition is.” (bold not in the original)
If we take Rinzler at his word, then he must reject McKeown-Green's proposal that any counter-factual history of jazz is as good as its actual history.
➢ Why believe Rinzler here over McKeown-Green?
McKeown-Green seems to have a predisposition for believing that many categories are so fluid that they could easily have had alternative conceptual developments in other possible worlds wherein the reference classes differ. A dramatic claim in this regard is McKeown-Green stating that in some possible world people do not classify whales as mammals. First, we quote him making these suggestions followed by considerations of their plausibility.
“Whales are classed as mammals, though they might not have been. This precisifies the criteria for being a mammal along one trajectory rather than another, but those criteria are still consistent and handy.” (bold italic not in the original)
- All mammals are warm-blooded animals (endothermic: which means they need to provide their body heat through their metabolism); they keep a high body temperature that strives to remain constant in different temperature environments.
- Breathe oxygen from air using lungs.
- Have hair.
- Give birth to live young.
- Females nurse their offspring with milk from mammary glands.
In the actual universe, whales meet all of these conditions. Furthermore, whales evolved from land-based mammals. Hence, it is not shocking that they remained as mammals while evolutionarily adapting to the water. They are related genetically and biologically to the hippopotamus, which is also a mammal.
For McKeown-Green's suggestion that biologists might not classify whales as mammalian, the whales would have to have a different evolutionary history. It stands to reason, doesn't it, that if an animal had enough of a change in evolutionary history that we should not classify it as a mammal, then this animal would not be a whale? Therefore, McKeown-Green's suggestion is implausible, perhaps even incoherent.
Principled Predictions of New Jazz Genres
Is there anything in previous jazz practices that permit predictions of inclusion for future jazz genres? Start at the beginning of the history of early jazz between 1899 and 1917. We have Ragtime music, and we have Dixieland, piano professors from Storyville, the start of combos, such as that of Buddy Bolden's, King Oliver's, or the Original Dixieland Jass Band.
Most music histories claim one of two things. They either say Ragtime was a pre-cursor to jazz or counted as an early form of jazz. The Wikipedia: Original Dixieland Jass band (ODJB) supports the latter: “a Dixieland jazz band that made the first jazz recordings in early 1917. Their "Livery Stable Blues" became the first jazz recording ever issued. The group composed and made the first recordings of many jazz standards, the most famous being "Tiger Rag". . . . ODJB billed itself as the "Creators of Jazz." It was the first band to record jazz commercially and to have hit recordings in the new genre. Bandleader and cornetist Nick LaRocca argued that ODJB deserved recognition as the first band to record jazz commercially and to establish jazz as a musical idiom or genre.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Encyclopaedia Brittanica has a relatively balanced description of Ragtime.
“Ragtime, propulsively syncopated musical style, one forerunner of jazz and the predominant style of American popular music from about 1899 to 1917. Ragtime evolved in the playing of honky-tonk pianists along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers in the last decades of the 19th century. It was influenced by minstrel-show songs, blacks’ banjo styles, and syncopated (off-beat) dance rhythms of the cakewalk, and also elements of European music. Ragtime found its characteristic expression in formally structured piano compositions. The regularly accented left-hand beat, in 4/4 or 2/4 time, was opposed in the right hand by a fast, bouncingly syncopated melody that gave the music its powerful forward impetus.”  (bold not in original)
➢ What 'principled' predictions could anyone make regarding future unknown jazz genres?
One could predict that when this music expands from being primarily a piano style to having larger musical ensembles with different musical instruments, it will remain danceable and rhythmically exciting because of its syncopation. To produce such syncopation, one must have a regular beat against which musicians place rhythmic accents on either the weak beats or the off beats. (For more information about syncopation, see PoJ.fm's Ontmusic30. What is syncopation?).
Ragtime's characterization above underplays the significance of combining a European diatonic musical scale with (an African) pentatonic (five-note blues) one. Another prediction someone could make is the existence of such a hybridized musical schema being prevalent in future jazz. Again, almost all following jazz genres ([[Onttype15. What is Free Jazz? | free jazz] being an exception) depended heavily on such a diatonic hybridization with a pentatonic musical scale.
Early jazz in the 1910s and 1920s had plenty of improvisation, often simultaneously by multiple players. One could predict that the improvisation of jazz materials would happen in these future styles. A primary reason for the emphasis on improvisation is its inherent creativity, interest, and technical challenges. Musicians, who spent as much as ten years, or a minimum of 10,000 hours, to attain expert skill levels developing their improvisational abilities will undoubtedly wish to use them. Plus, musicians enjoy improvising who can because they get to use their musical imagination while having fun interacting spontaneously in surprising ways with other musicians.
We have music critic, editor, and jazz author, Henry Osborne Osgood (1879–1927), who in his So This Is Jazz (1926), one of the earliest investigations into jazz history, describes the music of jazz. At this time in its history, jazz is around thirty years old.
“This book is, so far as I know, the first attempt to set down a connected account of the origin, history and development of jazz music. It is not a technical treatise, but a story for the reader who would like to know a little something more about what he has been enjoying—or detesting—for the last decade.
It is quite difficult to get accurate and authenticated information about the beginnings of jazz, recent as these beginnings are. Until our little group of serious thinkers, spurred on, I think, by the provocative pen of Gilbert Seldes, began to take up jazz in a serious way, it was demodé, declassé and several other things in French—the idle and vulgar amusement of the bourgeoisie. It is only since H. R. H. [His Royal Highness] struck up a speaking acquaintance with Paul Whiteman and George Gershwin was invited to dinner at Mrs. Astor's [Caroline Webster "Lina" Schermerhorn] that jazz has become an Art.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
If someone were to have made the above predictions, they would have all turned out to be correct. The new jazz styles, such as Bebop, cool jazz, West Coast jazz, soul jazz, modal jazz, and so forth, were all kinds of music that synthesized diatonic and pentatonic musical scales, with significant syncopation, containing highly touted improvisations by musicians with incredible chops.
➢ Why was Bebop developed?
Naysayers against the prediction of Bebop include the well-known music writer and critic, Leonard Feather.
“The evolutionary course of any art form tends to defy crystal-gazing. Just as it would have been impossible for an art student of the nineteenth century to foresee accurately the arrival of Cubism, just as no musician even in 1941 could predict the upheaval that was to be wrought by Bop only three years later, the prognosis for jazz must be heavily qualified by an admission that the only predictable factor is its unpredictability.” (bold not in original)
The irony of these opening remarks gets revealed when in the very next sentence, he claims that “most musicians have formulated a view . . . of what the future may hold [for jazz].” You cannot have it both ways: if future jazz cannot be predicted because of its unpredictability, one cannot have "jazz musicians" making predictions for what the future of jazz might hold. Surely this is talking out of both sides of your mouth.
The issue is important because the possibility of future jazz predictions is being called into question by Leonard Feather (and others). Feather claimed that even in 1941, no one could predict the development of Bebop by any musicians. Perhaps we might grant that most musicians may not have been able to predict Bebop in 1941, but the claim that no musician could have predicted Bebop permits us to choose any musician as a possible counter-example. How about getting predictions from any of Bebop's future founders and see what they might expect in 1941 about its possibilities that will be more fully revealed over the next three to four years? It could be that either Dizzy Gillespie, or [[Ep16. What are jazz legend's notable accomplishments?#Charlie Parker | Charlie Parker,] or Thelonious Monk, or Charlie Christian, or Kenny Clarke may have provided some relevant predictions regarding the future jazz style of Bebop, don't you think? So, it isn't, in fact, totally unpredictable. Furthermore, there is the argument that it is not logically or metaphysically impossible for Bebop to be predicted in 1941 since there is a non-contradictory possible world where this occurs, proving it was possible, even if unlikely, for someone to predict Bebop in 1941.
Similarly, while Cubism is an intriguing and complex art movement, the idea of multiple perspectives and abstraction are not unreasonably possible predictions from knowledgeable art theorists before the development of Cubism. Feather's claim that “it would have been impossible for any art students say in 1905 to predict something like Cubism” as an art movement is hyperbolic because it is not logically or metaphysically impossible. There does exist a possible universe wherein Fred, the art student in 1905, predicts Cubism, which is not a self-contradictory world; therefore, such a prediction is both logically and metaphysically possible, not impossible, as Feather would have it. Unlikely, perhaps, but certainly not impossible.
ASIDE: It seems reasonable to hold that many of the internet's social and political consequences would be unforeseen at the start. Suppose we grant this without argument. Thus, no one did predict Facebook, the Arab Spring, texting, etc. The other question, though, is were these predictable, not just didn't get predicted. When we know all about these situations, it does not seem impossible for someone to have foreseen them who had sat down and thought long and hard about the effects global communication with a vast database might cause.
Woody Herman (1913–1987) predicted in 1957 (in the next quotation below) the distinct possibility of World Music jazz whereby jazz played in other countries assimilates some of their musical traditions and styles into jazz performances, as Nguyên Lê (b. 1959) does incorporating Vietnamese styles into his jazz, or Don Cherry (1936–1995) who studied African, Indian, Turkish, and Brazilian melodies and integrated these into his jazz playing with different kinds of international flutes, free jazz's return to the field holler and the blues, John Coltrane's (1926-1967) incorporation of traditional music from Africa, India, and the Near East, or Bossa Nova (b. 1958), or Afro-Cuban (b. 1943), or Latin jazz (present in jazz even before Jelly Roll Morton's "The Crave" ) and violinist and composer Jason Kao Hwang's (b. 1957) successful blending of jazz with Asian traditional music.
“As to the international aspect, the future for jazz generally speaking looks much brighter abroad than at home. A lot of people overseas have been making great strides in terms of originality, and I am inclined to think that certainly within the next 25 years, there will be groups that set up their own kind of jazz, their own styles, in many other countries.” (bold not in original)
“Just as jazz moved geographically through various phases in this country–New Orleans, Kansas City, Chicago, and so forth–I believe it will go through a series of changes on an international rather than intra-national level,” Lewis observes. “The influence and impact of jazz playing and writing in other countries will be felt increasingly.” (bold not in original)
Following Herman and Lewis, Dizzy Gillespie (1917–1993) independently predicted the inclusion of World Music into future jazz in 1957.
“[Jazz] will probably be ‘mixed up with these other nationalities’—Indian scales and so forth—it’s getting around the world so fast now . . . their touch is going to seep into it. I believe we’ve gone as far with the European music as we are going to go. . . . I’ve actually been working along those lines myself—sometimes I’ve played some things I heard in Pakistan. And a lot of musicians are going to be going over to Asia and everywhere and they’re going to add to what they already know.” (bold not in original)
In a letter addressing jazz 25 years in the future from 1957, composer and clarinetist/saxophonist Jimmy Guiffre (1921–2008) states that future jazz players will still sometimes use old school jazz forms, and he was correct. He presciently predicts free jazz when Ornette Coleman (1930–2015) hasn't yet recorded his "Free Jazz" album until 1959.
“Dixieland, swing, and bop will still have their players and audiences. Cool music will settle into a category (which it is establishing now). There will be a strong atonal school (both writing and improvising).” (bold not in original)
After citing all of the above jazz predictions, Feather again comes back to being a pessimist about jazz predictions, even when citing his prediction about jazz that came true!
“The writer [Leonard Feather himself], who has been listening to jazz avocationally since 1929, professionally since 1933, can recall only a single prediction he made during the first years of listening that was ultimately to achieve realization: that jazz would prove to be playable in ternary time. Nothing else of consequence that has happened to jazz in all these years ever became evident until it was immediately upon us. A reader glancing at these pages in 1984 will observe, it is reasonable to assume, that the quarter-century between now and then turned out to be no more predictable than the events in the previous generation.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Shortly after these comments, Feather makes another accurate prediction about future jazz.
“But today [Lee] Morgan, objectively, must be judged in terms of the listener's awareness of earlier contributions by [Dizzy] Gillespie and the other pioneers of the 1940s. Jazz in the next 25 years will certainly continue along these lines: the innovation of today will be the cliché of tomorrow.” (bold not in original)
Feather continues to predict that jazz innovations in one sub-genre of jazz will spill over into other jazz sub-genres.
“A cross-breeding process will continue to take place in the seemingly independent areas of jazz styles. Just as Dixieland's effects are employed by such modern jazzmen as Gerry Mulligan and Bob Brookmeyer, bop has invaded the supposedly "pure" Dixieland territory of Eddie Condon band and the New Orleans ramparts of the Louis Armstrong combo.” (bold not in original)
There are multiple reasons needed to account for the origins and development of Bebop. One of the critical factors was the period's genuine interest in exploring new music. Two of the instigators of modern jazz, Bird (Charlie Parker) and Diz (Dizzy Gillespie), were musically knowledgeable. Parker was interested in expanding the music's harmonics. Both were interested in developing challenging and technically demanding music to play and upon which to improvise.
➢ How does this help to predict the development of free jazz?
Because jazz musicians were interested in and continuously pursuing expansion and breaking into new musical boundaries, it is not unpredictable that freer forms of music would develop in the future, ultimately leading to free jazz. Ornette Coleman's music often had Charlie Haden supply a walking bassline, and the drummer kept time using rhythmic jazz techniques. Ornette himself plays with a lot of blues feeling coming from earlier jazz forms.Curiously, in their respective early reviews of Ornette Coleman's double quartet collective improvisation album, "Free Jazz," both music reviewers, Pete Welding (1935–1995) and John A. Tynan (1927–2018) mention that Coleman's album is a logical conclusion of the musical practices and approaches that Coleman's music had been heading. Pete Welding's five-star review claims that Coleman's double quartet “carries to their logical (though some listeners will dispute this term) conclusion the aesthetic principles present to a lesser degree quantitatively, at least—in his previous recordings. On repeated listening, however, the form of the work gradually reveals itself, and it is seen that the piece is far less unconventional than it might at first appear. It does not break with jazz tradition: rather, it restores to currency an element that has been absent from most jazz since the onset of the swing orchestra—spontaneous group improvisation.” (bold not in original)
John A. Tynan's no stars review of the album nevertheless emphasizes the inevitability of Coleman's musical direction when he says that “Where does neurosis end and psychosis begin? The answer must lie somewhere within this maelstrom. If nothing else, this witch's brew is the logical end product of a bankrupt philosophy of ultra-individualism in music.” (bold not in original)
This constant searching for new musical horizons to incorporate into current jazz practices can explain why World music should interest jazz performers and jazz listeners. One can predict that future jazz musicians will use popular tunes by jazzing them up. Hence, Miles Davis on his album "Doo-Bop" using Easy Mo Bee to rap/hip-hop, or interest by jazz musicians in country music, as represented by Sonny Rollins on his album "Way Out West," or the more recent forays into countrified jazz by Charlie Haden, Bill Frisell, or John Scofield, for examples.
Objections and Replies to Predicting Future Jazz Genres
RETRODICTION Objection:What has been argued above regarding principled predictions for future jazz genres incorporations into the jazz universe is not so much predicting what next jazz styles will be like as mere retrodictions. Knowing what jazz genres have existed between 1917 and the early 21st century will make it appear that correct predictions can be made about them since we already know what musical features they have. Such an approach is little more than just retrodictions looking back from the present into the past and then claiming knowledge of the future, accounting for the success of such 'predictions.' Soul jazz, modal jazz, and Latin jazz have a lot of syncopation, hybridization, and improvisation, so little wonder that these so-called 'predictions' turn out to be correct.
REPLY TO the RETRODICTION Objection: It is false that the predictions are merely retrodictions. Early jazz did synthesize a European diatonic musical scale with an African pentatonic scale when creating the hybridized music of jazz. Syncopation truly is an essential feature of early jazz and is part of what enables musicians to 'jazz up' a tune. Improvisation was a skill used and highly admired by fellow musicians and audience members alike. Hence, it is unsurprising that predictions about future jazz genres from 1917 would have these particular musical features making these genuine predictions and not merely retrodictions.
NOT ALL SUB-GENRES of JAZZ WERE PREDICTED Objection: Early jazz theorists could not have reasonably predicted free jazz as a sub-genre of jazz even up to 1950. The inclusion of free jazz, if it is a jazz sub-genre, proves McKeown-Green's point that there are no coherent or principled reasons for including any particular sub-genres under the jazz label. Whether or not free jazz, for example, should or should not be classified as jazz does not depend upon intrinsic musical features common to jazz as a musical kind because there is no such natural musical kind, and free jazz follows no particular musical practices. Thus, the inclusion or exclusion of free jazz as a jazz genre can only result from institutionally mandated forces that include many other causal factors besides musical ones, such as economic, social, political, religious, etc.
REPLY to NOT ALL JAZZ SUB-GENRES WERE PREDICTED Objection: Indeed, free jazz could not easily have been predicted. It is especially not likely that any early jazz theorists could predict free jazz around 1917. Anyone making such a prediction would have been laughed at because of the apparent absurdity of the claim that there will be music with virtually no musical rules that still counts as jazz, etc.
This last point, however, is irrelevant. Why do you ask? Because it is not whether free jazz could have been predicted, but whether or not from today's point of view, it makes sense from a musical point of view to include free jazz as a sub-genre of jazz.
Gunther Schuller perhaps hints at the inclusion of free jazz within the jazz genre because of what he terms "the deeper nature of jazz."
“But jazz has long ago moved beyond the realm of dance and entertainment functions, those being limitations not inherent to the deeper nature of jazz.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Gunther Schuller's point could be that the deeper nature of jazz, first (A) has a nature, contrary to McKeown-Green's claims that it does not, and (B) could include free jazz as a sub-genre of jazz because of this (hidden) deeper nature of jazz. Schuller would not have to agree with either of these points.
David W. Megill and Paul Tanner argue that future jazz genres following Bebop have often followed the earlier jazz forms' melodic practices. Significantly, they point out that even free jazz, if it is to maintain its connection to the jazz tradition, needs to utilize musical components from that tradition.
“Later jazz styles have been reflective of the melodic practice of bop, even when the rhythmic feel in the rest of the ensemble has changed drastically as in fusion. This style places a "steady state" rhythmic foundation under a melody line that is individualized with accents and varying degrees of rhythmic independence. This feature may be one of the most consistent attributes that separates jazz from other musical activities since the beginning of this century. The one exception to this statement is avant-garde jazz, which can theoretically redefine any of the traditional underpinnings of jazz. They must, however, retain some relationship to the tradition or risk losing the support of that tradition. Generally, even in very free groups like The Art Ensemble, jazz idioms appear frequently as reference points to the tradition from which they were launched.” (bold not in original)
Objections to Wilder Hobson's view that jazz cannot be defined because it is a language
“It would be convenient to give a succinct definition of its form, but attempts to do so have led only to such statements as “a band swings when its collective improvisation is rhythmically integrated.” The reason why jazz cannot be defined is the fact that it is a language. It is not a collection of rhythmic tricks or tonal gags, but a distinctive rhythmic-melodic-tonal idiom—as is, say, Japanese gagaku or Balinese gong music. And a language, of course, cannot be defined. A rude sense of it may be had by hearing it. Beyond that, what it communicates will be involved with what the hearer knows of its form.” (italics authors; bold and bold italics not in original)
Let's lay out Hobson's positions in more detail.
Hobson references a "succinct definition of its form," meaning something about the form of jazz—presumably, jazz's musical forms. We have two pieces of evidence in the quotation above that Hobson means musical forms because he mentions both rhythmic tricks and tonal gags as well as jazz being as distinctive a musical idiom as Japanese gagaku or Balinese gong music (likely Hobson refers here to gamelan music); Hobson holds all three have their distinctive "rhythmic-melodic-tonal idioms."
Early jazz musicians notoriously utilized humorous effects with their instruments. For example, in the first jazz recording in 1917 by the (all-white) Original Dixieland Jass Band, during their performance of "Livery Stable Blues," they made animal sounds using a clarinet, cornet, and trombone.
“The song this quintet would play for the waiting microphones was silly, and not rendered with the greatest of technical skill—its most memorable moment is when a clarinet imitates the sound of a rooster; a cornet, a whinnying horse; and a trombone, a cow.” (bold not in original)
Hobson continues to mention musical forms when he claims that jazz presents itself as "a distinctive rhythmic-melodic-tonal idiom." He does not inform us of what the musical factors are producing such an idiom. We can presume that he might have in mind such things for jazz being a distinctive rhythmic-melodic-tonal package as these: 
- an instrumental lineup of a rhythm section (piano, guitar or banjo, bass, and drums) and a front-line group, also called horns, consisting of wind instruments
- an underlying swing rhythm with the use of jazz eighth notes
- rhythmic effects, including syncopation and polyrhythms (different rhythms heard together)
- call and response
- jazz intonation, including slides to and away from notes, slides between notes, shakes, squeaks and squeals, and singing or playing notes slightly flat, including blue notes (the flattened third, fifth, and seventh degrees of the major scale)
- chorus form
Other possibilities for what forms are possible besides musical ones include social forms (e.g., bowing/shaking hands), political forms (e.g., Democratic/Republican), entertainment forms (e.g., juggling/yodeling), and comedic forms (e.g., deadpan/second voice whispering) to name a few.
Hobson's first sentence implicitly denies that anyone has ever succeeded in succinctly defining jazz. Surprisingly, one can quickly provide a concise definition for jazz if that were all that one was seeking.
- SUCCINCT DEFINITION OF JAZZ: Jazz is music played by jazz musicians when they are playing jazz.
Now, that's succinct. Does it always succeed in picking out jazz? Yes, it does. Mission accomplished! We have a succinct definition that infallibly picks out all and only jazz.
Objections to Hobson's reasons for holding that no one can define jazz are bountiful. These objections we divide below into multiple categories:
- (1) Languages are definable, contrary to Hobson's denial.
- (2) Jazz is more than just a language.
- (3) Because languages can be defined, were jazz to be a language, then it too could in principle be defined.
- (4) Hobson has already proclaimed that the language of jazz is broader than merely “a collection of rhythmic tricks or tonal gags,” but instead reveals itself as “a distinctive rhythmic-melodic-tonal idiom.”
Wilder Hobson may have been making a more subtle point when he claims that "languages cannot be defined." However, the presumption is against any complicated reading of what he had in mind since he does not bother to explain himself in any detail. The lack of detail supports the most straightforward understanding of what Hobson most likely meant by denying language could be defined and then using that as a premise to prove no one can define jazz. The argument looks like this:
- (1) No (natural) language can ever be (succinctly or briefly) defined.
- (2) Jazz is a language.
- Therefore, (3) Jazz cannot be defined.
If we allow for any languages to count as languages, then formal languages are often rigorously spelled out. To that extent, they are well-defined and the specifications are as succinct as possible. Wikipedia: Formal language reports that “a formal language consists of words whose letters are taken from an alphabet and are well-formed according to a specific set of rules.” Perhaps Hobson wished to restrict his argument only to natural languages, such as English.
CONCLUSION: Hobson is wrong in general about the impossibility of any language being definable because we can define formal languages.
Several apparent questions remain: What is required for any language definition, and can this be achieved specifically for English? Can English as a language be defined? The two literal senses are language in general or a particular natural language, such as English, French, Spanish, or Chinese.
For answers as to what definitions require, see PoJ.fm's Ontdef1. What is a definition?
➢ Can language, in general, be (briefly) defined?
➢ Can a specific natural language such as English be (succinctly) defined?
The answer to both questions is "Yes" because of two factors. First, we need to agree on an acceptable conception for what will qualify as a definition. For an extensive discussion on the matter of definition, see PoJ.fm's Ontdef1. What is a definition?. Second, the cases are settled when all parties involved agree on (a) what qualifies as a satisfactory definition and (b) whether a proposed definition meets the standards agreed upon in (a).
➢ What might we agree on counts as an adequate or acceptable definition for (a) and (b) regarding language in general?
The most straightforward way to answer both questions is to supply a definition of language.
What is the definition of language?
Here is a sampling of definitions for language in general.
Definitions of Language
- Merriam-Webster dictionary compilation meaning:
A systematic means of using words or gestures (signing), their pronunciation, and methods for combining them to express ideas or feelings using conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks with meanings. (bold not in original)
- Brittanica.com's definition of language:
“Language, a system of conventional spoken, manual (signed), or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, express themselves. The functions of language include communication, the expression of identity, play, imaginative expression, and emotional release.” (bold not in original)
- Dictionary.com's definitions for language:
- ☞ “The system of linguistic signs or symbols considered in the abstract (opposed to speech).”
- ☞ “Any set or system of such symbols as used in a more or less uniform fashion by a number of people, who are thus enabled to communicate intelligibly with one another.”
- ☞ “Any system of formalized symbols, signs, sounds, gestures, or the like used or conceived as a means of communicating thought, emotion, etc.” (bold not in original)
- ☞ “The system of linguistic signs or symbols considered in the abstract (opposed to speech).”
- Cambridge dictionary intermediate English definition:
“A system of communication by speaking, writing, or making signs in a way that can be understood, or any of the different systems of communication used in particular regions.” (bold not in original)
- YourDictionary.com's definition of language:
“A system of objects or symbols, such as sounds or character sequences, that can be combined in various ways following a set of rules, especially to communicate thoughts, feelings, or instructions.” (bold not in original)
CONCLUSION: Language in general can be defined.
Definitions for the English Language
Hobson may have believed that any specific natural language could never be fully captured within a (succinct) definition because of its potentially infinite number of sentences. It is easy to give a concise definition for the English language: it is the language spoken by English speakers when they speak English.
Hobson might object and claim he wants a definition that satisfactorily describes what it means to be the English language and not merely referring to it as is done in the succinct definition.
People can give descriptions in definitions that distinguish English from other languages, as seen below.
- Brittanica.com's descriptions picking out the English language:
“English language, [is a] West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family that is closely related to the Frisian, German, and Dutch (in Belgium called Flemish) languages. English originated in England and is the dominant language of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and various island nations in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It is also an official language of India, the Philippines, Singapore, and many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa. 'English is the first choice of foreign language in most other countries of the world, and it is that status that has given it the position of a global lingua franca'. It is estimated that about a third of the world’s population, some two billion persons, now use English.
English belongs to the Indo-European family of languages and is therefore related to most other languages spoken in Europe and western Asia from Iceland to India. The parent tongue, called Proto-Indo-European, was spoken about 5,000 years ago by nomads believed to have roamed the southeast European plains. Germanic, one of the language groups descended from this ancestral speech, is usually divided by scholars into three regional groups: East (Burgundian, Vandal, and Gothic, all extinct), North (Icelandic, Faroese, Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish), and West (German, Dutch [and Flemish], Frisian, and English). Though closely related to English, German remains far more conservative than English in its retention of a fairly elaborate system of inflections. Frisian, spoken by the inhabitants of the Dutch province of Friesland and the islands off the west coast of Schleswig, is the language most nearly related to Modern English. Icelandic, which has changed little over the last thousand years, is the living language most nearly resembling Old English in grammatical structure.
Modern English is analytic (i.e., relatively uninflected), whereas Proto-Indo-European, the ancestral tongue of most of the modern European languages (e.g., German, French, Russian, Greek), was synthetic, or inflected. During the course of thousands of years, English words have been slowly simplified from the inflected variable forms found in Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Russian, and German, toward invariable forms, as in Chinese and Vietnamese. The German and Chinese words for the noun man are exemplary. German has five forms: Mann, Mannes, Manne, Männer, Männern. Chinese has one form: ren. English stands in between, with four forms: man, man’s, men, men’s. In English, only nouns, pronouns (as in he, him, his), adjectives (as in big, bigger, biggest), and verbs are inflected. English is the only European language to employ uninflected adjectives; e.g., the tall man, the tall woman, compared to Spanish el hombre alto and la mujer alta. As for verbs, if the Modern English word "ride" is compared with the corresponding words in Old English and Modern German, it will be found that English now has only five forms (ride, rides, rode, riding, ridden), whereas Old English "ridan" had thirteen, and Modern German "reiten" has sixteen.
Flexibility of function has grown over the last five centuries as a consequence of the loss of inflections. Words formerly distinguished as nouns or verbs by differences in their forms are now often used as both nouns and verbs. One can speak, for example, of planning a table or tabling a plan, booking a place or placing a book, lifting a thumb or thumbing a lift. In the other Indo-European languages, apart from rare exceptions in Scandinavian languages, nouns and verbs are never identical because of the necessity of separate noun and verb endings. In English, forms for traditional pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs can also function as nouns; adjectives and adverbs as verbs; and nouns, pronouns, and adverbs as adjectives. One speaks in English of the Frankfurt Book Fair, but in German one must add the suffix -er to the place-name and put attributive and noun together as a compound, Frankfurter Buchmesse. In French one has no choice but to construct a phrase involving the use of two prepositions: Foire du Livre de Francfort. In English it is now possible to employ a plural noun as adjunct (modifier), as in wages board and sports editor; or even a conjunctional group, as in prices and incomes policy and parks and gardens committee. Any word class may alter its function in this way: the ins and outs (prepositions becoming nouns), no buts (conjunction becoming noun).
The vocabulary of Modern English is approximately a quarter Germanic (Old English, Scandinavian, Dutch, German) and two-thirds Italic or Romance (especially Latin, French, Spanish, Italian), with copious and increasing importations from Greek in science and technology and with considerable borrowings from more than 300 other languages. Names of many basic concepts and things come from Old English or Anglo-Saxon: heaven and earth, love and hate, life and death, beginning and end, day and night, month and year, heat and cold, way and path, meadow and stream. Cardinal numerals come from Old English, as do all the ordinal numerals except second (Old English other, which still retains its older meaning in “every other day”). Second comes from Latin secundus “following,” through French second, related to Latin sequi “to follow,” as in English sequence. From Old English come all the personal pronouns (except they, their, and them, which are from Scandinavian), the auxiliary verbs (except the marginal used, which is from French), most simple prepositions, and all conjunctions.” (bold not in original)
Now succinctness is a relative matter. The above descriptions go into sufficient detail as to make clear what distinguishes the English language from other languages in their use and constructions.
For other descriptions defining the English language, see:
- Thoughtco.com's "English Language: History, Definition, and Examples—How It's Evolved Over Centuries—And Still Changes Today
- The Free Dictionary: English language: “An Indo-European language belonging to the West Germanic branch; the official language of Britain and the United States and most of the commonwealth countries.”
- For complexities involved in making generalizations about English, see the Open University course: What is English?
CONCLUSION: People can provide descriptions in definitions that distinguish the English language from all others. Therefore, Hobson is wrong to claim that no one can define a specific natural language such as English.
Suppose someone told you that punk rock is just a language. Would your response be that this seems correct? It is doubtful that this would be your response because the punk movement had political agendas. Wikipedia: Punk Rock informs us that “punk bands rejected the perceived excesses of mainstream 1970s rock. They typically produced short, fast-paced songs with hard-edged melodies and singing styles, stripped-down instrumentation, and often political, anti-establishment lyrics. Punk embraces a DIY (do it yourself) ethic; many bands self-produce recordings and distribute them through independent record labels.” Wikipedia: Punk Rock continues by stating punk rock “took root in a wide range of local scenes that often rejected affiliation with the mainstream.” Furthermore, punk rockers had a philosophy that forced itself upon how the music should be made. This philosophy included the following attitudes and positions, as based on descriptions given for punk rocker's philosophy at Wikipedia: Punk Rock.
- “The first wave of punk rock was "aggressively modern" and [intentionally strove] to differ from what came before.”
- “Punk rock had to come along because the rock scene had become so tame that Billy Joel and Simon and Garfunkel were being called rock and roll, when to [punk rockers,] rock and roll meant this wild and rebellious music.”
- “It was a subculture that scornfully rejected the political idealism and Californian flower-power silliness of hippie myth.”
- “Punk rock prized technical accessibility and a do it yourself (DIY) spirit.”
- “Punk rockers developed non-mainstream venues where they could play, and developed independent record labels which put out basic, low-cost records.”
- “Musical virtuosity was often looked on with suspicion.”
- “They rejected contemporary mainstream rock, the broader culture it represented, and their music predecessors.”
- “Nostalgia was discarded and many [punk rockers] in the scene adopted a nihilistic attitude.”
You get the point. Punk rock was more than just a musical language. Arguably, any musical genre must be more than just a language since the musicians involved often adopt a philosophy mirrored by their fellow/female musicians.
What philosophy do jazz musicians adopt?
Foremost amongst the vast majority of jazz musicians is the opposite attitudes from those adopted by punk rockers. Rather than rejecting what music has gone before, jazz musicians embrace it. They are expected by their fellow jazz musicians to know the entire history of jazz and be able to play it.
Blind multi-instrumentalist, Rahsaan Roland Kirk (1935–1977) notoriously called out free form players and expected them to be able to play in any of jazz's sub-genres.
In addition to knowing and being able to play the history of jazz, musicians in this genre are expected to be highly technically proficient on their instruments; the opposite of punk rocker's attitudes.
As noted scholar of music education David J. Elliott observes, musical works incorporate more than just the musical language forms out of which the music is made.
“Musical works both constitute and are constituted by cultural-specific knowings, beliefs and values. This is so because (a) all forms of musicing are inherently artistic-social-cultural endeavors, (b) musical works are social-cultural constructions and (c) all musicers and listeners live in particular places and time periods. Thus, music-listening and musical works always involve some degree of cultural-ideological information. At the very least, and because syntactic and nonsyntactic musical patterns evince their practice-style affiliations, musical works delineate their broader historical and cultural links (e.g., their historical times and places of composition). (bold and bold italic not in original)
David Elliott references musical works. These are the products produced by musicians by applying their respective musical language and forms. Because jazz has both processes when musicians use the language of jazz, but also produces products using the language of jazz. The products are completed songs or recorded performances and the songs and recordings are not themselves identical to the language of jazz.
It would be like saying one could not write a book without language so the book is identical to the language. Jazz songs require for their presentation the application of the language of jazz. The resulting product is not identical to the language of jazz because songs are more than just a language. How so?
CONCLUSION: Jazz is more than just a language because musicians create musical work product using the language of jazz.
