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Historicist Jazz
Chapter Outline

In this chapter, we consider jazz as influenced by history. This begins in the 1930s, with the development of jazz history and the revival of New Orleans jazz in live performance (continuing to the present day with Preservation Hall). It deepens in the 1950s, as jazz moves into academia and festivals and as musicians begin creating music that refers back to the past. In the 1970s, jazz was understood as a "tradition," and avant-garde artists began making a point of including music as far back as ragtime in their new compositions. Avant-garde and fusion jazz still ruled until the 1980s, however, until the sudden breakthrough of Wynton Marsalis. We consider Marsalis's career, up through Jazz at Lincoln Center, as well as the success of the Young Lions and the renewed interest in the older guard (Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson). Nostalgia plays a role (Harry Connick, Diana Krall), reinforced by CD reissues that crowd record stores with older music. We examine repertory bands and the use of jazz in film (Kansas City, Bird), advertising, and documentaries (Ken Burns's Jazz). We also look at the peculiar historicism of Shannon Jackson and James Carter, both of whom transform the tradition in unexpected ways.

  1. The Weight of History
    1. In 1925, Don Redman, then with the Fletcher Henderson band, arranged "Dippermouth Blues," a piece from Louis Armstrong's book of compositions that Armstrong offered to Redman. It was recorded as "Sugar Foot Stomp"
    2. This was not the first nor the last time Henderson had looked to jazz history for inspiration, as illustrated by his recordings of "Copenhagen" and one based on the third strain of Jelly Roll Morton's "King Porter Stomp"-all of them successful.
    3. So far jazz history has been considered as several things:
      1. Art-for-art's sake: an art that progresses through radical leaps of creativity by master musicians
      2. A "fusion" tradition that changes in response to contemporary pop culture
      3. The Henderson examples offers a third way: historicism, wherein jazz creativity is viewed as bound up with its past.
  2. Historicism: A Definition
    1. In contrast to the idea that individuals create great work independent of history, historicism (Georg Hegel) posits a dialectical relationship between the past and the present. Artists engage with the past when they create new work.
    2. 1980s: New Historicism claimed that art must be viewed in its historical and sociocultural context, in contrast to the New Criticism, which denied context as important to understanding art. In jazz, these two views complemented each other. Martin Williams is probably the leading advocate of the New Criticism in jazz.
    3. In the 1970s Williams created the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, which was a mainstay of jazz education for years. But as one who ignored context, he would leave out important aspects of performances, such as Jelly Roll Morton's comic introduction to "Dead Man Blues," which he considered irrelevant. A historicist would find this introduction illuminating.
    4. Williams was not opposed to historicism; he just didn't subscribe to it. His art-centric approach predominated jazz commentary from the 1950s to the 1970s.
  3. Historicism at Work
    1. In the twenty-first century artists try to energize the present by mining the past through interpretation and homage. In the 1950s and 1960s jazz musicians tried to create new and original works. These are mined by present-day musicians through three kinds of historicist principles:
      1. Revival of entire idioms
      2. Original music that celebrates the musical past
      3. Modernist interpretations of jazz classics
    2. All three can be found throughout jazz history.
  4. Reclaiming the Past: Bunk (1940s)
    1. The first historical-focused movement occurred in the late 1930s with the publication of Ramsay Jr. and Smith's Jazzmen (1939), which argued that authentic jazz was an African American, blues-based music derived from New Orleans. The authors almost completely ignored swing. In the course of researching his book, William Russell discovered trumpeter Willie "Bunk" Johnson (1889-1949).
    2. Johnson claimed to have played with Buddy Bolden (he was too young for this to be true) and influenced Louis Armstrong (this was denied by Armstrong). Johnson recorded and toured, starting in 1942 for around five years, as a representative of the "real" jazz.
    3. Technically limited, he could play blues well, but he was ridiculed by the modernists (boppers) even as he was idolized by his mostly male, white, conservative fans (revivalists).
    4. On the plus side, Johnson and his supporters forced a reconsideration of early jazz, resulting in a rediscovery of the work of King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton; introduced a coterie of traditional New Orleans musicians; and played an important role in reestablishing the French Quarter as a tourist attraction.
  5. Defining the Past: Mainstream (1950s)
    1. The 1950s were characterized by new styles, players, and composers that also instigated a look at older schools like swing.
    2. In 1958 Stanley Dance, who hated bop, coined the term "mainstream," which included those musicians between traditional jazz and modernity. The definition changed in the 1960s to include bop and then, in the 1970s, any jazz that was acoustic, as a reaction to fusion in the latter case and the avant-garde in the former. Mainstream came to represent ongoing changes, not including the latest trends.
    3. Although jazz was very slowly making inroads into academia and the arts establishment, jazz activists started institutionalizing jazz history in their own schools, writing about jazz in books and magazines, and holding public discussions.
