Cosmopolitanism and all that jazz

Peter Wessel wrote an excellent essay on jazz, a tad historical and analytical, of the mingling, or lack thereof, and intermingling of cultures and traditions. If music is already considered to be the most universal mode of communication, then jazz would be its lingua franca. Unfortunately, it has become an idiom, a fixed form, in many of the attempts in its history to transcend the genre. As a matter of fact, the issue may lie in the reflex to bend jazz towards one’s own culture — an oral culture for black Americans, a classical music culture for white Americans, Peter writes. This has led to many attempts to reinvigorate jazz, which inevitably became locked in their own idiom. Jazz was at a low point by the end of the 60s — almost a dead end. Frank Zappa once famously wrote in his 1974 tune Be-Bop Tango (Of the Old Jazzmen’s Church) on the album Roxy & Elsewhere, “jazz is not dead, it just smells funny”. Only World Music managed to find a more encompassing way according to Peter:

World Music succeded in reinvigorating jazz precisely because it did not try to melt all jazz into one pot. Instead it took pot luck and accepted the dynamic plurality that is characteristic of the European checkerboard of peoples.

This sounds like a cosmopolitan music theory — a universal mode of expression anchored in the principle of freedom of expression, yet respectful of the plurality of sensibilites and views.

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