John P. McCombe
University of Dayton
Jazz": Jazz Historiography and the
Persistence of the Resurrection Myth
Work in progress.
Please do not copy, quote or circulate without author's permission.
"[By 1981] fewer and fewer black musicians were playing jazz and
I could see why, because jazz was becoming the music of the museum....
No one wants to be dead before their time... and that's what was going
to happen to someone who went into jazz."
- Miles Davis, Miles, The Autobiography (1989)
"I can't help but wonder what the future holds for America's number
one art form. I have traveled across this vast country and I am sorry
to say that the jazz scene looks pretty sad.... I think it's a shame to
let these many talents with so much to say to starve literally and musically."
- Jackie McLean, in the liner notes to Destination Out (1963)
For Miles Davis, the death knell sounded in the early eighties, directly before his own return to recording and live performance after a five-year hiatus. His equally restless contemporary, Jackie McLean, had lamented the demise of jazz almost two decades earlier, as many former bebop and hard bop stylists embraced free jazz as the only means by which to confront the music's "starvation" in the early 1960s. Throughout the sixties, Philip Larkin-following the lead of one of the first notable voices in jazz journalism, Hugues Panassié-suggested that jazz had actually been dead before the end of World War II.1 The "happy, cake-walking syncopation" of Larkin's beloved ragtime had been replaced by the abstruse and explosive rhythms of Charlie Parker's bebop. For a jazz journalist and historian such as Martin Williams, however, Parker and his even more aggressive successors in the late 1950's-Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane-were the natural extension of the improvisatory mantle established by Larkin's hero Louis Armstrong. But for Williams, and many others, the death of discord initiated by the soul-jazz and jazz-rock fusions of the late 1960's again threatened to kill off jazz for good.2 But as anyone knows who has recently consumed the nearly nineteen hours of Ken Burns's documentary Jazz on PBS, many of these stories feature the promise of jazz rebirth, most recently the neo-traditionalist revival of Wynton Marsalis trumpeted by Burns, Stanley Crouch and others.
My essay will explore several jazz historical narratives from a wide range of perspectives: from Larkin's frustrated desire to recover the initial thrill of hearing Fats Waller 78's in his digs at Oxford, to poet Amiri Baraka's immersion in the "New Thing" of free jazz, to Miles Davis biographer Eric Nisenson's recent polemic Blue: The Murder of Jazz (1997). Despite their many individual differences, one characteristic of jazz historiography as a whole is the continuous cycle of death and resurrection. After all, as Nisenson writes in his introduction to Blue, "the cry that 'jazz is dead' has been so ubiquitous throughout jazz history that it has almost become a tradition in itself" (1). Yet for each such song of mourning, jazz springs to life once more. After tracing this phenomenon-both the many deaths and rebirths of jazz-in Part One, in Part Two, I will offer an explanation for the power of this resurrection motif. I will contextualize these narratives within other mythologies of rebirth in which the rebirth signals not only a new life but also a state of exalted enlightenment. The jazz narrative of resurrection is part and parcel of jazz's academic apotheosis, providing a universality and cultural currency often denied to the art form. In speaking of the mythological archetype who progresses from a state of death to life, Joseph Campbell writes that the hero "has died as a modern man; but as an eternal man-perfected, unspecific, universal man-he has been reborn" (20). Such is the function of "Eternal Jazz": transcending death and asserting its unassailable position within the humanist tradition. Much like the resurrected hero, jazz leaves one condition but finds the source of life to emerge into a richer and more mature condition.
Long ago, jazz consumed its nine lives. Perhaps the first ended on October
10, 1917 in the very city that gave birth to jazz: New Orleans. In one
of the earliest surveys of the music's history, Frederic Ramsey's and
Charles Smith's Jazzmen (1939), we learn that the evolution of jazz depends
upon a local ordinance which closed Storyville. This eighteen square block
red-light district had served as the home base for many jazz pioneers,
most notably Jelly Roll Morton, a pianist who first gained fame playing
for Storyville's rowdy patrons. In a narrative which is repeated in many
subsequent histories, the closing of Storyville ensured the Diaspora of
New Orleans musicians who traveled up the Mississippi to cities such as
Chicago, Kansas City, and later New York and Los Angeles, where traditional
New Orleans music mixed with other African-American musical forms and
brought new life to jazz.3 In such an account, jazz becomes an exile,
but not before jazz "moves on" in a different sense. On that
October night in 1917, Smith writes,
A light breeze gently stirred the fronds of [notorious madam] Josie Arlington's palm tree. Somewhere close by there was the sound of a girl having a crying jag.... As the evening wore on the musicians came out of the houses, one band after another, and formed into line-"the best damned brass band parade that New Orleans ever had." Slowly it marched down the streets... [and] played Nearer My God to Thee-plaintively, like the brass band on the way to the graveyard. On Franklin Street, prostitutes moved out of the long-shuttered cribs, mattresses on their shoulders.... And over on Basin Street where the pretty quadroons gave America one of its popular blues, a red light flickered faintly and went out. (58)
Of course, current historical revisionism has re-examined the actual
role of Storyville and found it far more limited: very few working musicians
were ever employed in the brothels at any given time. As jazz historian
Ted Gioia reports, many of the houses used player pianos and very few
employed large ensembles at all (31). But the important thing is that,
for many years, the jazz mythology embraced a narrative of loss and one
coupled with the hope that the lamps would light again soon. This was
particularly true in Chicago, where Louis Armstrong would escape the shadow
of his onetime employer Joseph "King" Oliver and breathe new
life into jazz with his solo improvisation in performances such as his
famed recording of "West End Blues." Before long, jazz had "seeped
into the white districts of Chicago, spreading eastward and westward over
the country like a slowly opening fan" (Ramsey 95). As we can see,
the theme of the death and resurrection of jazz had been established before
America had even entered World War II. And it was during this war that
the rising popularity of something called "swing" may have elevated
jazz into a truly popular phenomenon. Then again, depending on one's perspective,
swing could also be viewed as a threat to destroy jazz once again.
World War II ushers in the next distinct period in which jazz receives the last rites. In The Swing Era (1989), composer and jazz historian Gunther Schuller suggests that,
To read most of the histories and reference books on jazz is to gain the impression that jazz died around 1942.... Still others, of course, are quite unequivocal about proclaiming the final "demise of jazz" to have occurred in the postwar era, and that modern jazz or bop and what followed in the further innovations of the sixties and seventies are all rather a "corruption of jazz," not upholding its original "true values and spirit." (844)
My own research confirms what Schuller suggests, but I would argue that this process has occurred yet again during the past decade, in the midst of what some have deemed a true jazz renaissance. For many writers in the 1990s, the very backward-looking nature of the "neo-bop revival"-which followed the ascendancy of Wynton Marsalis as the nation's leading jazz musician (and popular educator)-is really evidence of the latest death of jazz. Such is the third discrete historical moment involving the death and rebirth of jazz. And each cycle has surfaced in much the same manner, with an often-similar discursive field and many of the same arguments marshaled for both its demise and resurrection.
The Jazz Wars
Shortly after America entered World War II, an American Federation of
Musicians recording ban literally threatened to stop the music-at least
in its recorded form-for nearly two years. Beginning in the autumn of
1942, the union hoped to stem the tide of new releases in order to ensure
that working musicians would continue to find work in clubs and prevent
people from simply enjoying music on club jukeboxes or their Victrolas
at home. At the same time, there was a more general shortage of consumer
goods, including phonograph records, as materials used in their production
were diverted toward the war effort.4 But the threatened death of jazz
was not simply a matter of a musician's union addressing the needs of
its membership or an issue of wartime conservation. In addition to fighting
in the Pacific and in Europe, there was a war on the home front: the first
of many "jazz wars."