    4. In the meantime, musicians started crossing stylistic lines, with modernists paying tribute to traditional music.
  6. Schools: The Lenox School of Jazz
    1. Much of this educational activity took place in Massachusetts, in Boston and Lenox. Nineteen fifty-seven saw the first dedicated jazz curriculum, taught by a faculty that was integrated but mostly black-another first-under the direction of John Lewis. Students had to audition to get into the school.
    2. There were forty-five students and thirty-four faculty members in the first year, including many of the top jazz musicians of the day, who had learned by doing but were now faced with figuring out how to pass on their knowledge for the first time (Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson George Russell, Jimmy Giuffre, Ornette Coleman, J.J. Johnson, Max Roach, and others).
    3. Both jazz (chronological and musicological) history and jazz technique were taught. Discussions of folk music and jazz had been taking place in Lenox since the 1950s at the Music Inn and included jazz workshops run by English professor Marshall Stearns, who later wrote an important book on jazz history and founded the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University. The school closed in 1960.
    4. By that time, jazz studies was making its way into other schools including the Berklee School of Music in Boston, which offered an undergraduate degree in jazz performance and composition in the 1960s. The first degree in jazz studies was offered in 1947 by the University of North Texas in Denton. Both this school and Berklee served as a training ground for many jazz musicians.
  7. Festivals: Newport
    1. George Wein, a pianist and bandleader who owned two jazz clubs in Boston, was asked by Elaine and Louis Lorillard in 1954 to program some jazz concerts in an unlikely spot-the unlikely center of old money, Newport, Rhode Island.
    2. Although there was some resistance at first, jazz at Newport was eventually accepted as a symbol of enlightenment and fun. Hollywood set a film there and an independent company made a documentary about the festival called Jazz on a Summer's Day, in 1958.
    3. Wein became a powerful jazz impresario. Taking his cue from the Lenox School, he included panels and workshops as well as concerts that featured every major jazz artist of the day and some not usually considered part of the world of jazz, including Frank Sinatra, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, and Mahalia Jackson.
    4. When the festival was suspended in 1960 due to rowdiness, Wein moved it to New York City, where it got even bigger. He went on to start festivals in France, New Orleans, and elsewhere. By 2006, festivals had become a major part of the jazz landscape on six continents.
  8. Avant-Garde Historicism (1970s)
    1. Historicism was almost totally absent during the 1960s, when the first wave of avant-garde musicians emphasized new directions, but the eclectic second wave of the 1970s did not ignore jazz history. It was also during this period that record companies started to release box sets encompassing the music of a musician, era, movement, or record label.
    2. At the same time, a number of "living legends" who had left jazz for studio work, the academy, pit bands, or Europe returned to an active jazz performance schedule, priming audiences for almost anything.
  9. Anthony Braxton (b. 1945)
    1. Chicago native Braxton played all the reed instruments and piano. He studied philosophy at university, joined the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), and started his own trio in 1967 with Leroy Jenkins and Leo Smith.
    2. In 1969 he released a double album of unaccompanied alto saxophone solos that created quite a furor over familiar issues: fakery versus genius; jazz versus non-jazz. He recorded dozens of albums with music ranging from improvisatory to structurally constrained and everything in between with a diverse group of musicians, also representing a broad range: Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck, Dave Holland, and Max Roach.
    3. His historicism created much controversy. His album, In the Tradition, consisted of traditional repertory played in non-traditional ways and with unconventional titles. His sources and performance practices were much broader than what most people understood as proper to jazz. In 1994 he started a company that presented interdisciplinary and multimedia works in New York.
  10. "Piece Three"
    1. This piece is from Braxton's 1976 album Creative Orchestra Music, which contains musicians that represent a diverse sampling of jazz history including bebop, swing, fusion, Euro-modernism, and the avant-garde. This piece evokes the sound of a James Reese European World War I march.
    2. The title simply refers to the fact that this is the third piece on the album. It is also titled by a mathematical diagram. It starts out "authentically" but soon moves in another direction
    3. By the fourth strain we hear oom-pahs that seem to get stuck, at which point dissonant chords and the entry of trumpeter Leo Smith contrast with underlying structured bass lines, harmonies, and rhythms. There is also an ostinato, a George Lewis trombone solo, and Braxton's clarinet solo, which add contrast and humor to the performance. The piece ends with an ironic reconstruction of the march.
  11. The Neoclassicists (1980s)
    1. Loft-era musicians drew on older resources combined with new ways of playing to create "free jazz"-meaning they were free to play whatever they wanted.
    2. During the 1980s, one response to this approach appeared in the form of new classicism. Older styles, practices, and techniques were viewed, not as a resource for new music, but rather as an object of homage and a definition of the "real" jazz.
