Jazz as a music for amateur to professional

Naturally the gap between the best jazz musicians and the worst is immense, and there are very few of the best; but, until it was developed into assembly formalised musical at, which requires training and expertise, jazz was better suited than any other twentieth-century art to give artistic expression to the ordinary man, and especially (in the blues) the ordinary woman. It can be played in a line up of anything from a solo, through a duo, trio, quartet to a bigger line up right up to a jazz orchestra. When I say ordinary, it is meant in the sense of being without formal musical training, because there is no doubt that the performers of jazz are all exceptional people with an exceptional ability to convey emotion musically. Jazz, which developed by completely adapting its technique to what ordinary people had to express, even to the point of allowing musical illiterates and those with a rather poor technique to make valid artistic creations, required less preliminary selection among its musicians than any other art. Louis Armstrong without his trumpet is a rather limited man; with it he speaks with the precision and compassion of the recording angel.

A similar thing applies to the barn dance or ceilidh musician. Folk music has a tremendous range that can accommodate the most unskilled musician to the musical virtuoso. The flautist James Galway, principal flautist of the famous Symphony Orchestra and world-famous solo flautist, had been brought up on folk music, and move into other fields with his famous recording of John Denver's Annie's Song. This is one of the great problems for bride or groom want to hire a barn dance band for a ceilidh band for the wedding entertainment. A wedding is one of the most important events in many people's lives, and the band has to be good, but how on earth can the bride or groom or parents of the couple work out how to book a band that is worthy of the event. There are so many bad folk musicians around. This isn't being said disparagingly, because the musician playing music is also about enjoyment, but this is being said practically from the point of view of the listener, the person who is hiring a barn dance band. You can go to a folk club where everyone is welcome. This is good as it is as it should be, because a folk club is about the musicians themselves expressing themselves and enjoying themselves. You may get a beginner scraping attuned to the best of their ability on the cheap old fiddle, followed by an expert on the flute or Iullean pipes. Both players will have equal standing at the folk club, and no one will look down on the fiddler for not being so good, because this is a social occasion where all are equal, where those who are not so good can still demonstrate their skills for the enjoyment of themselves and others, and can learn from those who are more skilled than themselves. All very good for a club, which is a social event, but no good for someone who's paying good money to book a barn dance bands that are going to be musically good. This is where people like ourselves come to the fore, where we are only working with those barn dance bands and ceilidh bands that are of an appropriate standard.

So the folk scene is in this sense very similar to jazz, but is completely different from the string quartet. Any musician who can perform a string quartet piece has to be good, has to have gone through years of training before they can make any sensible attempt at the complex and precise music. Certainly some string quartets are not very good, but despite this the musicians will have spent many years learning and perfecting their art, but perhaps they speak need to spend a lot more years doing it to become what could be considered good string quartet. So people like ourselves play the same part in making sure that when somebody hires a string quartet for their wedding ceremony or books string quartet to play at their drinks reception, they are an appropriate standard. Indeed, when people are learning to play an instrument to a standard where they can play in a string quartet, they will often be taught simple folk tunes in their early years, learn some simple jazz later on, all along with a graded repertoire of classical music, until such time they can tackle classical string quartet pieces and play effectively in an ensemble.

The jazz musician was therefore, and still is to a large extent, nearer to the ordinary randomly chosen citizen than most other artists, although compared with a folk musician, who can effectively play folk music is just a solo player, the jazz musician has to play in ensemble, which is an added skill, and jazz has been able to draw upon a wider reservoir of potential artists than any other art in our century, in extreme cases, such as New Orleans, on virtually the whole of the population. The frontiers of jazz have been open towards the world of the non-musician. The jo public has two or three clear, old-fashioned, rose-tinted pictures in the family album of his hobby. Give the piano player a drink because he's

When the words 'the jazz public' are mentioned, it is images like these which come mostly naturally into the minds of the aficionados. For though it is true that the first and original public for jazz was of this kind, it is also, from our point of view, the least interesting. For jazz is peculiar in having acquired a 'secondary' public far vaster than its primary one.