Actually, there were two jazz wars in the forties. In the early part of the decade, a battle raged between the proponents of traditional New Orleans jazz and swing, the latter an evolving jazz form which, for perhaps the first time, made jazz synonymous with America's popular music (that is, if you believed that swing was jazz). In this first great schism, the terrain for all future jazz wars was clearly established. In the Dixieland camp, there was tradition and stability, in which a defined set of musical structures and practices fixed the definition of jazz in a nearly timeless fashion. According to the swing camp, however, New Orleans jazz had merely evolved into the next logical stage of its development, even enlisting Louis Armstrong as an expert witness: "Jazz and swing is the same thing.... In the good old days of Buddy Bolden.... it was called Rag Time Music.... Later on in the years it was called Jazz Music-Hot Music-Gut Bucket-and now they've poured a little gravy over it, called it Swing Music.... No matter how you slice it-it's still the same music" (Armstrong qtd. in Gendron 35). In reality, the two styles of music were very different: swing was carefully arranged, marked by the recurrent use of "riffs," and popularized by many all-White orchestras. And for the New Orleans revivalists (or the "moldy figs," as they were known to the opposition), all of this was working to destroy jazz:
The riff was, for the revivalists, the most offensive and blatant symptom of the glorification of the 'groove beat as an end in itself' and the triumph of arranged music at the expense of 'spontaneous improvisation.' The 'riffing style' is the 'definite opposite of pure creative music,' since in 'riff music,' one knows exactly what is coming next for a whole chorus.' (Gendron 43)
Although "swing" and "jazz" were one and the same
to many other listeners, the revivalists believed that true jazz was imperiled
during the war years.5 Not only had solo improvisation been abandoned
for unison riffs, but swing had often eschewed African-American musical
forms for many of the (White) popular favorites of Tin Pan Alley. Writing
during the closing days of the war in Shining Trumpets: A History of Jazz
(1946), Rudi Blesh provided the most vigorous appeal warning of the destructive
power of swing: "It is easy to prove that any swing is completely
anti-jazz, completely anti-New Orleans, opposed to the real musical values
jazz represents.... Establishing no new art form, developing no older
one, it is nihilistic, cynically destructive, reactionary" (290).
Today, it may seem hard to imagine Count Basie and Duke Ellington as "nihilistic" and "destructive," but neither figure could avoid the condemnation of Blesh and his fellow moldy figs. The prescription for the revivalists: a return trip south on the Mississippi to the New Orleans styles of the twenties.
In Blesh's writing we see another example of the death and resurrection motif that surfaced in Jazzmen a decade earlier, only this time the death is more violent: "Commercialization was a cheapening deteriorative force, a species of murder perpetrated on a wonderful music by whites and by those misguided Negroes who, for one or another reason, chose to be accomplices to the deed" (11). For Blesh, bandleaders such as Basie and Ellington were heretics, succumbing to the pressure of commercial success and trading the musical complexity of ragtime for an inferior, albeit more popular, musical form. However, the war was not lost for Blesh and his fellow revivalists, and shortly after advancing the case for murder, Blesh summons a Biblical rhetorical fury to suggest a rebirth: "At this moment everything points to a great and imminent revival, all opposing forces to the contrary. When that happens-tomorrow-we shall hear the shining trumpets again" (16). In the conclusion to his study of the "real jazz," Blesh claims that the trumpets have begun to sound, stirring the dead to life. During the heyday of swing,
the fortunes of jazz, itself, had never been lower nor had its future ever seemed blacker. But, symbolically, [King Joe] Oliver and Louis [Armstrong], too, in the main never ceased to play the simple, hot trumpet of New Orleans jazz.... The year that Oliver died , jazz was stirring in its sleep, [and] its followers were rallying." (283)
Despite the promise of rebirth, however, jazz had not faced its only enemy in this tumultuous decade.
Perhaps an even greater threat emerged during the second great jazz war of the forties: bebop versus both swing and New Orleans jazz. It is with the rise of bebop when, in a phrase of Philip Larkin's, jazz first became "ugly on purpose." As I mentioned before, the discursive battleground looks very familiar in this second jazz war of the forties. In fact, as Bernard Gendron suggests, many of the most vocal champions of bebop were former proponents of swing and veterans of the battles with the moldy figs. The advocates of bebop saw the new form as "just one of a whole temporal string of 'new's' to affect jazz music, just one moment in the search for the 'new,' as this was implicitly defined by the prevailing discourses" (49). Here, we discern the very heart of the debate: whether or not jazz possesses some sort of fixed set of clearly-identifiable qualities or whether it is an inherently modernist form which must constantly reinvent itself and, in Ezra Pound's words, "make it new."6 In understanding the terms of the debate, one can see why many of the revivalists who viewed swing as a threat to "the real musical values of jazz" were perhaps even more incensed by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and the pioneers of bop. Even though bebop was far less commercially viable than swing, for the revivalists it presented many of the same corruptions: a preoccupation with showmanship, an excessive sartorial flair, not to mention an obsessive interest in instrumental technique. Once again, this latest form which called itself jazz could be interpreted as evidence of its demise.
In his belief that jazz had exhausted itself before the end of the war, Philip Larkin concludes that, by 1944, jazz became a modernist art form. And for Larkin, modernism was "an irresponsible exploitation of technique in contradiction of human life as we know it.... [and] helps us neither to enjoy nor endure" (27). For Larkin, there was really no distinction to be made among such "life-denying" figures such as Parker, Pound, and Picasso, let alone Parker and the jazz avant-garde who succeeded him in the fifties and sixties. After Parker, Larkin was "quite certain that jazz had ceased to be produced" and "the society that had engendered it had gone, and would not return" (25). Surprisingly, however, the death of jazz was actually a relief for Larkin: "if jazz records are to be one long screech, if painting is to be a blank canvas, if a play is to be two hours of sexual intercourse performed coram populo, then let's get it over, the sooner the better, in the hope that human values will then be free to reassert themselves" (27-28). Much like the authors of Jazzmen, who characterized the closing of Storyville as a somber funeral procession which served as a necessary prelude to a glorious rebirth, in Larkin's jazz writing, the poet/critic raises his glass to toast the death of all modernist art forms, which merely anticipate the eventual reawakening of the human spirit.
A Casualty of The Cold War?
If you were a musician or listener who spoke the language of bebop,
then jazz was very much alive, perhaps until the 1955 death of its patron
saint, Charlie "Bird" Parker. But even in the early 1950s, during
the years of Bird's rapid physical decline, there were many new threats
to the future of jazz, including its own Eisenhower-era commercial success
(much like the popularity of swing had doomed jazz for critics such as
Rudi Blesh the decade before). In 1952, Barry Ulanov, a onetime contributor
to Metronome magazine during the height of the revivalist/swing wars,
wrote in A History of Jazz in America that jazz was "in the grip
of a bewildering upheaval," which was the direct result of the forces
of commercialism. As a champion of "the new" in jazz-whether
expressed as swing or bop-Ulanov expressed dismay at a time when Parker
had eschewed the intensity of his earlier recordings for the Dial and
Savoy labels and released Charlie Parker with Strings on Mercury Records
in 1950. The distance from 1945's "KoKo" (a high-speed, small-group
deconstruction of the swing-era standard "Cherokee") to 1950's
straightforward and string-laden "I'm in the Mood for Love"
was perceived to be great-both artistically and commercially. And writers
such as Ulanov feared that jazz was losing its underdog status as some
beboppers were reaching a sizable audience for the first time, but by
looking backward rather than forward: "For most of its history, jazz,
rejected in its homeland, has had consciously to seek survival, conscientiously
to explain and defend its existence.... Variously banned and bullied and
sometimes cheered beyond its merits, jazz has led a lonely life but a
full one" (4). For Ulanov, what threatened the future of jazz was
its growing inability to polarize its audience. Swing had been wildly
popular in the previous decade, but it had also provoked strong opposition.