    3. This traditionalist approach to jazz paralleled the conservative nature of political culture during the Regan era of the 1980s.
    4. The prevailing anti-intellectual and nostalgic feelings of this period precipitated hostility toward the arts, reduced arts funding, and encouraged censorship.
    5. Some jazz musicians, alienated by fusion and the avant-garde, began to explore jazz history by paying homage to deceased or neglected musicians like Billy Strayorn, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Tadd Dameron, and Herbie Nichols. Keith Jarrett launched a trio that specialized in playing jazz standards. In essence, these were tribute bands.
  12. Repertory versus Nostalgia
    1. The jazz repertory movement, consisting of large jazz ensembles performing original arrangements of previous bands or new versions of classic works, started in the mid-1970s with George Wein's New York Jazz Repertory Company, which had rotating directors such as Cecil Taylor, George Russell, and Paul Jeffrey, and Chuck Israels's National Jazz Ensemble.
    2. By the mid-1980s many of these bands had disappeared, but the idea continued in the form of the American Jazz Orchestra led by John Lewis. It played music by past jazz artists, both well known and rare, including Ellington's Black, Brown and Beige. Composers from previous eras were also invited to write and conduct new works.
    3. Similar jazz orchestras were created in San Diego, Washington, D.C. (Smithsonian Institution), and elsewhere, including the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band under the direction of Gillespie protégé Jon Faddis, which premiered new versions of jazz classics such Coltrane's A Love Supreme.
    4. The most durable of these ensembles is the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, which started in 1987 and, under the direction of Wynton Marsalis, led to the creation of an independent jazz wing of the center. This success led many high school and university music programs to introduce jazz repertory into their ensembles.
    5. Other performers, like Harry Connick Jr. and Diana Krall, took a more nostalgic approach by reviving styles from the 1940s and 1950s.
    6. Generic retro-swing bands appeared, sparking a nostalgic revival of ballroom dancing. Movies about jazz musicians such as Charlie Parker, the jazz scene in Kansas City in the 1930s, or the life of fictional jazz musicians also contributed to jazz nostalgia.
  13. Wynton Marsalis (b. 1961)
    1. A leader of the neo-classical approach, Marsalis rejected the avant-garde, fusion, and informal personal styles of modern musicians. He always wears elegant, formal attire reminiscent of the Swing Era.
    2. He won Grammys for both jazz and classical music; he changed the direction of jazz discourse to one of strict interpretation of mainstream jazz from one of progressive modernism and eclecticism.
    3. Many musicians found him divisive, but he was accepted by popular culture as he immersed himself in many forms of jazz historicism, including the repertory movement, recordings that interpreted older musicians, and original work that probes African American history in a variety of formats.
  14. From New Orleans to New York
    1. Born in New Orleans, Wynton comes from a musical family: his father, a teacher and pianist; his brother Branford a prominent saxophonist (who challenges his brother's precepts through his performance decisions). Wynton had played with the New Orleans Philharmonic by the age of fourteen and also listened to funk and fusion when he was younger.
    2. In 1980, while at Julliard, he joined Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, recording on Blakey's Album of the Year. He toured with Herbie Hancock and then started his own historicist group with Branford based on the 1963-68 Miles Davis group.
    3. Although the press celebrated Marsalis as a personality, it no longer responded to jazz as it once did. Marsalis's historicism resulted in jazz competing with itself. Jazz sales plummeted and even Marsalis was dropped by the Columbia label.
    4. Marsalis seemed to see the writing on the wall. He started touring and teaching and increased his fund raising. He changed his style to an earlier style à la Ellington while loosening his strict definition of jazz by recording with Willie Nelson.
  15. "Processional"
    1. This piece is from his 1992-93 piece In This House, on This Morning, written for septet, which chronicles a Sunday in the life of an African American religious family. This piece is from the first of three movements.
    2. Unlike Braxton's "Piece Three," which razes the opening march before it brings it back at the end, Marsalis makes subtle, historically accurate changes in form and structure.
    3. There are other references to the past:
      1. The A theme: very much like a folk song or hymn, thereby suggesting Horace Silver's " The Preacher"
      2. The C theme: harmonies are similar to those of "Sweet Georgia Brown"
      3. The use of tambourine evokes gospel traditions.
      4. Ellington's influence is evident in the bowed bass, the vocalized trombone, and Marsalis's half-valve effects.
  16. Alternative Routes to History
    1. On the one hand, there is Marsalis's historicist fidelity; on the other, Braxton's historicist revisionism. Most musicians were not as extreme. They devoted concerts to well-known composers or left jazz altogether, playing rock, blues, classical, or folk idioms instead.