The vast majority of those who have enjoyed jazz since 1914-18, when it became a national American, and subsequently an international, phenomenon, were and are outsiders in one way or another. This applies less to African Americans and a section of Southern whites than to the rest of us, for, as we have seen, poor and uneducated African Americans used a primitive or preparatory form of the jazz idiom in their normal folk-music, secular or religious. Hard-shell believers from the Carolinas, used to praising the Lord in their way, would find nothing strange in jazz:

It was not jazz, but anyone who spoke this musical idiom would have as little trouble learning jazz as an East Anglian has in learning standard English. In a sense all first-generation urban African Americans in the USA can be regarded as part of the 'primary' public of jazz. The African American public for jazz therefore presents us with a rather dhTerent problem from the white public, at least until it comes to contain a large percentage of second-generation urbanised African Americans, or of African Americans with social and cultural aspirations which make it look down on the old-fashioned idiom in which it has been brought up, or on the simple jazz which emerged directly out of this idiom.

Not so the whites. In the cities of the North and, a fortiori, in those of Europe, jazz was a new language. Until the eve of the Second World War the pioneers of jazz among the secondary public have invariably been the dancers, and, as we have seen, the early history of jazz expansion can virtually be written in terms of the active and rhythmical dances to which it provided a uniquely suitable accompaniment. The cake-walk prepared the way for ragtime; the one-steps, two-steps and foxtrots for jazz. When Benny Goodman, the 'King of Swing', tried to explain why his style of jazz became so popular, he naturally observed: 'It was a dancing audience - that's why they went for it'. The true-blue jazz lover, who looks down with contempt on commercial pop music, and would not dream of actually dancing to his favourite music unless his girl insisted on it - and then only as a concession to cultural backwardness - is a late phenomenon. As a type he has emerged out of the mass of swaying couples who did not look for creative art in the places where jazz was played, and whose main reason for liking jazz was that it was good to dance to. If we ask a middle-aged jazz lover how he came to like the music, we shall very likely get the answer this writer got from a Newcastle schoolmaster in his forties, who has been an amateur since about 1930:


'You see, when I was young, I used to go out dancing a lot, and it got me interested in the music. Of all the dance music I heard, jazz seemed the liveliest, and the one with most to it. Then I started to buy records.'

For similar reasons the dance musicians themselves were drawn to 'pure' jazz, even in countries such as Britain, where their native idiom was quite different, and where indeed a peculiarly formal and extremely popular dance style evolved in the 'palais' which sprung up between the wars. 'Strict tempo' dancing, the foundation of the mass ballroom vogue among the British working class, with its contests and championships, grew in a direction diametrically opposed to jazz. Yet when, in 1932, a knowledgeable British journalist wrote about the jazz public, he estimated - no doubt with some exaggeration - that 95 per cent of it consisted of dance-band musicians.

For jazz was not merely good to dance to. Of the mass of commercial pop and dance music, whether or not it was coloured by the jazz idiom, 'pure' jazz was the most interesting.

A middle-aged jazz critic has recalled his school-days in 1926-7, when he first acquired a taste for it:

We played them over and over again, naturally. The 'jazz fan' emerged from the run of the popular music mill, because 'hot' jazz itself emerged from the competition with ordinary semi-jazz dance music as something worth special

The jazz lover in the strict sense of the word thus emerged from the mass of the ordinary public for dance and pop music by a sort of natural selection; but he is no more like that public than men are like the apes from which they have evolved, a comparison which, though unfair, springs readily to the mind.

Perhaps for this reason the fan, even within jazz, has limited tastes. Middle age, history and vested interest have by now created a certain number of catholic or eclectic jazz lovers, but this does not come naturally. 'What is jazz?' is the single question which crops up most frequently in the discussions of the aficionados. It is neither pop music nor 'straight' music. Normally it is not even everything which falls between these two territories, assuming the jazz fan to have defined their vague boundaries to his satisfaction. There is also a particular type of the 'true' jazz which must be defended against its impure, or deviationist, or obsolete competitors. In the 1920s and early 1930s 'white' jazz fought 'coloured' jazz; in the middle and late 'thirties 'big-band jazz' also fought 'small-combo jazz'. It is their Calvinist spirit that counts, whether expressed in the sophisticated accents of the critics or the simple cries of Treason' by teenagers whose favourite jazz bands decide to play in a different style.