“Harris identifies two basic aesthetic orientations through which musicians cope with these structural dilemmas: the "canon" aesthetic and the "process" aesthetic. Harris chose these terms to provide an alternative framework to the classic dichotomies of tradition/innovation and mainstream/avant-garde. Both sides of this debate, in his view, may properly lay claim to respecting tradition and emphasizing innovation in the music. The "canon" position emphasizes connections to the historical past and the cultural basis of the music, while the "process" position validates risk and surprise and actively incorporates outside influences that advocates of the canon reject. The canon position attempts to ward off encroaching globalization of jazz and the disempowering of the African American jazz legacy, while the process point of view often embraces a heterogeneous palette of musical sounds incorporated into jazz aesthetic through its incorporative principles of improvisation. In the end Harris views the globalization and hybridization of jazz as posing painful issues of identity and cultural ownership for African Americans but also as offering exciting new musical possibilities as players interact with the rest of the world's music.” (bold not in original)
(3) Because languages can be defined, were jazz to be a language, then it too could in principle be defined
See PoJ.fm's MetaA5. What is the language of jazz?
(4) Hobson has already proclaimed that the language of jazz is broader than merely “a collection of rhythmic tricks or tonal gags,” but instead reveals itself as “a distinctive rhythmic-melodic-tonal idiom.”
If jazz is both a language and one that has a "distinctive rhythmic-melodic-tonal idiom," then use these to provide a definition for jazz.
Wikipedia on Defining Jazz
- Wikipedia on Defining Jazz makes these claims regarding problems of defining jazz:
“Jazz has proved to be very difficult to define, since it encompasses such a wide range of music spanning a period of over 100 years, from ragtime to the 2010-era rock-infused fusion. Attempts have been made to define jazz from the perspective of other musical traditions, such as European music history or African music. But critic Joachim-Ernst Berendt argues that its terms of reference and its definition should be broader, defining jazz as a "form of art music which originated in the United States through the confrontation of the Negro with European music" and arguing that it differs from European music in that jazz has a "special relationship to time defined as 'swing'," involves "a spontaneity and vitality of musical production in which improvisation plays a role" and contains a "sonority and manner of phrasing which mirror the individuality of the performing jazz musician." In the opinion of Robert Christgau, "most of us would say that inventing meaning while letting loose is the essence and promise of jazz.”
This paragraph contains quite a lot of claims. Let's assess them in order. First, jazz does seem difficult to define, but is it for the reason given here that it is difficult to define because it "encompasses a wide range of music spanning over a century"? Second, consider other musical genres containing sub-genres that have existed for over a century, or at least multiple decades, and ask if they are hard to define. Blues exists this way, as does classical music, and even rock music. There are many blues sub-genres that Wikipedia says have evolved, just as jazz has also grown. These blues styles start in the deep South before the twentieth century, including different forms of the blues such as the raw Mississippi Delta blues sound or the classic Chicago blues sound as migrants moved north and into cities away from the rural South. Blues categories then include Country blues, Delta blues, Gospel/holy blues, Memphis blues, Texas blues, Bentonia School Blues, Classic female blues, Holler Blues, Jug band, and Twelve-bar blues. We also have the modern blues forms on electric guitars by B.B. King, Albert "Iceman" Collins, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughn, to name a few or more recently, Gary Clark, Jr. or Christone "Kingfish" Ingram.
Furthermore, the blues has been around about the same length of time as has jazz. Does anyone claim that the blues is impossible to define as a musical genre because it has multiple sub-genres and has existed for over a century? No, they do not, so this argument should not put any more pressure on establishing the impossibility of defining jazz. (For more critique on the multiple styles objection to defining jazz, see PoJ.fm's Ontdef2. Arguments for the impossibility of defining jazz: Critique of Multiple Styles argument.)
For example, at SimplifyingTheory.com, "Introduction to Blues," it is claimed that the foundational blues forms can be specified and so in that way defined. Much of the rest of the blues are variations and alterations founded on these primary blues schemas.
“Blues was created in the late 19th century in the United States, where slaves, who worked on cotton plantations, chanted songs and laments that gave rise to the style. It was gospel music being sung since the precarious conditions did not allow for the “luxury” of using instruments. What everyone knows as blues is the chord sequence: First degree, Fourth degree, First degree, Fifth degree, Fourth degree, First degree. In short, this is the simplest and easiest sequence that characterizes blues. Notice how (in our example not shown) the chords are all sevenths. This is a peculiarity of the blues. Another detail is that blues (typically) contains exactly 12 bars. (A blues progression can start) with 4 bars in the first degree, then two bars in the fourth degree returning to the first degree by making two more bars in it followed by the “climax” moment, where, with each measure, a different degree gets played: fifth degree, fourth degree and first degree. Finally, the last bar can be split into two parts, playing the first degree and the fifth degree within it, then the whole thing starts all over. In short, we can define blues as being a 12-bar structure where we play with three chords (first, fourth and fifth degrees), all with sevenths. This is a very simplistic definition and does not cover all variations of blues, but since this topic is only introductory, this definition helps to memorize the basics about the style.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Therefore this cannot be a good reason for accounting for the difficulty in defining jazz.
“A broader definition that encompasses all of the radically different eras of jazz has been proposed by Travis Jackson: "it is music that includes qualities such as swing, improvising, group interaction, developing an 'individual voice,' and being open to different musical possibilities.”
“Krin Gibbard has provided an overview of the discussion on definitions, arguing that "jazz is a construct" that, while artificial, still is useful to designate "a number of musics with enough in common to be understood as part of a coherent tradition".”
Claiming jazz is a construct implies that there never was something already with an antecedent existence that the word or concept "jazz" was picking out or referencing. As such, it already begs the question regarding whether someone could define jazz. Calling the term "jazz" a 'construct' assumes that it has no nature, but someone had to cobble it together.
Jonathan McKeown-Green and Justine Kingsbury also advocate for jazz being a construct. (For a critique of their defense, see PoJ.fm's Ontdef3. What is the definition of jazz?: Assessment of the views of Jonathan McKeown-Green and Justine Kingsbury on jazz).
Gabbard asserts that the term "jazz" has several common musical sub-genres lying within the same coherent tradition. So, we should ask the questions, which sub-genres, and what are their musical (or other) commonalities? What makes them a 'coherent' tradition? What is consistent? If we could answer all of these questions, we should be well on our way to an acceptable jazz definition.
“In contrast to the efforts of commentators and enthusiasts of certain types of jazz, who have argued for narrower definitions that exclude other types, the musicians themselves are often reluctant to define the music they play. As Duke Ellington, one of jazz's most famous figures, said: "It's all music".”
Ellington's observation is unhelpful to the extreme since it strives to shut down any analytic critique of music 🎼.
- At It's All Music, Johannes Luebbers explains why he finds it problematic to limit himself to a jazz label. Luebbers explains:
“In my experience as a composer, the defining of genres can also be limiting to the creation of work. In the same way that I find the label 'jazz composer' inadequate as a description of myself to others, I find it can actually limit me when I sit down to write. The parameters imposed by the genre, perceived or otherwise, can become a prison from which it is hard to escape. Within the jazz genre, there are, as in any genre, certain stylistic conventions and traditions, and as soon as you think of yourself as a 'jazz composer,' the ability to escape these conventions becomes increasingly difficult.”
Notice that an explanation for Johannes Luebbers's complaint would be that jazz has musical forms, musical conventions, and musical practices that make it a coherent, or at least a specifically describable type of music. Luebbers indirectly makes a case for there being such a thing as jazz as a legitimate style or approach to music-making. These features that Luebbers complains limit his composing can be the very same features that delimits jazz as a distinct music were he correct.
The Etymology of "Jazz"
Before arguing for what musical characteristic seems most prominent in jazz, we shall first consider the origin of the meaning of the word “jazz” and recount its fascinating etymological history.
One way to approach a definition of jazz is to look at the etymology of the word. Unfortunately, the term "jazz" has an especially obscure and controversial origin.
“The origin of the word "jazz" is one of the most sought-after word origins in modern American English. The word's intrinsic interest—the American Dialect Society named it the Word of the Twentieth Century—has resulted in considerable research, and its history is well-documented.” (bold not in original)
The 1976 Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary list entries for “jazz” as a substantive:
As a noun:
- ➢ a type of music originating among American Negroes, characterized by its use of improvisation, syncopated phrasing, a regular or forceful rhythm, often in common time, and a ‘swinging’ quality.
- ➢ Energy, excitement, ‘pep’; restlessness, excitability.
Bob Rigter explains how these elements' confluence came together to produce the new musical form of jazz:
“The mutual influence of Creole musicians and proletarian black musicians led to the birth of jazz. The Creole’s executional sophistication and theoretical knowledge of European music, the black musician’s practical creativity and emotional intensity, and, last but not least, the shared rhythmical roots of blacks and Creoles, gave rise to the music of one suppressed class of colored musicians.” (bold not in original)
As a verb:
➢ To speed or liven up; to render more colorful, ‘modern,’ or sensational; to excite.
➢ To play (music, or an instrument) in the style of jazz.
➢ To have sexual intercourse (with); slang.
- For the most detailed information about the origin of the word "jazz" as first used in sport's columnists descriptions of baseball, see the relevant chapter in Daniel Cassidy's book, Ch.8 "The Sanas of Jazz," in How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads (Petrolia and Oakland, CA: Counterpunch and AK Press, 2007), 59–71. Also available at Counterpunch: "How the Irish Invented Jazz," Daniel Cassidy, July 14, 2006.
- Most scholars find Cassidy's claims in general to be ill informed, manufactured/made-up, and false. See:
- (1) http://cassidyslangscam.wordpress.com/about/
- (2) http://cassidyslangscam.wordpress.com/
- (3) http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/005098.html
- (4) http://www.popmatters.com/how-the-irish-invented-slang-by-daniel-cassidy-2496205611.html
- (5) http://grantbarrett.com/humdinger-of-a-bad-irish-scholar/
- (1) http://cassidyslangscam.wordpress.com/about/
- For a review of published word origins for "jazz," see Alan P. Merriam and Fradley H. Garner, "Jazz—The Word," in Ethnomusicology Vol. 12, No. 3 (September, 1968), 373–396.
- Henry Osborne Osgood, "Jazz," American Speech, Vol. 1, No. 10. (July, 1926), 513–518. Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0003-1283%28192607%291%3A10%3C513%3AJ%3E2.0.CO%3B2-X
- James D. Hart, "Jazz Jargon," American Speech, Vol. 7, No. 4. (April, 1932), 241–254. Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0003-1283%28193204%297%3A4%3C241%3AJJ%3E2.0.CO%3B2-N
- See Louis Armstrong's Jazzmatazz on Etymology of the word "jazz," including a listing at the bottom of the page of incorrect past historical references titled "False Leads."
SUMMARY: of the etymology of the word “jazz”:
- Bob Rigter argues that the etymology (word origin) of the word “jazz” is likely to come from the French word “chasse” (to chase). Rigter finds significant that jazz music originated in New Orleans—a French-language culture.
- Creole peoples were of French or Spanish origins mixed with African races, and Creole musicians were often highly accomplished and well trained in the European musical traditions.
- In 1896, the Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson relegated Creoles blacks' status causing them to suffer the economic and social stigmas of segregation. As a consequence, accomplished Creole musicians were forced to perform with musically less schooled black musicians.
- The results were that black performers from an aural tradition who played their instruments by ear, used African rhythms and scales, and often improvised on a song’s form were combined with European trained Creole musicians. The two groups playing together helped to create a new hybrid form by synthesizing these components together to produce jazz.
- Alyn Shipton argues that jazz spread quickly to the rest of the world because of its “combination of syncopation, unusual pitching, vocal tones, and raw energy . . . Its message was universal, and it stood for something new, something revolutionary, something risqué that overturned the old orders of art music and folk music alike.”
In 1949 DownBeat magazine had a contest to rename jazz. The winner would receive $1,000.00 dollars, which is over $30,000.00 dollars adjusted for inflation. The winner for what word should replace "jazz" was . . . "crewcut"! If you didn't like crewcut, then you could choose from the choices of jarb, freestyle, mesmerrhythm, bix-e-bop, blip, or schmoosic, among others. Little wonder that we still use the term "jazz" today.
“In the late ‘40s, jazz seemed to be losing its cohesion. As the big band era ebbed and swing stars were dismissed as “has-beens,” tradition and modernism fought for the privilege of defining jazz. Even the word “jazz” seemed curiously passâ€š to some. So in July 1949 DownBeat took it upon itself to announce a contest for the best word to replace “jazz.” The magazine offered to pay $1,000 in cash to the person “who coins a new word to describe the music from dixieland through bop,” the headline said. Second and third prizes included the services of Charlie Barnet’s orchestra and the Nat Cole Trio for one night in one’s home. Even Norman Granz, whose Jazz at the Philharmonic tours were keeping a mass market interested in jazz, contributed $400 worth of prizes. In November came the word that the panel of judges deemed preferable to jazz: crewcut. Other alternatives included jarb, freestyle, mesmerrhythm, bix-e-bop, blip, schmoosic, and other equally contrived specimens.” (bold not in original)
The Importance of Defining Jazz
boo Matthew W. Butterfield explains why scholars have shied away from definitional attempts at jazz in Oxford Bibliographies in 2011:
Defining jazz has been central to delineating the disciplinary purview of jazz scholarship, but this has never been easy. As a body of more or less “popular” music disseminated in recorded form, the music has undergone rapid development over the course of its history, and each transformation in style has prompted debate among jazz musicians, critics, and fans as to whether or not the new style was in fact jazz. Such debates have often revolved around the role of improvisation and its relative emphasis in any given style, the degree to which each new form of the music could be understood to “swing”—i.e., to exhibit a valued rhythmic quality thought to be essential to good jazz—and the extent to which each new style manifested certain core African or African American musical concepts and principles. The latter consideration has prompted many scholars to eschew parochial considerations of style altogether and situate jazz not as a distinctive form of music in its own right but as one expression among many within the very broad category of “black music.”
To follow this latter path and not try to determine how "jazz is a distinctive form of music" is to give up trying to define it musically. It is incredible how many theorists adopt this attitude just because jazz is hard to define. Think about how defeatist this is. Would a cancer researcher ever say, "Well, you know, cancer is so hard to figure out exactly what it is, so instead of trying to define it biologically, we are just going to treat it as merely "one expression among many within the very broad category of" how someone can die?! This would never happen. Similarly, just because cancer or jazz is hard to define does not supply a good reason for why such a project should not continue.
There are some proposals for how to define jazz that have been cavalierly suggested that are poorly thought through. Here are some of these proposals labelled with (DJ) designations, short for "defining jazz."
Proposed definitions for jazz:
- (DJ1) Jazz is what anyone has sold as jazz.
- (DJ2) Jazz is whatever people have called jazz.
- (DJ3) Jazz is whatever records have been labelled jazz.
- (DJ4) Jazz is whatever music people think is jazz.
There are problems with each of (DJ1–4). Before getting into specific flaws with each one, notice that they all assume the infallibility of humans and the impossibility of error for that particular way of determining what is and isn't jazz. Yet, the assumption of human infallibility about anything is highly questionable. Humans are inevitably prone to mistakes, false beliefs, false conceptions, confusion, misrepresentations, and many other kinds of cognitive distortions or cognitive biases even when categorizing things. Humans are also prone to deception or are themselves deceivers and sometimes even self-deception. Since the impossibility of error cannot be ruled out when human evaluators are used each of the (DJs) are based on this fundamentally erroneous assumption of human infallibility.
Turning to (DJ1), has any music ever been sold as jazz that was not, in fact, jazz? Yes, for example, this is quite common at contemporary jazz festivals. The festivals book acts that are not jazz music because they are trying to draw crowds to the festival and they are banking on musical diversity to achieve that goal.
When Hershey travelled around the world in 1922 he reports that in Ceylon they called music jazz that was not jazz. Other examples of this sort are findable.
Even an established category for an alleged sub-genre of jazz, namely acid jazz, is not jazz as argued at PoJ.fm's "Why so-called acid jazz is not a sub-genre of jazz."
CONCLUSION: People selling things is not a definitive way to determine the nature of something because sellers often lie or misrepresent what product is being sold.
These considerations of people's deceitful nature and humans proclivity for making erroneous judgments also infect all of the (DJ) claims. (DJ2) holds that whatever people have labelled jazz must be jazz, but this claim is false. People's motivations for labeling things are diverse and do not necessarily conform to what is true. This happens in the case of food fraud. The article "Food Fraud and Commonly Mislabeled Foods" confirms that food products regularly are intentionally labelled with product names that are not of that type. The types of wrongly categorized food stuffs include faux honey (seven percent of food fraud cases), olive oil (sixteen percent is fake) or was not from the country it claimed to be from, or the oil was diluted with other, cheaper oils such as sunflower or vegetable oil, saffron because it is expensive food fraudsters have adulterated it by adding in tumeric, poppy petals, gypsum, or sandalwood dye, "faux milk" containing a combination of oil, urea, detergent, caustic soda, sugar, salt, and skim milk powder, orange juice sometimes contains the juice of other fruits, such as lemons, grapefruits, and beets and the flavor can be enhanced by additives like potassium sulfate, corn sugar, and ascorbic acid. As a result, orange juice is one of the most frequently reported fraudulent foods. Coffee is regularly said to come from countries like Columbia or Peru when the beans are really from different regions where the beans are manufactured more cheaply. Instant coffee has been found mixed with cereals, starch, figs, and other non-coffee ingredients. Alcohol has been found mixed with anti-freeze. Fish is one of the most commonly tampered-with foods sold in the U.S., with over 60 percent of the fish labeled as "tuna" actually being some other type of fish. Indeed, some 84 percent of white tuna that was sold in Japanese restaurants that were the subject of the study were found to actually be escolar.
The Wikipedia entry for escolar reports that “Escolar can be mislabeled in both restaurants and at fish markets. In 2009, tuna samples from sushi restaurants in New York City and Denver were DNA tested. Five of nine restaurants serving fish labeled "white tuna," "white tuna (albacore)," or "super white tuna" were actually serving escolar. From 2010 to 2013, a study by Oceana, an ocean preservation organization, tested over one hundred fourteen samples of tuna, and found that 84% of the white tuna samples were actually escolar.”
Arik Devins podcast February 26, 2017 [b "1619–1917: A Pre-History of Jazz"]
Etymology of "jazz":
(1) 1912 LA Times used "jazz" as a baseball term for "jazz ball."
(2) 1913 San Francisco Bulletin as a term meaning "enthusiasm" or "pep."
(3) 1915 in Chicago
Jazz came from Afro-American people in the United States out of slavery.
Why jazz is not just an institutionally practice-mandated musical genre
Some theorists find no acceptable account for why jazz sub-genres should fall within the same jazz genus other than historical accidents and institutionally-mandated explanations.
“There will be plenty of contested material (like smooth jazz) about who’s status the community disagrees, and plenty of borderline material (like much of Chick Corea’s chamber music), which everybody should agree is only sort of jazz. A perfect definition of jazz, or of any relevantly similar institutional-mandated kind, would reflect these sorts of phenomena.” (bold not in original)
“These findings may facilitate informed judgments about the adequacy of particular definitions. Here is a conjunctive definition: Jazz: syncopated music of early twentieth century, African-American origin. Even a non-aficionado can immediately surmise that it is likely to be extensionally inadequate. Jazz is a practice-mandated kind. The evolution of the determining identificatory practice is probably messy and unlikely to be capturable so elegantly. This definition might serve as a gateway definition—as a first step in familiarising a newcomer with the boundaries of jazz—but its form alone suggests that it includes, or excludes, too much from the extension to count as adequate. Something disjunctive is almost bound to be better.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
But McKeown-Green and Kingsbury do not stop there. They argue that jazz has no coherent musical nature coordinating the various sub-genres into a stable genus, rather only outside non-musical factors determining what does and what does not constitute jazz.
“Sometimes, though, the analyst might reasonably conjecture that no principle at all subsumes the things picked out by a particular folk conception. Given the way practices evolve, this is not surprising. In the next section, I illustrate this situation by documenting the haphazard evolution of our conception of jazz. Then, in Section IV, I argue that some of the lessons we learn about jazz apply to music. Specifically, I argue that if there is any unity and practical utility to be found in our conception of music, we will only find it by examining features—perhaps functional, institutional, or recursively describable ones—other than the sonic, experiential, and intentional features that Kania invokes in his definition.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
On McKeown-Green's picture (mirrored by Kingsbury), the music called jazz has "no principle at all" that explains why the various styles of music are included under the jazz conception other than folk conceptions and what has been included under it has been "haphazard" and was not based on any "sonic" or "intentional features." If we understand these claims correctly, McKeown-Green and Kingsbury deny any coherent and musically principled way(s) to justify the various kinds of music all given the jazz label. Furthermore, according to them, the only relevant causal factors that account for any "unity" or "practical utility" must come from either "functional," "institutional," or "recursively describable" non-musical features.
Put more simply, McKeown-Green and Kingsbury hold that jazz as a musical genre, and all of its associated sub-genres, contains no musical principles that could account for all of the musics that are understood to be sub-genres of jazz.
They conclude that a definition of jazz must be a hodgepodge cobbled together without a coherent synthesis.
“We suspect that it [the definition for jazz] will be either a long disjunction of conditions, each of which identifies a distinct genre (like swing, or bop), or else a cluster definition built out of conditions which each identify a musical or contextual property (like blue notes, or the influence of Miles Davis). Strictly speaking, we are here defining the kind of thing that is determined by the concept of jazz that operates in the community at the moment. In 1950, before the advent and exclusion of rock ’n’ roll and before the inclusion of hard bop and some of the mambo, the community’s concept of jazz was different and covered a much less diverse range of stuff. Who knows what new sorts of stuff will count among the jazz fifty years from now? The crucial point is that our classificatory habits often develop in the wild in the community and are subject to sundry pressures, amongst which taxonomic coherence probably exerts comparatively little pressure. . . . Hence, in the case of jazz (and sport and religion and much else), there are likely to be no unifying commonalities, and we must characterise the kinds in question by identifying all the different sufficient conditions and gluing them together.” (bold not in original)
When McKeown-Green claims that “In 1950, before the advent and exclusion of rock ’n’ roll and before the inclusion of hard bop and some of the mambo, the community’s concept of jazz was different and covered a much less diverse range of stuff.” Of course, before anyone is aware of new items, such items will not have been included in one's thinking. It does not follow from just this though, that the overall conception of a genus must be different before and after these new elements are introduced. To see how it is possible, consider the case of people's concept of a bicycle before and after new bicycles are presented.
Should anyone correctly say that people's 1950 bicycle 🚲 concept was different from what it is in 2020? It is true that in the 1950s, there would be many unusual vehicles (see Ontdef8. What is a bicycle?) classified in 2020 as bicycles that the hypothetical 1950s person would not be aware of, but would the concept of a bicycle need to have been different? While true that the scope, range, and exemplars of actual bicycles and bicycle types have dramatically expanded since 1950, arguably, the overall bicycle concept has remained the same.
➢ How can one show that the bicycle concept has remained the same through changes and additions to the bicycle universe from 1950 to the present day?
Here are two relevant considerations. First, find a dictionary from 1950 and compare the definition there to one from the present. If they match, then this is evidence the bicycle concept has endured and remained stable. We can top this because here is Webster's dictionary definition of a bicycle from 1913. It agrees with the contemporary definition: “a light vehicle having two wheels one behind the other. It has a saddle seat and is propelled by the rider's feet acting on cranks or levers.” Second, go back in time and ask someone from 1950 if they agree with the current bicycle definition. If the person agrees with the current definition, they probably had the same conception of a bicycle even in 1950.
Additionally, McKeown-Green and Kingsbury hold that jazz as a musical term and what that term picks out exists as a "practice-mandated kind" and that the only satisfactory definition of jazz must be one that describes whatever gets picked out by the relevant community's practices for identifying jazz.
“Our answer draws on the idea that there are two contrasting sorts of reasons one might have for offering definitions. On the one hand, there are lots of kinds of stuff that we refer to or make use of in our lives. It is part of our practice to notice certain things and to group them in certain ways. Sometimes our ways of classifying things depend on their appearance; sometimes they depend on their function; sometimes they depend on our community's evolving ideas about how reality itself is organised. But ultimately, many of the ways we categorize things are due to our own or our community's entrenched and evolving classificatory practices. We have, for instance, a practice of grouping certain things together and calling them jazz. Unsurprisingly, we sometimes take an interest in what it takes to be a thing of one of these practice-mandated kinds. What, we might ask, is jazz? Hence, we offer definitions which are adequate to the extent that they satisfactorily describe the stuff picked out by the relevant community's relevant identificatory practices. To a first approximation, a definition of jazz ought to count something as jazz if and only if the community regards it as jazz. (bold not in original)
Let us evaluate whether it is true that the only satisfactory definition of jazz must be one that describes whatever gets picked out by the relevant community's practices for identifying jazz.
Who would be the relevant community for determining what ought to be jazz? Could it just be all humans? This suggestion would include dead humans, and they are notorious for not being able to pick out anything period, so all humans cannot be the relevant community. What about all living humans from birth to death? Human babies are also well known not to be reasonable or appropriate judges for what is or isn't jazz. Limit the human class to all living adult homo sapiens. Many of these individuals are mentally defective, so again should not be included in any relevant community for making sound judgments about jazz. Many more of these humans are insufficiently knowledgeable to be competent judges. What about the relevant community just being all living humans knowledgeable about jazz? While this sounds more promising, who will assess which humans are and which humans are not knowledgeable about jazz?
On McKeown-Green's and Kingsbury's presumptions, there is no coherent musical picture so there isn't too much to go on for what should or should not count as jazz. Therefore, there are no living humans who can be knowledgeable about jazz other than just knowledgeable about the history of what has been labeled jazz in the past. But how does this in any way help anyone determine whether they should include a new style of music as a type of jazz? According to McKeown-Green and Kingsbury, it doesn't, but then there cannot be any relevant community of evaluators on their principles.
➢ What then determines whether a new musical genre should or should not fall under the jazz label?
On McKeown-Green's and Kingsbury's position, it cannot be determined in any musically principled way what we should include or exclude as new sub-genres of jazz. He gives an example of the potential arbitrariness of what might or might not have been jazz that Bebop could have been classified as not jazz. In contrast, Rock and Roll could have been judged as jazz by all relevant communities.
“No rigorous constraints govern the evolution of the criteria for identifying instances of jazz. No Academie de Jazz arbitrates. Nor does jazz, like atoms and mammals, play a well-defined causal role in some theory about the world’s workings. Thus, the story of jazz could easily have gone differently. The beboppers might have left jazz critics behind, attracting new listeners. Bebop might then not have been regarded as jazz. Fledgling rock ’n’ roll might have occupied more space in DownBeat. Nothing in the previous practice signaled that certain styles, and not others, would count as jazz later. Nor is it likely that actual jazz history reflects a more principled, strategic, elegant, or otherwise defensible program than all counter-factual ones. (bold not in original)
“Jazz evolves desultorily, and some of the relevant decisions are in the future, where the definition cannot reach.” (bold not in original)
"Desultorily" is an adjective which means either “1. lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful, as in "a desultory conversation." or 2. digressing from or unconnected with the main subject; random, as in "a desultory remark.”
➢ Is it true that jazz as a musical genre "has no order" and that musical sub-genres thought to fall under jazz are done so "at random"?
McKeown-Green certainly believes this is true of jazz and its various sub-genres. That would mean Bebop's inclusion as a jazz sub-genre has no rhyme or reason. Its connection to past genres termed jazz is random, unconnected, and lacking in any constancy or relationship to prior jazz sub-genres.
His view is that there are no connections at all between, say, Big band swing music and Bebop. We can refute this if relationships are found that are non-random and constant in both, or connected in some coherent non-random fashion.
➢ What are the non-random connections between Big band swing and Bebop?
- Both are music.
- Both use a hybridization of the European diatonic scale with an African inspired pentatonic scale.
- Both use syncopation.
- Both use improvisation.
- Both use melody, harmony, and rhythm to produce music.
- Both use standard jazz instruments such as drums, bass, piano, saxophones, trumpets, etc.
- Both sometimes use vocalists.
Someone might object that the above list is not unique to just the two music genres of Big band swing and Bebop but can also be true of Rock and Roll or the blues. However, their non-uniqueness is irrelevant as an objection relative to McKeown-Green's original claim that there are no principled or coherent connections at all between the two genres; we have found that some of the relationships are not random nor arbitrary.
Of course, there are also many more musical connections between Big band swing and Bebop than those delineated above.
Both Big band swing (as in the tune "Satin Doll") and Bebop often use ii-v-i cadence voicings, named after the degrees in the particular scale used. Many jazz standards use these ii-v-i voicings. For example, in the key of C, in the C major scale, the ii is the chord found on the second degree of that scale, which is a D minor chord, Dm7. The v is the fifth degree, a G7, and the i is one form of the tonic, Cmaj7. Many styles of music besides jazz use ii-v-i progressions, including R&B, pop, rock, and country. For more on jazz chords and the various songs they are associated with, see "Jazz Chord Progressions" by Dirk Laukens. He also has an excellent article, amongst many others, on learning "Bebop Guitar - The Beginners Guide."
Dizzy Gillespie explains, in his autobiography, To Be or Not to Bop, that the Beboppers found new ways to generate principled musical choices while still using past jazz musical components. Part of the Bebop revolution consisted of developing new rhythmic principles besides just a swing rhythmic tempo.
“What we were doing at Minton's was playing, seriously creating a new dialogue among ourselves, blending our ideas into a new style of music. You only have so many notes, and what makes a style is how you get from one note to the other. We had some fundamental background training in European harmony and music theory superimposed on our knowledge from Afro-American musical tradition. We invented our own way of getting from one place to the next.”
CONCLUSION: Since these connections are neither random nor arbitrary and have coherent and principled relationships, McKeown-Green's original claim of desultoriness for all jazz sub-genres is false.
Is any current conception of jazz necessarily limited?
Jonathan McKeown-Green maintains that any folk conception of jazz is necessarily limited by ignorance of future (possible) sub-genres of jazz.
We should note that if 'folk conceptions' did not determine jazz, then all of his arguments assuming this would be moot.
“Nevertheless, suppose that I successfully characterize our current folk conception of jazz in terms of experiential and sonic properties and intentions to manifest them: I accurately distinguish jazz, non-jazz, and penumbra. My definition would exploit classificatory facts not available to a definer circa 1920. I, in turn, lack access to data about future stylistic innovations and the unforeseeable tendencies of our heirs to dub or disqualify them. Like one from 1920, my definition would not be future proof. Mine would only specify the extent to which an item counts as jazz now. It might be sociologically interesting, but arguably no other benefits accrue. (bold not in original)
McKeown-Green claims no earlier jazz definers using "sonic properties" would know classificatory facts regarding unknown jazz sub-genres available to future jazz definers. Why should he think this? The most likely reason is that Dixielanders in 1920 would be ignorant of, for example, soul jazz or free jazz, because these genres of jazz were unknown to these earlier Dixielanders; they would not have understood nor believed that the jazz they were playing now was a sub-genre of the same jazz genus as soul jazz or free jazz, or this is how McKeown-Green imagines it.
There are several responses possible here starting with free jazz is contentious, so not entirely fair to use it since it has weaker sonic connections to Dixieland style jazz than, say, has soul jazz. Second, we don't want the 1920s Dixielanders to judge what is and isn't jazz only from their perspective. Instead, we educate them about jazz, so they are afterward as knowledgeable about jazz's history as anyone; only then do we ask them if soul jazz qualifies as jazz. Many of them would end up agreeing that soul jazz is jazz just like Dixieland because each synthesizes a European diatonic musical scale with an African pentatonic one, use significant amounts of syncopation, and produce highly valued improvisations. (For more discussion regarding these three features, see the Galactic model for defining jazz and HSI). They are both dance music, music for entertaining, popular, etc.
By "classificatory facts," McKeown-Green assumes genre classifications, but why not use music classificatory facts? McKeown-Green presumes musical classificatory facts are either irrelevant or useless. These sub-genres included as jazz have no distinctive sonic properties that determine whether they are in or out. Does this not beg the question against utilizing a sonic approach for sub-genre classifications? Yes, it does.
"My definition would exploit classificatory facts not available to a definer circa 1920. I, in turn, lack access to data about future stylistic innovations and the unforeseeable tendencies of our heirs to dub or disqualify them.” (bold not in original)
This very last remark about "unforeseeable tendencies of our heirs to dub or disqualify them" commits itself to some unlikely, or possibly incoherent suggestions regarding future sub-genres of jazz's disqualifications. According to McKeown-Green, it is possible for most currently accepted jazz sub-genres to be disqualified as being jazz. How does this idea strike you? Could Big band swing music, or cool jazz, or hard bop ever be drummed out of the jazz universe in some possible world? Sure, in some possible universe, critics reject cool jazz as jazz. Most likely, in this possible universe, theorists reject cool jazz as jazz for complex reasons and such external factors as political, cultural, or religious ones.
That, however, is not the real question. The real issue is whether cool jazz in the current universe should ever be drummed out of jazz. Here the answer is less obvious and more perplexing, possibly ultimately being an incoherent suggestion.
The consensus amongst all current jazz experts (not counting philosophers), with zero exceptions, is that the music labeled and performed by cool jazz musicians qualifies as jazz.
➢ Could the game played by the professional team called the Boston Red Sox ever be found in the future not to have been a team that ever presented a baseball game, but had only been mistakenly thought to have exhibited baseball?
Suppose that there has been a gigantic hoax, and all past players for the Boston Red Sox have been Martian autonomous robots, so no humans were involved. Would it not still be true that what the Martian robots had been doing during their professional careers was playing baseball? Could this ever be undermined as a fact by future changes in conceptions about baseball? It doesn't seem possible, does it? Therefore, the same can be valid for jazz. Once all current experts agree that this indeed has been a baseball game or that cool jazz is a sub-genre of jazz, it cannot be taken away or undermined as a fact by any future unforeseen baseball or jazz history.
There could indeed be some possible universe with the same history up to the present as in the actual world, and then later, cool jazz gets rejected as jazz. Would this prove that cool jazz might not be jazz using contemporary conceptions of jazz? No. In that possible world, all it would mean is that the theorists would all be wrong since cool jazz is jazz.
CONCLUSION: Therefore, McKeown-Green's suggestion that cool jazz could be correctly found in the future not to qualify as jazz is incoherent.