Now, in the early fifties, there was a new feeling of stasis, as if jazz
musicians were waiting for the great leap forward, while no one was willing
or able to risk alienating listeners. Commercial success, by itself, was
not enough to condemn a jazzman, but commercial success without musical
evolution was unforgivable to Ulanov. Even though they had occupied opposite
sides in the trenches of the revivalist/swing wars, Ulanov followed the
moldy fig Rudi Blesh in adopting a quasi-Biblical rhetorical appeal. In
the closing chapter of A History of Jazz in America, Ulanov warns of the
jazzman's "temptations" which threaten his "purity"
and "moral wholeness," while at the same time Ulanov suggests
the possibility that "the garden will thrive" as long as the
"genuine" replaces "the synthetic" (337).
No one seems to be declaring jazz dead in the mid-fifties, at least explicitly, but Parker's passing seemed to suggest that jazz was at least comatose. In Jazz: Its Evolution and Essence (1956), André Hodeir outwardly denies a pessimism about the future of jazz, all the while using a vocabulary laced with words such as "crisis," "confusion," and "desperate." But Hodeir steadfastly refuses to mourn, believing that,
New blood will begin to circulate as soon as someone discovers a new method of improvisation that will preserve both the soloist's freedom [which bebop heightened] and the orchestral work's basic unity [a legacy of swing] while establishing between the two a necessary and harmonious relationship. (280)
If swing was the thesis, and bebop its antithesis, then the proper synthesis
was simply waiting to take place. Nevertheless, despite his surface optimism,
Hodeir also believes that the most likely candidates for the job (Duke
Ellington, Miles Davis, and John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet) were
not really up to the task.
By the early 1960s, the "free jazz" movement led by Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, and John Coltrane seems to have tossed both terms of Hodeir's dialectic out of the window. But those who failed to embrace the rising avant-garde would no longer conceal their despair as Hodeir and Ulanov had done in the decade before. Many believed that, rather than a Hodeirian synthesis, the so-called "New Thing" should inspire the latest expression of mourning. For musicians such as Bud Shank, the Kennedy era was no Camelot for those caught between the Scylla of the avant-garde and the Charybdis of pop music: "You have to survive. When I became a full-time studio musician [primarily recording film soundtracks], I had been unemployed for a long time since jazz left us in 1962-63" (Shank qtd. in Ward 431). For many critics and journalists, the arrival of free jazz may have been even more painful. In Jazz: Myth and Religion (1987), Neil Leonard cites a Downbeat reviewer who again invokes the destruction of jazz at the hands of two pioneers of the avant-garde: "I listened to a horrifying demonstration of what happens to be a growing 'anti-jazz' trend.... I heard a good rhythm section... go to waste behind the nihilistic exercises of the two horns.... Coltrane and Dolphy seemed intent on deliberately destroying swing" (Don De Michael qtd. in Leonard 142).
Perhaps not surprisingly, the commercial prospects of Coleman, Coltrane and other advocates of The New Thing seemed even more dire than those which faced bebop musicians in 1945: such is often the price for forging a new musical trail. But while many listeners were sympathetic to the view that free jazz was killing swing-an essential component of much jazz-an occasional voice suggested that the violent imperative of the avant-garde was a prerequisite to the rebirth of jazz. In the early sixties, one alternative to free jazz was the more accessible sound of hard bop, epitomized by the recordings of Art Blakey, Horace Silver, and many others on the Blue Note label. But as Baraka wrote in Blues People (1963), "hard bop, sagging under its own weight, had just about destroyed itself" (223). Instead of expressing a passive nostalgia, Baraka looked to the avant-garde to lead a coup d'état: "In a sense, men like Coltrane and Rollins [both of whom had converted from the church of hard bop]... are serving as this generation's private assassins-demonstrating, perhaps, the final beauties to be extracted from purely chordal jazz" (228). The violence of free jazz, for Baraka, was necessary to prevent jazz from drifting away from the necessary "hegemony of the blues" and toward other forms of Western popular forms. In addition, free jazz could restore improvisation "to its traditional role of invaluable significance, again removing jazz from the hands of the less than gifted arranger and the fashionable diluter" (225). Bassist Charlie Haden, who first gained attention as a member of Ornette Coleman's group, is another for whom free jazz represented a new life. Rather than play the chord changes as Coleman had originally composed them, Coleman offered Haden the freedom to improvise his own changes, which inspired Haden's commitment to The New Thing. In an interview included in Burns's Jazz, Haden recalls his thinking at the time: "Somebody's finally giving me permission to do what I've been hearing all this time. And we started to play, and a whole new world opened up for me-it was like being born again" (Haden qtd. in Jazz-emphasis mine).
Most in the sixties were not as sanguine as Baraka and Haden, however. In the view of Duke Ellington biographer James Lincoln Collier jazz, as a whole, "was exhausted, worn out by overuse" (452) and increasingly found its audience diminishing. As late as 1960, Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm "found the nights too short to listen to everything that could be heard in New York from The Half Note and The Five Spot in the Village to Small's Paradise and the Apollo in Harlem and further west in Chicago and San Francisco." But only two years later, the jazz scene looked radically different: "'Bird Lives' could still be seen painted on lonely walls, but the celebrated New York jazz venue named after him, Birdland, had ceased to exist [and] jazz had been virtually knocked out of the ring" (xxvi). For Hobsbawm, it wasn't that Coleman or Coltrane had destroyed jazz from within (although many, including Philip Larkin, believed their work to be an extension of bebop's life-denying principles) but rather that the knockout had been delivered by none other than Elvis and The Beatles. In a 1986 review of a Count Basie biography, Hobsbawm recalls that "Sometime in the 1950s American popular music committed parricide. Rock murdered jazz" (Jazz Scene 291). As anyone familiar with jazz historiography knows, the notion that jazz was either dormant or dead in the 1970s is one of the most persistent jazz myths. In one of the countless sources which makes this claim, David Rosenthal's Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music 1955-1965 (1992), the author simply refers to the late sixties eclipse of jazz as a period of "devastation." As Rosenthal writes, "It was almost as if jazz had had a stroke in late 1967" (169). While many had believed that the avant-garde had already destroyed jazz in the early sixties, even the proponents of The New Thing lamented the utter demise of the music at the turn of the next decade. As drummer Milford Graves claims, in the sixties "everyone was up and the music was hot and burning. But the 1970s is like everyone went to sleep" (Graves qtd. in Peretti 158). Or, as guitarist Gabor Szabo proclaimed more succinctly in a 1967 cover story in Downbeat, "Jazz as we've known it is dead" (DeMichael).
