Friday, March 30, 2012


By Claudio Botelho
Think it’s already happening? Think it’s gonna happen? Afraid of it?
Jazz isn’t and will never be a very popular kind of music, for the simple reason of lack of accessibility: it’s not easy to follow someone who, at will, doesn’t follow the previously established score of a song. The music inside other music isn’t accepted or even perceived by many (the great majority). If the listener is not aware of what’s going on, he may find the musician unskilled or, worse still, fraudulent. Those who have listened jazz on any regular basis know this very well.
If it was ever popular, it was on those years when it was a vehicle of dance music, in the first half of last century, chiefly in the United States. But, in that days of yore, to be possible to associate it with another leisure practice (dancing), it had to follow certain rules which assured it could be so used: appropriated and constant rhythm; little spontaneous improvisations, other than the previously planned and repertoire of great popular appeal. In short: it was a jazz very little “jazzy”. By then, there were orchestras like Harry James, Woody Herman and Les Brown which epitomized the so called “Swing Era”. Their popularity spanned from 1936 to 1946 and I’d say these were the golden years of the popularity of jazz, although, as I sad above, a jazz somewhat sterilized by those regulations.
From 1946 on, the big musical groups disbanded, as a result of the bankruptcy of post war years. But, some of them went on: Duke Ellington; Count Basie and Stan Kenton. But these were in a higher level and were the exception that confirmed the rule and, if I’m not wrong, had strength to keep on playing at least until the passing of their leaders.
Now, the jazz went on by itself: its sole point of interest was music itself. So, jazz musicians, free from any limitations, let loose their inner instincts and expressed their feelings in abandon.
Certainly no country more than United States documented, analyzed and classified all kinds of jazz manifestation and terms like east coast jazz, west coast jazz, mainstream jazz, free jazz, cool jazz and a bunch of others were coined along the time and gained the world.
Now comes the core of this writing: Is it possible jazz, in any day of the future, to vanish; to disappear; to become extinct so that nobody will ever listen a single note of it? No, never, for the simple reason that it was never invented; it was not a kind of music but just a way to play music and, as such, has always been practiced. Johann Sebastian Bach, to name one, knew this very well…
The North Americans had the venture of identifying it before any other people and the greatness of the United States helped to make it their own. As a matter of fact, jazz has always been around and, in my view, it’s nothing more than instantaneous arrangements; the kind of music one introduces into another when performing it. It can be as subtle as it can be fierce, in such a way as making the original composition barely recognizable or even unrecognizable for many.
To exemplify: you may have singers like Brazilian João Gilberto, as an example of jazz at its utmost subtleness: the only thing he does when singing is to make tiny changes in time; sometimes he advances his phrasings, others he delays it. It’s a jazz barely perceptible and I’m sure many never had any clue of it. Those who don’t like his singing simply don’t like jazz and, so, prefer to listen to other more conventional artists. In spite of this, his understated jazzy way of singing may pass unaware for many, which, even though not necessarily jazz fans, might like his performances.
You may also have artists like Betty Carter and Anita O’Day who had took jazz to the other extreme; the first one having serious problems of recognition, when she first appeared in the music scenery, due to her great uniqueness. Both, in my opinion, represent the quintessence of jazz singing and, for my money, Ms. O’Day is a little ahead, as she is even more tantalizing. Ms. Carter, being her greatest contender, is an artist of more prominence, for being akin to Art Blakey in his keen eyes (or ears) in recognizing new talents; many of them she discovered and introduced to wider audiences, just like Blakey did so many times. So, she was a bit more than just a single super singer…
You even have jazz singers who are not jazz singers at all. Many of them earning prizes as such, without ever spitting a miserable note different from those from the previous arrangements, usually done by some other musicians. So, these jazz singers never did any arrangements or improvisations and the sole reason for being so classified must go to the musicians they work with. Here, you have a territory belonging all to them; a land of make-believe of those who make their mouth, throat and tong their musical instrument, but nothing more than just that, if taken into account the realms of the subject hereon discussed…
You also have players which seem to be improvising from the very first note they play and you may have a hard time trying to distinguish the theme from the improvisations. Cecil Taylor, for instance, comes to my mind. Maybe too much room for improvisations… An excess of freedom for my liking…
So, why all this blah, blah, blah? To express my feelings that jazz is an innate state of mind, which come standard with some people, musicians or just listeners like me. It is a feeling of “inadequacy” with the written chords; an inner force to make them different, each one having his way of doing it, which may or may not suit the taste of a listener. That’s why those who like jazz follow the musicians in the first place, letting the songs he performs to play a secondary (but not unimportant) role.
(On account of this, I don’t believe when someone tells me he likes “music in general”; he “likes every music”. For me, it seems more like he doesn’t like “music in general”. He’d rather watch TV…)
All said, if jazz comes in all sizes, shapes, textures and colors; is independent from the will of anybody; germinates in any place, in any weather and, in its early days in the core of each of the “chosen ones”, is undetectable, how come it may ever end?
(As a matter of fact, our editor – Mr. Leonardo Barroso – when proclaims that “jazz is alive” (and he does it a lot…) seems to me to be afraid of awaking one day and discover that there’s no jazz anymore.)
The question is: jazz is and will ever be the nth most listened way of playing music, but this should not mislead you into thinking it is dying. Besides, remember: it is “insidious” sometimes, being unknowingly present in many presentations and this is what makes it an enemy difficult to destroy…
Still afraid? You don’t need to be. The title of these writings is a fake, as much as the skull and bones which illustrate it...

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