It is not non-musical classificatory facts that are relevant IF genre classification can proceed by using musical components of jazz and any other suitable features, such as jazz practices that help isolate jazz as a music genre.
The biggest problem that McKeown-Green perceives for jazz's possible definition is that it is impossible to predict what future music will or will not count as jazz. No current definition can anticipate what these acceptable or unacceptable sub-genres of jazz will be, except by accident, or as McKeown-Green puts it, "by fluke."
“Only fortuitously could this visionary produce a definition of music in terms of its real or intended sonic or experiential properties, whose extension includes Ono’s Toilet Piece/Unknown. There were insufficient clues in the musical landscape of mid-nineteenth-century Europe to motivate the inclusion of any material that lacks all basic musical features. A columnist who was musically, philosophically, and anthropologically capable enough to diligently reflect on music as it was and could be might have pictured a future in which such items were regarded as music. But even if this prevented him or her from discarding the possibility that those items should count as music, categorically including them would mean riskily predicting, beyond the mandate of prevailing intuitions and practices and perhaps contrary to the definer’s own intuitions, that the criteria for delineating music would follow a particular path. So even if Kania’s definition accurately captures the folk’s conception of music at the beginning of the twenty-first century, his anticipator’s success in describing that same conception is lucky, not prescient. (bold not in original)
“Nevertheless, suppose that I successfully characterize our current folk conception of jazz in terms of experiential and sonic properties and intentions to manifest them: I accurately distinguish jazz, non-jazz, and penumbra. My definition would exploit classificatory facts not available to a definer circa 1920. I, in turn, lack access to data about future stylistic innovations and the unforeseeable tendencies of our heirs to dub or disqualify them. Like one from 1920, my definition would not be future proof. Mine would only specify the extent to which an item counts as jazz now. It might be sociologically interesting, but arguably no other benefits accrue. (bold not in original)
When McKeown-Green claims that no definition of jazz could be future proof because of the potential future inclusion of currently unknown jazz sub-genres, his argument presumes that jazz's only definition must be a disjunctive list of said sub-genres. If this definitional presumption holds, then McKeown-Green would be correct in his claim if there are future unknown sub-genres of jazz.
➢ Are lists of disjunctive components the only possible definitional type for jazz? What other kinds of definitions for jazz could there be?
➢ Is it possible to have a definition for jazz that would be future proof?
Yes, and here is how to motivate the seeking of a future proof definition of jazz.
Suppose that McKeown-Green's original argument had been about automobiles. He might then argue that no definition of an automobile can be satisfactory because, in the future, there will be unknown new model sub-types, such as Packard, Tesla, or Curmudgeon (car company begins production in 2075). Would the existence of Curmudgeon sub-types of automobiles prevent a definition of an automobile now? No, and why should it? Automobiles are “a passenger vehicle designed for operation on ordinary roads and typically having four wheels and either a gasoline or diesel internal-combustion engine, or electric motors, or a hybrid combination of these.
We can make a similar argument regarding bicycles, "vehicles with two wheels in tandem, usually propelled by pedals connected to the rear wheel by a chain, and having handlebars for steering and a saddlelike seat." For more discussion on this point, see Ontdef8. What is a bicycle?.
DISCUSS FLUKE QUOTE
“So even if Kania is right about what gets counted as music now, he cannot, except flukily, predict what else will get counted as music in the future. (bold not in original)
“The other bad news item was fatal even to our hypothetical definition of jazz, and I think the sort of definition of music we are discussing cannot avoid it either. Any such definition can only aspire to specifying what currently gets counted as music. Given conceptual conservatism, we can expect it to include among the music most if not all of what clearly counted as music in former times. However, if the definition accurately identifies criteria that always will track what gets counted as music, this is a fluke. (bold and bold italic not in original)
Is jazz as a genre of music exhausted by our conception of it?
Here we have a fascinating question with the answer a resounding "No," even according to McKeown-Green. Our conception of anything is time-dependent because it is sometimes possible to alter or change concepts over extended periods. McKeown-Green himself has already argued that because of the possible incorporation into the jazz genre of future unknown jazz sub-genres that any current conception of jazz must not be what exhausts it. Because they cannot anticipate (fully) all possible future sub-genres of jazz, jazz conceivers must leave open what future visions of jazz might include. Jazz conceptions can always be different and change, according to McKeown-Green's position.
Hence, when McKeown-Green asserts that “jazz is plausibly exhausted by our conception of it,” he contradicts himself since our jazz conception includes future possible sub-genres that we cannot currently (easily) conceive.
“Is it like jazz in that its nature is plausibly exhausted by our conception of it? Is it like a rainbow, on Jackson’s story, in that its nature is at least partly determined by factors beyond our conception of it but constrained by that conception?” (bold not in original)
If jazz's nature is not "plausibly exhausted" by our current conception of it, then it may well be that jazz is more like a rainbow precisely because "it's nature is partly determined by factors beyond our (current) conception," but still constrained by the musical nature of the phenomena itself, just like it is for our conception of rainbows or the natural kind gold.
“Nothing in the previous practice [of past jazz genres] signaled that certain styles, and not others, would count as jazz later. Nor is it likely that actual jazz history reflects a more principled, strategic, elegant, or otherwise defensible program than all counter-factual ones.” (bold not in original)
We have seen how the claim that “nothing in the previous practice [of past jazz genres] signaled that certain styles and not others would count as jazz” is likely false. The reasons are that (A) not any arbitrary musical style can be classified as jazz, contrary to McKeown-Green's assertions. He is just wrong if he claims that Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, as standardly played by classical orchestras, could be jazz. He is not wrong that in some possible universe people use the word "jazz" to apply to the Fifth, but then that word would no longer have the same meaning or reference classes as we have in the actual world for the term "jazz." As we might put it, what is called jazz in this other possible universe is not jazz, using our understanding of what jazz consists of based on the jazz tradition from the actual world.
And (B) a second reason for rejecting any claim that requires we ignore previous jazz practices for determining the definition of jazz and instead appeal to something such as McKeown-Green's institutionally practice-mandated conception of jazz is that it is criterially inadequate.
“Likewise, if Putnam is right, we should not define a tiger as a large striped feline beast of prey, or even as a beast of prey which is actually large, striped and feline: these definitions miss the fact that a tiger gets to be a tiger in virtue of its genetic profile and its ancestry. If Putnam is right, this definition is criterially inadequate, just like the earlier definition of an equilateral triangle—and maybe this would be a good way of describing what is wrong with it.” (bold not in original)
Jazz musicians and some theorists use musical features and musical considerations to distinguish jazz from other kinds of music and genres. Since any jazz theorist who believes the best way to understand the nature of jazz as music is by centering primarily (or in a significant way) upon musical features, then any opposing theory that ignores such musical features and claims non-sonic and non-musical institutional practices mandate definition determinations will be judged criterially inadequate definitions.
Because tigers get to be so "in virtue of their genetic profile and ancestry," so too does jazz become jazz founded on the facts concerning its musical profile and ancestry.
Consider four purposes for which a definition of a kind of thing might be consulted. Not every definition whatsoever need meet all four expectations, and there are other rewards that definitions can deliver, but, I suggest, quadruple failure strongly indicates a dearth of practical applications.
First, one might want a definition to illuminate the shared nature of the kind-mates. We expect this from a definition of a natural kind. Maybe jazz lacks a shared nature. Anyway, a successful characterization of our current conception like the one we envisage supplies none. It yields a procedure for generating the current extension of our conception, but the folk treat jazz as a persisting kind, and we cannot trust our definition to foretell its fortunes.
Second, one might want a definition to state criteria used in practice to identify whether (or the extent to which) something is of the kind. A good definition of a mother-in-law obliges: you identify mothers-in-law by identifying spouses’ mothers. Our envisaged specification of our conception of jazz will not yield identificatory criteria. These are likely to include a network of defeasible heuristics associated with subgenres, central cases, and individual careers: “This is jazz because it’s hard bop; that’s jazz because of the breathy sax solos; those are jazz because Monk wrote them.” Heuristics vary from person to person, even for central cases where there is no disagreement about whether there is jazz.
Third, one might want a definition to isolate the criteria implicit in decisions about which marginal or novel things are of the kind. We expect this from a legal definition of malice aforethought. We do not find it here. Jazz evolves desultorily, and some of the relevant decisions are in the future, where the definition cannot reach. (bold not in original)
How communities shape definitions
Aesthetic theorists have noted that identity determiners can focus on intention or focus on conventions of artistic judgments produced by an artistic community. SUBJECT NEEDS CLARIFICATION.
Stephen Davies Definitions of Art (Chapter 8) culminates in him advocating for an imaginative synthesis of artistic intentions becoming community standards and having primacy of practice over individual intentions.
“Chapter 8 is the most stimulating and original part of the book: its core and apex. . . . [Davies] resists the dominant view (in particular, Susan Feagin's critique of the institutional theory which sees intentions and conventions in competition with each other) and argues instead for a symbiotic relationship between the two in which artistic conventions—as institutionalized within the artworld—take "logical primacy" over intentions (p. 204). Thus, although intentions are "critically relevant" to an object's status as art, it does not follow that they must be "treated as autonomous determinants of the conventions in terms of which critical practice structures its interpretations of artworks" (p. 119). Rather, artistic conventions capture and constitute the practices of the artworld; "art-making and art-interpreting are activities structured by social practices and conventions" which are necessarily "institutionally structured," that is, "art is necessarily, and not merely incidentally, social" (p. 217). In his final chapter, Davies unsurprisingly defends his reformulation of the institutional theory as a type of procedural definition and concludes that the functional and intentional approaches pale by comparison. (bold not in original)
Cannot Davies's institutional approach, where "artistic conventions as institutionalized within the artworld take logical primacy over one person's intentions" be used to analyze jazz? Intentions and conventions are symbiotic—each influencing the other, and conventions are used to determine excellence until musicians' choices cause a paradigm shift that eventually becomes adopted into the tradition as a new paradigm.
Intentions and conventions are symbiotic, with each influencing the other and conventions being used predominantly to determine excellence until musicians' choices cause a paradigm shift that eventually gets adopted into a new paradigm for the tradition. An interweaving takes place with conventions and artistic practices holding sway over aesthetic judgments for determining the quality of performances. Should a new paradigm occur, it usually opposes previous conventions with other forces than past conventions or previous group assessments for determining and assessing the merits of a new musical practice and its status within a tradition. Jazz, too, is an institutionally structured music with the institution being the jazz community both past and present.
What determines when music is a type of jazz?
Why should everybody agree that Chick Corea’s chamber music is only a sort of jazz? Isn’t a correct answer here supposed to explain from a musical property’s perspective WHY this chamber music doesn’t count as full-blown jazz? Is it merely institutionally generated arbitrary and subjective reasons why Corea’s music is not full-blown jazz, or are there more in-depth, not random, and not personal causes, motivations, or explanations accounting for the status of Corea's chamber music's relationship to jazz?
Could some form of music, say Indonesian gamelan, or Australian didgeridoo, be included under the jazz genre through fiat? Are the institutionally mandated inclusions of new sub-genres arbitrarily determined as to which ones get included under the jazz umbrella or not?
Generally speaking, we know the answers to these types of questions and can defend them with musical features answers and not just an appeal to an answer like “because some committee says so, or that's just what all the critics agree on, or that's just how the history of jazz occurred.”
➢ What are these musical features, and why do they rule these music genres in or out from the jazz umbrella. Start with the most straightforward case first. Is acid jazz jazz?
Why so-called acid jazz is not a sub-genre of jazz
What makes the problem hard to begin with is so-called acid jazz itself is unclear what sort of musical genre it is in itself. The term acid jazz was coined by some DJ's to label a particular style of, in effect, lounge and dance music of a relatively distinctive style type. Acid jazz tends to be highly repetitive, has a characteristic rhythmic pulse and muscular groove, can have significant synthesizer usage, and may use obscure jazz tracks as components of the sounds produced.
It doesn't take too long before one gets convinced that as a type of musical genre, acid jazz is not a coherent jazz sub-genre. Wikipedia goes so far as to say it is no longer even an actual musical genre because it has been dropped for better descriptive genre names that better reflect the kind of music presented, such as Fusion Rap.
Wikipedia defends this position:
“Acid jazz, also known as club jazz, is a musical genre that combines elements of jazz, soul, funk, and disco. Acid jazz originated in the London club scene of the mid-1980s in the rare groove movement and spread to the US, Japan, Eastern Europe, and Brazil. Major acts included Brand New Heavies, Incognito, Us3, and Jamiroquai from the UK and Buckshot LeFonque and Digable Planets from the US. The rise of electronic club music in the mid to late 1990s led to a decline in interest, and in the twenty-first century, the movement became indistinct as a genre. Many acts that might have been defined as acid jazz are now seen as jazz-funk, neo-soul, or jazz rap. (bold not in original)
Immediately from the initial description of acid jazz, it is a conglomeration of many different music styles with much non-jazz included, namely soul, funk, and disco—none of these three, as typically performed, qualify as falling within the jazz genre. Suppose jazz-funk is itself a jazz sub-genre, and a particular song has been categorized as both acid jazz and jazz-funk. In that case, this song may well be jazz to some degree, but this does not imply any coherent category of music labelled acid jazz exists.
Musicmap.info describes acid jazz as a poorly characterized name for this style of music while explaining its relationships to other genres.
“Acid Jazz is a crossover genre gone too far: there is barely any Jazz left in it. There’s actually almost zero ‘acid’ about it as well, except a slight psychedelic sound, placing it high on the chart for poorly chosen genre names. In fact it’s more of the deepest funky Fusion combined with Rap, so Fusion Rap would be more appropriate. But the name is no error: Acid Jazz was a deliberate and firm reaction from the British Soul scene against the fiddling “nonsense” of Acid House. The leading record label–also named Acid Jazz–was determined to compensate Acid House with what they regarded as “quality music,” heavily influenced by Rare Groove records. A steady Hip-Hop breakbeat, lots of percussion, jazz harmonies, and funky basslines (often with the aid of a synthesizer) are the key flavors of Acid Jazz. These elements blend perfectly until the roots of the genre are no longer traceable. It was a short but popular craze, right before EDM conquered the music scene. Due to its highly danceable nature, a new type of dance, Jazzdance, was invented along with it (which became more or less a synonym of the music itself). It can be hard to separate Acid Jazz from Jazz Funk with heavy breaks, if it wasn’t for the (abundant) use of vocals.” (bold not in original)
Notice that some of the original acid jazz music styles used obscure jazz tracks with DJ's mixing in lots of other stuff in a danceable (disco-ish) format. Soon, however, the wheels fell off the tracks, and the amount of jazz involved dwindled to very little.
CONCLUSION: Acid jazz is not a jazz sub-genre, and many conclude is mislabeled as a form of jazz.
➢ What is acid house music?
“Acid house is a sub-genre of house music developed around the mid-1980s by DJs from Chicago. The style was defined primarily by the deep basslines and "squelching" sounds of the Roland TB-303 electronic synthesizer-sequencer. . . . Acid house's minimalist production aesthetic combined house music's ubiquitous programmed 4/4 beat with the electronic ‘squelch' sound produced by the Roland TB-303 electronic synthesizer-sequencer by constantly modulating its frequency and resonance controls to create 'movement' in otherwise simple bass patterns. Other elements, such as synthetic strings and stabs, were usually minimal. (bold not in original)
What is Meant by Definition
- See PoJ.fm's Ontdef1. What is a definition?
- Lee B. Brown (1932-2014), “Definitions and Art Theory,” in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 27 (4), 1969, 409–415.
- Physicist Richard Feynman (1918 –1988) explains what qualifies as acceptable explanations to why questions.
- Physicist Richard Feynman (1918–1988) continues his explanation on acceptable explanations but without any video.
How Jazz Can Be Defined
Jazz Could be Defined If It Had Essential Properties
Anything with essential properties can be defined. Essential properties are those that determine the essence of something, meaning what it is.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains the nature of, as well as differences and relationships between, essential and non-essential, or accidental, properties:
"The distinction between essential versus accidental properties . . . is currently most commonly understood in modal terms: an essential property of an object is a property that it must have while an accidental property of an object is one that it happens to have but that it could lack. . . . the use of the word “must” reflects the fact that necessity is invoked, while the use of the word “could” reflects possibility. The notions of necessity and possibility are interdefinable: to say that something is necessary is to say that its negation is not possible; to say that something is possible is to say that its negation is not necessary; to say that an object must have a certain property is to say that it could not lack it; and to say that an object could have a certain property is to say that it is not the case that it must lack it."
French musicologist and philosopher Laurent Cugny (b. 1955) takes a phenomenological approach to analyzing jazz and agrees that one may find linkages between the various schools in a historical progression of links. However, these linkages cannot provide an essence for jazz, on Cugny's reading of the situation, because as the history of jazz progresses and new sub-genres are added requiring new linkages to the past, the entire linkage system needs reinterpreting and is no longer the same system of linkages as previously leaving any stable essence for jazz out in the cold of Heraclitus's constantly changing waters so no one can step into the same river twice. Therefore, no essence shared by all jazz sub-genres, only linkages.
“JDR: Reading your writings, I came up with a hypothesis that would explain your use of phenomenology. My impression is that using phenomenology first and foremost allows you to distinguish between essence and phenomenon, which also allows you to say that you are looking not for the essence of jazz, but for its phenomenality. It is very clear, for example, in this passage from Analyzing Jazz:"If there is a 'jazz umbrella', it is good that a link is recognized between its different periods, its different styles, its different practices. But this link is not necessarily the product or the symptom of an essence that persists from one period to another, from one style to another. On the contrary, we can assume that each new period, each new style, each new practice redefines this link in its entirety. We then place ourselves in a vision of the phenomenon rather than that of an essence." (bold not in original)
“It therefore seems to me that you are referring to the phenomenon in its opposition to essence (I would say that we are here in a more Kantian than Husserlian vision of the term "phenomenology"), which also allows you to counter the accusation of essentialism (this "ax concept" which according to you discriminates against and prohibits the musicological approach):” (bold not in original)
But does each new style truly redefine the links between past jazz sub-genres? Cugny argues that these new sub-genres and jazz styles necessarily change the meaning of the whole of jazz with all of its linkages.
LC: “For me, it's obvious that there is black music. The blues is black music, 99% made by blacks and it is not because there is a white who sings it rather well (or plays well the guitar like Eric Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughan) that the blues's assertion falls. Blues is black music, just like soul, rhythm'n'blues . . . On the other hand, I consider that jazz is not black music, at least not completely, as we can say of blues or rhythm 'n'blues. This music certainly has an original link with the history of African-Americans, and this link is undoubtedly substantial, but this exclusive appropriation which is often made since Amiri Baraka and which is perpetuated by contemporary authors like Fumi Okiji poses a political problem, because jazz is not just black music. For blues it is much easier than for jazz. Because the blues is really the product of a historical moment, of the end of slavery, of industrialization, of proletarianization… And to close on this question of essentialism, I think that the terminological confusion is rather with naturalism.
JDR: In all your writings, you reaffirm the need for a definition as a condition for a rigorous discourse on jazz. In Analyze Jazz, you propose idiomatic traits characteristic of jazz. If I fully understand this musicological definitional requirement, for my part I am embarrassed by the very possibility of developing a properly philosophical definition of jazz. Because by doing this, it seems to me that philosophy would adopt a position of overhang with regard to an object that it always apprehends from very (too) far away. So I have the impression that it's not up to philosophy to determine what jazz should / shouldn't be. What do you think ? And if you think it's possible to come up with a philosophical definition of jazz, what might it look like?
LC: Discourse on jazz which consists in saying that the definition is a reductive label made to exclude put me off. I want to be able to define, without being accused of excluding anyone (and being essentialist). My perspective is to understand how jazz works and ultimately to know what jazz is, so of course the definition is part of that, even if the results are never satisfactory. Again, this is a way of thinking. It is quite possible to give a definition which is not authoritarian. When I teach my L3 students, I have to explain to them what jazz is, and as they do not know this subject well, I must be able to say something about it . . . . I could not be satisfied with telling them it's impossible to know what it is. Besides, I get away with telling them, for example, that it is certain that Count Basie is jazz and that Pierre Boulez is not; and Ray Charles is somewhere on the edge. I often use the metaphor of gaseous planets: the heart of the planet, the surface, the atmosphere, the satellites and other music light years away . . . . My definition is based on a few criteria which are certainly open to criticism, but useful in musicology. We are not entirely helpless. On the other hand, a philosophical definition is probably more random and indeed, I do not see what it could be. But maybe this is not utopian?
JDR: A philosophy definition of jazz seems to me at least difficult to develop, because as François Zourabichvili says, the philosopher always finds himself in front of "the accomplished art," and in the sense that he always arrives already too late. . . . What can we say about jazz as a philosopher? The philosopher cannot intervene as an arbiter, to determine what is jazz and what is not. This position raises the question of the position of philosophy with regard to what it is trying to think: when it imposes already ready-made aesthetic concepts, it inevitably begins to exclude certain artistic practices in so far as they do not meet these predefined criteria! I think that the philosopher must know how to stay in his place: we are surrounded by musicians who make this music, by musicologists who describe it, and we have to start from there. So here is my difficulty: I am—at least in part—convinced by what you say about the need for a definition in order to be able to hold a rigorous discourse on jazz. But at the same time, I refuse, as a "philosopher", to produce a definition of jazz—even if I spend my time criticizing those produced by others! (bold and bold italic not in original)
Does Jazz Have Essential Properties?
The Importance of Improvisation
At the Scholastic Magazine website titled "Culture and Change: Black History in America," as they review the history of jazz in America, often admiring Wynton Marsalis's insights into jazz and using his audio clips to explain improvisation under the section titled "Improvisation: The Expression of Freedom" (scroll down to it), it says:
"Improvisation is the most defining feature of jazz. Improvisation is creating, or making up, music as you go along. Jazz musicians play from printed music and they improvise solos. From the collective improvisation of early jazz to the solo improvisation of Louis Armstrong to the free jazz of Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, and John Coltrane, improvisation is central to jazz."
For more information, discussion, and contentious issues about improvisation, see Ontimpr1. What is improvisation?.
From these observations, at least two main points can be discerned, and the second one is surprising from Wynton Marsalis's neo-classicist conservative point of view. The two points are:
(A) Improvisation is "the most defining feature of" and "central" to jazz.
(B) Armstrong, Ayler, Coleman, and Coltrane each played jazz improvisations.
Examining these two claims (A) and (B), both are problematic until further clarifications and justifications are given.
Reasons to Believe A) Improvisation is "the most defining feature of" and "central" to jazz and (B) Armstrong, Ayler, Coleman, and Coltrane each played jazz improvisations are False
Why (A) is false: If the "most defining feature" of improvisation were to mean either a necessary or a sufficient condition for jazz, then both claims are false. Improvisation is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for music to qualify as jazz.
- Improvisation cannot be a necessary condition for being jazz because jazz exists with no improvisation at all. Everyone believes Duke Ellington wrote and performed jazz with his orchestra without improvisation, although some could sound like it was being improvised. Non-improvisational jazz would be impossible if improvisation were a necessary condition for music to qualify as jazz.
- Improvisation cannot be a sufficient condition for jazz because much improvised music exists that everyone believes NOT to be jazz. Rock musicians, Indian musicians on tablas and sitars, even Mozart, each has improvised music without having played any jazz.
- Improvisation cannot be BOTH a necessary condition and a sufficient condition for jazz if improvisation is neither necessary nor sufficient for jazz.
Why (B) is false: Wynton Marsalis has been critical of free(er) jazz and free improvisations and might well deny that the free improvisations of John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and Ornette Coleman were jazz improvisations, even while being artistically valuable. The primary reason Marsalis could give for denying these impressive improvisations as qualifying as jazz is that by its very nature, free jazz conforms to no particular rules of jazz. Marsalis and others could argue that it is of the essence of entirely free improvisation that it could not be jazz because if it was jazz then it wouldn't be free. Arguably, this is the reason why entirely 'free' jazz could never qualify as jazz. This free music follows no obvious rules or principles so disqualifies itself from being jazz, or so goes the argument. For more discussion about free jazz, see PoJ.fm's Onttype15. What is Free Jazz?.
Reasons to Believe A) Improvisation is "the most defining feature of" and "central" to jazz and (B) Armstrong, Ayler, Coleman, and Coltrane each played jazz improvisations are True
Why (A) is true: (A) is true because improvisation IS central to mainstream and standard form jazz; it just cannot be used to delineate the borders within which all jazz falls. Any jazz musician who cannot expertly improvise is considered a poor jazz musician proving that improvisation is central for being a competent jazz musician.
Gunther Schuller certainly thinks improvisation is central to the mindset of jazz musicians.
“Nonetheless, one important aspect of jazz clearly does distinguish it from other traditional musical areas, especially from classical music: the jazz performer is primarily or wholly a creative, improvising composer—his own composer, as it were—whereas in classical music the performer typically expresses and interprets someone else's composition.” (bold not in original)
Schuller points out that jazz has always maintained an in-between status as regards pre-composed versus improvised compositions.
“Jazz, in fact, is not—and never has been—an entirely composed, predetermined music, nor is it an entirely extemporized one. For almost all of its history, it has employed both creative approaches in varying degrees and endless permutations. (bold not in original)
Why (B) is true: (B) would be true if Louis Armstrong, and Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and Albert Ayler in their freer moments, were still playing jazz.
➢ Why could this be true?
Consider each musician in turn. They are not all the same, so they need to be judged and evaluated individually.
Louis Armstrong (August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971)
Everyone agrees Louis Armstrong played many jazz improvisations. Why? If we knew what the musical factors were in these performances, this could help determine whether Coleman, Coltrane, and Ayler (hereafter the big three) were playing jazz improvisations. As often in philosophy, the answer is it depends. Here's why. The answer could be that the relevant musical factors in Armstrong's improvised solos could determine whether the big three were equally playing jazz if all four used the same, similar, or comparable musical characteristics.
Louis Armstrong Discography
Ornette Coleman (March 9, 1930 – June 11, 2015)
It can be argued that Ornette's music in his album "Free Jazz" even in freer moments still contains musical features recognizable within the jazz music traditions.
Ornette Coleman Discography
- JazzDisco's Ornette Coleman album index
- All Music's Ornette Coleman Discography with album covers
- Discogs's Ornette Coleman Discography with album covers
- Columbia University Short List
- Ornette Coleman albums Rated
- Ornette Coleman Big Album Covers
- Wikipedia's Ornette Coleman Discography
(John Coltrane at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, 27 October 1963
Photographby Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)
John Coltrane (September 23, 1926 – July 17, 1967)
As we proceed and progress, Coltrane's music's complexity makes analysis and evaluation more and more challenging. Everyone agrees that when John Coltrane started, he was both a sax horn honker in the “walk on the bar” tradition and a journeyman sax player. He didn't start getting more into his own until he started playing with Miles Davis or Thelonious Monk. After that, we get the albums "Giant Steps," "Blue Train," "A Love Supreme," "Ascension," "Om," "Africa Brass," "Interstellar Space," etc. and a lot of this music is not free jazz.
➢ Which of John Coltrane's recordings has the most free jazz?
Wikipedia: John Coltrane reports that Coltrane's second quartet developed from 1965 through 1967 was moving more into free jazz. For some inexplicable reason, the Wikipedia article quoted below leaves out two musicians that played on Coltrane's Ascension, namely the obscure Dewey Johnson on trumpet and the fabulous Art Davis on bass.
“In his late period, Coltrane showed an increasing interest in avant-garde jazz, purveyed by Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Sun Ra and others. In developing his late style, Coltrane was especially influenced by the dissonance of Ayler's trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray, a rhythm section honed with Cecil Taylor as leader. Coltrane championed many younger free jazz musicians such as Archie Shepp, and under his influence Impulse! became a leading free jazz record label.
After A Love Supreme was recorded, Ayler's style became more prominent in Coltrane's music. A series of recordings with the Classic Quartet in the first half of 1965 show Coltrane's playing becoming increasingly abstract, with greater incorporation of devices like multi-phonics, utilization of overtones, and playing in the altissimo register, as well as a mutated return of Coltrane's sheets of sound. In the studio, he all but abandoned his soprano to concentrate on the tenor saxophone. In addition, the quartet responded to the leader by playing with increasing freedom. The group's evolution can be traced through the recordings The John Coltrane Quartet Plays, Living Space, Transition (both June 1965), New Thing at Newport (July 1965), Sun Ship (August 1965), and First Meditations (September 1965).
In June 1965, he went into Van Gelder's studio with ten other musicians (including Shepp, Pharaoh Sanders, Freddie Hubbard, Marion Brown, and John Tchicai) to record Ascension, a 40-minute piece that included solos by the young avant-garde musicians (as well as Coltrane), and was controversial primarily for the collective improvisation sections that separated the solos. After recording with the quartet over the next few months, Coltrane invited Sanders to join the band in September 1965. While Coltrane frequently used over-blowing as an emotional exclamation-point, Sanders would overblow entire solos, resulting in a constant screaming and screeching in the altissimo range of the instrument.” (bold and bold italics not in original)
John Coltrane Discography
- Wikimedia on John Coltrane's Discography
- John Coltrane Discography: The Official Website with album covers
- John Coltrane Discography by JazzDisco.org with complete song titles and personnel listings
- John Coltrane album index by JazzDisco.org
Albert Ayler (July 13, 1936 – November 25, 1970)
Albert Ayler was an American avant-garde jazz saxophonist, singer and composer who was first taught to play the alto saxophone by his father Edward. They often played together in church.
Wikipedia: Albert Ayler describes Ayler's early musical development as follows:
“As a teenager, Ayler attended John Adams High School on Cleveland's East Side, and graduated in 1954 at the age of 18. He later studied at the Academy of Music in Cleveland with jazz saxophonist Benny Miller. Ayler also played the oboe in high school. As a teenager, Ayler’s understanding of bebop style and mastery of standard repertoire earned him the nickname of “Little Bird", after Charlie “Bird” Parker, in the small Cleveland jazz scene.”
“In 1952, at the age of 16, Ayler began playing bar-walking, honking, R&B–style tenor with blues singer and harmonica player Little Walter, spending two summer vacations with Walter's band. In 1958, after graduating from high school, Ayler joined the United States Army, where he switched from alto to tenor sax and jammed with other enlisted musicians, including tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. Ayler also played in the regiment band. In 1959 he was stationed in France, where he was further exposed to the martial music that would be a core influence on his later work. After his discharge from the army, Ayler tried to find work in Los Angeles and Cleveland, but his increasingly iconoclastic playing, which had moved away from traditional harmony, was not welcomed by traditionalists.” (bold not in original)
- When he joined the army and began playing with Stanley Turrentine, among others, he switched to tenor saxophone, although occasionally playing alto and soprano as well.
- Musicians that Ayler played with include Don Cherry (pocket trumpet), Sunny Murray (drums), Gary Peacock (bass), Alan Silva (double bass), Roswell Rudd (trombone) and Cecil Taylor (piano). These musicians helped to found the free(er) and free jazz movement(s).
- Musicologists find in Ayler's music sounds that remind them of both church and military music. The church-like influences can be heard and read into Ayler's album, "Spiritual Unity," which was recorded in Ayler's most prolific recording year of 1964.
“In 1963, Ayler returned to the US and settled in New York City, where he continued to develop his personal style and occasionally played alongside free jazz pianist Cecil Taylor. 1964 was the most well-documented year of Ayler’s career, during which he recorded many albums, the first of which was "Witches and Devils" in March of that year. Ayler also began his rich relationship with ESP-Disk Records in 1964, recording his breakthrough album (and ESP’s very first jazz album) "Spiritual Unity" for the then-fledgling record label. ESP-Disk came to play an integral role in recording and disseminating free jazz.”
There is certainly music on record with Ayler playing that qualifies as jazz. Where the controversy arises is in Ayler's more unstructured moments. We know from his biography above that he was certainly trained originally in standard jazz practices. You don't get the nickname "Little Bird" if you cannot play Bebop in a conventional manner and Bebop is agreed on by all counts to qualify as jazz so it is certain that early on Ayler played jazz. The question remains about his (later) recordings.
- Albert Ayler Downbeat interview
- The Guardian's "50 great moments in jazz: The shortlived cry of Albert Ayler"
Albert Ayler Discography
- Albert Ayler album index by JazzDisco.org
- Albert Ayler Discography by JazzDisco.org
- Albert Ayler catalog index by JazzDisco.org with listing of which personnel played on individual songs
- Albert Ayler session index by JazzDisco.org
|1962||The First Recordings Vols. 1 & 2||Bird Notes|
|1963||My Name Is Albert Ayler||Debut Records|
|1964||Swing Low Sweet Spiritual||Osmosis|
|1964||Albert Smiles With Sunny [Live]||Inrespect|
|1964||New York Eye And Ear Control||ESP|
|1964||Albert Ayler [Live]||Philology|
|1964||The Copenhagen Tapes||Ayler|
|1964||The Hilversum Session||Osmosis|
|1965||Sonny's Time Now||Jihad|
|1966||At Slug's Saloon, Vol. 1 & 2 [Live]||ESP|
|1966||Lörrach Paris 1966 [Live]||Hathut Records|
|1966||Albert Ayler in Greenwich Village [Live]||Impulse! Records|
|1967||Love Cry||Impulse! Records|
|1968||New Grass||Impulse! Records|
|1969||Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe||Impulse! Records|
|1969||The Last Album||Impulse! Records|
|1970||Nuits de la Fondation Maeght Vol. 1||Shandar|
|1970||Live on the Riviera [Live]||ESP|
|2004||Holy Ghost: Rare & Unissued Recordings (1962–70)||Revenant Records|
|2006||The Complete ESP-Disk Recordings||ESP|
Reasons: high form skill, difficult, admired and admirable, challenging, why musicians like and value jazz, requires skill, allows for spontaneous group interaction and the emergent properties that spontaneous composition can achieve, KIND OF BLUE level solos with virtually no rehearsal.
What Is Meant By Essential?
Are There Any Necessary Conditions For Playing Jazz?