Such is also the argument of Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns (and its companion book co-written by Burns and Geoffrey Ward), the ten-part documentary originally broadcast in America on PBS in December 2000. Before Part Ten of the film chronicles the "glorious rebirth" of jazz in the 1980s, the music, or perhaps interest in the music, needed to die. At the beginning of Part Ten, "A Masterpiece By Midnight," Burns's narrator poses a familiar rhetorical question: "for a long time [in the 1970s], the real question would become whether this most American of art forms could survive in America at all." What follows is a list of events that had occurred by 1970 suggesting to Burns that the end was near:
* The city of New Orleans dispatched a wrecking ball to the birthplace of Louis Armstrong
* Lincoln Gardens (where Armstrong had played with Joe Oliver on Chicago's South Side) closed its doors
* The clubs in Kansas City played by Lester Young, Count Basie, and Charlie Parker had vanished
* New York's Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom stood vacant, while Birdland had abandoned jazz for rhythm and blues
As Branford Marsalis suggests, by the 1970s, "Jazz just kind of
died-it just kind of went away for a while. There were still people playing
... but to be honest, with the exception of a few.... a lot of the more
talented younger generation who were supposed to come up just did something
else. And that had never happened before" (Marsalis qtd. in Jazz).
In other jazz histories, writers such as Ted Gioia have offered a somewhat
different portrait of the decade, pointing to the success of traditional
jazz labels such as Norman Granz's Pablo Records and the fact that jazz
festival line-ups leaned heavily on swing and bop idioms throughout the
seventies (382-83).7 But this seems to be a minority view, particularly
among musicians. In the mind of singer Abbey Lincoln, the music was never
permanently rubbed out, but it did endure the oft-cited and violent attack
by rock and roll: "A lot in the music has been lost, but I don't
think we're dead. I think somebody came to kill it. I know who it was,
too. They brought over the English musicians... and covered us over just
like you cover a blanket and put everything in another perspective"
(Lincoln qtd. in Jazz).
The conclusion to Burn's Jazz is merely the culmination of a series of cycles of death and rebirth that is repeated throughout the film. Some of the mini-resurrections that provide a narrative structure include Duke Ellington's 1956 Newport Festival appearance, an event that revived his career, landed him on the cover of Time magazine, and subsequently led him to tell interviewers that "I was born in 1956 at the Newport festival."8 Burns also chronicles Louis Armstrong's 1964 return to the pop charts with "Hello Dolly!," a recording which ousted The Beatles from the number one position and (for one brief moment) restored jazz to its pre-war level of popularity. Finally, as a prelude to the final two hours, Burns presents the story of the triumphant 1976 Village Vanguard engagement of saxophonist Dexter Gordon, an event that ostensibly served as the spark which initiated a full-fledged resurrection of jazz in the eighties: "Gordon's success was fresh evidence that a revival of interest in mainstream jazz might be in the offing" (Ward 458). Regardless of whether one believes that jazz survived the assault of rock and roll or not, what cannot be denied is that the continuous cycle of death and resurrection persists: not only does one see frequent claims for the rebirth of jazz, but also an intensification involving the violence of the death rhetoric of jazz. In an era when some have heralded a genuine jazz rebirth, other voices are warning us of a violent conspiracy to once again kill off jazz for good.
"Murder Most Foul..."
To be a murder victim, one must first be alive, and by the early 1990s,
jazz seemed very much alive. Regardless of whether one actually believed
that jazz had died in the seventies, the popular perception surfaced that
its vital signs were improving. After all, beginning in 1982, a twenty
year-old trumpet player named Wynton Marsalis began releasing records
reminiscent of the "modal jazz" pioneered by Miles Davis twenty
years earlier. More than a decade after most had declared traditional
jazz to be dead, Marsalis had been signed by Davis's long-time label,
the industry giant Columbia Records. Even more startling was that the
records sold remarkably well for jazz.9 Marsalis quickly became the poster
child for an entire generation of jazz musicians who embraced more traditional
jazz styles (in other words, acoustic jazz) and eventually became the
latest of the handful of jazz musicians to have graced the cover of Time
magazine.10 In a cover story entitled "The New Jazz Age," Thomas
Sancton's feature on Marsalis is accompanied by numerous photos of his
fellow "young lions" in the neo-bop movement. The article surveys
some of the foundational myths of jazz history-first, that, aside from
Marsalis and select others, no one earns much money playing this music;
and second, that in the preceding era "jazz fans began to bemoan
the death of a great American tradition" (66). Much like it had done
many times before, however, an organic metaphor signals jazz rebirth.
Thanks to the direct influence of Marsalis, Sancton claims that "a
jazz renaissance is flowering on what was once barren soil" (66).
But this nineties renaissance is one with a difference. While previously
the impact of commercial success had been viewed by some as a threat to
the purity of jazz (swing proponents excepted), Marsalis's healthy record
sales seemed to entice other major labels to recruit young jazz musicians,
thus helping to further this new growth of jazz.
Ironically, another seed of this new flowering of jazz had actually been sown in the 1960s at the height of the free jazz movement. At that time, a handful of Louis Armstrong's aging contemporaries launched a revival centered around New Orleans's legendary Preservation Hall and championed the same musical styles favored by the moldy figs in the mid-forties.11 One of the younger musicians who had been influenced by this group was none other than Ellis Marsalis, a young pianist and future patriarch of the Marsalis musical dynasty. In the Time piece, Marsalis's musical vocation is directly attributed to his careful tutelage at the hands of his father, as well as other mentors who include Albert Murray and Stanley Crouch, two of the most influential sources in Ken Burns's research. Burns's Jazz clearly bears the imprint of the thinking of these men, in particular the film's very definition of jazz, as well as the notion that Marsalis represents the (latest) second coming of this music.12
When Dexter Gordon initiated the latest resurrection of jazz in 1976 at New York's Village Vanguard, Burns and Ward remind us that the saxophonist played "without the synthesizers and electric bass and drum machines of [jazz-rock] fusion, and within the boundaries of swing, lyricism, and blues feeling that had been at the heart of the music since boyhood" (Ward 458). While few could deny that "swing" and "the blues" have been central to jazz since its inception, what is also implied is that these things depend upon acoustic instrumentation, which suggests a highly static definition of jazz. (After all, if the jazz instrumentation of the era of Louis Armstrong's "Hot Five" recordings had been maintained, then the rhythmic foundation of the small jazz combo might still be dependent upon the banjo.) But an analogous conservatism distinguishes the thinking of Marsalis, Crouch, and Murray. And because of his tender age, Marsalis quickly became viewed as the prophet charged with spreading the word. No one who reaches the conclusion of Burns's Jazz can fail to recognize the quasi-New Testament flavor of the language used to describe Marsalis:
No musician in jazz history has ever risen so far so fast.... Because his climb seemed so meteoric, because he was born in New Orleans and the son of one jazz musician and the brother of three more, and because for many people he would become the symbol of the rebirth of mainstream jazz, his success seems to have been almost preordained. (459)
In a linguistic chain that includes "risen," "the son,"
and "preordained," the resurrection motif of jazz historiography
appears once again, but expressed with an intensity rarely witnessed before.