Jazz, for the fan, is therefore not simply a music to be enjoyed as one enjoys apples, or drinks, or girls, but one to be studied and absorbed in a spirit of dedication. Jazz fans do not listen to their music to dance, and often avoid dancing, unless pressed into it by their girl friends, whose approach to the music is normally more utilitarian.

Jazz, for the true fan, is not merely to be listened to, but to be analysed, studied, and discussed. The quintessential location of the fan is not the dance hall, the night club or even the jazz concert or club, but the private room in which a group of young men play one another records, repeating crucial passages until they are worn out, and then endlessly discussing their comparative merits. For every jazz fan is a collector of records, within his financial means. Flourishing communities of fans have come into being in countries such as Britain, at times when virtually no live jazz of interest was to be heard at all, almost purely on the basis of records, and there are many fans (such as this writer) who at an earlier stage of their career listened to no live jazz at all for something like ten years on end.

Moreover, the fan is not exclusively interested in jazz as music. For him jazz is a world, and often a cause, of which the actual sound emerging from the instruments is only one aspect. The lives of the musicians, the environment in which jazz evolved, the political and philosophical implications of the music, the scholarly or sporting details of discography, are equally part of it. It is not merely due to the lack of musical literacy among jazz fans that technical discussions of jazz in musical terms have been so rare, nor to the strong Marxist influence of the 1930s that so much of jazz criticism and jazz appreciation consists, in effect, of writing or studying the social history of jazz 'up the river from New Orleans', or even more fundamentally 'across the water from West Africa'. This mixture of aesthetic, social, philosophical and historical interests is part of the make-up of the jazz fan. Only since the Second World War has something like 'pure' musical or aesthetic appreciation or criticism of jazz emerged as a serious force, and then only among one school of jazz lovers. Biographical and historical material, studies of individual bands, discographies, discussions about the nature of jazz, impressions of the jazz scene, recreations of the social atmosphere of jazz, and record reviews have always provided the bulk of the content of the specialist jazz magazine, in the pages of which a line of music-print is as rare as Hebrew or Chinese characters in the ordinary book.

The jazz fan is therefore rarely a musician himself. It is true that enthusiasm for jazz has always been rife among amateur and professional dance musicians, that is, among a fairly large public, for the American Federation of Musicians, aided by an insurance expert, estimated that in 1953-4 there were 19,114 jazz pianists busy every night in the USA, not counting amateurs. It is also true that an enthusiasm for jazz has always tempted a good many fans to try their hand at playing: the 'revivalist' movement in jazz was primarily a movement of amateurs, even if many of them have since become professionals. Lastly, it may be true that in the early stages of the jazz movement, the proportion of fans who were also players, or who became players, was high: much higher than that of lovers of painting who paint, lovers of classical music who play, though perhaps not higher than that of lovers of poetry who also write verse, which is a rather unskilled occupation. Broadly speaking, this description is true of the jazz public anywhere and at any time: doubtlessly this applies to the hot and cool communities of Tokyo, Rejkjavik and Buenos

There is no doubt at all that jazz is, and has always been, a minority taste, even allowing for those who appreciate hybrid and jazz-influenced music which the purists refuse to admit. This is true not only of France, where jazz-record buyers lagged far behind those of classical and operatic music (23 per cent) and even farther behind such native European forms of light entertainment as chansons, variety, accordion and bal musette music, and operetta (a total of 50 per cent) and only just equalled 'dance music' (12 per cent). It is equally true in Britain where (before the jazz boom of the last five years) the best-known British 'revivalist' jazz band could reckon with an average sale

Jazz has until recently simply not been big business in Britain, in the terms in which those who prepare records for the 'hit parade' of the 'top ten' or 'top twenty' think of it; or even normally in the terms in which a regular steady seller in the popular music market - say Mr Victor Silvester, Mr Stanley Black, or Mr Jimmy Shand of the Scottish music, think of it. We may estimate the size of the 'strict' jazz public as somewhere between the 25,000 or so who buy Jazz News (specialist jazz books sell 8,000 or so) and the 115,000 who buy the traditional weekly of the jazz lover, the Melody Maker. But even if we assume that all those who visit the concerts of a famous American band, say Count Basic's, are jazz lovers, and that such a band plays to capacity throughout its tour, the national jazz public at present hardly amounts to more than 100,000 or so: say 20,000 in London, 60,000 in the rest of the big cities covered, and the balance in the neglected towns. Britain is a fairly extreme example, for the jazz public here is proportionately much larger than in most other countries, with the exception of the Scandinavian ones and perhaps the Dutch; proportionately larger than in France, and certainly than in the USA.