On the surface, it is likely going to be challenging to find any necessary conditions uniquely distinctive of jazz. If there were such necessary conditions that were unique to jazz, they would already have been discovered and be known. These features, were they to exist, would be obvious. Below numerous candidates for possible necessary conditions possibly unique to jazz (but they aren't) will be considered, examined, and rejected as necessary candidates. Before this, let us consider a preliminary matter first.
➢ What necessary conditions are required for something even to qualify as music? See Ontmusic0. What is music?
➢ What features necessarily apply to jazz because it is music?
Are There Any Necessary Conditions For Playing Music?
➢ What are the necessary properties of music?
This is a large and demanding topic. Rather than try to give a definitive answer, first consider candidates for necessary conditions. It will help to delimit the problem if we start with the essential conditions for performing music.
Necessary Conditions For A Musical Performance
➢ What happens necessarily during a musical performance?
True Necessary Conditions For A Musical Performance
- Musicians are required to cause the music to exist.
- The musicians are persons.
- The persons are intentional agents.
- The musician is intentionally producing the music.
➢ How does one go about proving that any conditions are necessary for performing music?
One straightforward approach for addressing this question is to imagine situations where music occurs, but the proposed necessary condition is not met. Let us test this out for the above four necessary requirements for playing music.
Suppose then that musicians that are persons do not exist. We are on Earth-Two , which is just like Earth except that no persons ever live on the planet. Is it possible that music gets developed or performed, or just spontaneously comes into existence on such a planet? Is this coherently conceivable?
On this personless planet, Earth-Two, could an exemplification of music ever be caused by non-person causal agencies and be exhibited? On a Platonistic timbral sonicism, as advocated by Julian Dodd, where each work of music eternally exists as an abstract object, then it would be possible for music to become exemplified in personless Earth Two. Dodd's timbral sonicism holds that any sonic event that exhibits the acoustical properties required to be an exemplification of an already existent abstract musical work would count as an exhibition, or instance, or tokening of that work. Since all musical performance types eternally exist, any sonic exemplification of that abstract type counts as an instance of that particular musical work. Hence, if such an acoustic event gets caused by non-intentional and non-person causal agencies, it would still nevertheless qualify as an instance of music, according to Platonistic sonicists. Therefore, it is logically possible on such assumptions for music to occur that has not been caused by any person or intentional agencies. Additionally, notice that no persons, or anything else, was required for music to exist for the Platonistic solipsists since it is a collection of abstract object types existing outside of (i.e., independently of) space and time and with eternal existence even if the physical universe itself ceases to exist!
However, while the Platonistic assumptions of Dodd's timbral sonicism make non-intentionally produced music possible as an instance of that eternal type, this requires the antecedent existence of abstract objects of the requisite kind for it to be possible to exhibit exemplifications of these eternally existing musical works that require no intentional agents for their existence. However, this may very well be a decisive objection against such a Platonistic view were intentional music production by persons a necessary condition for music to exist. For more considerations to this effect, see below at Ontdef3. Objection to Requiring Conscious Intention for Music Production.
False Necessary Conditions For A Musical Performance
- False Necessary Condition: Music consists of sounds that can be heard. If either no sounds exist or if the sounds cannot be heard, then no music has been performed.
As intuitive as it might seem that music requires hearable sounds, this is a false claim, according to some philosophers. Several philosophers, including Andrew Kania (b. 1975) in his article “Silent Music,” have argued for the existence of music that even when performed, both makes no sounds and is not hearable.
➢ What does it mean to be hearable? Just as important, hearable by whom?
Hearability is a tricky concept because there are ambiguities as well as degrees.
One of the ambiguities concerns whether one means potentially or actually hearable/heard.
- Something is potentially hearable if someone could possibly hear it.
- Potentially Hearable Items, but not heard:
- - The proverbial falling tree with no one nearby to listen to it.
- - A far enough away hummingbird's wings flapping sound.
- - A meteor hitting the Moon's surface.
- - Tranquil sounds that no one hears but we could amplify them with equipment.
- - Very low sounds under 20 cycles per second below the threshold of typical human hearing ranges.
Something could be hearable, meaning potentially hearable, but wasn't heard, or it could mean has been heard and by virtue of that the heard item qualifies as having been hearable.
Because people can easily suffer frequency damages to their hearing what one person can hear another with frequency damage to their hearing might not be able to hear the same sounds. It is clear that the person who can hear the music would agree it is music, so the person who cannot hear it cannot correctly claim that no music has been performed. It was performed, but not heard by you, is not a contradiction.
Martian High Frequency Music Objection to Hearability Requirement
Wikipedia: Hearing range states that non-humans have a hearing range that can surpass humans in both hearing extra low frequencies or extra high frequencies, with typical humans having a hearing range of 20-20,000 Hz (cycles per second).
“Several animal species are able to hear frequencies well beyond the human hearing range. Some dolphins and bats, for example, can hear frequencies up to 100 kHz. Elephants can hear sounds [as low as] 14–16 Hz, while some whales can [even] hear subsonic sounds as low as 7 Hz (in water).”
Below is a table of animal hearing ranges and as can easily be observed there are many species with superior hearing ranges better than humans, at both ends of the spectrum, but especially at the higher frequencies.
If this is correct, then imagine Martians who have the hearing range of dogs from 50 Hz to 45,000 Hz. Typical human hearing stops at 20,000 Hz. So dogs and these hypothetical Martians who are adult persons of an advanced civilization can hear sounds above double the best human hearing to over 45,000 cycles per second. Such high frequencies can be heard by dogs and Martians, but not by humans. Suppose Martian music is in this high frequency range not hearable by standard humans. The fact no humans can actually hear the Martian high frequency music does not entail no music exists, or was just performed and enjoyed by these Martians. It just is the case that some music cannot be heard by humans. There is no reason to limit what ontologically is music to what can be heard sonically by humans. This would be a form of a priori auditory speciesism.
Objection to Requiring Conscious Intention for Music Production
Can a sleeping musician while sleepwalking play the piano and be playing music? If the answer is "Yes" then this intention to play music can be unconscious and need not be consciously intended. Of course, the proof is in the pudding.
Here is an apparent example of a sleepwalking young girl playing the piano. It is reported that in the morning she had no memory of having played the piano. This supplies evidence that no conscious intention of playing is required for someone to play the piano. After all, playing a piano is to move one's fingers on the keyboard and thus can be done robotically. Interestingly, her performance does sound quite musical from the few snippets she actually plays. Listen to it yourself and you be the judge. Was she making music?
Someone could object, however, that precisely because she was not currently and actively aware of playing and had no direct conscious intention to play that therefore she was not making music, but only making sounds on the piano.
➢ How can we decide which of these two types of events occurred here? Was it music making or only sound making?
While it may not be known what is the correct answer to these questions, one can make a case for how it is possible that a sleepwalker could be making music and not just causing sounds on the piano. The case is this. Suppose that during her sleepwalking and encountering of the piano she unconsciously intended to be playing the piano and had an unconscious intention to be playing music.
➢ What evidence could there be for someone having a complex intention as to unconsciously intending to be playing music? What is required for someone to have intentions anyway? What is an intention?
Definition of intention
Wikipedia on intention defines intention as “a mental state that represents a commitment to carrying out an action or actions in the future. Intention involves mental activities such as planning and forethought. . . . Thus, an intentional action is a function to accomplish a desired goal and is based on the belief that the course of action will satisfy a desire. . . . The proposed [intentional] connective chain is that desire causes intention, which causes action, which causes outcome. The Intentional Chain maps the linking of a desire to the satisfaction of a goal via the intermediary intention.”
So, intentions are mental states that function to accomplish future actions to achieve a desired perceived goal.
Arguments for the existence of unconscious intentions
Some sleepwalkers sleep on a second floor bedroom and during sleepwalking go down the stairs to the bottom floor. Walking down any stairs is an extremely complex bodily activity requiring many kinesthetic and complex motor and balancing shifts, not to mention extremely dangerous. Walking down stairs is such a complex activity that robots with legs are difficult to program, yet the human sleepwalker often does so easily and without injury. How is this possible?
One possible answer to how the sleepwalker can traverse down (and back up afterwards sometimes) stairways is because the walker unconsciously recognizes his or her location and unconsciously intends to go down the stairs in some sense and to some limited degree. This accords well with the definition of intention. The complexity of the activity is a reason to believe that an agent must have the relevant intentions to perform the actions observed in order to account for how this activity was accomplished by that agent without mishap.
This same sleepwalking girl is reported to have once while sleepwalking sung 'Bicycle Race' by Queen, then went back to bed and the next day she said she had a dream about singing with Freddy Mercury (1946-1991) in front of a huge crowd. Here we have more evidence that she did intend to be singing this song while sleeping if one can intend something in a dream. It just so happens that her physical actions corresponded to her dreamed actions. This makes it more believable that she did produce music 🎶 while asleep.
A second reason for not requiring a direct conscious intent to produce all music is because musicians when playing and improvising can get into an egoless flow state. In such a flow state, musicians have muscle memory and the production of the music can be by effortless mastery. No direct conscious intentions are required during these flow states. Wikipedia: Flow (Psychology) reports that during a flow state that there must be "a loss of reflective self-consciousness." The music plays you, and your intentions do not dictate the flow of musical performance. As soon as deliberate and reflective conscious intention occurs then this self-awareness drops one out of a flow state.
➢ Everyone agrees that jazz is music? Why?
What reasons and arguments can be given to prove that jazz is music?
- No one denies that jazz counts as music.
- The word "jazz" means "jazz music" by definition.
- If it is known what is music, then one can recognize that jazz falls under this category. For an analysis of the nature and properties of music see Ontmusic0. What is music?. There it is explained that music when performed typically consists of sound events using musical instruments (or the human body, also potentially a musical instrument) that has melody, rhythm, and harmony.
- Wikipedia on Necessity and Sufficiency
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Necessary and Sufficient Conditions
- Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Necessary and Sufficient Conditions
What are necessary conditions for playing jazz?
Any conditions required for playing any kind of music would also be necessary conditions for playing jazz since jazz is itself music.
- ➢ Are there any peculiar necessary conditions for playing jazz?
Arguably, there are some necessary conditions peculiar to jazz. Below are some proposals with justifications and investigations of objections to each one.
How can we judge whether condition J (for jazz) is necessarily present in all jazz music? By examining all jazz performances and see if each contains condition J might be the first step. Still, there remain many problems, confusion, and difficulties when we go to assess this situation. We already know that even if every examined jazz performance contained condition J, this would not prove that this condition was necessarily present in all jazz performances. Perhaps in the future, assessors could judge that their exemplar is a jazz performance, yet fails to satisfy condition J. A further difficulty consists of there always being an automatic reply to anyone who claims to have found a musical event that was jazz but failed to meet condition J. The defender of its being a necessary condition can object by claiming that the proposed counter-example is not jazz because it doesn't have condition J! What then?
The answer is to consider other avenues of approach to these kinds of challenges. Suppose someone proposes a sort of intuitive conceptual challenge. The background assumption will be to ask ourselves what our intuitions are about jazz and see if any of these will be necessary conditions precisely because they are analytical/conceptually necessary truths of the form "A is A." Under standard assumptions used in virtually all natural languages, a noun when used a second time and with no intentions to have the second occurrence in a sentence make any difference as to how to interpret it, the meaning of the first "A" is to be read in an identical manner to that of how to read the second occurrence of "A." The "is" can be read as identity or as predication, which is not the identity relationship because when using the predicative relationship, one denies or presumes the identity claim's falsity. If I say, "The apple is red" I am denying the claim that the apple is identical to the color red. In the predication relationship, the predicate is potentially a larger class under which the subject qualifies as being included in that group of propertied objects as having one or more of those without having to be identical, such as some apples are in the group of red things without these apples needing to be identical to the set of red things.
Proposed necessary conditions for performing jazz
- (N1) A jazz performance must be a musical performance; hence, if there is no music being played or performed, there cannot be any jazz being played or performed. This statement is necessary because it is an analytic truth that when people use jazz as a noun, it always refers to a specific genre of music. The sentence "Jazz is music" cannot be false because it is analytically true, therefore also a priori and necessary.
- (N2) A jazz performer necessarily intends to be performing jazz.
This intention can be conscious or unconscious. Under usual circumstances performing jazz musicians are self-consciously aware that they are playing jazz and are consciously intending to be so doing. Under unusual circumstances, such as a sleepwalking jazz sounding sonic event, a musician may fail to be consciously aware of playing jazz because asleep, so not conscious of what current activities and actions are taking place. Walking sleepwalkers are not at that time, consciously aware of their activities. We know this because sleepwalkers, when told upon awakening that they had walked around the house while asleep, are ignorant that this occurred, meaning either they have forgotten but did consciously intend to go down the stairs, or they don't recall it because they were never awake and consciously noticing what was occurring with their bodily activity, e.g., walking down the stairs. Nevertheless, the sleepwalking person going down stairs arguably must be unconsciously intentionally going down the stairs and unconsciously cognizant of the environment even when asleep to account for the sleepwalker's successful traversal of the stairs without falling and breaking his or her or their neck! Going down a flight of stairs in balance so the body stays upright is a complex motor activity requiring concurrently processing elements to remain upright while moving. The chances of any body performing these coordinated stair walking movements while staying upright and traversing to the floor below could not be achieved through random bodily movements. Therefore, while consciously unaware, the sleepwalker must have had perceptual feedback from skin, feet, legs, arms, hands, and possibly ears and eyes to succeed in going down a flight of stairs. These coordinated perceptions must be unconscious because the sleepwalker is unaware both during and after the experience that they occurred.
To prove these last two claims, we could experiment by safely waking and interviewing a stair walking sleeperwalker in the middle of the stairs. Upon awakening, the sleepwalker is temporarily befuddled and denies being aware thirty seconds earlier of any consciousness or intention of walking down stairs. One would get the same answers if waiting until morning to interview our sleepwalker, who denies any awareness of nighttime activity.
➢ Objection question: Why cannot a sleepwalking piano player be non-intentionally playing jazz on the piano, say from just using muscle memory?
Answer to Objection question: A possible answer to the objection question concerns what we might say if we found out a sleepwalking piano player was not unconsciously intentionally playing jazz piano. Our reaction could be that they are not playing jazz but merely hitting piano keys that make sounds, not music. With no intention, consciously or unconsciously, of producing music, it seems as if no music was produced—only sounds from striking the piano keys.
To motivate this answer, suppose a person has never seen a piano and never heard any music. Let us call this person who is entirely ignorant of music Robinson Crusoe, who grew up on an island where music didn't exist. One day a fully functioning piano washes up onshore. Crusoe goes over and hits the piano keys for one minute, and by complete accident, Crusoe hits keys in the correct order making it sound like someone playing Thelonious Monk's tune "Misterioso." Would anyone correctly judge that Crusoe had just played music because he had just sounded like he had played Monk's tune? It doesn't seem intuitively right to claim this. If this intuition is correct, what is missing from the Robinson Crusoe scenario? Crusoe's ignorance of music in general, and ignorance of Monk's tune in particular, rules out that Crusoe played either music or that particular tune precisely because the scenario is missing Crusoe's intentions to be playing music and playing Monk's song. Of course, the problem with this so-called intuition is that it just ends up committing a fallacy of begging the question against the argumentative opponent who asked the original objection question, so that's a problem.
- (N3) In jazz, the performance is always primary over any pre-composed composition.
Interestingly, (N3) may be a non-musical parameter that is necessary for every jazz performance. This feature of jazz is supported by well-known musician, educator, and theorist Dave Liebman. While explaining how best to understand rhythmic jazz techniques, he points out a well-known fact about jazz in general: where the composition is secondary to the performance itself.
“When one listens to music what are the key elements that a listener responds to aside from the obvious factors of volume and intensity? Beyond the actual notes played (melody and possibly harmony depending upon the music) there are two aspects that immediately affect any listener. This is especially true in an improvised art such as jazz where the composition is secondary to the performance itself. It is also true that these two elements are central to discerning the style and musical personality of the artist. In jazz, if we were to give five saxophonists the same notes to play in the same tempo and context, why would we immediately know that player one was Sonny Rollins while the other was for example Wayne Shorter?
The first impression that affects the listener is the sound emanating from the instrument. The tone that is heard is an extension of that artist’s voice and on a deeper level, their persona. This is why instrumentalists in any serious music spend so much time learning to control tone quality and sound. In the final result it is the voice of the performer through an instrument that is being heard.
In jazz after tone, it is what I call “time feel” that most expresses an artist’s unique conception. The manner in which the player rhythmically phrases is to an even larger degree more revealing than the actual melodic and harmonic content. It conveys a truly physical impression to the listener which is difficult to describe in words.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
The reason (N3) is fundamental results from jazz musician's focus on improvisation where the challenge is to produce meaningful and enjoyable music spontaneously even if it based off of a pre-composed song. The challenge in jazz is creativity and this usually involves going beyond what is available solely in a pre-composed musical score.
➢ Could there be any jazz that violates (N3) and makes the composition primary over the performance?
It doesn't seem impossible at first glance. To make the case, first remove improvisation from the picture. There are plenty of jazz performances that do not deviate from playing an established musical score. Suppose we consider Hal Overton'sTown Hall concert of a composed Thelonious Monk tune where Overton has gone to considerable lengths to arrange, rehearse, and finally accurately present a sophisticated and exacting presentation of a Monk composition. Could not this be a case where the composition, its arrangement that has also been pre-determined and not spontaneously improvised, are primary over the performance of the Monk composition and Overton's arrangement?
Here is an argument that even in this case the performance will be primary. Suppose that even though there is no intended compositional improvisation that is supposed to take place a saxophone player, say Charlie Rouse, does a small embellishment that had not been in the pre-composed score or arrangement. This added embellishment is clearly part of the performance of the song. If this embellishment adds to the overall high quality of the music, then all parties concerned, namely, the composer (Monk), the arranger and conductor (Overton), the musicians involved in the performance (Rouse and everyone else active in the performance), the live audience attending the concert, and even all those who eventually purchase this recording will all approve of Rouse's embellishment if it positively contributes (which the counter-example assumes to be true). This proves that the performance is primary over the composition. On the other hand, if a classical trumpeter does any severe embellishment that cannot be found in Hayden's symphony, no one will approve her 'variation' away from the pre-composed musical score. This shows (N3) is a correct necessary condition for playing jazz.
- (N4) Jazz requires a built in tension between European diatonic and African pentatonic musical elements including promotion of a music culture that is neither this nor that, but somehow this and that, and something else, too.
(N4) is promoted by anthropologist and jazz researcher and multiply published author, Frank A. Salamone when he explains why jazz drummer Elvin Jones thinks that all of jazz could not follow into so-called free jazz. Here's what Salamone explains and concludes:
“Ultimately, "free jazz" music failed, largely because, as noted by Elvin Jones, one of its great stars, its success would have meant the death of jazz. Tension between European and African elements is required for jazz to exist (a culture that is neither this nor that, but somehow this and that, and something else, too).” (bold italic not in original)
- (N5) Jazz requires a juxtaposition of seemingly polar opposites and this is essential to the (survival of the) form.
Ultimately Salamone also supports (N5) because he finds it basically entailed by (N4) when he finishes off his support for (N4) by promoting (N5) as well:
“This juxtaposition of seemingly polar opposites is essential to the survival of the form.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
One could correctly presume from the title of Paul Rinzler's 2009 tome, The Contradictions of Jazz, that Rinzler's entire book provides reasons for believing (N4) and (N5) are necessary conditions for jazz.
An objection to (N4) (and possibly (N5)) would be if free jazz still qualifies as jazz. In at least some free jazz, and probably in most of it, there is not a use of hybridizing of the European diatonic musical scale with an African pentatonic one. If free jazz is jazz and does not use a synthesis of diatonic and pentatonic scales then these are not necessary for playing jazz. Just for the record, using these two scales is not sufficient for jazz either since the blues uses both scales too and blues playing is not jazz playing.
- (N6) Jazz necessarily involves improvisation.
Unfortunately, (N6) is false. Jazz can be performed as a complete musical work or performance with absolutely no improvisation as pointed out below by Gary Iseminger when investigating claims of Philip Alperson from Alperson's article "A Topography of Improvisation."
“Philip Alperson operates "under the assumption that jazz necessarily involves improvisation" ("A Topography of Improvisation," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 68, No. 3 (SUMMER 2010), 280). Now it does not seem that it is an essential feature of any particular jazz performance that it involve improvisation: the status of a big hand performance as a jazz performance would not be compromised if the typically eight-bar-long solos were omitted or were not improvised. But what Alperson says elsewhere, that in jazz, "improvisation is at the center of the musical practice" ("A Topography of Improvisation," p. 274 emphasis added), seems just right. If the practice of jazz has an essence, improvisation is surely one of the most important constituents of it.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
What shall we think about Iseminger's last claim? Is he now contradicting himself? Could improvisation fail to be a necessary condition for performing jazz while improvisation is still essential to performing jazz?
It does not have to be a contradiction. Iseminger is not changing his mind here. He steadfastly maintains that improvisation is not necessarily present in any one particular jazz performance. Still, he concurs with Alperson that improvisation lies at the very core of jazz performances, generally speaking. How is this reconcilable?
One way to prove that improvisation is essential to jazz even if it is not found in every jazz performance is to imagine a jazz musician who cannot improvise. A musician incapable of improvising would not be considered a jazz performer by all other jazz musicians. Hence, improvisational abilities are necessary to be a jazz performer, but not for jazz performances per se.
- (N7) Jazz players must necessarily be improvisers.
Fortunately, this strikes anyone who thinks about it briefly as necessarily true. Any musician who cannot improvise cannot be considered a jazz musician as typically conceived. The point of jazz talent is precisely to be able to create new previously uncomposed music on the spot.
Iseminger accounts for how Alperson conceives these situations:
“He hones in on jazz improvisation, beginning from a characterization of improvisatory activity in general, "spontaneous achievement within the constraints of the possible" ("A Topography of Improvisation," p. 274) moving to an account of improvisation in music, which can include "more or less minor ornamental embellishments to a composed work" (A Topography of p. 275), to the kind of improvisation characteristic of main-stream small group jazz of the last sixty years or so in which we are beholding, as jazz pianist Bill Evans puts it, "the process of making one minute's music in one minute's time, whereas when you compose you can take one minute's music and take three months to compose it" ("A Topography of Improvisation," p. 275). We have "the sense that we are actually witnessing the shaping activity of the improviser. It is as if we in the audience gain privileged access to the performer's mind at the moment of creation" ("A Topography of Improvisation," p. 274).
Already we can see that, if this is an important part of what we appreciate in an improvised performance, we cannot say that "how it sounds" is all that matters. It matters as well that it is the result of spontaneous activity, for something analogous to [Arthur] Danto's exhibition of indiscernibles can easily be imagined where what we hear is not the result of the player's spontaneous activity but of the skillful reproduction of a product of someone else's spontaneous activity.” (bold not in original)
All that is required for this level of 'spontaneity' is that the decisions what to play are being made concurrently with the performance and by the performer herself.
Interestingly, because of the apparent requirements for playing jazz specified by (N1-N7), we may have an additional necessary requirement for being a jazz musician.
- (N7) The best jazz musicians necessarily play music well with an individual sound.
Guitarist Wayne Krantz supports this point of view by discovering its truth when he first started to learn about and play jazz.
“But when I heard the Barney Kessel record, suddenly there was this guy playing all these notes and the complexity of it fascinated me and I thought, “Okay, I have to learn how to do that,” and so began my fascination with jazz music which lasted for a good ten years of really getting into that and getting more interested in specific individuals who played really well. For me, that is one of the main differences between jazz and other kinds of music; jazz is really about how well individuals play. Whereas in rock and pop it’s more about the vibe of the song, what the thing feels like, what it’s about, what the band sound is, what’s the image of the group and so on. That’s a pretty big distinction.” (bold not in original)
What Are Not Sufficient Conditions For Playing Jazz?
There is a long laundry list of bad possible answers to the question of what are sufficient conditions for playing jazz. The table below on the left states the alleged sufficient condition followed on the right by why it cannot be a sufficient condition because it doesn't guarantee jazz exists whenever that condition is satisfied.
There are at least two main reasons why sufficient conditions can fail to guarantee that jazz exists under those conditions. Either the condition is not specific enough to actually pick out jazz, such as were it to be claimed that riding a bicycle is sufficient for playing jazz. This fails to be sufficient since riding a bicycle is not a musical activity while playing jazz is such an activity. The other main reason why a sufficient condition can fail even were it to somehow pick out some jazz when it also picks out non-jazz music. Here's the type of generalized example. Suppose someone claims being a color is sufficient to be a red color. However, merely being colored by itself is insufficient for being a red color since blue is a color (thereby satisfying the alleged sufficient condition), but being blue, which is a color, is not sufficient to guarantee redness exists.
|Proposed Sufficient Condition for Playing Jazz||Reason(s) for Insufficiency|
|Playing a saxophone.||Other forms of music besides jazz can be played with a saxophone.|
|Using a swing rhythm.||Some non-jazz music uses a swing rhythm such as "Rumble in Brighton" rockabilly by Stray Cats and not all jazz swings, like some straight-ahead jazz, Latin jazz, or free jazz.|
|Music played by Afro-American musicians.||Afro-American musicians sometimes play music other than jazz, for example soul and pop singer Al Green. Non-Afro-Americans around the entire planet Earth also play jazz so the proposed criteria is too narrow as it does not include all jazz musicians.|
|"Jazz is the sound of freedom"— Sidney Bechet||Since there is no such thing as the sound of freedom, this does not help to define jazz. If something could be the sound of freedom, what music gets ruled out? Isn't punk rock the sound of freedom too? If punk rock can be the sound of freedom, then this feature (the sounds of freedom) cannot be used to distinguish jazz from non-jazz.|
|Music played with improvisation.||Some jazz has no improvisation, while some improvised music, as can be found in rock and roll or the blues, is not jazz.|
|Music developed around the turn of the 20th century in the United States.||Several genres of music developed around the turn of the century in America such as the blues and Appalachian folk music, including jug bands, honky tonk and bluegrass, and the early roots of country music. None of these are jazz genres. Also, only knowing a location of origin in either time or space informs us nothing about the characteristics of the music making it impossible to recognize from listening if only the location or time of its origin is known.|
|A type of music of black American origin characterized by improvisation, syncopation, and usually a regular or forceful rhythm, emerging at the beginning of the 20th century.||Blues music that is not jazz can have forceful rhythms, syncopation, and improvisation and it too was primarily developed by black Americans and blues is a different overall genre than jazz.|
|Music that uses brass and woodwind instruments and piano, and sometimes guitar and occasionally violin.||Other forms of music besides jazz can be played with any or all of these instruments.|
|Music born out of and evolved through the Afro-American experience in the U.S. from slave songs and spirituals (religious Afro-American folk songs).||These same remarks can be said about the blues.|
|Jazz has an ability to absorb aspects of other music styles and transform them into something entirely new and different. Emerging in the first decades as an unpolished folk music, jazz reflected diverse influences.||Is the genre of jazz the only music that can transform other music into something different? No, country music can countrify a song, while blues music can bluesify it. Is there any other music besides jazz that is an unpolished folk music? Yes, there is—some blues music can be considered unsophisticated folk music. Many types of music, in addition to jazz, reflect diverse influences, such as rock and roll or soul music (influenced by gospel and church music).|
|Music directly resulting from West African influences on European derived music styles and popular American music.||While partially correct for jazz, it is not sufficient for jazz since the same points are true of blues music, which is not jazz.|
|Music resulting as a consequence of combining elements from Blues, marching bands, polkas, field hollers and work songs, religious music, ragtime and West African music.||Isn’t this at least somewhat true of R & B (rhythm and blues) or rock and roll music? Plus, this grab bag approach is just throwing the kitchen sink of earlier music genres and hoping it sticks as an approach to defining jazz. It does not explain how jazz incorporated these earlier genres to turn them into aspects of jazz.|
|An instrumental music that prides itself on strenuous virtuosity.||Jazz indeed strives to have highly accomplished musicians, but so do all other forms of music, especially classical orchestras, plus jazz is not always instrumental but can include vocalists using lyrics.|
|“Jazz is a kind of music in which improvisation is typically an important part. In most jazz performances, players play solos which they make up on the spot, which requires considerable skill. There is tremendous variety in jazz, but most jazz is very rhythmic, has a forward momentum called "swing," and uses "bent" or "blue" notes. You can often hear "call-and-response" patterns in jazz, in which one instrument, voice, or part of the band answers another. (You can hear Ella Fitzgerald and Roy Eldridge do "call and response" in Ella's Singing Class.) Jazz can express many different emotions, from pain to sheer joy. In jazz, you may hear the sounds of freedom—for the music has been a powerful voice for people suffering unfair treatment because of the color of the skin, or because they lived in a country run by a cruel dictator.” (bold not in original)||Other music improvises besides jazz and some types of music besides jazz are "very rhythmic," such as marches. Some jazz does not swing. Blues music uses "bent" and "blue" notes. Call and response can occur in non-jazz music, such as gospel or country. Many melodies express emotions besides jazz, such as solemn or sad classical music. "The sounds of freedom" is a problematic conception, but conceivably can be found in other music such as punk rock.|
|“Defining jazz is a notoriously difficult proposition, but the task is easier if one bypasses the usual inventory of musical qualities or techniques, like improvisation or swing. . . . More relevant are the boundaries within which historians, critics, and musicians have consistently situated the music. One such boundary, certainly, is ethnicity. Jazz is strongly identified with African-American culture, both in the narrow sense that its particular techniques ultimately derive from black American folk traditions, and in the broader sense that it is expressive of, and uniquely rooted in, the experience of black Americans. This raises important questions at the edges—e.g., how the contributions of white musicians are to be treated and, at the other end of the spectrum, where the boundary between jazz and other African-American genres (such as blues, gospel, and R & B) ought to be drawn. But on the whole, ethnicity provides a core, a center of gravity for the narrative of jazz, and is one element that unites the several different kinds of narratives in use today.” (bold and bold italic not in original)||Scott Deveaux provides his own refutations for any suggestion that ethnicity would help to delineate jazz from other musical genres since jazz is not exclusively an Afro-American performed art throughout its entire history and non-jazz kinds of music, such as blues and Gospel, are just as involved with predominantly Afro-American ethnicity. He is, of course, correct that one can focus on a particular narrative. Given the predominance throughout all of jazz's history of Afro-American musicians leading the charge in jazz, it is entirely appropriate to consider jazz under this "narrative" for sure! Does it provide a way to delineate jazz from non-jazz based on ethnicity? It cannot because the characteristics of the music are not determined exclusively by race or ethnicity. If they were, then many kinds of music would be multi-ethnic to an extreme degree.|
|“Jazz is a musical art form characterized by blue notes, syncopation, swing, call and response, polyrhythms, and improvisation. It has been called the first original art form to develop in the United States of America and partakes of both popular and classical musics. It has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, in African American music traditions, including blues and ragtime, and European military band music. After originating in African-American communities around the beginning of the 20th century, jazz gained international popularity by the 1920s. Jazz has also evolved into many sometimes contrasting subgenres including free jazz.” (bold not in original)||Borisov provides an accurate description of critical musical features found in jazz, but not all jazz improvises (Duke Ellington Orchestra), syncopates (free jazz), has blue notes (Latin jazz), swings (lots of jazz doesn't swing, not to be confused with still having a groove), call and response could be missing, probably even without polyrhythms, you could yet have jazz. So none of these conditions are necessary for jazz. But, could they be jointly sufficient? No, because if you add call and response to a Stray Cats rockabilly improvising performance with polyrhythms (syncopation is a form of polyrhythms), then you would still have Rockabilly, but not jazz. It is doubtful that jazz is the first original art form in the US, even if it is one of America's contributions to major musical art forms. Isn't the Blues an American art form, and existed before jazz, so would have a better claim of being first? If referring to the continental United States, then native americans had much earlier original art forms than jazz in clothing, sand paintings, ceremonial or war bonnet headdresses, weavings, jewelry, the list is endless. Even referencing the political United States prior to jazz there were (possibly 'original') art forms by Americans in glassblowing, horseshoe art, American Western wear, American gun engraving art (engraved 1873 Colt single action revolver and knife set commemorating the Abilene Centennial), and so on.|
|“Jazz is a musical form that relies on improvisation and rhythmic urgency. Improvisation is a primary way that jazz musicians express themselves, requiring them to be inventive and create music on the spot. Such musical artists often do this by changing melodies rhythmically or embellishing the melody. The rhythm of jazz is often syncopated, which is when accents occur on the off-beat, and it may be polyrhythmic, which is when multiple, contrasting rhythms occur at the same time.” (bold not in original)||These aspects mentioned are true of jazz, but also of other kinds of music that are improvised, syncopated, and inventively created, such as often found in improvised blues, improvised rockabilly, or improvisational rock and roll.|
| A quiz at Study.com on the elements of jazz gives no correct answer for defining jazz in its choices. It is clear they think the first three answers each define jazz so that (4) is supposed to be the non-jazz answer.
* QUIZ QUESTION: Which of these is NOT a definition of jazz music?
|All four answers are problematic and fail to define or not define jazz. (1) is not adequate because it fails to rule out American blues, or American improvised rock and roll, or even American punk rock music spontaneously improvised. (2) refers to European American performance styles, which are practically meaningless; there is no such performance style. What musicians, when serious, as all jazz musicians are when performing, take a casual attitude towards the music? None. So, (3) does not define jazz. Lastly, (4) is not even false of jazz because there are plenty of strict rules of musical performance that jazz musicians obey, such as showing up on time, staying in rhythm, knowing where one is, the etiquette of soloing, as well as conforming to the many practices of musical production.|
| “Jazz: Born in America, jazz can be seen as a reflection of the cultural diversity and individualism of this country. At its core are openness to all influences, and personal expression through improvisation. Throughout its history, jazz has straddled the worlds of popular music and art music, and it has expanded to a point where its styles are so varied that one may sound completely unrelated to another. First performed in bars, jazz can now be heard in clubs, concert halls, universities, and large festivals all over the world.”