This type of rhetoric underlies other recent jazz histories as well, including
Stuart Nicholson's Jazz: The 1980s Resurgence (1995). Although the author
ultimately expresses reservations about whether the Young Lions possess
the musical maturity to sustain the continued interest of a larger jazz
audience, Nicholson does provide another forum for Marsalis's take on
his own role in the jazz revival: "Everyone was saying jazz was dead
but when they heard me, they knew I was taking care of business"
Ironically, at the very moment in which Marsalis was "taking care of business," the backlash began, insisting that "the business" was actually the death of jazz. One need only consider the Sartrean pun of the title of Francis Davis's Bebop and Nothingness (1996), a book that chronicles the author's "growing disenchantment with contemporary jazz." And by "contemporary jazz," Davis refers not to the "smooth jazz" of Kenny G., but laments the dearth of musicians with "more on their minds than a Columbia Records contract and a week at the Village Vanguard" (x). If that sounds like a veiled reference to the Marsalis-led renaissance, it's not; there is no attempt to conceal Davis's fury. Davis would rather celebrate the under-reported avant-gardists "busy collaborating with poets, choreographers, and painters in a game attempt to erase the line that had traditionally separated jazz from the other performing arts" (x). But he recognizes that this is not the story reported in the popular media. For Davis, articles such as the 1990 Time piece "perpetuate the [neo-conservative] myth that jazz evolved from bebop to aberrant fusion to bop again, with thirty-plus years of free and its offshoots not even counting as jazz" (xi). While the neo-bop revival is featured on magazine covers and reaps the benefits of distribution from major record labels, jazz veers dangerously close to the Sartrean abyss: "But if Time and the New York Times say that jazz is experiencing a renaissance, it is. That's how it works" (xi). For writers such as Davis, the jazz revival symbolized by Marsalis's Jazz At Lincoln Center repertory represents nothing less than a slavish devotion to either already-venerated composers (Monk, Ellington, Mingus, et al.) or contemporary composers steeped in the bop idiom (Marsalis and his own colleagues) rather than an attempt to encourage canonical reassessment and force the audience to challenge its very definition of jazz.13
Eric Nisenson is a true kindred spirit to Francis Davis, but Nisenson summons up even more rhetorical fury. Despite the title of his 1997 book, Blue: The Murder of Jazz, Nisenson suggests that he is not writing an obituary for jazz, "because jazz is quite clearly not dead" (1). Nevertheless, the discursive framework-which looks very similar to the "jazz is not dead, but it looks pretty sickly" protestations of early historians such as Ulanov and Hodeir-begins with a chapter entitled "The Case For Murder." Although not dead, jazz has become "a suffocatingly arid and reactionary desert" (2), as if Ulanov's potentially "thriving garden" has been blighted. The case for "murder" depends upon the following evidence: 1) jazz radio (which is "virtually dead"); 2) anemic record sales, and most damning; 3) the "increasing diminuation of genuine creative vitality" (13). Much like Davis, Nisenson objects to the increasingly narrow limits on the definition of jazz imposed by figures such as Marsalis and Crouch. Burns, too, succumbs to the myth of jazz's demise in the 1970s (much like the opposition), claiming that electronic instruments were ill-suited to "the musicians' original conception" (200).14 But Nisenson believes that the attempt to revive bop idioms is even more dangerous: "jazz without innovation is a dead art form" (220). In Nisenson's own words, the jazz of the seventies "sucked," but at least it took chances by attempting to fuse jazz with the electronic instrumentation of rock.
At the end of Blue, Nisenson ultimately closes with the rhetorical question he has posed throughout the book ("Maybe jazz is dead"-247), but then offers a testimonial that the recordings of Miles, Coltrane, the Duke, and contemporary saxophonist Jan Garbarek help him to believe in the continued vitality of jazz. But this hasty reversion to a tone of hopefulness belies the implicit despair. A similar, but more overt, pessimism appears in Gene Lees's Cats of Any Color (1994). In Lees's final chapter, he establishes a binary even more extreme than the ones outlined in Nisenson's and Davis's critiques. For Lees, the Crouch/Marsalis definition of jazz is not only musically reactionary, but racist as well since, in the mind of Lees, organizations such as Jazz at Lincoln Center de-emphasize the contributions of white performers and composers.15 So once again, the death of jazz is the consequence:
Either jazz has evolved into a major art form, and an international one, capable of exploring and inspiring the full range of human experience and emotion. Or it is a small, shriveled, crippled art useful only for the expression of the angers and resentments of an American minority. If the former is true, it is the greatest artistic gift of blacks to America, and America's greatest aesthetic gift to the world. If the latter is true, it isn't dying. It's already dead. (246)
For Lees, Davis, and Nisenson, the death of jazz is posed as a rhetorical
question. However, despite the reluctance to declare it dead in a definitive
manner, there is an implicit belief that an art form that was born at
the beginning of the twentieth century has come to pass at the end of
that same century. But is this the end of the story? Obviously not, as
the cycle of death and rebirth continues as we enter a new century. A
work such as Howard Mandel's Future Jazz (1999) begins the process of
reconciling the ways in which jazz can simultaneously exist as both the
neo-bop of the Young Lions and the evolving jazz forms of true "fusion"
musicians (in the most general sense of that term) such as John Zorn's
Masada, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Cassandra Wilson. Mandel's argument
is that-to no one's surprise that has read this far-that jazz is very
much alive. But rather than explore what will be, by now, a very familiar
argument, I would instead prefer to explore the reasons why the jazz resurrection
myth exerts such a powerful hold on those who both play and write about
"The image of death is the beginning of mythology."
- Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth (1988)
"Joseph Campbell is the guy I really want you to meet. He knows
myth and ritual like nobody else around, and he can also use it to get
a hell of a boot from, say, a guy like [jazz musician] Slim Gaillard."
- Albert Murray, writing to Ralph Ellison in 1952
Scholars of comparative mythology frequently remind us of the similarity
of certain symbol-forming practices among otherwise diverse groups of
people. One such example is the tendency to comprehend the experience
of death through archetypal patterns involving death and resurrection.
As Alan Watts suggests, "the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth is
about the most basic theme of myth and religion" (Watts qtd. in Henderson
xi). For example, the Egyptian King Osiris was entombed alive by usurpers
in a coffin sealed with molten lead and then cast into the Nile. Later,
his body was cut into numerous pieces before being resurrected in order
to symbolize hope for a life beyond the grave (and fostering the growth
of mummification in Egypt). A similar myth surrounding the Greek God Adonis
(or the parallel story involving the Babylonian Tammuz) relates a tale
involving a beautiful young hero who is ultimately destroyed by a wild
boar before being reborn as a flower. In more recent times, among the
Blackfoot Native Americans, rituals gave thanks for the sacrifice of a
buffalo (which had sustained the life of the tribe) and then restored
the slain buffalo to life. In the Roman Catholic Church, the communion
ritual transforms the bread and wine to the body and blood of Jesus and
thus makes sense of the brutality of the Crucifixion.
In each of these mythic archetypes a death that initially might appear cruel and unnecessary is imbued with meaning. And all of the rituals mentioned above-as well as countless others from cultures both ancient and modern-involve a death by violent means, in which the death then benefits the community. Such a death allows each person to face his or her own death by accepting the condition as a catalyst for a new life in which the martyr and the believer both emerge into a richer and more mature condition. Given the prevalence of myths such as these, one can begin to speculate about the possible connections among these accounts of the violent death and resurrection of the mythic hero and the similar fate of our personified hero: jazz. In understanding the common links between various myths involving what James Frazer first identified as a hero/scapegoat, we can begin to understand the psychological attraction of an essential component of jazz historiography: the cycle of death and resurrection.16
In each of these resurrection archetypes, the hero moves from the condition of the non-living to the living, but looks different upon his or her return. As Alan Watts writes of the resurrection of Jesus, the hero has become perfected, and the resurrected state transcends whatever limitations confined the hero in the previous state of life:
[The resurrection] makes it clear that this is not merely the return of a ghost from the dead, nor even a simple resuscitation of the corpse. The Body which was nailed to the Cross and pierced with the Spear rises again into life, but so transformed that it can pass through closed doors and appear and disappear out of all conformity to the ordinary physical laws. (170-71)
By moving beyond the physical, the resurrected Jesus becomes, in Watts's
formulation, "spiritualized," a part of the world beyond the
conventions of space and time and thus a reminder of eternal life. The
condition illustrates what Joseph Campbell refers to as "Eternal
Man" in The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1968): "His solemn task
and deed...is to return then to us, transfigured, and teach the lesson
he has learned of life renewed" (20). Such is the condition in rebirth
for Osiris, Adonis, Tammuz, or any of the other scapegoat heroes. And
such is the condition of what I will refer to as Eternal Jazz.