    2. Jazz in this century can be characterized by the variety of projects, which usually shy away from both the radical practices of both the loft generation and neo-classicism. Here is a partial list illustrating some of these projects while guiding the reader to some of the most influential jazz musicians on today's scene:
      1. Don Byron (clarinet): interprets the music of Micky Katz, klezmer, Raymond Scott, and John Kirby
      2. Bill Frissell (guitar): performs a broad range of kinds of American music
      3. Cassandra Wilson (singer): performs music of Delta blues artists as well as more recent pop performers such Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and the Monkees
      4. Dee Dee Bridgewater (singer): instrumental pieces, French chansons, on and off Broadway
      5. The Bad Plus (trio: piano, bass, drums): music of pop musicians Nirvana, Blondie, Queen, and Radiohead, as well as Ornette Coleman.
      6. Marc Ribot (guitar): adapted the music of Albert Ayler, punk rock, Afro-Cuban music
      7. Nicholas Peyton (trumpet): tributes to Cannonball Adderley, Herbie Hancock, 1930s Kansas City swing; re-created solos by Armstrong and Oliver; played with Doc Cheatham
      8. Uri Caine (piano): combines a broad range of styles and musical sources both inside and outside of jazz
      9. Dave Douglas (trumpet): forms discrete bands for tributes to Wayne Shorter, Mary Lou Williams, and Booker Little. Also plays klezmer and Baltic folk tunes
      10. Francisco Cafiso (saxophonist): re-created the entire body of Bird's recordings with strings
      11. Wallace Roney (trumpet): Bud Powell tribute band, Gerry Mulligan's re-creation of "Birth of the Cool" sessions, faithful rendition of Kind of Blue album.
    3. These new historicists have connected with the jazz tradition in ways that are different from the post-bop era's reliance on jazz standards by using musical sources in the same way as swing bands did: adopting pop songs as well as classical themes and even ethnic styles.
  17. Ronald Shannon Jackson (b. 1940) and James Carter (b. 1969)
    1. From two different generations, drummer Jackson and saxophonist Carter are both virtuosos who look beyond the usual boundaries of jazz to explore the avant-garde, fusion, and traditional jazz, all anchored in 1990s improvisation.
    2. Jackson
      1. Born in Texas, he was exposed to blues, church music, bebop musicians, hillbilly music, rhythms and blues, and classical music. He studied piano before switching to drums and started working professionally at fifteen. He studied sociology and history at college before winning a scholarship to the New York College of Music in 1967.
      2. He worked with Betty Carter, Mingus, and Ayler as well as weddings and bar mitzvahs to make ends meet. In 1975 he joined Ornette Colemans's band Prime Time and recorded two fusion albums with Coleman, bringing funk to the avant-garde. He also recorded with Cecil Taylor in 1978.
      3. He started his own band, Decoding Society, with the goal of finding the common denominator of a broad variety kinds of musics.
    3. Carter
      1. In 1994, when he was twenty-five, he recorded with Decoding Society on What Spirit Joy. Even then he was considered an exemplar of the historicism that opened borders in the present while engaging the past.
      2. He began saxophone at age eleven and toured Scandinavia in a student ensemble five years later. In his teens he worked with both sides of the fence-Lester Bowie (avant-garde) and Wynton Marsalis (historicist)-both of whom recognized his great talent on all the saxophones. He played in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra but preferred the openness of the Loft Era historicists, resulting in his move to New York in 1990s and playing in two of Lester Bowie's ensembles.
      3. He started recording in 1993 with a series of quartet albums that spanned a broad range of styles. He was also involved in the music of the film Kansas City.
      4. Starting in 1996 he recorded a number of projects including:
        1. Albums combining traditional and Loft Era musicians
        2. An album of arrangements of Django Reinhardt's music and improvised fusion music
        3. An early-style fusion recording
  18. "Now's the Time"
    1. So far we've discussed the resurrection of the march and gospel music. This recording reinterprets the blues à la bebop. The theme of this piece had already been used in the R & B hit "The Hucklebuck" in 1945. Jackson's version has a pop feel but is more sophisticated harmonically.
    2. Containing the familiarity of the blues, its strangeness and contemporaneous are evoked by the use of an ancient double-reed instrument, dissonant guitar chords, and contrapuntal melodies.
    3. The structure of the piece is simple: consecutive solos followed by a coda. The collective, active playing of the quartet provides the interest.
  19. The Historicist Present
    1. In 2008 a jazz musician won a Grammy Award for album of the year for the first time in forty-four years: Herbie Hancock for River: The Joni Letters, based on the music of Joni Mitchell.
    2. All agreed that although this was a great album (it included Miles alumni Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, and Hancock), it could only have won this prize because it was a fusion with pop.
    3. With River Hancock created a fusion album and a memorial to another time. How long can this process continue?
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