Admittedly, both in Britain and in the USA jazz-tinged idioms of popular music are very much more popular than in

It may even happen that strict jazz artists or records become temporary best-sellers in the Anglo-Saxon world for this reason (i.e. that in America they sell upwards of 250,000, in Britain upwards of 100,000 copies, as things stand in 1958). However, though jazz-influenced pop music must belong to the world of jazz as the historian sees it, it is not jazz as either the musician, the sociologist, or the business man sees it. It has the same relation to jazz as Palm Court string groups have to classical music: at best the low-brow version of the high-brow article, at worst a mere background noise. The second, equally undeniable fact, is that the jazz public is overwhehningly young - and masculine. Among whites, jazz is essentially a music appealing to boys and young men between the ages of, say, fifteen and twenty-five. Instrumental jazz is not children's but young adults' music, and the children influenced by it are more likely to take to simple vocal music of the rhythm-and-blues or country-and-Western type.) In jazz clubs and at jazz concerts young men invariably preponderate, because very few girls go there except with boy friends, while very many boys also go there alone or with other boys.

It is equally clear that a good many youthful jazz lovers abandon their enthusiasm once they reach maturity. This may be partly for material reasons: married men can neither afford to buy records on the scale of single men, nor are they encouraged to go to all-night dances, clubs and other jazz occasions. The wild passion and effervescence of jazz fits in with adolescence. Young people find it easier than mature ones to overlook the formal and emotional limitations of jazz, or even its frequent mediocrity, for they pour into it their own emotion, vitality and dedication to make up for the shortcomings of the music. To the eye of passion, coloured glass can look like diamonds, and much of jazz (though not the best of it) is no more than musical glass cut in so suitable a form as to reflect the light of its public with the utmost brilliance. At all events, the curve of jazz enthusiasm in men's lives takes a sharp turn downwards from about the middle twenties on. Older men either drop their interest in jazz entirely - the records are played increasingly rarely, and perhaps eventually sold - or settle down into a less passionate pattern of appreciation; unless they become professionally concerned with jazz in some way or another.

The older fan exists, for even on the most pessimistic assumptions each generation of addicts formed since the late 1920s, is bound to have left some residue of permanent jazz lovers. Often, indeed, a flare of jazz enthusiasm among the young may awaken the dormant enthusiasm of the middle-aged: jazz is not old enough to have really ancient addicts.

 As usual, this applies less to the avant-garde of 'modern' jazz, whose fringe followers - perhaps less in Britain than in some American big cities - contained a number of declassed types who affected at least sexual ambivalence. Homosexual musicians are known even among the pioneer jazzmen - for instance, Tony Jackson, the brothel pianist of New Orleans who inspired Jelly-Roll'Morton-and it is easy to see why the social milieu of night-club jazz would attract them. By tradition the jazz-musician (and by imitation, the jazz fan) goes for women just like the traditional Italian operatic tenor.

Normally, the older jazz lover has a less exclusive and demanding allegiance to his music: he can take it or leave it alone. An occasional concert or club - provided the audiences are not so overwhelmingly adolescent as to make him feel alone - an occasional session playing and discussing old records with contemporaries ('just like old times'), arguments with his children on their unaccountably bad jazz taste, a quiet quarter of an hour with the American Forces Network jazz broadcasts late at night: these are about his limits. At worst, the sound is pleasant and part of his life, at best he knows that for certain moods and emotions there is no more poignant equivalent than a good jazz record. Jazz, for the older amateur, is like the occasional dose of lyric poetry for the man who has long ceased to read poetry systematically, a nucleus of surviving youth. The older jazz lover is not simply, as Andr6 Hodeir suggests, young at heart. O body swayed to music, 0 brightening glance, How can we tell the dancer from the dance?