Object-Relation and the Death of Jazz
To explain this widespread need to enact the death and resurrection of jazz-at a diverse collection of historical and cultural moments-one may productively turn to psychoanalysis, more specifically the field of object relations theory, which lends itself to the study of human relationships, as well as the interpretation of a wide range of literary texts.17 An interest in the "object" began with Freud and constitutes anything to which a person directs his or her drives, including a work of art. While Freud and many of his early followers believed the work of art to be part and parcel of the masturbation fantasy and thus not related to a distinct aesthetic impulse, more contemporary practitioners of psychoanalysis have rejected Freud's assumption. In the wake of Freud's work, Melanie Klein, Ernest Kris, and others became increasingly interested in analyzing the impulse of artistic creation, followed by the pioneering work of D.W. Winnicott. Winnicott believed that the aesthetic act-while still originating in infantile activities-existed as an autonomous human endeavor. For Winnicott, art derived not from masturbation but from "play," in which the masturbatory element seemed lacking: "if when a child is playing the physical excitement of instinctual involvement becomes evident, then the playing stops, or is at any rate spoiled" (Playing 39). Art becomes a lifelong expression of the desire for play in which we negotiate our constant movement between fantasy and reality. As Winnicott writes, "playing facilitates growth and health...and psychoanalysis has been developed as a highly specialized form of playing in the service of communication with oneself and others" (Playing 41). Viewed in this way art, too, becomes a form of therapy, a creative enterprise in which we extend the process of play by continuing to mediate between the inner reality of the individual and the shared reality of the external world.
As sensitive as Winnicott is to the distinct category of the aesthetic, the most powerful reason for viewing the resurrection mythology of jazz through a Winnicottian lens is that Winnicott sheds even more light than Melanie Klein on the paradoxical, yet productive nature of destructive impulses in human development. Such impulses are paradoxical because fantasies of destruction actually work to ensure healthy development.18 Winnicott's understanding of both infant and adult relationships derives from a pattern of behavior that initially involves aggressive, destructive fantasies prior to the recognition of the "otherness" and the reality of the object/person whose destruction was desired.19 As a result of the developmental process, the object is transformed into a genuine source of love and affection. This process of fantasized destruction and resurrection originates earlier than even Freud's Oedipus complex. For Winnicott, the mother's breast is both the source of life and the initial object that must endure the "full-blooded id-drives" of the infant. Winnicott conceives of the child's feeding as a violent action: "It is not only that the baby imagines that he eats the object, but also that the baby wants to take possession of the contents of the object" (Maturational Processes 76). But also crucial to the child's development is the eventual recognition that the object will not only survive the attacks but also continue to offer itself willingly to the nursing child. In the process, the survival of the object also alerts the subject of his or her status as a potential object.
What Winnicott is describing here is a form of graduation from the stage of "object- relation" to the stage of "object-use." In the former, the object is seen merely as an extension of oneself, but in the transition to the latter, there is the recognition of the object as an external phenomenon. The infant progresses from a state in which he or she considers the mother's breast to be an extension of the self to an awareness that it is an entity in its own right. But as Winnicott describes the two conditions, "in between, however, is the most difficult thing, perhaps, in human development" (Playing 89). And, in an elaboration which seems directly related to the psychological impetus behind the mythology involving the death and resurrection of jazz, Winnicott explains the nature of this difficult passage:
This change (from relating to usage) means that the subject destroys the object. From here it could be argued by an armchair philosopher that there is therefore no such thing in practice as the use of an object: if the object is external, then the object is destroyed by the subject. Should the philosopher come out of his chair and sit on the floor with his patient, however, he will find that there is an intermediate position. In other words, he will find that after 'subject relates to object' comes 'subject destroys object' (as it becomes external); and then may come 'object survives destruction by the subject.... A new feature thus arrives in the theory of object-relating. The subject says to the object: "I destroyed you,' and the object is there to receive the communication. From now on the subject says: 'Hullo object!' 'I destroyed you.' 'I love you.' 'You have value for me because of your survival of my destruction of you.' (Playing 89-90)
In nearly every mythology involving the violent destruction of the hero
(who then, in effect, returns to "receive communications"),
a similar psychological process operates, as the hero's value is enhanced
because he or she survives the destructive impulse. When the object (for
our purposes, jazz) is destroyed in the fantasy of the subject, the object
becomes distinct and separate and takes on a life of its own. The transformation
of "jazz" to "Eternal Jazz" intensifies the subject's
relationship to the music and derives from the fact that Eternal Jazz
has indeed survived. In the process, Eternal Jazz returns, much like Jesus
returns to the faithful, as a nurturing and educating force.
In rebirth, the stakes for jazz have been raised; upon its return the burden carried by the music is far greater than in its earlier state. While "jazz" serves as a form of expression for the musician and language that addresses the complexity of the human condition for the individual listener, Eternal Jazz carries an additional social imperative that is easily identified when musicians and historians speak of its revival. In his fears that jazz is being murdered, Eric Nisenson believes that we have to learn from the mistakes of the seventies when jazz really became endangered, "not just for the sake of the music, but also for the sake of the country that gave it birth" (233). In a world dominated by "cool" media (to borrow a phrase from Marshall McLuhan) such as the computer and television, jazz restores "heat" to our lives and allows us to connect to each other once again. Nisenson believes that an improvisation-based art such as jazz-which depends so much upon the immediate interplay between audience and artist-might actually save us, if we are not already too disconnected from each other that such a dialogue seems hopeless.
As a self-proclaimed contributor to the resurrection of jazz in the eighties, Wynton Marsalis makes a similar claim of salvation near the conclusion of Burns's Jazz. In an America beset by continuing racial discord, jazz now serves as far more than a mere musical language regulated by the physical laws of space and time: the group improvisation of jazz teaches us to speak and to listen and, subsequently, to imagine a better nation:
The music forces you, at all times, to address what other people are thinking and for you to interact with them with empathy and to deal with the process of working things out. That's how our music really could teach what the meaning of American democracy is.... [Jazz] gives us a glimpse into what America is going to be when it becomes itself. And this music tells you that it will become itself. (Marsalis qtd. in Jazz)
Without its death and rebirth, the music-as-hero cannot be expected to
carry this additional educational imperative. For readers of Coleridge's
"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the process will be familiar:
rebirth carries the responsibility of helping to educate other members
of the community. Such is a feature of almost any story of the hero's
resurrection, since resurrection implies a state of transcendence: "The
psyche, whether in individuals or groups of people, is enabled to make
a transition from one stage of development to another and therefore brings
the theme of death and rebirth into close relation to problems of education
whether in a religious or secular sense" (Henderson 4). Eternal Jazz
adopts just this type of educational mission for Nisenson and Marsalis
in our current cultural climate as it did for musician Archie Shepp during
the sixties, when jazz was reborn with the experimentation of Coltrane
and Coleman. For Shepp, the free jazz musician should seek "to liberate
America aesthetically and socially from its inhumanity," and Shepp
believes that the jazz musician could work to "exorcise" the
nation (Shepp qtd. in Baraka, Black Music 154-55). The process represents
nothing less than the apotheosis of jazz: moving far beyond the brothels
of Storyville, the dancehalls of the swing era, or the Manhattan clubs
where bebop was born. Eternal Jazz resides in a far more lofty place.
