Friday, April 06, 2007
taxonomy, jazz death III, language games
The above two cacti are considered the same species by most botanists. Echinocereus russanthus. The blonde on the left is sometimes called Echinocereus russanthus v. weedinii. But usually the two forms are lumped into synonymy.
Which brings me to another series of thoughts about jazz death. Jazz taxonomy is a nightmare. In botany, there's two opposed camps: the lumpers and the splitters. Basically, the lumpers look for similarities and the splitters look for differences. In the cactus family, the lumpers acknowledge something like 1200 species. The splitters, 3,500. There's clearly jazz splitters and jazz lumpers as well.
The best thing of all is when musicians and critics get rid of the term "jazz" altogether. It's the best thing because it squelches the discussion at the root. Can't claim jazz is dead if there's no such thing as jazz. haha. It's just music. But this isn't satisfactory at all for those who hold to phrases such as "the jazz tradition" or "jazz history." Or even tyros who have the balls to use a phrase like "Free Jazz Classics." It's as if some people would rather have a clearly defined form that is, in fact, dead, than not have a category at all. Lots of "jazz organizations" talk about their mission as one of "preserving the rich heritage of America's unique art form." Preserving. A fetus in a jar. Well, a young adult anyway. According to Professor Darius Brubeck jazz started to die in 1959, at about 39 years old.
Splitters want all the genres as specifically identified as possible. The extremes take what most people with passing familiarity would hear as one genre and atomize it. Free jazz, for example. What an idiotic name for a form of musical expression, first of all. Free jazz splitters go with experimental, avant garde, free improv, modal, creative music, third stream, modern jazz, collective improv, free fusion, harmolodics, new music, etc. Probably a bunch of apparent "types" that I'm forgetting. Every one of these categories is vague and linguistically unsatisfactory. All music is new, for example. Neoism is easily fetishized. Neoism is as much of a suffocating ideology as "preservation."
One of the comments appended to a YouTube video of the Miles Davis Quintet circa 1969, with DeJohnette, Holland, Corea and Shorter: "It's too free for me." Who gives a rat's ass? What makes people feel compelled to displays such as that? Or the following comment in the wooly threads under one of Cecil Taylor's videos: "He's been playing the same song for 30 years." It's endless. The most abundant element isn't hydrogen, but stupidity. etc.
Looking back at the racist, fascist and tragicomic history of jazz itself, the plantation/exploitation system, the pathetic co-optation by white hipsters in search of street cred, the ridiculous narrow mindedness of the American arts consumer in general, the internecine warfare among musicians and critics alike (Max Roach assaulting Ornette, rich white boys John Hammond and Leonard Feather arguing about Duke in the 1940s, Wynton's cabal gutting the amazing music that was already going on contemporaneously with the rise of the "neo-mainstream" movement), Chris Botti and Candy Dulfer and Sophie Millman (among the worst) and the Young Pussycats not far behind...it's a sickening spectacle, really. Jazz, word and ubergenre, die, die, die. Haven't we heard enough of what people think jazz is?
On KSFR, where I host a weekly show, there's another weekly program called "Giants of Jazz." Last fall, when my show was new and causing some raised eyebrows (specifically, playing The Artist in America from OC's Skies of America back to back with Jump Up from Jimmy Lyons/Sunny Murray/John Lindberg) "Giants of Jazz" featured two hours of...Bill Charlap. Yeah. Bill Fuckin' Charlap. Die, jazz, die!!