The social composition of the jazz public presents a more complicated problem and national variations of greater significance. Paradoxical though it may seem, the specialised jazz public in the USA has always been relatively, and probably absolutely, smaller than in Europe, though the public exposed to some kind or other of jazz has been much larger. As for the demand for jazz records, Billboard gives the following statistics for the early 1950s.

Virtually only the last item represents the 'pure' jazz public; for while most of rhythm and blues (the ancestor of the recent rock-and-roll craze) is jazz, its normal public is among the unself-conscious African American buyers, not the self-conscious jazz appreciators. The same is true of the very much less jazz-tinged, but very 'folky' country and Western music (hilly-billy, cowboy music, and the like). Admittedly it is likely that 'popular music' includes a certain amount of jazz of the more saleable kind, but even so the jazz public must trail a very long way indeed behind the public for classical music. The American jazz fan is therefore a rather exceptional specimen.

In the USA the (white) jazz lovers seem to have come first, as a group, from among the Northern middle-class youth, that class being defined as those who went to college between the wars. At all events American universities have played a disproportionately large part as nurseries of jazz music. The history of the white 'Chicago' musicians of the 1920s can be written in terms of college dances, and notably of student taste at Indiana University. Eastern colleges provided the staple public for the earliest 'swing' bands, notably the Casa Loma Orchestra. Since the war it has become axiomatic in the business that blues and high-brow jazz can be made to sell best on the 'college circuit'.

There is equally little doubt that the first group in history which shows most of the characteristics of the modern aficionados, the white 'Chicago' musicians of the middle 1920s, was primarily a white-collar or middle-class group. Mid-Western jazz was not confined to middle-class boys, though it is significant that the only working-class school to have produced a marked jazz tradition of its own was the highly untypical Hull House School, the Toynbee Hall of Chicago, i.e. a foundation of middle-class social workers. At all events, the young Chicagoans had all the essential fan's stigmata: the desire to play and hear, not jazz, but the only true jazz, the painstaking and dedicated copying of an entire style, the occasional idealisation of the African American (most notably in Milton Mesirow, who at least claims middle-class origin), the occasional deliberate declass-ment, the intellectual interests and pretensions - Bix fancied Debussy and Schoenberg - and the obvious revolt against middle-class respectability:

It looked to us like Mencken was yelling the same message in his magazine that we were trying to get across in our music; his words were practically lyrics to our hot jazz."

influential and active patron of jazz in the 'thirties was (and is a radical offshoot of an extremely wealthy and respectable Eastern family. Similarly Howard Becker, who has described a group of modern Chicago jazz aficionados in one of the few sociological studies on the subject, correctly draws attention to their middle-class characteristics: they are sons of old, respectable, comfortable Anglo-Saxon American families who deny their birthright for the company of horn players and honky-tonk girls, and the aesthetics of low life. Jazz was, and is, for deviant members of the American middle class what surrealism and extentialism were for deviant French members of it.

A larger American public of pure jazz enthusiasts only appeared among the high school youths in the middle 1930s rather later, and probably on a rather smaller scale, than the comparable public in Europe. Both the first journals appealing specifically to the jazz public (Down Beat, 1934) and the first Hot Clubs (Chicago 1935) were younger than their European opposite numbers.

Apart from the political and ideological changes among the young post-war Americans of the age-groups which produce most jazz fans, there is no great evidence that the composition of the jazz community has changed much. Perhaps the chief difference is that, while the Rooseveltian intellectual fans thought they were rediscovering and appreciating a 'people's music' - their taste generally led them back, sooner or later, to New Orleans and the blues - but regretted that the American people did not share their taste, the Truman and Eisenhower intellectuals knew they were for an avant-garde and minority music ('bop' and 'cool' jazz), and didn't mind their minority status.

However, the American jazz public had, and has, one important peculiarity. Whereas jazz came to Europe through the regulated channels of American record imports, which were in turn controlled by the pioneer aficionados and critics, who therefore imposed their own tastes and standards on the wider public, jazz in America was live music, which altogether escaped minority intellectual control. To judge by the periodic 'polls' which the jazz press has conducted since the middle 1930s, European taste has (until the later 1950s) fairly consistently reflected the taste of the critics, even to the point of remaining faithful throughout the years to artists whose achievement in jazz critics believe to be permanent. American taste, on the other hand - perhaps because it depends less on records and more on the temporary prominence of live musicians - has been notoriously changing and fickle: in fact, even the American 'true' jazz public has behaved far more like a pop public than has the European.