Given this theoretical framework, the consistently violent signifiers that distinguish jazz historiography begin to make sense. In my essay's epigraph, jazz was "starving" in the early sixties for avant-gardist Jackie McLean, while opponents of the New Thing could simultaneously speak of the "destruction of swing" in the pages of Downbeat. The idea that a "murder" against jazz had been plotted extends from Rudi Blesh's postwar calls for an anti-swing, New Orleans-based revival to Eric Nisenson's anxieties over the Marsalis-led murder at the end of that same century. But not only is jazz always being destroyed, it also survives that threatened destruction. In the process, Eternal Jazz achieves something Winnicott refers to as "object constancy"-it becomes real to the subject and reinforces the notion that both the object and subject are distinct and real. The idea that an external object is alive and nurturing is essential to the subject's continued growth. The act of intended destruction is developmentally crucial, but even more so is the act of survival. The continued survival of jazz thus becomes a psychological imperative for those who chart its history, as jazz transcends the acts of human violence. Every writer or musician surveyed in this essay (who has imagined the death of jazz) is one who loves the music and someone for whom the music is even greater for refusing to die and continuing to nourish its listeners. The process is quite similar to what Brooke Hopkins describes in a study of the psychological impact of the Crucifixion: "The violence of the act, the assault on Jesus' body, his hands, his feet, his side, is fundamental here. The crucifixion (as it is represented) is an essentially corporeal act.... [If] Jesus, as an analogue of the mother or of the loved object, is 'always being destroyed,' he is also always surviving" (256).
Such mythic representations of destructive impulses can thus be viewed as a means of continuing developmental processes that began at birth. As jazz has "matured," its historiography repeatedly bears out Winnicott's belief that "growing up is inherently an aggressive act" (Playing 144). In childhood games such as "King of the Castle," Winnicott sees a recapitulation of the destructive fantasies first manifested in an infant's nursing. In an unconscious impulse that culminates in dominance through the imagined death of all rivals, the adolescent's growth depends upon fantasized destruction: "there is to be found death and personal triumph as something in the process of maturation and in the acquisition of adult status" (Playing 145). When discussing the drives that motivate the child who is breast feeding or the similarly-structured adult processes in which we learn to "use" objects and recognize their externality, an analogous sense of object-use characterizes many of the mythic narratives which encompass our culture. The pattern of destruction and survival central to Winnicott's model of development becomes a central feature to myths ranging from Osiris to the Crucifixion to the death and resurrection of jazz. In the process, it is not so much that jazz is reborn but rather the subject, himself, who sees in Eternal Jazz a figure that offers nourishment on many levels: a stronger community, dialogues (both musical and political) marked by true empathy, and a more general liberation from inhumanity.
A final illustration of the power of Eternal Jazz appears in the criticism of Ralph Ellison, a writer who frequently expressed a nostalgia for the days of the local dance bands (the "territory bands") of his Oklahoma City youth. In an essay celebrating the art of vocalist Jimmy Rushing, Ellison laments "the thinness" of modern jazz in 1958:
The blues, the singer, the band and the dancers formed the vital whole of jazz as an institutional form [in the 1930s], and even today neither part is quite complete without the rest. The thinness of much of so-called "modern jazz" is especially reflective of this loss of wholeness, and it is quite possible that Rushing retains his vitality simply because he has kept close to the small Negro public dance. (47)
For Ellison, the jazz dances of Rushing's heyday were a vital "public rite" that has disappeared, and the loss of jazz as a dance music is not simply a loss of a popular form of entertainment:
[Rushing] expressed a value, an attitude about the world for which our lives afforded no other definition. We had a Negro church and a segregated school, a few lodges and fraternal organizations, and beyond these there was all the great white world. We were pushed off to what seemed to be the least desirable side of the city... and our system of justice was based upon Texas law; yet there was an optimism within the Negro community and a sense of possibility which, despite our awareness of limitation..., transcended all of this, and it was this rock-bottom sense of reality, coupled with our sense of the possibility of rising above it, which sounded in Rushing's voice. (44-45)
In retrospect, Ellison is aware of the profound significance of an art
which some would dismiss as mere entertainment (and which Ellison himself
perhaps under-valued in his youth). At a time in the late 1950s when Rushing's
art is dormant, Ellison proclaims that "we need Rushing" to
once again remind Americans of "who and where we are" (49).
The return of Jimmy Rushing from his European exile might help to restore
the necessary wholeness to the disintegrating fabric of American life,
a process that shows how jazz has moved out of the dancehall in order
to occupy a vital position as a local and national institution. Although
Ellison was a frequent critic of postwar jazz, and it was not only jazz
that endured a painful cycle of death and rebirth. For Ellison and, I
would argue, most every writer surveyed in the present essay, the jazz
listener becomes an integral part of the process of rebirth. One sees
this point very clearly in "Flamenco," an early essay in which
Ellison concludes by describing the blues aesthetic at the heart of both
flamenco and jazz: "the flamenco voice resembles the blues voice,
which mocks the despair stated explicitly in the lyric, and it expresses
the great human joke which is the secret of all folklore and myth: that
though we be dismembered daily we shall always rise up again" (100).
And so jazz, too, always rises again. In the recently-published Future Jazz, Howard Mandel describes the sixties as the "Janus Age of Jazz," a time when many jazz pioneers looked backward (as yet another New Orleans revival flourished) and when The New Thing looked far into the future. In reality, every period in jazz has sported two faces: one that claims that jazz is dead or dying and one that proclaims its rebirth. But each of these faces requires its counterpart; in the mythic cycles of death and rebirth that I surveyed in Part One, the violent death is the necessary prelude to a more glorious rebirth. Throughout its history, as Barry Ulanov recognized back in the early 1950s, jazz has been neglected in its homeland, constantly needing to defend its existence. Given its continuing underdog status-consider that today jazz record sales only account for roughly three percent of the market-jazz must still fight for its cultural life. In the 1980s, jazz stormed the university, an act which marked the latest incarnation of Eternal Jazz. Jazz died, and was reborn, and in the process brought the theme of death and resurrection into close relation with the field of education. Whenever the passing of jazz has been declared, one constant consequence is that it returns as an art form which not only entertains, but which elevates the spirit:
Jazz music deals with the soul of our nation...[and] through this music we can see a lot about what it means to be American. In our generation, there was a belief that jazz music was dead, so there was all the celebration that went with that: "Ahh, finally, no more jazz." Now here we are-we're still swingin,' and we ain't going nowhere. There's plenty of us out here swingin,' and we're going to keep swingin.' (Wynton Marsalis qtd. in Jazz)
As we have seen, the irony here is that the pleasure derived from the death of jazz comes not only from the people who dislike jazz: those for whom jazz is elitist, or difficult, or even those who consider it a "low" cultural form. True pleasure also springs from those who imagine its death, all the while drawing nourishment from the music as it survives the violent fantasy. The desire to destroy jazz can also be seen as a natural extension of processes of human development, in which the music is not an escape from reality but a way of confronting fundamental truths about our relationships from birth to adulthood. The resurrection of jazz not only reminds us of our own distinct identities, but also offers the opportunity for the music to address the social ills of the communities in which we live. Such was the argument of Burns's Jazz, the most recent jazz history examined in the present essay. And further proof that the cycle of jazz's death and resurrection continues can be obtained again from one of the newspaper headlines that recently attended the British release of the film. One review, in particular, appearing in the 25 May 2001 issue of The Guardian carries a headline which initiates the cycle once more: "Jazz: The Obituary."