“The Birth of Jazz: New Orleans, Louisiana around the turn of the 20th century was a melting pot of cultures. A major port city, people from all over the world came together there, and as a result, musicians were exposed to a variety of music. European classical music, American blues, and South American songs and rhythms came together to form what became known as jazz.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
| Blues, which is not the same musical genre as jazz, can also be thought of as “a reflection of this country's cultural diversity and individualism.” It is false that jazz as a genre of music is “open to all influences." Jazz, for example, is not open to disco music, or Philip Glass's minimalism, or being repetitive and boring. It is not open to using high frequencies that humans cannot hear. It is not open to immoral practices for creating music. There are plenty of things jazz is not open to that could be an influence. There cannot easily be punk jazz where musicians who cannot play their instruments well thrash around and try to play in a punk jazz style. One will not end up with much jazz this way. The bands described as punk jazz are not so much jazz bands as they are bands with punk aspects where jazz influences the music. |
Non-jazz music can still have improvisations with a personal expression as in improvised rock and roll, such as the immediately personalized expression of the late blues-rock star Stevie Ray Vaughn (1954–1990).
|“Jazz music is the vernacular music devised largely by African-American musicians in the early 20th century, and developed and extended by both them and by musicians all over the world, which contains a large element of improvisation as an essential part of its performance.”||This description is accurate for jazz. Does it distinguish jazz from the blues? Substitution of the word "blues" for the word "jazz" in the original statement does not affect its truth value, i.e., it remains true of the blues just as much as of jazz because native Afro-American musicians were primarily responsibly at the end of the 19th century as early as 1860 and establishing a wider base at the start of the 20th century developing the blues; American and other world musicians have now extended the blues and the blues can contain large amounts of improvisation. Hence the definition is not sufficient for only picking out jazz.|
|“A style of music, native to America, characterized by a strong but flexible rhythmic understructure with solo and ensemble improvisations on basic tunes and chord patterns and, more recently, a highly sophisticated harmonic idiom.”||Jazz did originate in the United States initially at the start of the 20th century. It is a style of music. Many musical genres other than jazz could be said to have a "strong but flexible rhythmic understructure," including rock and roll or the blues. Indian ragas have a robust rhythmic understructure with both ensemble and solo improvisations. Free jazz might be excluded from jazz if all jazz needed to have a "sophisticated harmonic idiom," as typically understood.|
|“A kind of music of African-American origin, characterized by syncopated rhythms, solo and group improvisation, and a variety of harmonic idioms and instrumental techniques. It exists in a number of styles. Compare blues and see [the related topics of] bebop, bop, Dixieland, free jazz, hard bop, harmolodics, mainstream jazz, modern jazz, New Orleans jazz, swing, trad jazz.”||Being of Afro-American origin by itself is insufficient to delineate all and only jazz because the blues was also Afro-American in origin, plus jazz's development even from the beginning included Creoles, not considered strictly African, rather other French/Caribbean, e.g., Jelly Roll Morton (1890–1941) or Sidney Bechet (1897–1959), or Kid Ory (1886–1973) and some Caucasian players, e.g., Bix Beiderbecke (1903–1931) also were included in early jazz. The blues and Rock and Roll or so-called Pop, as in popular music from the 1950s through today, can have syncopated rhythms with significant solo and (less likely) group improvisation. All genres of music have 'harmonic' idioms and instrumental techniques. Country music uses slide guitars, and Indian musicians use unique drums and drone techniques with complex rhythmic musical compositional structures. Existing in many styles does not pick out jazz because other non-jazz genres exist in different styles, such as different blues styles like country blues, electric Chicago style, Memphis urban blues, or Mississippi delta blues, and so on. Socrates (in his dialogues Euthyphro 6d: "Piety is doing what I am doing now" and in the Meno 74c-d: "Defining shape as roundness, or color as white or as white plus a list of other colors") already has rejected as viable any definition that merely provides a list of examples since it remains unclear how to justify why all of the examples should be on the list.|
|“Music originating in New Orleans around the beginning of the 20th century and subsequently developing through various increasingly complex styles, generally marked by intricate, propulsive rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, improvisatory, virtuosic solos, melodic freedom, and a harmonic idiom ranging from simple diatonicism through chromaticism to atonality.”|| That's a pretty good description for the range that jazz music has covered. |
Any one forced to choose only one city as the location for jazz's origins all agree it is New Orleans. New Orleans resident Buddy Bolden (1877–1931) was likely playing jazz some of the time during his career from as early possibly as 1895 to 1907.
Is this range exclusive to jazz and picks only it out as a genre distinct from all others? No. If we skip the New Orleans origins, the rest of the descriptions hold for classical music. Some classical musicians can improvise and the practice was more common in earlier times. Rock music recordings exhibit each of the musical features on the list. Rock can have 'simple diatonicism.' Can it be chromatic? Sure. An example of the chromatic scale is every key of one octave on the piano keyboard. Chromatic compositions intersperse the primary diatonic pitches and chords with other pitches of the chromatic scale. Chromaticism contrasts with diatonicism and modality (the major and minor, or "white key," scales). For examples of chromaticism in classical and Rock music, see "Top 10 Chromatic Riffs" and "Diatonic and Chromatic Tonicization in Rock Music." Atonality, no problem using feedback and wah-wah pedals, or the shrieks from ecstatic saxophone in punk rock. Atonal compositions avoid use of melodic or harmonic octaves and traditional pitch collections, such as major or minor triads, as well as avoiding more than three successive pitches from the same diatonic scale, and the use of disjunct melodies.
|Joachim-Ernst Berendt defines jazz as “a form of art music which originated in the United States through the confrontation of the negro with European music and it differs from European music in that jazz has a special relationship to time defined as 'swing,' involves a spontaneity and vitality of musical production in which improvisation plays a role, and contains a sonority and manner of phrasing which mirror the individuality of the performing jazz musician.”||The three features of jazz that Berendt focuses upon are swing, improvisation, and individual sonority promotion. Swing can occur in music other than jazz, such as Western swing and contemporary jazz no longer needs to swing to qualify as jazz. Improvisation and swing can occur in non-jazz music, such as new jack swing or jump blues. Individual sonic expressions on a musical instrument are impossible not to have regardless of the music genre being performed, generally speaking, so not unique to jazz.|
|“Jazz is a music that originated at the beginning of the 20th century within the African-American communities of the Southern United States. Its roots lie in the African-American adoption of European harmony and form to existing African musical elements. African musical influences are evident in the use of blue notes, improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation and the swung note. From its early development until the present day, jazz has also incorporated elements from American popular music.
As the music has developed and spread around the world it has drawn on many different national, regional, and local musical cultures giving rise, since its early 20th century American beginnings, to many distinctive styles: New Orleans jazz dating from the early 1910s; big band swing, Kansas City jazz, and Gypsy jazz from the 1930s and 1940s; bebop from the mid-1940s; and on down through West Coast jazz, cool jazz, avant-garde jazz, Afro-Cuban jazz, modal jazz, free jazz, Latin jazz, etc.” (bold italic not in original)
|The opening description holds true of the non-jazz idiom the blues: originated at the end of the 19th century (probably slightly earlier than any jazz) by predominantly Afro-Americans in the Southern U.S. (blues origins are more in Mississippi and Texas, then in Chicago, whereas jazz was first around New Orleans, then on to Chicago and New York, and other major cities), combining European harmony (and diatonic scale) with an African pentatonic one. Blues uses blue notes, improvisation, and syncopation although using fewer polyrhythms and swung notes than jazz, but we find all of these techniques in the blues. While the blues uses as defining elements more of an emphasis on a call-and-response format, is often quite cyclical, with standard already established chord structures and patterns where often the focus is on an individual guitarist or vocalist (could be the same person doing both) using relatively simple chord progressions and blue notes with emotive lyrics. Jazz, on the other hand, can be instrumental (no vocals) with democratic improvisations and greater emphasis on group interactions with syncopated rhythms.|
|“A broader definition that encompasses all of the radically different eras of jazz has been proposed by Travis Jackson: he states that it is music that includes qualities such as swing, improvising, group interaction, developing an individual voice, and being open to different musical possibilities. An overview of the discussion on definitions is provided by Krin Gabbard who argues that jazz is a construct that "while artificial" still is useful to designate a number of music's with enough in common to be understood as part of a coherent tradition in contrast to the efforts of commentators and enthusiasts of certain types of jazz, who have argued for narrower definitions that exclude other types, the musicians themselves are often reluctant to define the music they play. Duke Ellington one of jazz's most famous figures summed up his perspective by saying "it's all music." (bold not in original)|| Travis A. Jackson (currently Associate Professor in the department of music and the humanities at the University of Chicago) correctly emphasizes prominent features found in jazz performances and musician interactions. However, none of the features mentioned are unique to jazz performances, nor does Jackson claim this. Reviewing Jackson's list, we find that jazz can occur that fails to swing; improvising need not only be jazz; every band has group interaction; jazz does admire individual voice development, but it can occur in non-jazz genres as well; many musicians from genres other than jazz can remain open to different musical possibilities, so none of these characteristics, even jointly, are sufficient to guarantee jazz performances. |
Regarding a definition of jazz, Krin Gabbard (b. 1948), (Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies, Stony Brook University (worked at Stonybrook from 1981–2014) currently an Adjunct Professor in the Jazz Studies program at Columbia University), claims that “jazz is a construct that 'while artificial' still is useful to designate a number of music's with enough in common to be understood as part of a coherent tradition.”
|“While jazz is considered difficult to define improvisation is consistently regarded as being one of its key elements. The centrality of improvisation in jazz is attributed to its presence in influential earlier forms of music. . . . Although European classical music has been said to be a composer's medium in which the performer is sometimes granted discretion over interpretation, ornamentation and accompaniment, the performer's primary goal is to play a composition as it was written. In contrast, jazz is often characterized as the product of group creativity, interaction, and collaboration, that places varying degrees of value on the contributions of composer (if there is one) and performers. In jazz, therefore, the skilled performer will interpret a tune in very individual ways, never playing the same composition exactly the same way twice. Depending upon the performer's mood and personal experience, interactions with other musicians, or even members of the audience, a jazz musician may alter melodies, harmonies, or time signature at will.” (bold and bold italic not in original)|| Improvisation is considered central to skilled jazz performers, but as noted, blues music also promotes skilled improvisations. Jazz is also considered a performer's over a composer's music and jazz musicians often take liberties with a tune's melody, harmony, and rhythmic time signatures while still claiming to have performed that very tune.
No one claims any of the features in the left column are unique to jazz. Each of the elements considered is true of many jazz performances—improvisation is significant, jazz musician's often diverge from the written musical score, jazz players strive for creative group interaction while remaining true to one's idiosyncratic 'sound' and playing style. None of these features by themselves guarantees jazz because non-jazz musical genres, such as the blues, Indian ragas, or rock music as played by the Grateful Dead, or Phish can have them all.
|“Jazz is an original American musical art form, originating around the turn of the 20th century, rooted in Western music technique and theory, and is marked by the profound cultural contributions of African Americans. It is characterized by blue notes, syncopation, swing, call and response, polyrhythms, and improvisation. Jazz has been described as "America's Classical Music."”||All of the statements are true of jazz. Are they unique to all and only jazz? No. Blues is an original American musical art form that also originated just before the 20th century. Both Blues and Rock and Roll are rooted in Western music technique and theory (i.e., European diatonic musical scales). Blues (Robert Johnson, et al.) and even early Rock and Roll (Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, etc.) were marked by 'profound contributions by African Americans.' Many non-jazz kinds of music, including Blues and Rock, use blue notes, syncopation, swing (e.g., Rockabilly, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys), and call and response, polyrhythms, and improvisation.|
|“[Jazz is a] style of music that evolved in the USA in the late 19th century out of African and European folk music, and spiritual and popular songs. It is traditionally characterized by improvization, steady rhythm, and prominence of melody, often with elements derived from the blues. Early jazz developed in New Orleans, becoming known as Dixieland music. In the 1920s, it spread to Chicago and New York City. In the 1930s, swing enjoyed great popularity, as did the be-bop style of the 1940s. Modern jazz incorporates many musical forms.”||Jazz is indeed a music that evolved in the United States during the very end of the 19th century (circa 1890), but so too did the Blues; therefore, these geographic and historical origin facts fail to pick out jazz over the blues uniquely. Both the Blues and Rock and Roll developed out of European and African musical scales (diatonic and pentatonic) and evolving from folk music and popular songs, probably even from spirituals, as far as it goes! The blues can undoubtedly have the three musical characteristics mentioned above for traditionally characterizing jazz: a steady rhythm, prominence of melody, and plenty of improvisation. Listen, for example, to Robert Johnson's "Kind Hearted Woman Blues" for all three. The blues spread to Chicago and New York out of the Southern United States. Did Bebop ever enjoy "high popularity" even in the late 1940s? Many non-jazz musical genres have incorporated multiple musical forms, such as country music becoming more rock-like and vice versa. Listen to Tina Turner's rockin' country version of "You Ain't Woman Enough To Take My Man."|
|“A type of music of black American origin characterized by improvisation, syncopation, and usually a regular or forceful rhythm, emerging at the beginning of the 20th century. Brass and woodwind instruments and piano are particularly associated with jazz, although guitar and occasionally violin are also used; styles include Dixieland, swing, bebop, and free jazz.”||This description is equally valid of a non-jazz genre, such as the Blues developed predominantly by Black Americans using "improvisation, syncopation, and a regular rhythm" at just before and at the turn of the 20th century with players using mostly a piano or guitar too. Listing sub-genres of jazz does not tell us from what kinds of music jazz is distinct.|
|“[A] type of music which developed in the Southern States of USA in the late 19th century and came into prominence at the turn of the century in New Orleans, chiefly (but not exclusively) among black musicians. Elements which contributed to jazz were the rhythms of West Africa, European harmony, and American ‘gospel’ singing. Before the term "jazz" was used, ragtime was the popular name for this genre. Ragtime lasted from c. 1890 to c. 1917. It was an instrumental style, highly syncopated, with the performance predominant (though a few rags had words and were sung). Among the leading exponents of the performance rag were Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, and James P. Johnson, with the cornetists Buddy Bolden and King Oliver. Some rags were notated (e.g., Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag"), but the majority were improvised. About 1900 also, the ‘blues’ craze began. . . . The subsequent history of jazz has embraced a diversity of styles . . . ” (bold and bold italic not in original)|| The opening sentence does not distinguish blues from jazz, except blues had a broader origin than just being from around New Orleans. The elements mentioned contributing to jazz are underdeveloped. There were many more musical influences on jazz besides West African rhythms, European harmony, and gospel singing. These other musical influences included assimilation of black and white folk music and popular styles, syncopations of jazz inspired by Ragtime. Gunther Schuller claims that jazz melody was influenced by slave's vocal materials: “jazz melody evolved out of a simplified residue and mixture of African and European vocal materials intuitively developed by slaves in the United States in the 1700s and 1800s—for example, unaccompanied field hollers and work songs associated with the changed social conditions of blacks. The widely prevalent emphasis on pentatonic formations came primarily from West Africa, whereas the diatonic (and later more chromatic) melodic lines of jazz grew from late 19th- and early 20th-century European antecedents. . . . harmony was applied as an additional musical resource to religious texts; one result was the gradual development of spirituals, borrowing from the white religious revival meetings that African Americans in many parts of the South were urged to attend.
One crucial outcome of these musical acculturations was the development by blacks of the so-called blues scale, with its “blue notes”—the flatted third and seventh degrees. This scale is neither particularly African nor particularly European but acquired its peculiar modality from pitch inflections common to any number of West African languages and musical forms. In effect, these highly expressive—and in African terms very meaningful—pitch deviations were superimposed on the diatonic scale common to almost all European classical and vernacular music.”
|“Jazz, black American music with African roots, developed at the end of the nineteenth century, predominantly in the southern United States. Its two principal roots were vocal—the religious spirituals and the profane blues. However, when this music spread to Europe in the first decade of the twentieth century, it was first exposed in orchestral form while retaining, from its vocal origins, an original and highly expressive instrumental performing style modeled on the human voice.
Several other attributes characterize early jazz heard in Europe after World War I. First, jazz is a physical and sensual music. Rhythmic structure plays a key role both in composition of the orchestra and in the structure of the musical pieces themselves. Indeed, a jazz band typically included a tripartite rhythm section of bass, drums, and guitar or banjo (sometimes piano), and a melodic section of one or two cornets, trombone, clarinet, and at times a violin. Rhythm was essential to the music, and "swing" became a defining element. Second, jazz was partly "functional," and the early jazz bands played a good deal of European dance music. Third, jazz is a "living" music rather than formally composed, an art in which performance is more important than composition. With improvisations, solos, and variations, the role of interpretation is paramount. Finally, jazz was also a music of black people. Race prejudice in Europe was much different from that found in the United States. Coming to popularity during the era of European colonialism, jazz acquired special status as a "roots" music and enjoyed the appeal of authenticity.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
| As in all things, one must be careful of the implications of one's chosen words. The author, Sophie A. Leterrier, has selected the phrase "with African roots" to begin her definition or description of jazz. Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines "roots"—in the likely sense she has in mind—as meaning “a: something that is an origin or source (as of a condition or quality), or b: one or more progenitors of a group of descendants, or c: underlying support: basis, or d: the essential core.” Taking each in turn and asking if any of these four meanings is true of jazz, we find none correct. Jazz did not exist in any form in Africa before its creation in the United States, so jazz cannot have Africa as its point of origin. Jazz is not a descendant from Africa for similar reasons. The father or mother of descendants must have transmitted some of their current properties in DNA onto their offspring. Because there was no jazz in Africa at the start of the 1900s, there were no African musical fathers or mothers for jazz descendants to inherit! African music is not the basis for jazz where "basis" means “1. bottom of something considered as its foundation, or 2: the principal component of something, or 3a: something on which something else is established or based” because even though African rhythms and an African pentatonic musical scale are part of jazz, they are not its only basis because jazz also uses a European diatonic musical scale, and syncopation is not unique to African music. African music does not form the 'essential core' of jazz for the same reasons as the preceding; it also includes non-African elements (diatonic scale) as a foundational component found in jazz. |
The issue over the African or European jazz features being predominant has had considerable discussion in the literature. The conclusion made by the moderates is that it has both aspects with no side being dominant. Lee B. Brown, David Goldblatt, and Theodore Gracyk promote such a moderate position in their masterwork, Jazz and the Philosophy of Art.
“Although (Andre) Hodeir doesn't say so, it is clear that the argument against Afropurism can be adapted to refute Europurism as well. (It would undermine the old-fashioned idea, for instance, that jazz is just a vulgarization of music that is European in essence.) In general, it doesn't follow from the fact that jazz has inherited either European or non-European elements, that it is either European or non-European in its essence. (bold not in original)
|“Jazz music is one of the most original and innovative of American musical forms. Throughout the twentieth century, jazz evolved to encompass a variety of complex styles and it produced some of the century's greatest composers and musicians.
Jazz originated in the early 1900s, mostly in the South, and especially in New Orleans, Louisiana. Drawing from African American blues and ragtime music, jazz added more complex rhythms and a wider range of tones to create a new style. As it developed in the 1910s and 1920s, a number of important early innovators took jazz in new directions, including Joseph "King" Oliver (1885–1938), Sidney Bechet (1897–1959), Jelly Roll Morton (1890–1941), and especially trumpeter Louis Armstrong (1901–1971). Armstrong was a phenomenal soloist, and he moved the solo instrument to the forefront of jazz. Jazz music often began with a single melody, and then various soloists would add their own touches to it until it became their own. While African American jazz artists such as Armstrong were creating new innovations in jazz, white musicians and band leaders, such as Paul Whiteman (1890–1967), brought a softer version of jazz to white audiences for dancing (see entry under 1900s—The Way We Lived in volume 1) in the 1920s.” (bold not in original)
| The United States of America has been a source or promoter of numerous innovative genres of music besides jazz, including the blues, country, bluegrass, rock, rock and roll, R&B, pop, hip hop, soul, funk, gospel, disco, house, techno, ragtime, doo-wop, folk music, Americana, boogaloo,Tejano, reggaeton, and salsa.
Many musical genres other than jazz have produced some of the 20th century's greatest composers and musicians.
If you learn five things about something, by itself, does not necessarily define anything so that one can now distinguish all and only those items falling within the domain of reference. Learning that something is (1) an Australian icon, (2) flies through the air, (3) involves the principle of lift, (4) is safe to fly, and (5) can now be found throughout the world, 🗺 does not distinguish between Qantas airlines and a boomerang.
|“A genre of music that developed in the early twentieth century in the United States, jazz represents a mixture of European, American, and African tribal musical elements linked to African-American folk traditions and often performed by ensembles of African-American musicians. The word "jazz" is believed to have come from the Creole word "jass," which refers to African dance or to copulation. The term "jazz" first appeared in print in a March 1913 edition of the San Francisco Bulletin in reference to peppy dance music. Associated from its beginning with New Orleans, nightlife, decadence, alcohol, loose living, sexuality, primitivism, and African Americans, jazz became an immensely popular and influential form of musical performance that nonetheless retained its sexy and licentious connotations.
Since its appearance as popular music, jazz has been associated with sexuality. Originally linked to what were believed to be the more openly sexual attitudes of African Americans, jazz's connections to most forms of dance and courting during the first half of the twentieth century perpetuated its association with sex. The foundation of much of the dance music from the 1920s on, jazz's syncopations provoked changes in styles of dance from more formal waltzes and fox-trots to dances that permitted more suggestive touching, bodily intimacy, and athleticism. The association between jazz and loose living lingered even in the big band performances of the 1930s and 1940s, continuing the fascinations of a sexually inflected nightclub culture in big cities (often linked to speakeasies) and to ballrooms and other sites where dance led to other, more sexual forms of entertainment.
In the early twentieth century the term jazz applied to a broad range of musical styles and there was no consensus about what the term jazz meant. Early-twenty-first-century music critics and historians generally agree that jazz consists of a "collectively improvised music, with syncopated rhythms over a strong underlying pulse" (Shipton 2001, p. 5). The seeds of jazz originated in a combination of ragtime—or songs with a syncopated rhythm—blues, and marching band music played in New Orleans around the turn of the twentieth century. Developed in Louisiana during the first decade of the twentieth century by such pioneering musicians as Buddy Bolden, jazz went north to Chicago in the late 1910s with some New Orleans jazz groups and performers, such as King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band and Jelly Roll Morton. Joining Oliver in the north was trumpet prodigy Louis Armstrong, who helped develop the rapid rhythmic style known as "hot jazz."
Going north with jazz was its association with what was regarded as the more primitive sexuality of African-American nightlife. Continuing to develop more or less simultaneously in New Orleans, Kansas City, and Chicago, jazz became the basis for a social dancing and nightclub life that became more openly sexual. As more mainstream orchestra leaders such as Paul Whiteman began adapting jazz styles to larger ensembles, jazz itself became more mainstream, centering jazz's sexual connotations as a permanent aspect of popular music.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
| As has been previously multiply noted, music other than jazz also "developed in the early twentieth century in the United States" and "represents a mixture of European, American, and African tribal musical elements linked to African-American folk traditions" such as the Blues and Rock that also was "often performed by ensembles of African-American musicians."
Jazz does have "sexy connotations," but so do the Blues and Rock and Roll. Blues players often are singing about sexual matters, and Rock has discussed love and sex from its inceptions. Need an example? Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love (1969)
It does not get more sexual by the inch than that!
Alyn Shipton's jazz description of "a collectively improvised music, with syncopated rhythms over a strong underlying pulse" is accurate as far as it goes. If blues is ever collectively improvised, or Rock 🪨, then each can satisfy these three requirements making Shipton's definition inadequate.
If one makes enough correct historically accurate descriptions about jazz's development, this should pick jazz out. Unfortunately, it does not help us define it since these historical developments, while overall unique to jazz's history, nevertheless fails to state which of these aspects are essential to jazz and which are just historical accidents.
What Are Not Sufficient Conditions For Playing Jazz? — Middle
|Proposed Sufficient Condition for Playing Jazz||Reason(s) for Insufficiency|
| “Jazz music in the United States has roots dating back to the arrival of the first African American slaves in North America. Originally, the blues sound was a combination of rhythms made by instruments brought from Africa, combined with the fiddle strains and songs from white settlers from the British Isles. This blend evolved until it emerged in the 1890s as a type of music called ragtime. Ragtime eventually became jazz.
New Orleans, Louisiana, is considered the birthplace of jazz. Most early residents of New Orleans were Creole, people of Spanish, French, or African descent, and the early musicians brought the sound of their particular heritage to create a genre of jazz that became known as Dixieland. Another term for this type of music, which was played on brass instruments, is creole jazz. Dixieland music is marching band music with offbeat rhythms and improvised solos. Early Dixieland musicians included pianist Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton (1885–1941) and cornet player Joe “King” Oliver (1885–1938). Morton is considered to be the first jazz composer.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
| Jazz does have roots that includes musical influences from African music and directly from African-American slaves' musical influences on American music in general. Not just in jazz, but most certainly even before jazz, in country blues a highly vocally inflected singing style usually with single guitar accompaniment. At no time during the African slaves musical history in America beginning around 1619 were they ever playing any music from 1619 until at least 1885 that experts agree constituted jazz performances. If they were not playing jazz, then it is impossible for them to have arrived in the America's bringing jazz with them; it just did not happen like this. Therefore, it is possibly misleading to claim that “Jazz . . . has roots dating back to the arrival of the first African American slaves in North America” since roots can mean one of two very non-equivalent things. To try to avoid confusion call these two types of the use of meaning of roots as roots1 and roots2. |
Roots are parts of plants defined as those parts with an endogenous (from within) origin arising from the inner part of a plant's structure and contrasting with the rest of a plant including stems and leaves that all have exogenous (external) origins from outer parts of a plant called the cortex. Functionally, root architecture provides a secure supply of nutrients and water as well as anchorage and support for the rest of a plant.
Roots are dyadic (i.e., two place) relationships between two things where the item on the left of R (the first type of roots relationship), call it A, is what does the rooting, while the item to the right of R, let's call it B, is what has the former as its root. A bears the R relationship to B.
There are two ways to be R in a roots relationship that we'll call Re or Rc. One could be termed "evolutionary roots" (Re) and the other "causal factor roots" (Rc). The Re is an evolutionary root relationship when the roots component A contains some pre-cursor features found later in the non-roots components B. It is an evolutionary roots relationship Re when the rooted component A contains in itself some aspects or features found in the non-rooted parts B thereby having evolved from the earlier roots. This is evolutionary rootage, or Re.
The other use of the word "root," Rc, does not require any earlier pre-cursor features existing in the roots A that are later discovered also to be in the non-roots B. Here there need only be causal considerations involved where the non-rooted component B has as one of its significant causal factors the existence of the roots component in A without there having to be anything recognizable as some property in B of the non-rooted aspects being already present in some form in the rooted component A.
In which sense of Re or Rc is it true that "jazz has roots dating back to the arrival of the first African American slaves?" Definitely jazz does not have Re roots since no African slaves were ever playing jazz so they had nothing to pass on from their A rooted component to jazz's B non-rooted component.
CONCLUSION: This leaves Rc as the correctly understood roots relationship between African music prior to 1900 and jazz. African music was a causal influence in the creation of jazz without itself containing any jazz directly.
It is an oversimplification to claim that originally the blues sound was a combination of rhythms made by instruments brought from Africa, combined with the fiddle strains and songs from white settlers from the British Isles. Furthermore, it is definitely false that this blend evolved until it emerged in the 1890s as a type of music called Ragtime. Ragtime did not evolve or come from the blues. Lastly, it is another oversimplification claiming that Ragtime eventually became jazz because jazz had many more musical influences than just Ragtime, including marches, blues, call and response, gospel, spirituals, work songs, African rhythms, and European harmony and instruments.
However, at no time were African slave musicians playing any jazz in Africa. African slaves did not play anything like jazz because they used no diatonic musical scale, which jazz has when it hybridizes the European diatonic scale with a pentatonic, African, one.
Regarding the issue of whether most people of New Orleans were Creole Wikipedia: "Creoles of Color" claims that the term had quite broad extension to many ethnicities: “During Louisiana's colonial period, Créole referred to people born in Louisiana whose ancestors had come from elsewhere; i.e., all natives other than Native Americans. The term Créole was first used by French colonists to distinguish themselves from foreign-born settlers, and later as distinct from Anglo-American settlers. Colonial documents show that the term Créole was used variously at different times to refer to white people, mixed-race people, and black people, including slaves. The "of color" is thus a necessary qualifier, as "Creole"/"Créole" do not on their own convey any racial connotation.” (Click on quotation itself to hyperlink to Wikipedia.)
|Proposed Sufficient Condition for Playing Jazz||Reason(s) for Insufficiency|
|“JAZZ as a term can act as an adjective, noun, or verb, and refers to a performance method or the music itself that is called jazz. The term was only applied to music around 1915 and was even then disliked by some musicians because it was a vulgar term for sexual intercourse. Jazz music encompasses many substyles that can be characterized by comparative time periods, geography, style, ensemble, function, venue, and audience. The importance of individuality and improvisatory interaction in jazz, requiring mastery of expression and technical skill, should not be underestimated.
ORIGINS: Like the blues, jazz was at first an oral tradition founded by African Americans as a passionate expression of social condition, combining both African American and European American influences. New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, was a slave trade port, and its Congo Square was a gathering place on Sundays for the African Americans who danced, sang of their history and ritual with expressive African inflections, and played drums. In the late 1800s, European American music, spirituals, Creole music, and the same African American field hollers and work songs that influenced blues influenced this oral tradition.
Another early influence on New Orleans jazz was Ragtime, which began to be published around 1890 and became the first Afro- American tradition to gain widespread popularity. Ragtime's primary musical model was the marching band, and most of its repertoire was for piano, such as the rags of St. Louis's Scott Joplin and Harlem's James P. Johnson. Larger ragtime ensembles called syncopated orchestras (syncopation was a prominent ragtime feature) were also popular in America and Europe; one of the most famous was James Reese Europe's Clef Club Orchestra. In addition, Europe founded what could possibly be the first modern association of African American musicians, also called Clef Club.
New Orleans was a melting pot of African, Caribbean, Creole, European, and local traditions. Its small bands played in parades, funerals, and other social gatherings and were typified by a celebratory spirit and rhythmic intensity. Buddy Bolden, Louis Armstrong, and Jelly Roll Morton began their careers in New Orleans and became some of the greatest soloists of the time. Most jazz in New Orleans was performed as dance music in the venues of Storyville (the red-light district between 1896 and 1917). When Storyville closed, many musicians migrated to Chicago, Kansas City, and New York to find employment.
The Jazz Age And Modernity (1920s): The displaced Dixieland sounds characterized the Jazz Age. Some believe the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (founded 1916), set a standard that started the Jazz Age, while others point to King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band (founded 1922) in Chicago. Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five (1925) are often credited with exemplifying the spirit of the era. New York became the center for jazz performance and recording after 1925. By 1930, successful artists included Coleman Hawkins, Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Benny Carter.
The Jazz Age characterized the sound of modernity because it emphasized the individual voice and had a great impact on genres and styles in the visual arts, including film, and modernist literature, in works by such authors as Langston Hughes and T. S. Eliot. Socially, musicians were successful in presenting jazz to the general public as well as making strides in overcoming racial boundaries.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
| The etymology of the word "jazz" has by now been extensively studied. Its original confirmed usage was found in a baseball sports column where the term meant pep, as in energy. As reported at the Online Etymology Dictionary, or see THE ORIGINS OF THE WORD "JAZZ."
Lewis Porter's original article at WBGO posted in 2011.
Lewis Porter reports that the sexual angle was an addition to its original meaning: “But—and this is significant—although a similar evolution happened to the word "jazz," which became slang for the act of sex, that did not happen until 1918 at the earliest. That is, the sexual connotation was not part of the origin of the word, but something added later. See Lewis Porter, "Where Did 'Jazz,' the Word, Come From?".
Porter goes on to warn his readers/listeners that almost all past proposed theories for the origin of the word "jazz" are mistaken.
“It should be clear by now that all of the popular stories about the origin of the word are wrong—and I do mean all! word origins seems to be one of those fields where everybody thinks he or she is an expert. One reason there are so many false theories about the origin of “jazz” is that fans, not trained in etymology, have gone looking for any words that sound like “jazz.” They found slightly similar sounds in French, some African languages, even Gaelic.”
See William Sayers, "The Etymology of jazz – One More Time" Published online: January 23, 2020.
See etymonline.com: jazz.
When the author states that the word "jazz" was “disliked by some musicians because it was a vulgar term for sexual intercourse,” Lewis Porter above claims the sexual connection could not have happened any earlier than 1918.
While it is true that jazz musicians recognize the “importance of individuality and improvisatory interaction” and require “mastery of expression and technical skill” this is not unique to jazz. Most genres of music encourage such factors of excellence and are admired by any genres of music that improvises, such as country, or rock 🪨.
|“Jazz is a uniquely American style of music that developed in the early twentieth century in urban areas of the United States. As it grew in popularity and influence, jazz served as a means of bringing young people together. It has always created and sustained artistic subcultures, which have produced new and increasingly sophisticated artistry. As a pervasive and influential musical style, jazz has at times been a great social leveler and unifier. It has melded black and white citizens in a love of fast, rhythmic music, which was first proliferated through radio and the recording industry. Jazz became the basis for most social dance music and also provided one of the first opportunities for public integration.
Jazz first emerged in the black cultures of New Orleans from the mixed influences of Ragtime (songs with a syncopated rhythm), blues, and the band music played at New Orleans funerals. The term "jazz" or "jass" derives from a Creole word that means both African dance and copulation. The term jazz referring to peppy dance music first appeared in a March 1913 edition of the San Francisco Bulletin, an appearance that indicates jazz’s rapid spread as a popular musical genre as well as its connection to dancing and nightlife. Developed by such innovative musicians as Buddy Bolden (1877–1931) in New Orleans in the first decade of the twentieth century, jazz had moved west, east, and north to Chicago by 1919. Spread by such New Orleans jazz groups and performers as King Oliver (1885–1938) and his Creole Jazz Band and Jelly Roll Morton (1890–1941), jazz first became popular in the nightclub cultures of big cities. King Oliver’s band in Chicago was soon joined by a young Louis Armstrong (1901–1971), who pioneered the rapid rhythmic jazz style called hot jazz. White musicians such as Bix Beiderbecke (1903–1931), Jack Teagarden (1905–1964), and Joe Venuti (1903–1978) began to copy the jazz style of New Orleans bands, and soon jazz was an American national phenomenon, appealing to sophisticates and young audiences around the country.