The Continental public has also been markedly middle-class and intellectual, probably more so than in America. It is also by far the oldest consistent and organised jazz public in the world. The first Norwegian jazz club seems to have been founded as long ago as 1928, and though the journal Le Jaz2 Hot did not appear in France until 1935, by 1933 there were magazines dealing mainly or wholly with jazz at least in Holland, Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland, France and Germany. After the war the theoreticians of modern jazz published their discussions about it in Sartre's Temps Modernes. This self-confidence, and the Latin proclivity for writing manifestos, probably explains why France became the intellectual headquarters of jazz criticism before the middle 'thirties, dominating the taste of

 Seven European polls between 1937 and 1957, taken in four countries, name Armstrong seven times, Gillespie twice, Miles Davis once.

The French might know a great deal less about actual jazz than the Americans who were on the spot; they might indeed patently know too little to write full-dress books, as was the case with M. Panassie's pioneer Le Jazz Hot (1934), virtually all of which was abandoned by its author within five years. Here too, the growth of the jazz public passed through the usual stages. Until 1927 the 'true' jazz fans were merely a handful of scattered individuals, but in 1927-8 a recognisable jazz public emerged, strong enough to make it worth the gramophone companies' while to release a regular supply of American 'hot' records, mainly of the white New York variety. An attempt to issue a series of primarily African American records failed, since even the 'hottest' aficionados found them too strong for their tastes, at least if we are to judge by the contemporary record reviews. Again, to judge by the record releases, this public remained steady and grew throughout the next years, apparently quite unaffected by the slump which for a time virtually destroyed recorded jazz in the United States. By 1933 the British jazz public was large enough to make a large-scale London recital for 'serious' jazz fans, by a visiting American band, financially possible: Duke Ellington's London concert at the Trocadero, Elephant and Castle. (Until then, and for a long time thereafter, visiting artists relied on ordinary music-hall and dance bookings, i.e. on attracting a much wider public than that of the jazz

The records published by a small company Levaphone-Oriole included Lil's Hot Shots (Louis Armstrong), Jelly-Roll Morton piano solos, Russell's Hot Six and others received with marked lack of enthusiasm by the contemporary critic.

aficionado: the appearance of the jazz concert, like the specific jazz club, marks the emergence of the jazz public as an independent force.)

Large or small, the British jazz lovers became increasingly self-confident during these years. Their first articulate prophet had been an energetic young Spaniard, Fred Elizalde, who formed the first 'pure' British jazz band from among Cambridge undergraduates in 1927; Oxford, as usual the home of lost causes, held back. Mr Patrick 'Spike' Hughes formed a recording band, played, composed and, most important of all, in 1930 took over the jazz-record reviewing in the Melody Maker, which henceforth became the Bible of every British jazz lover. The jazz public was small. At this time, it's unlikely that many jazz records sold more than 1,500 copies. The established upper and middle classes - those who went to public schools and universities - were far less important.

The working-class contingent among British jazz lovers came chiefly from among, or turned rapidly into, dance-band musicians. These were, as we have seen, a group of markedly proletarian origins, which always contained a core of jazz enthusiasts. Probably, however, the people to whom jazz made its strongest and most direct appeal came from that social zone in which the sons of skilled workers, probably themselves in office jobs, met the sons of white-collar workers, shopkeepers, small business men, and the like: from the 'lower-middle class'. Clerking, small business, the drawing-board, accountancy, commercial art, the lower reaches of journalism, the fringes of show business, provided the jazz lover's professions: anyone who knows 'fans' of the 1930s, can immediately think of three or four accountants or commercial artists. They were cultural self-made men. If H. G. Wells had been in his teens in the early 1930s, he would have attended the first Rhythm Clubs, and met others like himself, for the jazz fans came from his world. Jazz for them was not, as for many Continental intellectuals who took to it, a retreat into unintellectualism.


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