1 In addition to writing two early histories of jazz-Le Jazz Hot (1934) and The Real Jazz (1942), Panassié published the magazine Jazz-Hot, which was one of the most influential jazz periodicals of the World War II-era.
2 Williams's objection to the fusion of jazz and rock is related to a
certain rhythmic incompatibility: "the beat in jazz moves forward;
it is played to contribute to the all but irresistible momentum of the
music: jazz goes somewhere. The beat in most rock bobs and bounces away
in one place.... Rock stays somewhere" (Williams qtd. in Burns 449).
In addition, Williams's view of the post-Coltrane era can be surmised
from his seminal work, The Jazz Tradition, in which the contents progress
directly from Coltrane contemporary Eric Dolphy directly to the World
Saxophone Quartet, who released their first album in 1979.
3 James Lincoln Collier is one among many who have written of the "jazz Diaspora" which followed the closing of Storyville. By 1978, when Collier was writing The Making of Jazz, he would write that "the effect on employment for musicians was less drastic than some writers have claimed" (79), but still argues that the event had a "symbolic effect" in pulling many of the leading New Orleans musicians out of the city, namely Joseph "King" Oliver and Sidney Bechet. A much less critical account of the myth of Storyville's demise appears in Nathan Pearson's Goin' to Kansas City (1987). See Chapter Two, "Sources of the Early Kansas City Jazz Style: Ragtime and New Orleans Jazz."
4 There has been much discussion about the primary motivation for the 1942 recording ban. It is true that the shellac used in phonograph records was also a primary ingredient in bullet coating and electric wiring. However, as Scott DeVeaux reports in The Birth of Bebop, an active recycling campaign ensured that the shellac drawn from old, worn-out recordings would prevent a complete interruption in the supply of new recordings. See pages 239-40 and 295-99.
5 The pages of Metronome magazine provided a home base for the proponents of swing. The magazine had begun in 1892 as a source for parlor music, but by 1935-the year of Benny Goodman's famed Palomar Ballroom concert-the focus of Metronome had shifted to dance music and musicians. Noted contributors such as Barry Ulanov, as well as the magazine's editorial staff, maintained that swing and jazz were synonymous in pieces such as "Jazz vs. Swing, Which is Which? Are They Both the Same," Metronome Apr. 1944: 22-23.
6 One of the most vigorous statements on the subject of the unchanging nature of jazz appears in Theodor Adorno's essay "Perennial Fashion-Jazz." In arguing for the rhythmic "limitations" of the music, Adorno suggests that "jazz has in its essence remained static" and that "millions of people seem never to tire of its monotonous attractions" (121).
7 Jazz writer and discographer Douglas Payne, who has offered valuable commentary on an early draft of this essay, has reminded me of the many record labels in addition to Pablo Records that were releasing traditional jazz in the 1970s. The list includes companies such as Timeless, East Wind, and Steeplechase Records, all of which are based outside of the United States.
8 This statement appears, among other places, in John Edward Hasse's Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993, 322. In addition, Burns reinforces the Ellington "resurrection" in the companion book to Jazz by placing a caption over two-page photo spread on Newport '56 that simply reads "Rebirth."
9 According to the official website for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), two of Marsalis's mid-eighties recordings, Hot House Flowers and Standard Time, have been certified gold records with more than 500,000 copies sold. Only a handful of other jazz records can claim this distinction. See <http://www.riaa.com>.
10 Marsalis is once again in select company, as only Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, and Thelonious Monk preceded him on the cover of Time, and his predecessors appeared there in the period from 1949 to 1964.
11 The title of the one book-length study of the New Orleans revival of the 1960s continues the religiously-charged language that often envelops jazz history. See William Bissonnette's The Jazz Crusade, Bridgeport, CN: Special Request Books, 1992.
12 One observes a display of the liturgical hyperbole that Marsalis inspires in Crouch's liner notes for the compact disc In This House, On This Morning (1993). In describing the debut live performance of this piece at New York's Lincoln Center, Crouch suggests,
Marsalis and his men executed a victory far beyond the technical. They
arrived at that place where the wick of the soul caught fire, casting
a large and variously shaped light through the wonderfully designed lamp
that was In This House, On This Morning. That fiery wick spoke its brightness
through the bush of silence and darkness with such aesthetic authority
that Pearl Fountain, Marsalis's housekeeper and a veteran of many, many
long mornings and evenings in church, said of the performance, "God
visited you all last evening. (194)
This essay is also reprinted in Crouch's collection of essays The All-American Skin Game, or The Decoy of Race (1997). An alternative view of the debut of In This House appeared in the pages of the Village Voice, in which a reviewer described the piece as under-rehearsed and the Lincoln Center patrons as speeding toward the exits before the conclusion of the concert.
13 The concluding chapter of Gene Lees's Cats of Any Color (1995) elaborates on the subject of the rather narrow breadth of the Jazz at Lincoln Center programming practices in the early 1990s. See pages 187-246.
14 For me, there is a contradiction inherent in Nisenson's anti-electric stance here. For Nisenson, the "fusion" era of the seventies is a period of jazz dormancy that prefigures its current critical state. However, Nisenson also claims that "jazz" and "fusion" are really synonymous, pointing to the fact that jazz has fused successfully with many different musical forms. While Nisenson lauds the jazzy baroque fugues of the Modern Jazz Quartet and the influence of Swedish folk music on the work of trumpeter Art Farmer, he seems convinced that the amalgamation of jazz and funk or rock rhythms is far less successful. Perhaps it is simply a matter of taste, but in my case for the vitality of jazz in the seventies, I would submit to the court Miles Davis's Bitches Brew, Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters, and a host of early-seventies recordings on Creed Taylor's CTI Records. As early as the sixties, the jazz "boogaloo" provides another example of the productive combination of jazz and rock beats. The boogaloo essentially "straightened out" the eighth notes of the traditional swing rhythm while retaining the soloist's improvisation and plenty of syncopation within the instrumental ensemble. For an example, sample Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder," one of the most commercially successful Blue Note recordings in the label's history.
15 Lees draws the title of his book from a quote by Louis Armstrong. Following the controversy that surrounded the integration of Armstrong's band (which included white trombonist Jack Teagarden), Armstrong had pined for a time when "cats of any color could play together."
16 There is a useful summary of some of Frazer's findings in David Leeming's Mythology: The Voyage of the Hero (1998). See especially pages 157-82.
17 The use of object-relations theory has been applied in the interpretations of texts ranging from Macbeth to the poetry of Frost and Wordsworth to D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover. For such examples, see Peter Rudnytsky, ed., Transitional Objects and Potential Spaces: Literary Uses of D.W. Winnicott (1993).
18 For more on the differences between Winnicott's and Klein's conceptions of the ultimate source of the creative impulse, see Winnicott's "Creativity and its Origins," reprinted in Playing and Reality (1971).
19 An essential component of object-relations theory is that the "object" may be just that-a blanket or stuffed animal in childhood-or it may be person, particularly a mother, father, or someone in a close relationship to the subject. However, even in adulthood, people retain close connections to objects, including food or alcohol, which is why the field is not known as "human relations" theory.