Jazz evolved simultaneously in the 1920s in New Orleans, Chicago, and Kansas City, performed by both black and white ensembles and orchestras. As it developed from its Dixieland forms, jazz styles ranged from the hot jazz of Louis Armstrong to the “symphonic” jazz of Paul Whiteman’s (1890–1967) band. Hot jazz, one of the first influential developments of jazz, featured a strong soloist whose variations on the melody and driving momentum were accompanied by an expert ensemble of five or seven players. The idea of soloists playing in relation to backup ensembles also worked easily with larger bands, which began to form in the 1920s.
Fletcher Henderson (1897–1952) and Duke Ellington (1899–1974) established black jazz orchestras that began performing at prominent nightclubs in Chicago and New York. Henderson employed some of the most accomplished jazz musicians of his time, including Armstrong and saxophonist Coleman Hawkins (1904–1969). Ellington, who began as a piano player, established another orchestra, noted for its sophistication in its long-running appearance at New York’s Cotton Club. Paul Whiteman, a successful white California orchestra leader, adapted jazz for his larger dance orchestra, which became the most popular band of the 1920s. Whiteman was interested in distinguishing a high art jazz as represented by George Gershwin’s (1898–1937) "Rhapsody in Blue" (1924, which Whiteman had commissioned for his orchestra) from what he thought of as the cruder jazz of such white jazz ensembles as the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, booked into New York in 1917, was one of the first successful jazz groups.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
| Here we have a lot of purported information about jazz. Are any of the claims false? Jazz did originate in the United States. However, it has now gone global so should no longer be thought of as 'uniquely American' since many non-American countries have now contributed to jazz's development. (See PoJ.fm's Ep8. How could it be known that Australian jazz has a national musical identity (differing from American jazz)?).
It is somewhat odd to emphasize 'bringing young people together' since jazz was played at brothels, night clubs, funerals, etc. where young people would not be apparent. During the swing era, dancers included plenty of non-young people such as the middle-aged.
Jazz has 'created and sustained' artistic sub-cultures if these refer to new modes of jazz such as cool, Latin jazz, or modal jazz, to name a few. This aspect though does not help us to define jazz uniquely as many situations have created artistic sub-cultures, such as cubism.
Not all jazz has been 'fast and rhythmic' music. In the 1940s jazz orchestras were classified as either 'sweet' or 'hot' with the 'sweet' bands usually playing much more slowly in tempo than the 'hot' bands. For example, listen to British band leader Ted Heath playing "The Folks Who Live On The Hill" that nobody is going to think is being played 'fast and rhythmically.'
Jazz as a musical form did not derive from only the three sources of 'Ragtime, blues, and funeral big bands.' It had many more musical influences than just those three. Many songs associated with New Orleans jazz employed a three-part song structure characteristic of ragtime, and made use of musical elements from jubilees and gospel/spirituals, habanera, bamboula, and tresillo rhythms, vaudeville, military and brass marching music, West and Central African influences, and classical and opera.
“The foundation of jazz arose from a combination of European-based music, exemplified by brass bands, and musical carryovers from the African heritage such as the ring shout, improvisation, call-and-response patterns, and complex rhythms, which black churches and minstrel shows preserved and promulgated. It also owed a debt to the distinctive African-American Creole culture in New Orleans that combined European influences and African-American traditions, which formed the bedrock of a music later called jazz.” (bold not in original)
| The foundation of jazz does consist of combining European based, read diatonic musical scale, with an African (musical) heritage, read pentatonic musical scale. If we leave out the 'complex rhythms' then these descriptions are equally true of the blues. Wikipedia: Blues reports that:
“Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1860s by African-Americans from roots in African musical traditions, African-American work songs, and spirituals. Blues incorporated spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form, ubiquitous in jazz, rhythm and blues and rock and roll, is characterized by the call-and-response pattern, the blues scale and specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues is the most common. Blue notes (or "worried notes"), usually thirds, fifths or sevenths flattened in pitch are also an essential part of the sound.” (bold not in original)Jazz, too, uses these "worried notes" because it acquired them from the blues.
Creole cultures contributions are less clear. However, one of the early promoters of jazz, Jelly Roll Morton was a Creole. Morton is famous for claiming that jazz should have a pinch of spice for what Morton titled the "Spanish (or Latin) tinge." It is likely that Creole culture, influenced from mixing African-American enslaved people with French colonialists fostered musical participation in African-American brass bands. Francophile free blacks, steeped in French culture and practices, were known as “Creoles of color.” Freed slaves from islands such as St. Domingue left those islands and migrated to Cuba and eventually to New Orleans bringing with them such Caribbean rhythms as the tresillo with beats of [(3+3+2)], the son clave [(3+2) +2], and the cinquillo [(2+1) + (2+1) +2], and dances such as the tango and rhumba. Over time, these beats filtered into jazz through Creole musicians in New Orleans. (See PoJ.fm's Ontdef3. What is the definition of jazz?: Hybridization of Diatonic and Pentatonic Musical Scales).
“Jazz is an art form of musical interplay and ensemble individuality. To put it another way, jazz is the self-expression of the solo grounded in the textures of the ensemble. A short definition: jazz is the individual sounding of human experience expressed within a supportive group.” (bold not in original)
| Suppose one replaces the words "Jazz is" in the sentences with the words "Classical orchestras are," or "rock bands are," or "blues bands are." All three new sentences would still be correct. Classical orchestra have musical interplay between the sections in an orchestra such as the strings versus the brass sections, and classical orchestras often feature a soloist such as a pianist or the lead violinist expressing themselves. All bands of any genre can be correctly said to have "musical interplay" as when the drummer and bass player work together to support the groove. |
Turning to the second sentence regarding self-expression of the soloist, other genres of non-jazz music can equally claim to have supportive groups with solos expressing themselves, such as in rock music. Rock soloists express themselves while other players provide rhythmic and other musical support. Hence, this proposed definition is too broad as it applies to non-jazz musical genres as well.
What Are Not Sufficient Conditions For Playing Jazz?—Added
|Proposed Sufficient Condition for Playing Jazz||Reason(s) for Insufficiency|
|Dr. Billy Taylor defines jazz in his video lecture "The History of Jazz—Part 1" claiming “jazz is distinctly American music. It takes the most important elements in our culture and expresses them in musical terms. Let me give you my definition of jazz: jazz is a special way of performing music and a repertory that traces that special way of performing as it has evolved over the years. Where did this music come from? . . . African slaves . . . . Spirituals to express common emotion. Their sheer rhythmic sense gave the music a new vitality and spirit. This early music created by black slaves had all the basic characteristics of jazz. It was just a short step from the most rhythmic spirituals and work songs to the first authentic jazz style, Ragtime. Although Ragtime was created by black musicians, it seemed to express emotions and ideas that were so meaningful to other ethnic groups that it rapidly became the most popular music of its era.”|| Start with the complex claim that jazz is "distinctly American music." This is both true and false depending upon how it is interpreted. It is true that jazz was created first in America around the start of the 20th century (1890–1910-ish). Jazz did not exist anywhere else in the world prior to that. It certainly never existed in Africa, or anywhere else in the world, when all of the slaves were forcibly taken out of Africa. It is false that jazz is entirely American music, however, since music is universal, and jazz is based on two musical scale systems, neither one of them being either from or created in America, namely the European diatonic seven note musical scale together with a West African five note pentatonic musical scale. Wikipedia: "Pentatonic scale" reports that “Jazz music commonly uses both the major and the minor pentatonic scales. Pentatonic scales are useful for improvisers in modern jazz, pop, and rock contexts because they work well over several chords diatonic to the same key, often better than the parent scale. For example, the blues scale is predominantly derived from the minor pentatonic scale, a very popular scale for improvisation in the realms of blues and rock alike.” It is true the blues was born in the American South also by African people. |
Neither are any of the instruments found in early jazz up to today of purely American origin: the banjo is originally from Africa, the piano 🎹 is Italian, the saxophone 🎷 is Belgian having been invented by Adolphe Sax, the tuba was Prussian and German, the trumpet 🎺 from Egypt, Scandinavia, and China and so on and so forth.
Can any music express cultural elements in musical terms? Well, using "musical terms" just means making music. Can music express democracy in musical terms? What could this mean? The players can have a democratic system used amongst the band, but this is nothing in musical terms. Suppose each player gets an equal influence in the direction of the music while performing it. Would this willingness to follow someone else's musical initiative count as something that falls under being "in musical terms" or not? Do musical terms only include silences together with melody, harmony, and rhythmic aspects?
Next, we would have to specify what qualifies as the "most important elements in [American] culture." We can presume Taylor refers here to freedom and a representative democracy at the very least. But America also respects and encourages freedom of religion. Jazz cannot express anything counting as freedom of religion in musical terms; this would be meaningless since there is nothing that can count for having achieved such a musical result without the use of lyrics that express support for freedom of religion.
Turn now to his definition requiring that jazz be played "in a special way." Are we getting somewhere here now? Not until Taylor specifies what are these special ways of playing music will we have found a definition for jazz performance. As we have seen elsewhere, as soon as one starts to delineate these 'special ways' it is quickly discovered that none of the special ways are unique to jazz. If Taylor includes swing, syncopation, 4/4 time, 32 bars, incorporating blue notes, using a combination of diatonic with pentatonic musical scales, individual idiosyncratic sound, or improvisation, none of these are unique to jazz performance and all can be found in non-jazz music, such as the blues.
What does it mean to claim that "this early music created by black slaves had all the basic characteristics of jazz." Taylor specifies the early music as work songs and spirituals. Did either of these musical forms contain "all the basic characteristics of jazz"? By themselves, neither work songs nor spirituals would ever be recognized as jazz music. It is true that (agricultural) work songs often could contain improvisation.
Was it “only a short step from the most rhythmic spirituals and work songs to the first authentic jazz style, Ragtime?” Work songs and spirituals are unlikely to have the kind of rigid adherence to a syncopated rhythm as is found in Ragtime. Some theorists still find Ragtime to be just pre-jazz, but not quite there yet.
|“A genre of American music that originated in New Orleans circa 1900 characterized by strong, prominent meter, improvisation, distinctive tone colors and performance techniques, and dotted or syncopated rhythmic patterns.”||If we eliminate the "originated in New Orleans" all of the rest of the description is true of the non-jazz genre the blues, although the blues likely starts in the United States by around the late 1860s.|
|“Jazz is a broad musical style, notoriously difficult to define, but with a general foundation of improvisation, syncopated rhythms, and group interaction. Considered a wholly American musical form, jazz originated during the late 19th century within black communities of the Southern United States. A jazz ensemble usually plays a predetermined tune, with each musician adding their own interpretations. This improvisation is the defining element of jazz, and is based on the mood of the musicians, the interaction of the group, and even the audience’s response to the music. Jazz performers try to create a unique and expressive tone for their instrument, also known as a “voice”. Skilled jazz musicians play and interact with a swing rhythm, a propulsive groove or beat that creates a visceral response of foot-tapping or head-nodding. These rhythms have roots in traditional African music, using the off beats of syncopated rhythms to create the groove.” (bold not in original)||Most of these remarks are true. The problem is that these features are found in non-jazz genres. The Grateful Dead, (founded 1965 in Palo Alto, CA) while often having extended improvisational jams, syncopation, cross rhythms sometimes (they had two drummers and possibly a percussionist), and extensive group interactions within the context of any particular song, are generally not thought of as a jazz band, rather a rock and roll band of a folky sort. Phish is the more modern equivalent (begun in 1983 in Vermont) of the Dead. Neither are considered jazz bands generally, yet both can have the three features mentioned for jazz: foundation of improvisation (check off as being true of both the Dead and Phish), using syncopated rhythms and having extensive group interactions (see Youtube videos of the Grateful Dead in 1989 and Phish (with the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir) in 2016 interacting with band members).|
| “American music developed especially from ragtime and blues and characterized by propulsive syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, varying degrees of improvisation, and often deliberate distortions of pitch and timbre.”
(click Merriam-Webster logo to go to definition source)
|Jazz used to be American music, and the origin of jazz was in America. Jazz is now international. If someone just took ragtime music and tried to incorporate the pentatonic scale of the blues while playing Ragtime, it is unlikely that the music would sound like jazz; it would just sound like sloppy Ragtime. Not all jazz has "propulsive syncopated rhythms" in every jazz performance because some jazz is not syncopated (free jazz) and some jazz that is syncopated is not 'propulsive' meaning "to drive forward or onward by or as if by means of a force that imparts motion," such as jazz that does not swing, of which there is plenty, or jazz ballads that are not that propulsive. Not all jazz is polyphonic where the performer's employ "two or more simultaneous, but relatively independent melodic lines" nor does all jazz have varying degrees of improvisations since some jazz is played using only a pre-determined composition. Many other non-jazz genres have "deliberate distortions of pitch and timbre" such as in the blues, or rock musician Jimi Hendrix using such devices when playing non-jazz music.|
| Random House Learner's Dictionary of American English © 2021:
“Music and Dance music originating from black songs in New Orleans around the beginning of the 20th century and over time developing many different and complicated styles, characterized by strong rhythms and improvisation.”
| Weak. What is the reference to dance music doing in this definition? Does it mean jazz dance? Jazz dancing did not originate in New Orleans, did not originate in the 20th century, rather the 17th century, and often has little to do with jazz music, as described at Wikipedia: Jazz dance:
“Jazz dance is a performance dance and style that arose in the United States in the mid 20th century. Jazz dance may allude to vernacular jazz about to Broadway or dramatic jazz. The two types expand on African American vernacular styles of dance that arose with jazz music. Vernacular jazz dance incorporates ragtime moves, Charleston, Lindy hop and mambo. . . . The term 'jazz dance' has been used in ways that have little or nothing to do with jazz music. Since the 1940s, Hollywood movies and Broadway shows have used the term to describe the choreographies of Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins. In the 1990s, colleges and universities applied to the term to classes offered by physical education departments in which students dance to various forms of pop music, rarely jazz. . . . The origin of jazz dance can be traced to African ritual and celebratory dances from around the seventeenth century. These dances emphasized polyrhythm and improvisation.” (bold not in original)
What are black songs? This is too general and too vague a reference to be helpful. Which black songs and of what type? Were all of the 'black' songs themselves from New Orleans? This is doubtful.
Many genres of music, such as the blues, which is not jazz, developed different and complicated styles and are characterized by strong rhythms and improvisation.
| Random House Unabridged Dictionary of American English © 2021:
“Music and Dance music originating in New Orleans around the beginning of the 20th century and subsequently developing through various increasingly complex styles, generally marked by intricate, propulsive rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, improvisatory, virtuosic solos, melodic freedom, and a harmonic idiom ranging from simple diatonicism through chromaticism to atonality.”
|Jazz dance, as noted above, did not originate from New Orleans. Is jazz the only music that uses the musical features listed? Not all jazz has intricate rhythms. Virtuosic solos here means "displaying or characterized by exceptional technical skill in music" and this is often achieved by musicians in non-jazz genres, for example in Hindustani classical music by Ravi Shankar (1920–2012), considered a sitar virtuoso.|
| Collins Concise English Dictionary © HarperCollins Publishers:
“A kind of music of African-American origin, characterized by syncopated rhythms, solo and group improvisation, and a variety of harmonic idioms and instrumental techniques. It exists in a number of styles.”
|Virtually all music genres coming out of the United States were influenced by black musicians so being of Afro-American origin does not distinguish jazz from disco, for example. “Sidney Madden is a co-host of NPR's podcast "Louder Than a Riot," which focuses on the intersections of music and culture. Her expertise as a music journalist gives a glance into how Black culture has influenced the music and entertainment industry as whole. "Every genre that is born from America has Black roots associated with it, from rock 'n' roll to blues to disco," Madden said. "The fingerprints of Black creators are all over what makes American music so unique." (Click on quotation for source.) Many kinds of music besides jazz have syncopated rhythms (rock or blues), solo and group improvisations (rock or hip hop), and what music does not have 'a variety of harmonic idioms and instrumental techniques'?|
| “An original American music style that originated in the early 20th century by improvisation and syncopation.
Some of its distinctive elements include a "swung" or syncopated rhythmic feel, an emphasis on live improvisation, and an adaptability that lends itself both to be influenced by and to influence other musical styles.”
|This definition is equally true of the blues. It originated in America in the mid to late 19th century, uses improvisation and syncopation, and has adaptability that can sometimes 'influence' other styles of music, such as rock and roll, pop, heavy metal, country, jazz, hip-hip, rap, and classical. For that matter, rap music and hip hop can use syncopation, improvisation, and originated in the late 20th century (1970s and "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang in 1979). Rap and hip hop have been influenced by other musical genres, such as R&B, funk, soul, jazz, rock and roll performers; poets, and writers. Rap and hip hop have influenced pop music.|
|“Linked by the common bonds of African-American and European-American musical parentage, jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, complex chords, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation.”||All true. Being 'linked' by African-American and European-American musical parentage is true of multiple musical genres besides jazz, such as the blues, or even rap. Jazz does not always swing (free jazz or some straight-ahead), Latin jazz has a dearth of blue notes except during improvisations, some jazz has simple non-'complex' chords, other musical genres, such as blues, or rock, besides jazz, have call and response features, polyrhythms and improvisation. Hence, these features do not pick out all and only jazz so do not provide a sufficient or necessary condition for jazz.|
| “Having boarded up the windows against the winds for some time now, jazz scholarship now faces two significant choices: it may continue developing and protecting its canon, or it may take the consequences of letting in some fresh, if chilling, air.”
“NOTES 1. Since I will be attributing a number of qualities to "jazz" throughout this essay, I feel obliged to offer a definition of the term that distinguishes it from "classical music." Realizing that numerous artists complicate any such distinction (James Reese Europe, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, John Lewis, Anthony Davis, John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, Willem Breuker, and many others), I would define jazz as a music that is rooted primarily in the confrontation between African-American traditions and European music, involving some improvisation and syncopation, and performed more often in night clubs and dance halls than in concert halls. The music has changed too quickly throughout its history to accommodate a more precise definition. I am convinced that any attempt to arrive at such a definition must be based in a socio-cultural analysis of jazz rather than in its internal aesthetics. In this sense, I am in almost total disagreement with assumptions underlying the otherwise convincing essay by Lee B. Brown, "The Theory of Jazz Music: 'It Don't Mean a Thing . . .'," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 49 (1991): 115–127. In his rigorous analysis of Andre Hodeir's writings, Brown never questions the purely formalist criteria that Hodeir and others employ in their attempts to define jazz. Nowhere does he ask crucial questions about who is listening, what the listener expects, or under what conditions the listening is taking place. Nor does Brown ask what cultural and ideological forces lay behind Hodeir's decision to write a definition of jazz in France in the 1950s. (bold and bold italic not in original)
| There are a lot of complex issues covered here by Krin Gabbard (b. 1948). The first one he mentions regards jazz scholarship choices of either defending and protecting the current jazz canon or "letting in fresh air," which presumably means letting the jazz genre now include new sub-genres, such as jazz hip-hop, for example.
Is it even possible for any persons or institutions to prevent new jazz sub-genres from entering under the umbrella of jazz? When Tesla vehicles first arrived on the scene, could anyone or anything have convincingly established that a Tesla should not count as an automobile? It seems virtually impossible, does it not, since a Tesla is an automobile! Why isn't this also true of new jazz sub-genres? Either the new sub-genre is jazz or not, or at least it must have jazz aspects even to be considered as falling under the overall label of jazz. It is not arbitrary whether or not a proposed sub-genre should or should not fall under the jazz rubric. (For arguments that jazz sub-genres inclusions under the jazz umbrella are not arbitrary, see PoJ.fm's Ontdef3. What is the definition of jazz?: Why jazz is not just an institutionally practice-mandated musical genre.) Try convincing anyone that disco is a form of jazz and see how difficult it would be; we know why it is difficult because disco is not jazz. Although it may sometimes have jazz aspects since “it's sound is typified by four-on-the-floor beats, syncopated basslines, string sections, horns, electric piano, synthesizers, and electric rhythm guitars.” Jazz often uses four-four time, syncopation, horns, sometimes synthesizers, and electric guitars. For example, in jazz-funk, there is "Headhunters" by Herbie Hancock (b. 1940), or in jazz fusion, Return to Forever led by Chick Corea (1941–2021).
Wikipedia: Jazz-funk even reports that this genre ended up “integrating of funk, soul, and R&B music and styles into jazz resulted in the creation of a genre whose spectrum is quite wide and ranges from strong jazz improvisation to soul, funk or disco with jazz arrangements . . . ” so there can be disco music with jazz aspects, as promised!
The most fundamental issue Gabbard raises is his criticism/attack against using 'formalist criteria' for defining jazz. He maintains that it is irrelevant because the formalist criteria concern jazz's 'internal aesthetics' rather than what should interest them, jazz's 'sociocultural analysis.'
What considerations speak against this negative stance? One thought experiment that can test one's intuitions about the relevance of formalist criteria consists of discovering that two styles of music have very little in common from the point of view of formalist elements yet are comparable in having similar 'sociocultural analysis.'
Suppose we consider a free jazz performance by pianist Borah Bergman (1926–2012). Gary Giddins for the Village Voice "Choice" blurb (4/27/99) describes Bergman's playing on a recent duo gig with drummer Rashid Ali at New York's Dharma club: “ . . . pianist Borah Bergman, who attacks the keyboard like a hurricane with one hand while exploring its center with the other . . . ”
Chris Kelsey for Jazziz: “Name your criteria, no one's more intense, no one has more chops, no one possesses a greater abundance of ideas . . .”
The Penguin Guide to Recorded Jazz gives four of Bergman's CDs its highest review rating, along with these words: “Record companies insist that no overdubs, multi-tracking or tape-speeding have been used on their records only when something rather special is going on inside. That is certainly the case with Borah Bergman, whose initial impact as a player can be likened—however lame a cliché this has become—only to that of Cecil Taylor . . . . What he has done is to break down any residual distinction between left- and right-hand functions in piano playing . . . [his] "Webs and Whirlpools'" must be one of the most purely astonishing piano performances of all time.”
Bergman himself sees what he calls his "ambi-ideation"—as distinct from "ambidexterity," which for him smacks of technical mechanism—as encompassing more than a stronger left hand; indeed, more than a technique at all.
“I like the way the Grove Dictionary of Jazz explained my ambi-ideation," he says. "To paraphrase: I improvise lines like a horn with both hands, sometimes crossed, in a contrapuntal and polyphonic, multi-layered dialogue that allows pieces to be turned upside down without loss of rhythmic intensity or aesthetic shape." However we describe it, it is something everyone agrees is unique to Bergman among his peers.”
Theorists can know that Borah Bergman played free jazz from recognition of these formalist musicological features mentioned above regarding his improvisational techniques. Suppose it turns out that Bergman has a much different 'socio-cultural' history than typical jazz musicians. Why should this rule him out from playing free jazz when listeners can hear and judge that he is so playing? His 'sociocultural' history is irrelevant. Listeners need not know anything about such a history when evaluating what style of music musicians performed in front of them. Bergman plays free jazz and not some other genre, regardless of his 'sociocultural' history.
| “Jazz originated around the beginning of the twentieth century among African-American musicians who creatively fused several musical traditions: older folk forms, like the blues, rooted in African-American culture; syncopated dance music, a rapidly growing fad among urban audiences; and marching band music, which enjoyed great popularity at the time. Although they used European instruments, the jazz innovators drew heavily on their African roots into their playing, including complex rhythms, flexibility of pitch, polyphonic melodic structures, call-and-response patterns, and collective improvisation. The resulting amalgam of styles and influences at first resisted standardization, and as a result the early jazz player's depended more on their individuality of expression than on their mastery of traditional standards of musicianship. Musical innovation thus became a basic feature of jazz as a form, and a hallmark of its best players during the 1920s and 1930s.
By the late 1930s and early 1940s many younger musicians began to find that the commercially dominant form of jazz at the time, the big-band "swing" style, failed to provide an outlet for their musical creativity. Swing became widely popular because of its appeal as dance music. Solo improvisation remained an important element, but swing bands adopted structured musical arrangements suited to popular dance styles. For some musicians, the commercial success of swing eventually led to unwanted constraints: formulaic rhythms, simple harmonies, dependence on traditional melodic structures, and too little room for individual expression. Younger musicians who ignored those constraints found themselves out of favor with bandleaders, older musicians and most audiences. Kenny Clarke, one of the founders of bebop, began to experiment in the late 1930s with the drum kit as a separate musical voice rather than as a device for keeping time. His unorthodox use of rhythmic accents and patterns led to him being fired from his band, after other players complained that he kept "breaking up" the music's tempo. The popularity of swing in the 1930s thus produced a growing tension between commercial demands and the desire to develop new creative ideas. (bold not in original)
| This passage accurately characterizes many prominent musical features found in jazz. Can it be used to define jazz as a distinct genre of music?
The "Yes" answer comes from using definitions to describe and characterize a musical genre—the characterization given supplies relevant and significant features found in jazz. If what one seeks in a definition is to provide content that describes the relevant phenomena adequately enough for language users to understand it from learning the descriptions in a definition, then it succeeds.
The perhaps "No" answer is that this detailed conception of the music may still fail exclusively to pick out all and only jazz. In this regard, one searches for counter-examples—namely, music that meet all of the criteria of the descriptions but still fails to be considered jazz.
Does blues meet most of the criteria in the characterization for jazz above? Let's check. Blues were developed primarily by Afro-Americans but earlier than jazz's 1895–1900 since blues' origins are from 1860 onwards. Blues creatively combines the European diatonic scale with an African pentatonic one, as does jazz. Typically, blues musicians don't use European brass musical instruments often found in jazz, except for the harmonica (a chambered harmonica first appearing in Vienna around 1824 with hundreds of German ones by 1827), but rather more a guitar (having likely Spanish origin by the 1200s), or a piano, which is itself a European instrument having been invented by Italian musical instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655–1731).
Blues musicians tend not to use too complex of a rhythm. Still, they often incorporate "individualized expression," "flexibility of pitch," "polyphonic melodic structures," possible "call-and-response patterns," and often have "improvisations" as found in jazz.
Are There Any Sufficient Conditions For Playing Jazz?
If one could find a set of musical properties such that everyone agrees that were all of these properties to exist concurrently within and during a musical performance that that performance would be jazz, then this might count as a sufficient set of conditions. An immediate problem with this proposal is its dependence on unanimity of all individuals doing the judging. It is well known that unanimity about musical performances being or not being jazz can be hard to come by especially for certain alleged sub-genres of jazz.
To avoid the need for unanimous judgment, consider a different tact. Suppose a set of musical conditions could be found that on the face of it most people would agree this conglomeration of conditions, when found in a musical performance, sounds like jazz to them, then challenge any nay-sayers to find a musical performance that most people agree fails to be jazz, but that meets all of the musical factors specified in the sufficient set of conditions under consideration. The idea simplified is this. Can anyone find a counter-example to a claim that a particular set of musical factors are always sufficient to guarantee jazz is being played? If the answer is that no counter-examples can be found, or at least, have yet to be found, this lends support and justification that this set of conditions is sufficient for jazz performance.
If music swings it is likely to be jazz. If we could figure out the differences in swing feel between any non-jazz music, such as Texas Swing (i.e., the Texas Playboys), or Brian Setzer's Straycats, versus jazz swing, then we would have another sufficient condition for jazz whenever jazz swing occurs.
A sufficient condition for playing jazz
The three elements central to the jazz tradition are improvisation, syncopation, and the synthesizing and hybridizing of the diatonic and pentatonic musical scales. For support of these three conditions as being central for understanding jazz see The Galactic Model for Defining Jazz and the Jazz Videos on "The Complexity of Defining Jazz" on the Galactic model by Dr. David C. Ring and Dr. Charles Otwell.
At the "Jazz in America" website it reports that jazz has been thought to result from the synthesis and sudden hybridization of the European diatonic scale with an African pentatonic one.
“Jazz is a union of African and European music. From African music, jazz got its (1) rhythm and "feel" (2) "blues" quality, and (3) tradition of playing an instrument in [one's] own expressive way, making it an "extension" of [a] human voice. From European music, jazz got its (1) harmony, that is, the chords that accompany the tunes (e.g., the chords played on a piano). Jazz harmony is similar to classical music's harmony, and (3) most musical instruments . . . originated in Europe (e.g., the saxophone, trumpet, piano, etc.” (bold not in original)
If one considers a form of music that has all three of these (hybridization, syncopation, and improvisation) plus the performers are using what are called standard (jazz) harmonies, then this is a sufficient condition for being jazz music. The claim is that there is no music that features these four conditions that fails to be jazz. Seeing as how there are no counter-examples, this justifies this as a sufficient condition for jazz.
Because a blues player when playing blues, but not playing jazz, could be improvising, syncopating, and hybridizing the diatonic and pentatonic musical scales, this proves these three conditions jointly are not always sufficient for playing jazz. If the fourth condition is added of using standard (jazz) harmonies, then it is claimed there are no non-jazz counter-examples to the claim of sufficiency, and such a musical performance would no longer be classified as playing the blues.
Circularity Objection to these as sufficient conditions for playing jazz
Isn't it cheating because of the circularity involved in the sufficiency conditions of jazz being contained in the definition of "standard jazz harmonies"? One cannot have a satisfactory set of sufficient conditions for playing jazz if it were claimed that it is sufficient for playing jazz whenever one is playing jazz. Isn't this basically all that is happening when the fourth condition is added of using standard jazz harmonies when defining jazz?
Reply to Circularity Objection
The answer to the question of circularity can be answered if a non-question begging way of characterizing standard (jazz) harmonies can be found.
➢ So, what are standard (jazz) harmonies?
- Jono Kornfeld's Basic jazz chords and progressions
- Jono Kornfeld on 7th chords
- Wikipedia on harmonization and jazz harmonization
The Ornette Sufficiency Condition
“Jazz is the only music in which the same note can be played night after night but different each time,” said Ornette Coleman.
If this were true, that jazz is the only music where the same note can be meaningfully different each time it is played in the same song, would it prove as a sufficient condition for jazz?
Reasons to think the Ornette condition is sufficient for jazz
Ornette was not contemplating all possible musical genres when he made this remark. Neither was he actually thinking about what were sufficient conditions for playing jazz. There is no argument here yet. What can be added so that we can turn this into an argument that this Ornette condition would always make the music being played jazz?
For sure, it seems as if it is theoretically possible that one could pursue generating a non-jazz musical genre that satisfies the Ornette condition of a note being played a different way or having different musical effects each time a song is played. Suppose one does this with the blues genre. It may even be true that depending upon how the blues player is feeling that he or she might play a song's notes with different feelings and different musical meanings.
Reasons to think the Ornette condition is not sufficient for jazz
Why can't rock music have the same note mean different things meaningfully in the same song? It can and here is how. A rock n roll star has a hit song at a fast pace, but when he gets older he plays the song at a slower pace. The same note now has meaningful differences during the same song contravening the Ornette condition for sufficiency for any music to count as jazz. In neither case of the rock star playing the same note more quickly or more slowly was he playing jazz. This proves as a counter-example to the Ornette sufficiency claim since the Ornette condition has been met (same note with different meaning), but the music failed to be jazz, so the Ornette condition was not sufficient to produce jazz.
Why the Rock Star counter-example fails to prove the insufficiency of the Ornette condition
What the Rock Star example proves is that non-jazz genres of music can have examples where the same note in the same song can have different meanings. Suppose this is conceded. Does it prove the Ornette condition is insufficient for jazz? No, it does not because to satisfy the Ornette condition requires more of a genre of music than the mere possibility of two occasions wherein the same note takes on different meanings in the same song. The Ornette condition has a more rigorous standard than that.
➢ What is this enhanced standard that requires more than the possibility of two different meaningful occasions of the same note during the same song?
What Ornette Coleman explicitly says is that jazz is the only music that could possibly satisfy the Ornette condition wherein one does play the same note each time but different each time. This does not require that a jazz musician does play the same note different each time and this is a good thing because often jazz musicians in the same song play the same note the same way with the same meaning. Ornette did not intend to be denying that music can never be played the same way twice because if he did this the non-jazz genres of music would satisfy the Ornette condition and then it could not be a sufficiency condition for jazz.
The challenge then becomes to attempt to modify the Rock Star example into a counter-example of this enhanced Ornette condition.
➢ The question then becomes, "Could a rock star each and every night play the same note to be meaningfully different in some way?
Here we should take pause. It is true that performers often perform the same song over time in a consistent way. This is to say much of the time the same note in the same song is not played in a meaningfully different way because it is and can be played in the same way. When people rehearse they are trying to consistently play the same note in a song in the same way and not in any sort of meaningfully different ways.
One might then object that this is merely an empirical matter. As a matter of fact, rock stars don't play the same note in the same song differently each time. It is not a matter of what actually happens, so it might be conceded that no non-jazz genres of music ever actually do play the same note differently on each occasion in the chosen song, but instead the question is whether it would be possible for a rock star while only playing non-jazz music to play the same note differently each time in the same song. One might be disinclined to believe this. It is easy and convenient, often required or demanded by producers, other band mates, as well as audience members that one play the same note in the same song in the same way.
➢ What about jazz? Are the same points about Rock above also true of jazz?
Arguably they are not true of jazz especially if the Ornette suffiency condition were true. In Ornette Coleman's actual case he might have actually never played a note in the same song the same way so that each performance had its own distinctive performance properties showing it to be possible for the Ornette condition at least to be satisfied by a jazz performer.
In summation, at least the following seems to be true. In Rock music it is unlikely that a performer would make each performance of the same note to have a different meaning during each playing of the same song. In jazz, on the other hand, it is possible that a jazz performer could have a distinctive playing of the same note with distinctively different features each time performed.
CONCLUSION: While the Ornette condition might not prove to be an absolute sufficiency principle it appears that it can be true of jazz and much less likely true of any other genre of music.
Musical practices in jazz
Perhaps we should give up searching for necessary conditions used in jazz practices and settle for generally applicable musical features found in most jazz performances. Laurent Cugny (b. 1955) suggests such an approach and provides a list of musical practices found in most jazz between 1930 to at least 1960 (and beyond). Cugny is (here in France with Gil Evans). He is a French jazz musician (pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger), jazz critic and musicologist who in 1987 recorded two albums with his bigband Lumière and Gil Evans. He teaches at Sorbonne Université in the Faculté des Lettres Institut de Recherche en Musicologie. Of course, as soon as we get into free jazz almost all bets are off since free jazz musicians are not needing to conform to any one particular musical system or approach.
“How could we identify a common jazz practice, given that the same tonal system is the basis of much jazz? I propose a relatively limited number of features:
- a mix of tonal and blues harmonic language.
- a limited choice of forms: mainly song forms – AABA and ABAC – and the blues.
- the 4/4 bar.
- the walking bass.
- the ching-a-ding pattern on the drums.
- the existence of a rhythm section made of string bass, drums and one or two polyphonic instruments, mainly the piano.
We probably could find some more. But even with those, we can consider that, within a certain period, all these features are found altogether in a very large proportion of the jazz played. What was this period? I would select 1930–1960 (approximately). The beginning point of the thirties appears to be the time when the string bass, the walking bass and the ching-à-ding pattern becomes hegemonic. This suggests that the way rhythm sections play is perhaps the main marker in the evolution of jazz. Around 1959 and 1960, this common practice comes to an end with major changes, mainly in two directions, that of free jazz and so-called modal jazz.” (bold italic not in original)
Is jazz a process?
It is uncertain what it means to claim jazz is a process and especially what the implications of this might be. Let's start with determining what processes are, apply this to jazz, and then try to fathom its implications. Also see PoJ.fm's Ontdef4. Unhelpful definitions of jazz: Jazz is a process.
What are processes?
Processes are activities using patterns and methods of routine and semi-routine actions. They can be technical, methodical, and semi-formal means of accomplishing goals. Thus, processes are series of actions, steps, or operations taken in order to achieve a particular end or goal state.
Dictionary.com defines process used as a noun to be:
- 1. A systematic series of actions directed to some end, as in "to devise a process for homogenizing milk."
- 2. A continuous action, operation, or series of changes taking place in a definite manner, as in "the process of decay."
The processes of jazzThe great jazz improviser Walter Theodore "Sonny" Rollins
““The process can be applied to anything—country songs, arias, anything,” he [Sonny Rollins] argues vigorously. “This is what makes jazz the greatest music in the world. It’s a force of nature; it has no boundaries. You can jazz anything up; you can improvise on anything. If a song happens to strike me in a certain way, I’ll use it, even if other people don’t think of it as a jazz tune.” (bold not in original)
Taking the meaning of process to be a series of actions taken to produce particular goals would make Rollin's belief be correct since jazz improvisations are themselves a series of directed actions striving to achieve particular goals.
➢ What are the goals of jazz improvisations?
The question remains, however, is jazz other than or more than just a process?
To address this topic, suppose some one made parallel claims for say, classical music or rock and roll. Could either of these be just a process? We know that there are processes involved for either classical or rock. Some of the processes involved in classical music are to set up an orchestra, have a conductor, rehearse each section of the orchestra, then rehearse all sections together and eventually produce a classical music performance. Would anyone ever then claim classical music is only a process? No, they would not and for the reasons that there is also a product that results from these processes, namely, classical music itself, either in the form of a score, or a recording, or the sounds heard during the applications of these processes. Additionally, you could have all of the classical music processes just described be used by an orchestra with a conductor that produces non-classical music. So, it cannot be that any music is only a process since these processes lead to different types of products and the products themselves, i.e., the type of music caused to exist is not itself a process, but the product resulting from the application of the relevant processes involved.
CONCLUSION: Jazz is more than just a process.
Someone might object that the problem has been misunderstood. It wasn't a question about whether a five piece jazz combo could play Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, but whether the Fifth symphony could be turned into jazz. Here we have a really nice thought experiment that could be actualized with enough resources in the actual world.
Can Beethoven's Fifth Symphony be turned into jazz?
➢ How could this be figured out with an argument that makes the conclusion's truth be more likely than not?
5th to Jazz THOUGHT EXPERIMENT #1: Get jazz musicians who also can play classical music well, such as Wynton Marsalis, who has won Grammy awards in Jazz and many classical recordings. Have them fill every seat of an orchestra capable of performing Beethoven's Fifth in a standard way. What now would you have them do differently to produce jazz? If you have them digress from the Beethoven score too much, then arguably they are no longer playing the Fifth. If you play the Fifth straight, then in the middle at an appropriate time you have someone like Wynton Marsalis play an improvisation that can be related to the Fifth symphony, then the full orchestra comes back to finish the score traditionally, then you have only produced a hybridized music of two genres, but definitely not classical music turned into jazz.
Because of the Fifth's countermelodies and complex harmonics intended to be achieved by Beethoven within particular parameters to change these too much is no longer to be performing the Fifth symphony. If each musician while performing starts to improvise the orchestra will have stopped playing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, so how are you going to jazz up, or treat the Fifth to a jazz process, such that it turns this music into jazz?
Someone might object that the standard of both jazzing up the Fifth and requiring its song identity to more or less rigidly conform to Beethoven's sheet music is too inflexible a criteria for song identity in the jazz community. When jazz musicians improvise on a song and even change quite a bit about the song during a performance they often justifiably claim to have played that very song even if it does not so closely compare to the notes on the sheet music for it. Because of this higher laxity for song identification, perhaps with this reduced standard for song performance and identity improvising musicians could perform Beethoven's Fifth.
➢ How can Beethoven's Fifth be turned into Jazz?
The simple answer is that it can. A piano has sufficient 'orchestral' power to develop and reproduce the main harmonic and other polyphonics such somebody could accomplish a successful performance of the Fifth. However, it is still an open question as to whether it can be played in a jazz manner, as Sonny Rollins maintains in the above quotation. It may be improvising off of the Fifth, yet the song will no longer sound close enough to competent judges' ears to have been a performance of that orchestral work.
What you certainly can do is include references in a musical composition whereby some listener's musical memories are reminded of songs, such as if someone plays a little of the Hawaii 5-0 theme song, or the Beethoven Fifth riff of "Da, Da, Da, Daaaa" by Dr. Who on his guitar starting at 1:43 minutes through 1:50 (read left side of screen for time).
ASIDE: For the classic example of an orchestra claiming performance of a particular piece of music that they are clearly not playing listen to the Portsmouth Sinfonia (not) performing Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture."
For comparison's sake, here is what the well played version with familiar melodies sounds like of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" and here you can jump cut to the one minute spectacular ending where cannons can go off. You don't hear any of these components in the Portsmouth Sinfonia version.
CONCLUSION: Beethoven's Fifth Symphony may be difficult to turn into jazz.
Implications for jazz being a process
Joachim-Ernst Berendt (1922-2000) has attempted a definition of jazz, or at least a firm characterization of its musical aspects. The final element that he mentions in his characterization concerns the individuality of sonic expression.
“[Jazz] contains a sonority and manner of phrasing which mirror the individuality of the performing jazz musician.” (bold not in original)
“Tellingly, among many jazz musicians, a most valued characterization is that a certain musician has his or her own, instantly recognizable sound, where "sound" means not only timbre, but also articulation, phrasing, rhythm, melodic vocabulary, and even analytical methods. Generally it came to mean a sort of "personality" or "character" that distinguishes different improvisors. Though it is a complement if someone tells you that you "sound like Coleman Hawkins," it is even higher praise to be described as "having your own sound." (bold not in original)
Let us take this dimension and explore it in some detail.
➢ Can individual sonority play a significant role in determining which music should and which music should not count as jazz?
Individual sonorities cannot be used to delineate jazz as a musical genre
Every musician, jazz or otherwise, sounds unavoidably like themselves by definition and most have their own quirky and idiosyncratic ways of playing their instrument and the resulting music. Still, many violinists have worried that they may not have as distinctive an individualized identifying sound as Jascha Heifetz had.
One of the truly remarkable things about Ornette Coleman is that he sounds like himself and how he plays music whether he is using his alto saxophone, trumpet, or violin! If this is true, then every form of music has individual sonorities occurring during their performance relating to the individuals involved who are producing the music and so this aspect of music making is hopeless for distinguishing between different genres of music.
For example, if Charles plays the piano in his own distinctively Charles generated way, then these individual sonorities will occur whether Charles is playing jazz or rock and roll, so individual sonorities cannot distinguish between different musical genres.
Individual sonorities can be used to delineate jazz as a musical genre
“Max Roach is part of this serious hierarchy of musical giants. All great instrumentalists have a superior quality of sound, and his is one of the marvels of contemporary music.” Wynton Marsalis (b. 1961) (bold not in original)
First, while the above reasoning regarding individual sonorities being idiosyncratic is generally true, they are not always true because some people can play in other people's styles. Some performers can play in the musical style of someone else instead of playing like themselves. For example, a piano player who can play so he first sounds like Earl Hines, then Art Tatum, and then Thelonious Monk. If so, one does not always sound and play like oneself necessarily, as argued above.
Second, the arguments given in the cannot section above miss the point about using individual phrasing to pick out jazz as a genre of music. Let us develop the claim some more and see if we can use Berendt's suggestion to distinguish jazz as a musical genre from all others.
Virtually everyone's singing voice indeed sounds different from everyone else's. Unless we have a vocal imitator, no two people will sound exactly alike when singing the same song. Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Jimmy Rushing do not all sound alike. Now Mr. Sinatra and Harry Connick, Jr. sound more like each other, but not identical. Sinatra has crisper articulation of his lyrics than Connick, who has more of a New Orleans accent than Sinatra's Hoboken one. If Frank is singing a non-jazz song, he still sounds like Frank Sinatra. It follows that we cannot use individual vocal styles for distinguishing jazz from non-jazz.
To get around and avoid this point, let us take vocals out of the picture and only consider instrumental music. Now can individual phrasing and distinctive sonorities be used to distinguish jazz from non-jazz?
Here we start to see that there may be something to this claim. Consider classical music and typical classic trumpet playing of a Hayden symphony. During a performance, the trumpeter(s) is typically expected to play the piece cleanly with a relatively pure tone when producing the notes involved. Any classical trumpet player who added a lot of vibrato, growls, slurs, and bending of notes would be frowned upon by the conductor, nor would the typical classical listening audience appreciate these types of embellishments.
On the contrary, jazz musicians often use all of these embellishment techniques. They often need to do so because they work with a hybridized musical scale system with diatonic and pentatonic scales. To get in between these scales and to get from one to another sometimes requires slurring of notes, or blue notes. Such slurring is something that classical players (typically) do not do. Furthermore, much jazz tries to relate to vocalizations where the human voice does not stay within a particular musical scale system. Additionally, jazz musicians often wish to connect their music to sounds heard in the external environment, such as trains, birds, wolf whistles, and instrumental or voices that growl, sing, whisper, slur, and use glissando.
Having one's own distinctive and easily recognizable personal 'sound' is a goal towards which (virtually) all (good) jazz musicians strive. It is relatively easy to recognize in just a few bars if the player is Miles Davis, Bill Evans, or John Coltrane, etc.
Trumpeter Woody Shaw (1944–1989) had this to say about the topic.
“But my big goal is to play the trumpet like nobody else has played it. I don't know if I'll do it, but i would like to sound like Woody Shaw. I come from the tradition of great trumpet masters of the past like Dizzy (Gillespie), Brownie (Clifford Brown), Lee (Morgan) and Freddie (Freddie Hubbard). But I want to sound like Woody Shaw. I’ve been heavily influenced by Trane (John Coltrane) and Eric Dolphy and saxophonists in general, so I see a unique course developing in my own style. I think I sound like Woody Shaw.” French music critic, record producer, and impresario Hughes Panassié (1912–1974) agrees with the point
“No music could be real jazz if it did not swing, but there was more than one way for a band to do so. Real jazz could be played straight or hot. To play "straight" meant "playing the piece just as it is written, without modifying it." Straight performances were tied to the notes on the page, yet they could be done in a swinging style. To play hot "means to play with warmth, with heat" and was based on variations of melody and intonation that were improvised anew with each performance." Although both hot and straight were still real jazz because both were based on swing, Panassié elevated hot music as the ultimate form. It came from the personalized interpretation of a composition given to it by each musician rather than merely playing the notes as they appeared on the page. Hot jazz, he said, came from the musician's soul.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
In a 1991 CashBox interview tenor saxophonist Stan Getz (1927–1991) points out that jazz musicians can sometimes not sound like themselves because they are trying to intentionally imitate a different player's sound and style. Even Getz himself admits he began by striving to play like Lester Young (1909–1959) until he could break away from that and play like himself.
“Cash Box: Pepper Adams once told me that the reason he played the baritone [saxophone] was because every tenor player that he knew was trying to be Stan Getz. Herbie Mann told me that's why he played the flute.Famous music theorist Gunther Schuller (1925–2015), in his Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for "Jazz," emphasizes the relevance and significance of individualized musical
Getz: Yeah, Herbie [Mann] told me that. I tell you, that's what really impressed me when I taught at Stanford. All these kids have their heroes, and nobody plays like themselves. I spent the whole time trying to convince these kids that the main thing that makes jazz so good is that it's an expression of the individual: Don't belittle your own individual selves, stop imitating after awhile.
“Alright, you could tell that I played like Lester Young, but who you love you sound like for awhile. You've got to let yourself go on to your own thing. Well, there are a lot of Stan Getz imitators, right? And I hate to hear the bastardization of the real thing—it makes me sound like I sound to myself. Insipid. And I'm not insipid. It' s like a cartoon.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
“Most early classical composers (such as Aaron Copland, John Alden Carpenter—and even Igor Stravinsky, who became smitten with jazz) were drawn to its instrumental sounds and timbres, the unusual effects and inflections of jazz playing (brass mutes, glissandos, scoops, bends, and stringless ensembles), and its syncopations, completely ignoring, or at least underappreciating, the extemporized aspects of jazz. Indeed, the sounds that jazz musicians make on their instruments—the way they attack, inflect, release, embellish, and colour notes—characterize jazz playing to such an extent that if a classical piece were played by jazz musicians in their idiomatic phrasings, it would in all likelihood be called jazz.” (bold not in original)Well-known music critic Robert Palmer (1945–1997) writes that during Ornette Colemen's quartets Five Spot Cafe in 1959, a notable feature amongst many distinctive features was the use of individualized sounds during their performances.
“This new approach to group playing looked ahead with its polyrhythms, geared to exploration rather than to predetermined patterns, and its melodies that proceeded through a complex of unstated modulations rather than riding on a cushion of traditional chord progressions. But the music looked back through the jazz tradition with its collective improvisations and its personal, speechlike approach to intonation and phrasing, so much like the ensemble and solo styles of the early Southern and Southwestern blues and jazz musicians.” (bold not in original)
Saxophonist (primarily tenor), George Coleman (b. 1935), tells Kermit Ruffins (b. 1964) at an interview for the NEA about hearing Charlie Parker's (1920–1955) individual sound for the first time and how it motivated him to become a jazz player on the saxophone.
“GEORGE COLEMAN: Then I heard Charlie Parker. And Charlie Parker was it for me.
KERMIT RUFFINS: 2015 NEA Jazz Master, George Coleman.
COLEMAN: Well, it was his improvisational prowess and his fantastic technique on alto saxophone and the sound was so unique.
RUFFINS: That sound is what inspired Coleman to pick up his own sax and blow. (bold not in original)
So, it may not be so far-fetched to include as an aid for determining which genre of music one is listening to if we include that the music has players using distinctively recognizable sonic and idiosyncratic musical techniques and sounds, as stated at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History website.
“THE NATURE OF JAZZ: Jazz musicians place a high value on finding their own sound and style, and that means, for example, that trumpeter Miles Davis sounds very different than trumpeter Louis Armstrong (whose sound you can hear in Louis's Music Class.) Jazz musicians like to play their songs in their own distinct styles, and so you might listen to a dozen different jazz recordings of the same song, but each will sound different. The musicians' playing styles make each version different, and so do the improvised solos. Jazz is about making something familiar--a familiar song--into something fresh. And about making something shared—a tune that everyone knows—into something personal. Those are just some of the reasons that jazz is a great art form, and why some people consider it "America's classical music." (bold not in original)
Miles Davis reports that all of his favorite jazz men have their own distinctive and individualizing sound on their instruments.
“Just like Trane's style was his own, and Bird's and Diz's their own, I don't want to sound like nobody but myself, whatever that is.” (bold not in original)
“Bebop is the music of revolt: revolt against big bands, arrangers . . . Tin Pan Alley—against commercialized music in general. It reasserts the individuality of the jazz musician . . . ” (bold not in original)
In his book, A History of Jazz Music 1900-2000, Piero Scaruffi writes that jazz intentionally tried to reflect timbral properties of the human voice.
“Compared with European music, that for centuries had "trained" the voice to sound as perfect as the instruments, jazz music moved in the opposite direction when it trained the instruments to sound as emotional as the human voice of the blues.” (bold not in original)
Evidence for this stress on individualized musical expression and personalized sound can be found in responses to Blindfold tests given to jazz musicians by DownBeat magazine and elsewhere. During the musician's analysis and reactions to music they are hearing without any prior knowledge of what was going to be played to them, they often remark things like "I knew from the use of these particular musical techniques that the drummer was . . . " or "that is either Sonny Rollins or someone who has studied a lot of Sonny's licks, etc."
Here are some actual examples from DownBeat magazine and elsewhere as to what musicians have said about personal styles while trying to identify the players involved in the music they just heard.
DOWNBEAT BLINDFOLD TESTS identifying musicians by an individualized sound: 
In these blindfold tests, the (blindfolded) musician responding has not been informed prior what would be played. The interviewer then elicits information and evaluations about what was played. Notice how frequently the blindfolded musician resorts to responding with an individual person's style of playing supporting the importance of this point for and how that person has represented a style of playing. Even when discussing what someone else may be copying or imitating or just mirroring unknowingly, the blindfolded refer to "what this or that musician plays like." It may be used in reference to more than just one aspect of a person's performance including sounding like something the blinfolded judger identifies with a particular person's distinctive sound, or style, or technique, or sonic properties.
These are not all the same things, that is, techniques differ from sonic properties because someone could use two different "techniques" on the same instrument to produce the same "sonic effect."
- Sonny Rollins' Blindfold test in Downbeat 1966: 
Duke Ellington, "Lady Mac," from "Such Sweet Thunder," Columbia Records, with Russell Procope, alto saxophone; Clark Terry, trumpet.
Sonny Rollins: “This record is immediately recognizable as having a Duke Ellington sound. The soloists sound like Russell Procope, possibly, and Clark Terry on trumpet. It's very important to have a sound that you can recognize immediately, and, of course, Duke is an institution now in music.” (bold not in original)
- Roy Eldridge's Blindfold test in Downbeat 1966:
Afterthoughts by Roy Eldridge: “I guess I'll have to go along with you, Leonard—you can't tell just from listening to records [whether the musicians are white or black]. But I still say that I could spot a white imitator of a colored musician immediately. A white musician trying to copy Hawkins, for instance. And, in the same way, I suppose I could recognize a colored cat trying to copy Bud Freeman. I can only talk about individual sounds that have made it, highly individualized sounds. But you take a sound like Tommy Dorsey gets—any good musician could get that. OK, you win the argument [about being able to identify the race of a musician only by listening; you cannot]!” (bold not in original)
3) Dizzy Gillespie. Medley: I Can't Get Started / Round Midnight from 'Something Old - Something New.' (With James Moody on alto.)
Monk: “Dizzy, he had a crazy sound, but he got into that upper register, and the upper register took the tone away from him. That was the Freddy Webster sound too, you know, that sound of Dizzy's. (Later) That's my song! Well, if that's not Diz, it's someone who plays just like him. Miles did at one time too.”
Leonard Feather: “You like the way they put the two tunes together?”
Monk: “I didn't notice that. Play it again. (Later) Yes, that's the Freddy Webster sound. Maybe you don't remember Freddy Webster; you weren't on the scene at the time.
5) Phineas Newborn. Well, You Needn't from the 'Great Jazz Piano of Phineas Newborn' on Contemporary.
Monk: “He hit the inside wrong - didn't have the right changes. It's supposed to be major ninths, and he's playing ninths (walks to the piano, demonstrates). It starts with a D-flat Major 9 . . . See what I mean? What throws me off, too, is the cat sounds like Bud Powell. Makes it hard for me to say anything about it. It's not Bud; it's somebody sounding like him. . . . (Later) It's crazy to sound like Bud Powell, but seems like the piano player should be able to think of something else too. Why get stuck with that Bud Powell sound?”
8) Denny Zeitlin. Carole's Garden from 'Carnival' on Columbia. (With Jerry Granelli, drums).
Monk: “No, but you need that kind too . . . It reminded me of Bobby Timmons, and that's got to be good. Rhythm section has the right groove too. Drummer made me think of Art Blakey. Hey, play that again. (Later) Yeah! He sounds like a piano player! (Hums theme) You can keep changing keys all the time doing that. Sounds like something that was studied and figured out. And he can play it; you know what's happening with this one. Yeah, he was on a Bobby Timmons kick. He knows what's happening. (bold not in original)
- Marian McPartland's oral history in 1997 and 1998 from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History describes Teddy Wilson's sound/style.
“I used to sit by the record player. . . . That’s how I heard all the great players, was on I think a wind-up gramophone, . . . Teddy Wilson, of course. I used to sit hours trying to do what he did, play some of those little sparkly runs.” (bold not in original)
2. Clifford Brown. “Stockholm Sweetnin” from Clifford Brown Memorial ; Prestige). Arne Domnerus, alto; Art Farmer, Clifford Brown, trumpet; Lars Gullin, baritone; Bengt Hallberg, piano; Gunnar Johnson, bass; Jack Noren, drums; Quincy Jones, composer. Recorded in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1953.
Mingus: “I heard a trumpet player up in the front that sounded like Art Farmer. The second solo? I don’t think I liked it as much as the first. Not that it matters . . . My opinion doesn’t matter much. What’s Lee Konitz doing on a record with these guys? . . . The rhythm section has no guts at all.
The baritone player sure has a lot of warmth; could it have been Gerry Mulligan?
Well, I just like Art Farmer so very much—that little airy sound he gets in the front of the notes—I like him even if he is old fashioned and doesn’t know it. (bold not in original)
I’ll tell you why I know Duke [Ellington] isn’t here. You listen to that record of Duke’s that came out a while ago with Dizzy on it, and hear the way Duke comps in there. There’s a lot of young cats around that could learn from the way Duke comps. This cat on the Hodges record [it was Billy Strayhorn on piano] played every chorus on the blues and played it different; he didn’t create nothing; that’s why I knew the piano player wasn’t Duke, that it was just anybody trying to cop out.
- Miles Davis's third Blindfold test (first and second in Downbeat Sept. 21, 1955 and Aug. 7, 1958) interviewed by Leonard Feather in Downbeat June, 1964:
7. Eric Dolphy, "Mary Ann" from the album "Far Cry, New Jazz" with Booker Little, trumpet; Dolphy, composer, alto saxophone; Jaki Byard, piano.
Miles Davis: “That's got to be Eric Dolphy—nobody else could sound that bad! The next time I see him I'm going to step on his foot. You print that. I think he's ridiculous. He's a sad motherfucker.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
- Miles Davis's fourth Blindfold test interviewed by Leonard Feather in Downbeat Part 1, June 13, 1968:
3. Archie Shepp, "The Funeral," from the album "Archie Shepp in Europe", Delmark, recorded 1963 with Don Cherry, cornet; John Tchicai, alto saxophone; Shepp, tenor saxophone.
“You're putting me on with that! . . . I know who it is - Ornette, fucking up the trumpet and the alto. I don't understand that jive at all. The guy has nice rhythm on saxophone.” . . .
Leonard Feather: “Actually, you got that one wrong—it wasn't Ornette. It was an Archie Shepp date with John Tchicai on alto and Don Cherry on trumpet.”
Miles Davis: “Well, whoever it is, it sounds the same—Ornette sounds the same way. That's where Archie and them got that shit from; there sure ain't nothing there.” (bold not in original)
- Miles Davis's fourth Blindfold test interviewed by Leonard Feather in Downbeat Part 2, June 27, 1968:
2. Sun Ra, “Brainville” on Sun Song, Delmark, recorded in 1956 with Dave Young, trumpet; Sun Ra, composer.
Leonard Feather: “Do you think that's a white group?”
Miles Davis: “The trumpet player didn't sound white. . . . I don't know, man. You know, there's a little thing that trumpet players play to make a jazz sound, that if you don't have your own sound, you can hear an adopted jazz sound, which is a drag, especially in the mute. I mean you can tell when a guy's got his own thing.” (bold not in original)
7. Sonny Stitt, "I Never Knew" from The Complete Roost Sonny Stitt Sessions, on Mosaic, recorded in 1959; released 2001. Stitt, tenor saxophone; Jimmy Jones, piano; Roy Haynes, drums.
Branford Marsalis: “He's got the Gene Ammons and the Charlie Parker, which equals Sonny Stitt. Go ahead, Sonny! The vibrato was like that Chicago blues swinging funky-gritty thing, and there's that Kansas City kickin' jump blues feeling. (bold not in original)
Why Rock musicians have less emphasis on having a personal idiosyncratic musical style
Again, it is granted that vocally most people's singing has a very distinctive and recognizable style. Rock musicians such as Rod Stewart can be recognized by his voice in just a few notes. Still, the voices of some other singers can sound like Rod.
Sometimes in rock the performers are intended to stay within a certain style of singing, especially in tribute bands. This is shown most definitely in the movie Rock Star (2001) starring Mark Wahlberg as Izzy.
“After the end of the tour, Izzy [played by Mark Wahlberg] reports to the next series of Steel Dragon recording sessions with song concepts and artwork for the band's next album. The rest of the band rejects Izzy's ideas, with Kirk explaining that the band has to stay true to the "Steel Dragon thing" to fulfill fan expectations. Izzy is angered upon realizing that he was only recruited for his vocal abilities.” (bold not in original)
In the movie it is made really clear that his new band only want Wahlberg to sing in the style and manner of the band's previous lead vocalist and they do not want him to sound like himself.
This same sort of thing happened to Lester Young when he joined Fletcher Henderson's band and he was replacing the more muscular tenor saxophone sound of Coleman Hawkins. Of course, Lester, being Lester, just ignored the advice and stuck to his own style of playing, much to the relief of jazz history. However, he still got fired!
“Henderson’s musicians were used to the big tenor sound of Coleman Hawkins, but Lester’s sound was lighter and thinner. And even though they recognized his enormous talent, they were not happy with his sound. They thought that the saxophone section lacked a proper bottom because his tenor sounded almost like an alto. So in the end, Henderson had to let him go, and take in Ben Webster instead.
It is true that instrumentally many musicians in non-jazz genres often have their own highly distinctive sound such as Carlos Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughn, or Leo Kottke on guitar. Consequently, it remains unclear how to incorporate the criteria of distinctiveness into any definition using this chacteristic into a definition for jazz.
CONCLUSION: Nevertheless, it remains true that jazz players are renowned for having personal styles of playing and a personal sound so this feature seems relevant when attempting to characterize jazz.
Why jazz musicians have more emphasis on having a personal idiosyncratic musical style
In their Jazz 12th edition textbook, which is a significant achievement, authors Paul O. W. Tanner and David W. Megill, present their case for the importance of individual musical expression within jazz. This is not to say that other musical genres, such as rock or classical music, do not have musicians known for their sound, such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, or Yo-Yo Ma, but that this is a genuine phenomena in jazz and may assist in helping to distinguish it from other genres even if it is not unique to jazz.
“In classical music, each instrument has an "ideal" sound or tone, or at least there is a consensus as to what the ideal sound is. The jazz musician, though, finds such conformity of little importance. As long as the sound communicates well with peers and listeners, the jazz musician appreciates the individuality of personal sounds. This situation, in which personal expression is more important than aesthetic conformity, often causes listeners not accustomed to jazz to questions the sounds that they hear.
Certain sounds peculiar to jazz have their origins in oral tradition and are the result of instrumentalists attempting to imitate vocal techniques. Jazz singers and instrumentalists use all the tone qualities employed in other music and even increase the emotional range through the use of growls, bends, slurs, and varying shades of vibrato, employing any device they can to assist their personal interpretation of the music. Jazz musicians have always had a great affinity with good singers, especially those whose interpretation closely resembles their own. Such singers include the early great blues singers and other talented performers such as Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, and Betty Carter.
Distinctive jazz instrumentation produces unique sounds. For example, a featured saxophone section or a rhythm section is seldom found in other types of music. Although it is a mistake to claim that trumpet or trombone mutes are indigenous to jazz (mutes were used in the 1600s), it is true that a larger variety of mutes are used in jazz.
To many listeners, the sounds of jazz are personified and identified through the musical interpretation of specific artists. Listeners who have not heard much jazz are often surprised that the well-initiated can recognize a soloist after hearing only a few notes—at least within the listener’s preferred style. Talented jazz musicians seem to have their own personal vibrato, attack, type of melodic line, choice of notes in the chord—indeed, their own sound.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Let's review Tanner and Megill's points.
- In contrast to classical music, jazz musicians incorporate many sonic embellishments rather than having the purer tone of a classical musician. Jazz musicians do this often as a means to imitate or relate to vocalizations, but also because their use of the diatonic with a pentatonic musical scale can utilize these techniques (slurring etc.) as a means for transitioning between the two musical scales.
- There are at least two main reasons why this is done. First, it makes it musically possible and effective to increase the range of emotionally expressive sounds. Perhaps this is because they relate to the human voice which is capable of expressing a wide range of emotions from a wailing sadness to joyful exuberance and everywhere in between.
- Second, great jazz musicians over time develop a distinctively personal sound and style that distinctively identifies them with their playing. This individual sound is an aesthetically appealing feature of jazz musician's musical performances.
➢ Why is this true? What is aesthetically good about having a personalized musical sound and identifiable style?
Amazon Echo's definition of jazz
Amazon's Echo device when asked "Alexa, What is jazz?" replies with this answer in 2017 taken directly from the opening sentence on Wikipedia's Jazz page.
“Jazz is a music genre that originated in African-American communities of New Orleans, United States, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime.”
➢ Why would Echo use this as an answer to the question of what is jazz? Does this definition pick out all and only jazz?
Let's assess the merits of the Echo (really Wikipedia's) proposed definition for jazz.
➢ What in the definition is indisputably true and what is suspect or problematic?
- Jazz is indeed American music and was first developed in the United States of America.
- Jazz did develop out of musical influences from 'roots' music, of ragtime, and the blues.
- Early jazz development did take place in New Orleans, Louisiana.
➢ Was early jazz as a musical form exclusively developed in the city of New Orleans?
It is suspect, and unlikely that all of the musical developments of early jazz happened exclusively in one geographical location, namely in and around New Orleans. Other geographical locations certainly could be mentioned as possibly relevant when discussing early jazz development. These locations would include Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, and so on.
Furthermore, since significant parts of jazz are influenced by African musical influences, as well as Caribbean musical influences by way of Africa, and the blues was not only developed in New Orleans so early jazz wasn't centrally exclusive to New Orleans. Since the blues has important influences on the development of early jazz, no one should put all of the early jazz eggs into the one basket of the New Orleans crucible.
➢ Is the Amazon Echo definition of jazz a good one or not?
Krin Gabbard's Definition of Jazz
In his introductory article, "Introduction: The Jazz Canon and Its Consequences," Krin Gabbard in his first footnote supplies a definition for jazz.
“1. Since I will be attributing a number of qualities to "jazz" throughout this essay, I feel obliged to offer a definition of the term that distinguishes it from "classical music." Realizing that numerous artists complicate any such distinction (James Reese Europe, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, John Lewis, Anthony Davis, John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, Willem Breuker, and many others), I would define jazz as a music that is rooted primarily in the confrontation between African-American traditions and European music, involving some improvisation and syncopation, and performed more often in night clubs and dance halls than in concert halls. The music has changed too quickly throughout its history to accommodate a more precise definition. I am convinced that any attempt to arrive at such a definition must be based in a socio-cultural analysis of jazz rather than in its internal aesthetics. In this sense, I am in almost total disagreement with assumptions underlying the otherwise convincing essay by Lee B. Brown, "The Theory of Jazz Music: 'It Don't Mean a Thing . . .'," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 49 (1991): 115–127. In his rigorous analysis of Andre Hodeir's writings, Brown never questions the purely formalist criteria that Hodeir and others employ in their attempts to define jazz. Nowhere does he ask crucial questions about who is listening, what the listener expects, or under what conditions the listening is taking place. Nor does Brown ask what cultural and ideological forces lay behind Hodeir's decision to write a definition of jazz in France in the 1950s.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Definitions can serve many purposes. Within the range of those purposes definitions can have varying degrees of accuracy.
Gabbard proposes his definition for jazz as an attempt to distinguish it from classical music. Why didn't he just say classical music has a non-musical instrument playing conductor, while jazz does not? This would actually work out better than the definition he proposes.
Jazz has now often been played in concert halls. Plus, often non-jazz music is played in nightclubs and dance halls. Zydeco might get played at a club in Louisiana and Reggae, disco, or rock music can get played at dance halls.
Many non-jazz music's 'involve' syncopation and improvisation, such as folk, blues, or even country music. Even some early as well as late classical music has incorporated syncopation, as reported at the New World Encyclopedia article on syncopation:
“Folk music of indigenous cultures contains syncopation to varying degrees especially in music that accompanies dance. Syncopation can be found in French compositions as early as the fourteenth century."
European composers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries utilized syncopation to great effect and syncopated rhythms are commonly found in the music of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, and Dvorak. The music of Schumann, Brahms, and Dvorak frequently accomplishes syncopated affectations through the use of "hemiola," (the practice of juxatospsing two note patterns with three note patterns.)
Composers in the twentieth century continued the use of syncopation, especially if source materials were rooted in folk music. The scores of Bela Bartok and Igor Stravinsky demonstrate this to great effect.
The influence of syncopated jazz rhythms found its way into European art music as composers incorporated "jazzy" rhythms into their works and several notable composers wrote jazz-based compositions (Paul Hindemith, Darius Milhaud, Dmitri Shostakovich, Aaron Copland, Igor Stravinsky and Ernst Krenek.)
Pop music is also highly syncopated with its melodic rhythm often falling ahead of or behind the basic beat of its chosen meter.” (bold not in original)
According to Wikipedia: Orchestral jazz has been around since the 1920's.
The Symphonic Jazz Orchestra has been around since 2002 combining jazz with classical music.
If it is really true that “The music has changed too quickly throughout its history to accommodate a more precise definition,” then why does not Gabbard believe that even his definition won't work? Does he think that ANY jazz music over the last one hundred twenty five years never uses syncopation or improvisation while nevertheless confronting Afro-American traditions with European musical ones?
André Hodeir's Definition of Jazz
French violinist, composer, arranger, musicologist, and music critic, André Hodeir, was an early jazz theorist and one of a very few theorists who willingly tried to define jazz. Lee B. Brown reports that he even used arguments!
“Although out of date on major points, [André Hodeir] was the journalist/theorist of the late twentieth century who was willing to make bold and penetrating generalizations about jazz and to defend them with actual arguments.” (italics are authors; bold and bold italics not in original)
“Influential critics of the 1930s and 1940s argued that the purest jazz is the kind that lies closest to its African roots. This claim they typically combined with a characteristic picture of the African “soul.” The Afropurists saw jazz improvisation, for instance, as a manifestation of untrammeled spontaneity, devoid of the benefits of training and skill, and undistorted by European musical culture. For such a view, see Jazz from the Congo to the Metropolitan by the French critic Robert Goffin who believed that the “real” jazz musician is able to “whip himself up” into a complete state of primitive “frenzy” as he plays (1944, p. 124). Ted Gioia’s The Imperfect Art (1988) does a nice job of profiling this perspective.  (bold and bold italic not in original)
Both Hodeir and Brown reject that American jazz was primarily either mostly African or mostly European. Both see jazz as a genuine synthesis and hybridization of both African musical elements (pentatonic scales, polyrhythms, vocalizations using instruments, slides between diatonic and pentatonic musical scales, including sounds between the white and black keys on a piano) and European musical practices (diatonic musical scale, emphasis on harmony, most jazz instruments). Brown points out that American jazz is not purely either African or European so that a purist version of either position cannot succeed.
“It is worth adding that Hodeir’s argument against Afropurism, if sound, ought to be equally telling against Europurism. It makes no more sense to say that in jazz we hear a genuinely European soul expressing itself in an alien African context [i.e., Europurism] than it does to say that we hear in it a genuinely African impulse breaking through the surface of a European interference [i.e., Afropurism]. . . . Unhappily, even Hodeir never overcame a strain of Eurocentrism that treated jazz as a slight second-class citizen when compared with “serious” European music. But he would have regarded a Europurist view of the elements of jazz as nonsense. (bold and bold italic not in original)
“There is almost no doubt that it was primarily African Americans who invented jazz. However, Afropurists who attempt to find jazz elements intact in African music may be chasing chimeras. As Hodeir puts it, such purists ought, in principle, to legislate against every non-African element that appears in the music. Defenders of the earliest jazz, who famously objected to the more ambitious harmonic agendas of mid-century modernist jazz, for example, Bebop, had to face the fact that even King Oliver’s early recordings already contain dangerous diminished sevenths. Indeed, the purist ought not to accept Western keys or chords of any kind in “real” jazz. (bold not in original)
While denying an Afro or European purism to jazz, Hodeir and Brown concur that American jazz has been significantly influenced by African musical practices, so Brown attempts to catalogue these African musical influences.
“However, the scholarly question that lies behind issues about Afropurism remains: Which, if any, features of jazzcan be found in African practice? Most agree that the call-and-response patterns heard in African music are widely felt in jazz—for instance, in the typical use of the “riff” in jazz, as well as in the practice of “trading fours,” where a pair of improvisers play four-bar segments in alternation. . . . It is also possible that African roots can be detected in what [Gunther] Schuller calls the “democratization” of note values”. He is referring here to the habit of boosting many weak beats up and making them nearly equivalent to, or even stronger than, strong beats. He speculates that players thus partly satisfied, within the alien framework of the European metrical system, the impulse to generate self-propelled African polyrhythms (see Gunther Schuller, Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), 15–16).” (bold not in original)
How jazz differs from African and European musical influences
“In many fundamentals, however, African music is quite different from European music and from jazz. In most European concert music, rhythm imposes order on sounds that form musical episodes and thereby assists, through metrical contrast, in the generation of large dramatic designs—as exemplified by the broad metrical changes in a classical symphony. By contrast, although African music may gradually change rhythmically over the course of a “performance,” it does not make use of dramatic shifts from one rhythmic pattern to another as an organizational principle. Instead, rhythm is an engine for the liberation of musical values on a continuous basis. In European music, rhythmic deviations only make sense given measures divided with regularity into certain numbers of beats. Within this context, such music can be polyrhythmic—as when three beats are sounded against four. But African music begins with the idea of superimposed rhythmic patterns. This gives rise to hierarchies of such complex interaction that a time lapse between a beat in one line may regularly occur only a fraction of a second after the occurrence of a beat in a parallel line without the former becoming absorbed into the orbit of the latter.” (bold not in original)
Jazz uses a rhythmic pattern not found in African music known as swing explained by André Hodeir using a infrastructure/superstructure model.
“This last feature of African music also exemplifies a different kind of rhythmic complexity from that of jazz. African music, in its original, un-Westernized forms, did not make use of European metric patterns, such as march time. Jazz, however, does so—in a specific way, namely through an interaction between these patterns and beats pointedly placed at odds with them. A major result of the interaction of these practices is the characteristic rhythm known as swing. Hodeir explains swing with the help of an infrastructure/superstructure model, according to which, in jazz, notes in the superstructure are eccentrically placed above a relatively steady rhythmic base in the infrastructure, typically in 2/4 or 4/4 time. (Obviously, 3/4 and 5/4 also work.) The result of an effective placement of notes in the superstructure is that musical phrases are felt as moving independently of the underlying pulse and then as being recaptured by it, so that the strata catalyze each other. Igor Stravinsky was speaking of swing in this broad sense in his Poetics of Music, when he describes the giddy sensation we register when jazz tries “persistently to stress irregular accents,” but “cannot succeed in turning our ear away from the regular pulsation of the meter drummed out by the percussion.” The overall effect is a distinctive and recognizable kind of pleasure. Citing an article by Lucien Malson in Les Temps Modernes, Hodeir suggests that in swing we may have an example of “one of the Freudian paradoxes: an unpleasant tension which is associated with pleasure that is, with a partial relaxation.” (Evolution and Essence, 1956, 196) (bold not in original)
“The relationship between tempo and swing can be modified by variations in rhythmic strategy—as when a soloist doubles his or her pace in relationship to an unchanging tempo in the rhythm section or maintains a slow tempo, but complicates the playing with quavers and semiquavers. Special interest can be aroused if the pulsation is not always beaten out explicitly, as in “stop-time breaks.” The general point is that jazz rhythm reflects a unique interaction between European and African practice.” (bold not in original)
Lee B. Brown and André Hodeir both find that blues tonality, while easily found in jazz performances by musician's tendencies to flatten notes at the third, seventh, and fifth intervals of a tempered scale as a result of the synthesizing of the diatonic and pentatonic musical scales, yet this practice is not prevalent in African music.
“The way originally distinct African and European practices are transfigured in jazz by their interaction might well also be part of any solution to the question about the source of blue tonality in jazz, that is, the tendency, in different degrees, to flatten notes at the third, seventh, and sometimes fifth intervals of the tempered scale. Hodeir notes, by the way, that from a purist’s standpoint, these flatted notes ought to be regarded as “just as impure as the ‘altered notes’ of modern jazz” sounded to the later “believer in ‘original purity’” (1956, p. 42). In other words, attempts to locate blue tonality intact in African musical practice have not proven notably successful.” (bold not in original)
“But if the explanation is the interaction of Western with non-Western scalar practices, then what non-Western practices? Some theorists (e.g., Hodeir and Mark Gridley) cite pentatonic tonality. But an alternative might be so-called quarter-tone scales, or scales that use the so-called neutral third—a tone, or family of tones, that falls somewhere between a major and a minor third when measured on a familiar tempered scale. So at least some blue notes may represent attempts to strike tones that lie in the cracks between the keys of a piano. String instrument players, guitars for example, have a chance to investigate what lies in the cracks. . . . If this is right, then the textbook representations of a so-called blue scale as it would be played on a tempered keyboard is really a conventionalization of something more elusive.” (bold not in original)
“When we turn to jazz melody, it is well known that there is a peculiarly close relationship between speech and music in African music and jazz. In jazz, horns are taught to speak—a fact that Duke Ellington made an essential part of his writing for “growling” brass instruments. By a reverse twist, jazz singers learned to imitate growling horns. One likely reason for the emergent character of jazz melody is that European melodic material is also skewed by other jazz qualities—which themselves already represent the interaction of African and European qualities, for example, jazz rhythm. The melodies characteristic of improvised jazz reflect the way players toy rhythmically with the musical line, for instance.” (bold not in original)
Joachim-Ernst Berendt's Definition of Jazz
Berendt's remarks below are in green font with PoJ.fm critique in blue font. Bold and bold italic were not in the original
“Toward a Definition of Jazz” from the book by Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Günther Huesmann, The Jazz Book: From Ragtime to the 21st Century, seventh edition revised and expanded, translated by H. and B. Bredigkeit, Dan Morgenstern, Tim Nevill, and Jeb Bishop (Chicago, Illinois: Lawrence Hill Books, 2009), 661–667. Passages in green font below are quotations from this book interspersed with commentary from PoJ.fm in blue font.
“Jazz is a form of art music that originated in the United States through the confrontation of African Americans with European music.” These are true facts about the origin of jazz. Unfortunately, they do not distinguish jazz from the blues where these remarks are equally true. Blues music, which no one thinks is the same genre of music as jazz, also is an art music originating in the United States by African-Americans using the European diatonic scale combined with an African pentatonic one. “The instrumentation, melody, and harmony of jazz are in the main derived from Western musical tradition.” Most early blues was played on a guitar. Wikipedia: Guitar claims that the origin of the guitar could be as old as 3,300 years ago in Babylonia, but for sure a guitar-like instrument was developed in Spain, which is in Europe, by the 12th century. Therefore, blues also uses instruments from Europe. Because blues uses the European diatonic musical scale some of blues' melody and harmony is certainly European in form. “Rhythm, phrasing, and production of sound, and the elements of blues harmony are derived from African music and from the musical conception of [African Americans].” Blues music also incorporates an African pentatonic scale into its musical structures and can use 'rhythm, phrasing, and sound production' that can be understood as related to more oral traditions and rhythmic drumming such as those found in Africa and used by African slaves who had been forcefully imported into the new world of America, so these features do not pick out all and only jazz.
Jazz differs from European music in three basic elements, which all serve to increase intensity:
- 1. A special relationship to time, defined as "swing"
- 2. A spontaneity and vitality of musical production in which improvisation plays a role
- 3. A sonority and manner of phrasing that mirror the individuality of the performing jazz musician
These three basic characteristics, whose essentials have been—and will continue to be—passed on orally from one generation to the next, create a novel climate of tension. In this climate, the emphasis is no longer on great arcs of tension, as in European music, but on a wealth of tension-creating elements, which continuously rise and fall.
A history of jazz could certainly be written from the point of view of the three jazz characteristics—swing, improvisation, and sound/phrasing—and their relation to each other. All these characteristics are important, to be sure, but their relationships change, and these changing relationships are a part of jazz evolution.
That jazz sound and jazz phrasing stand in dialectic opposition has been pointed out already. In old New Orleans jazz, phrasing still largely corresponded to European folk and circus music. On the other hand, typical jazz sonority was particularly highly developed here. Later, this kind of sonority came to be regarded as exaggerated. No major musician in any phase of jazz has had a purely European sonority; nevertheless, jazz sonority and the sonorities of European music occasionally have come very close. By way of compensation, jazz phrasing has become increasingly important. Thus, modern jazz, since cool jazz, is as far removed from European music in terms of phrasing as old jazz was in terms of sonority.
In their extremes, jazz phrasing and jazz sonority seem mutually exclusive. Where jazz sonority is at its strongest—for example, in the "jungle" solos of Tricky Sam Nanton, Bubber Miley, and Cootie Williams with Duke Ellington's band, or in the free-jazz solos of Albert Ayler—jazz phrasing stops. The "jungle" sound or the high-energy playing dictates the phrasing, and this sound exists for its own sake, beyond jazz's flexible, triplet-based phrasing. On the other hand, where jazz phrasing appears at its most highly cultivated stage—as in the tenor improvisations of Stan Getz, the flute solos of Hubert Laws, or the alto lines of the Lee Konitz of the fifties—jazz sonority seems largely suspended. The musical proceedings are so unilaterally dictated by the phrasing that it does not appear possible to produce sounds that have an expressive meaning outside the flow of the phrase.
A similar, if not quite so precise, relationship exists between swing and improvisation. Both are factors of spontaneity. Thus it may come about that when spontaneity is expressed in the extreme through the medium of swing, improvisation will recede. Even when a record by Count Basie's band does not contain a single improvised solo, no one questions its jazz character. But if improvisation is given too free a rein, swing recedes, as in many unaccompanied solos or in some free–jazz recordings. This suppression of swing by freedom is already illustrated by the very first totally “free” record in jazz history—Lennie Tristano's “Intuition.”
Thus the relationships among the elements of jazz change constantly. In the thirties, when sonority in terms of New Orleans jazz had already receded and fluent phrasing in terms of modern jazz had not as yet been fully developed, swing celebrated such unquestioned victories that swing (the element) and Swing (the style) were not even differentiated in terminology. There have always been forms of jazz that seek to project the jazz essence into a single element of jazz. The ragtime pianists had swing, but hardly any improvisation and no sonority. The early New Orleans bands did have jazz sonority, but they had more march rhythm than swing and a form of collective improvisation that sooner or later led to ever-repeated head arrangements. In the realm of Swing style there is a kind of big-band music in which improvisation, sonority, and sometimes even soloistic phrasing largely take a backseat—and yet it swings marvelously. During the fifties Jimmy Giuffre often projected the whole jazz essence into a single Lester Young-inspired phrase. On the other hand—as is made clear by just these "exceptional examples"—at the real peaks of jazz, all three jazz elements are present simultaneously, if in varying relationship to one another: from Louis Armstrong through Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young to Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, up to David Murray and Wynton Marsalis.
It is important to note, too, that swing, improvisation, and sonority (or phrasing) are elements of intensity. As much as they may differ from each other, just so much do they concur in creating intensity.
Swing creates intensity through friction and superimposition of the levels of time.
Improvisation creates intensity through the fact that the road from musician to sound is shorter and more direct than in any other type of musical production.
In sonority and phrasing, intensity is produced by the immediacy and directness with which a particular human personality is projected into sound. Intensity results from the degree to which an improvising jazz musician succeeds in developing a "signature sound." This intensification through the personalization of sound is what Don Cherry had in mind when he said, "It's not the notes that swing, it's the sound."
The sound is essential. It is the carrier of an urgent message. As one jazz musician said, "No sound, no message." And Peter Niklas Wilson rightly observed: "The vibrato of a Sidney Bechet, the breathy, richly modulated tone of a Ben Webster, a dry piano attack by Thelonious Monk, Jimi Hendrix's howling feedback: each of these says as much as the theme of a Beethoven symphony."
It may thus be assumed that the main task and real meaning of the basic jazz elements rest in the creation of structured intensity. This understanding is also contained in free jazz with its ecstatic heat, as idiosyncratic as the interpretation of the three basic elements in this music may often appear. Even when, as in much of Europe's free-improvised music, free jazz comes close to classical "new music," it has a vital intensity and energy that is not present in the same way in European composed music.
In all these differentiations the question of quality—stature—is decisive. One might almost be tempted to adopt it as a fourth "element of jazz" within our definition. If, for example, Dave Brubeck or Stan Kenton or Keith Jarrett or Derek Bailey or Weather Report has found a place in jazz—a place that was perhaps disputed at some points of their development but nevertheless basically is accepted—this is due to the quality and stature of their music, which are indisputable, even though much might be said against these musicians in terms of jazz essentials. Moreover, this point similarly applies to the European, or to any other, musical culture. Even if it were possible to give a precise definition of what "classical" music is, a music that contained all the elements of this definition and yet lacked the stature—the quality—of the great classical works would still not be "classical."
It is important in this context to discuss some thoughts that were developed by the American writer and scholar Robert M. Pirsig. Pirsig (in his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) has shown that definitions are "square," because quality is defined "entirely outside the analytic process." Thus the aspect of quality, necessarily, is excluded from any attempt at definition. Pirsig: "When you subtract quality you get squareness."
This explains why we are left strangely dissatisfied with any attempt at definition. Jazz scholars may develop ever more extensive and refined definitions, but the real point eludes them; indeed, it must necessarily elude them, for reasons that Pirsig has shown (more extensively than can be summarized here). What remains excluded from the range of the definition musicians know better than all scholars. We have quoted Fats Waller before: "It's not what you play, but how you play it."
This state of affairs explains why thousands of cocktail, pop, and rock groups all over the world play a kind of music that might fulfill all—or almost all—requirements of all definitions to date, and that yet cannot be called jazz. In countless "commercial" groups, there also is improvisation, sometimes even jazz phrasing and jazz sounds; they often even swing, and yet their music is not jazz. On the other hand, as we have shown, with genuine jazz musicians the presence of only one element of "jazzness" is often sufficient to insure the jazz character of their music.
It is necessary to understand this: jazz has to do with quality. Quality is felt rather than rationally comprehended. This has been realized subconsciously by musicians for as long as jazz has existed. Louis Armstrong: "If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know." For the musicians, music has to be first and foremost "good" to be perceived as jazz. All other criteria play a secondary role, however important they may be.
There is another fact that must be considered in this context. The constant use of the elements, styles, musicianship, techniques, and ideas of jazz in commercial music forces the jazz musician unceasingly to create something new. In this sense, Andre Hodeir remarked that today's innovation is tomorrow's cliché.
The flair for the cliché, however, is not only connected with the abuses of jazz in commercial music; it lies in the nature of jazz itself. Almost every blues strophe has been turned into a cliché. All the famous blues lines exist as ever-recurring "entities": "I've been drinkin' muddy water, sleepin' in a hollow log . . . ," "My baby treats me like a low-down dog . . . ," "Broke and hungry, ragged and dirty too . . . ," "'cause the world is all wrong . . . ," "But the meanest blues I ever had" "I'm just as lonely, lonely as a man can be . . . ," "Can't eat, can't sleep . . . ," "I wanna hold you, baby, hold you in my arms again . . . ," "I'm gonna buy myself a shotgun . . . ," "Take me back, baby . . . ," "I love you, baby, but you sure don't treat me right . . . ," and so forth. The great blues singers used them as they pleased, taking a line from here and another from there, adapting them to each other, and often not even that.
What holds true for the lyrics also applies to the music. When Jimmy Smith, Horace Silver, or Wynton Marsalis records a blues, both the arrangement and the improvised solos are saturated with structural elements from half a century of blues and jazz history. Everything played by exponents of neobop is saturated with elements from Charlie Parker records that, though not in themselves clichés, certainly lend themselves to cliché making. Or, to reach back into jazz tradition: in every third or fourth blues by Bessie Smith one hears phrases, or even entire lines, that might just as easily have been heard in other contexts from other blues singers. Every boogie consists of nothing but a constantly changing montage of "entities" made up of ostinatos and largely standardized melodic phrases. Almost every improvised break on old records by the Hot Five or Hot Seven, by Johnny Dodds or King Oliver, by Jimmie Noone or Kid Ory, is mutually interchangeable. So are the breaks that set off the four-bar blues phrases from each other—whether they are played by singers accompanying themselves on the guitar or by the most famous of jazz musicians. There are half a hundred, perhaps not even that many, "model breaks" from which all others are derived.
The further one goes back, the more apparent this model character becomes. What Marshall Stearns, Alan Lomax, and Alfons M. Dauer discovered of African elements in jazz consists almost without exception of such connective models and "entities"; they were not only taken over from African music as "entities" but often had this character within African music itself. Their model nature is so compact that they have survived through centuries almost without changing. Consider the tango: the rhythm was brought by the slaves from Africa, and today it exists in African folklore as much as in the great Argentinian tango tradition, in temperamental folk dances, lasciviously slow dance and bar music, in boogie-woogie basses, and in hundreds of intermittent stages. Everywhere there is the identical ostinato figure—the model with its tendency toward the cliché.
All jazz consists of such "models." They are fragments—such as the downward-descending lines of old blues or modern funk—that have something of the aura of the words with which fairy tales begin: "Once upon a time ..." This, too, is a model element. And as it is in the fairy tales, where elements-turned-symbols become content, so it is in jazz: the evil witch casts a spell on the noble prince, and the hard-hearted king turns soft when he catches sight of the lovely shepherdess, and at last prince and shepherdess find each other and the shepherdess turns out to be a bewitched princess. Witch and prince, magic and hard-heartedness, king and shepherdess . . . all of these are elements of motives that can be joined together in inexhaustible combinations. It is thanks to postmodern jazz that the model character of such elements has been clearly revealed.
No matter how "modern" and "new" a way of playing is felt to be, it always has—unavoidably—connections to earlier periods of jazz, through such models and elements. Duke Ellington: "The other night I heard a cat on the radio talking about 'modern' jazz and playing a record to illustrate his point, but it had devices I heard cats using in the 1920s. These large words like "modern" don't mean anything. Everybody who's had anything to say in this music—all the way back—has been an individualist."
Innovation in jazz is a relative concept. The "new" consists less in something coming to light that was previously hidden than in a reconsideration by musicians of something they already knew. The decisive factor for the greatness of a jazz musician is not primarily the musical material, but rather the personal way it is made to sound.
While Western concert music in the process of its ever-increasing tendency toward abstraction has lost almost all the old models and entities; while there is hardly a structural and formal element that has not been questioned—theme and variation, the sonata form, the triad—while we now long for the attainment of new and connective models and elements in concert music, and can only attain them by taking up once again the old models and elements that in the mean-time have become questionable; and while in doing this we are historicizing—meanwhile, all these things are present in jazz in the most natural, self-evident, and living way.
Model, element, entity, cliché, may coincide—literally and note for note. But as model, as element, and as entity they have meaning; as cliché they are meaningless. But since they can coincide there is a constant tendency toward the cliché inherent in the models, elements, and entities. To a great extent, it is on the basis of this tendency that jazz constantly renews itself. The most fascinating thing about jazz is its aliveness. Jazz runs counter to all academicism—that very academicism that has made great European music the exclusive concern of the well-bred bourgeoisie, and also the academicism that has become part of the business of jazz education.
The aliveness of jazz is such that standards are constantly over-thrown—even where the old models and entities remain relevant. This complicates the position of jazz criticism. It has been reproached for being without standards.
In reality, it is remarkable that jazz criticism has so many standards. Often the evolution of jazz proceeds so rapidly that the kind of standards arrived at in European music, frequently formed one or two generations after the particular music has been alive, are meaningless. Jazz standards without flexibility tend to acquire violent and intolerant aspects.
We insist: the point is not to define standards and to test an art form against them; the point is to have the art and constantly reorient the standards in its image. Since this is inconvenient, one attempts to avoid it—within and outside of jazz. But it is above all jazz, as a music of revolt against all that is too convenient, which can demand of its listeners that they revise standards valid years ago and be prepared to discover new norms.
The aesthetic of otherness, the consciousness of freedom, also belong to jazz. Keith Jarrett says: "If you manage to liberate yourself through expression in music, that's necessarily jazz. Even the greatest players can consider themselves lucky if they experience that freedom for a few minutes. Jazz is the only music in the Western world in which the greatest risk-taking brings the greatest results."
Nearly one hundred years after it began, jazz is still what it was then: a music of protest; that, too, contributes to its aliveness. It cries out against social and racial and spiritual discrimination, against the clichés of picayune bourgeois morality, against the functional organization of modern mass society, against the depersonalization inherent in this society, and against that categorization of standards that leads to the automatic passing of judgments wherever these standards are not met.
Many American musicians, particularly African American ones, understand protest as a matter of race. No doubt it is that. But their music would not have been understood all over the world, and it would not have received almost immediate acceptance by musicians of all cultures, colors, and political systems, if the racial aspect were the crucial factor. Here as elsewhere the racial element of jazz has long transcended itself and become universal. It has become part of the worldwide protest against a domination-oriented society that is perceived as a threat by millions of cultured people in all fields around the world in every country and social system—in short, by those who are shaping the judgment to be passed on our epoch by future generations: a threat not only to themselves and their creative productivity but to essential human dignity and worth. (bold not in original)
Regarding this third point concerning individual musical expression, Wikipedia: Blues explains that “There are few characteristics common to all blues music, because the genre took its shape from the idiosyncrasies of individual performers,” hence it is true for both jazz as well as blues that these genres utilize 'a sonority and phrasing that mirrors the individuality of the performing musician,' therefore these characteristics are not unique to jazz.
“However, there are some characteristics that were present long before the creation of the modern blues. Call-and-response shouts were an early form of blues-like music; they were a "functional expression . . . style without accompaniment or harmony and unbounded by the formality of any particular musical structure." A form of this pre-blues was heard in slave ring shouts and field hollers, expanded into "simple solo songs laden with emotional content".
Blues has evolved from the unaccompanied vocal music and oral traditions of slaves imported from West Africa and rural blacks into a wide variety of styles and subgenres, with regional variations across the United States. Although blues (as it is now known) can be seen as a musical style based on both European harmonic structure and the African call-and-response tradition that transformed into an interplay of voice and guitar, the blues form itself bears no resemblance to the melodic styles of the West African griots, and the influences are faint and tenuous. Additionally, there are theories that the four-beats-per-measure structure of the blues might have its origins in the Native American tradition of pow wow drumming.” (bold not in original)
Did Native Americans sing the blues? Wikipedia: Blues states there are multiple theories attributing a rhythmic structure found in the blues as possibly having been influenced by the drumming style of Native Americans from pow wow drumming.
Wikipedia: Pow wow reports that pow wows (also known by several other names) are social gatherings of Native American peoples. They are definitely not any style of music and so there are no genres of music known as pow wows with any sort of defined metrical rhythmic structure as a consequence. When blues was being developed in the mostly southern United States and Texas locales, pow wow gatherings of Native American tribes were occurring in the quite large Great Plains region consisting of broad expanses of flat land (a plain) covered in prairie, steppe, and grassland, located in the interior of North America west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains in both the U.S. and Canada encompassing all of Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota with parts of Colorado, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming and southern portions of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba in Canada. Most of these locations are not known for their development of famous blues musicians. The pioneers of the blues in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas were not all that likely to have heard much drumming by any of these Native American pow wows.
Additionally, there is not only one type of drum rhythm used at pow wows. They are not only in four beats to the measure time keeping. Because four beats to the measure is a fairly low number musicians might well have adopted this rhythm on their own without necessarily having been influenced by any prior exposure to that particular rhythmic pattern.
“Readily noticeable in performances are the "hard beats" used to indicate sections of the song. The "traditional method" consists of a pronounced strike by all singers every other beat. These may appear in the first or second line of a song, the end of a section, before the repetition of a song. A cluster of three hard beats (on consecutive beats) may be used at the end of a series of hard beats, while a few beats in the first line of a song indicate performer enthusiasm. In the "Hot Five" method five beats are used, with the first hard beat four beats before the second, after which the beats alternate.” (bold not in original)
Worse for the theory of Native American drumming affecting the blues is the genocidal suppression of Native American culture and musical practices that would limit the impact of musical experiences had by future blues musicians. Pow wows themselves were legally restricted in 1921 and undoubtedly greatly suppressed prior to even that time.
“Initially, public dances that most resemble what we now know as pow wows were most common in the Great Plains region of the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a time when the United States government destroyed many Native communities in the hopes of acquiring land for economic exploitation. In 1923, Charles Burke, Commissioner of Indian Affairs in the United States, passed legislation modeled on Circular 1665, which he published in 1921, that limited the times of the year in which Native Americans could practice traditional dance, which he deemed as directly threatening the Christian religion. However, many Native communities continued to gather together in secret to practice their cultures’s dance and music, in defiance of this, and other, legislation. By the mid-nineteenth century, pow wows were also being held in the Great Lakes region.” (bold not in original)
Still, an argument has been made in the Utne Reader by Joe Gioia that Native American music may have been an influence by virtue of its existence and being heard by other culture's musicians.
“Between 1600 and 1840, three cultures—Native American, African, and European—each with a highly evolved choral tradition, came to encounter one another, in war and peace, by choice and under duress, in the old and new settlements of the vast American interior east of the Mississippi. To assume that only one of these cultures predominated in how the music evolved, or that another had no influence whatsoever, flies not only against logic but also in the face of any practical knowledge about how musicians work.” (bold not in original)
Joe Gioia attempts to bolster his argument of the possible influence on the blues by Native American music by pointing out that Native Americans were in some of the geographical regions out of which country and blues music emanated as well as pointing out that the possible African musical influences on the blues are not easily recognized.
“For 250 years, when the far west was still east of the Mississippi, three cultures clashed and combined in the great American interior. It might not be a coincidence that what is now considered the cradle of country music—east Tennessee, western Virginia and North Carolina, northern sections of Georgia and Alabama—covers exactly that land held by the Cherokee Nation at the end of the American Revolution.
History, of course, says that the Cherokee were forced out, rounded up by the Army and transported to the Oklahoma territory, a district set aside by the federal government in the early 1830s as a final homeland of the Native American nations of the East and Midwest. The South was cleared of its indigenous inhabitants in one decade. The Cherokee transit, in 1839, was the last and also one of the harshest, called now The Trail of Tears.”  (bold not in original)
“ . . . Bruce Cook’s admirably contrarian 1995 book, Listen to the Blues, written as a particular rebuttal to the theory, held by Oliver, that the blues held specific elements (retentions is the word used) of the music of Mali and the Senegambia. “And while there is no disputing that the blues is essentially Negro music,” Cook writes, “we can certainly question the implication that it was cut from whole cloth (or at least that the cloth was quite so black in color).” Cook had put to rest any myth of absolute and unilateral African transmission, quoting musicologist Richard A. Waterman: "There are no African retentions, as such, in the blues. But undoubtedly influence was great in determining the form the blues was to take. Just how we can go on specifying the extent of this influence is a question still open to debate."
Cook also includes the expert testimony of [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddy_Guy Buddy Guy, who, after a trip to Africa, said he didn’t hear any relation between African music and the blues.
In his 1981 travel memoir, The Roots of the Blues, the musician Samuel Charters, who studied the early form of the music in his 1959 book The Country Blues (indeed, the title soon defined a genre), describes a trip along the Gambia River to Banjul, Mali, searching for that link. Charters went to Senegal to study the griots, singers of tribal biography and history. Itinerant musicians who accompany themselves on the kora, a harp-like, 21-string instrument, griots were felt to be early exemplars of bluesmen like Charley Patton, Henry Thomas, and Robert Johnson. The problem with that theory, for blues history anyway, was that Charters found nothing in the griot repertory, or their role in society, with any American parallels.
Griot songs were mainly long litanies in praise of, and commissioned by, local chiefs, offering extensive ancestral detail. The private world of personal sorrow and resolve at the center of the blues—told in simple, repetitive verses, regular rhythm, and a standard three chords—was unknown in the west African tradition.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Wikipedia: Blues reports that African influences on the blues are hard to discern.
“No specific African musical form can be identified as the single direct ancestor of the blues. However the call-and-response format can be traced back to the music of Africa. That blue notes predate their use in blues and have an African origin is attested to by "A Negro Love Song," by the English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, from his African Suite for Piano, written in 1898, which contains blue third and seventh notes.” (bold not in original)
These three basic characteristics, whose essentials have been—and will continue to be—passed on orally from one generation to the next, create a novel climate of tension, In this climate, the emphasis is no longer on great arcs of tension, as in European music, but on a wealth of tension-creating elements, which continuously rise and fall.
A history of jazz could certainly be written from the point of view of the three jazz characteristics—swing, improvisation, and soundlphrasing —and their relation to each other. All these characteristics are important, to be sure, but their relationships change, and these changing relationships are a part of jazz evolution.
In the context of developing a definition for jazz, Berendt finds three central jazz characteristics: swing, improvisation, and soundphrasing. Swing is a specific type of rhythm not found in early jazz, or in a lot of other jazz throughout all of its history (latin jazz, free jazz, mainstream contemporary jazz), so it cannot be a necessary condition for playing jazz. (See Ontdef3. Are there Any Necessary Conditions for Playing Jazz?) Neither is improvisation sufficient for jazz (since many musical genres besides jazz improvise, as in country music, the blues, or Indian ragas nor a necessary condition since some jazz tunes are sometimes played straight to the musical score. (See Ontdef3. What are not Sufficient Conditions for Playing Jazz). Berendt might be better off sticking with his original formulation for jazz production of “a spontaneity and vitality of musical production" yet even here these features are not unique to jazz because Blues music encourages the performance over the original musical score, if there even exists one!
That jazz sound and jazz phrasing stand in dialectic opposition has been pointed out already. In old New Orleans jazz, phrasing still largely corresponded to European folk and circus music. On the other hand, typical jazz sonority was particularly highly developed here. Later, this kind of sonority came to be regarded as exaggerated. No major musician in any phase of jazz has had a purely European sonority; nevertheless, jazz sonority and the sonorities of European music occasionally have come very close. By way of compensation, jazz phrasing has become increasingly important. Thus, modern jazz, since cool jazz, is as far removed from European music in terms of phrasing as old jazz was in terms of sonority.
Calling it "jazz" phrasing is a problem when attempting a definition for jazz since it can beg the question as to whether such phrasing is unique to jazz.
In their extremes, jazz phrasing and jazz sonority seem mutually exclusive. Where jazz sonority is at its strongest—for example, in the "jungle" solos of Tricky Sam Nanton, Bubber Miley, and Cootie Williams with Duke Ellington's band, or in the free-jazz solos of