Panentheism.  Revisionism.  Anarchocapitalism.


Barry Ulanov


Essays by Me

Essays by Others


Chapter 24 of Barry Ulanov, A History of Jazz in America, Viking Press, 1952, 336-348.  The chapter’s original title is simply “Evaluation.”  Ulanov’s suggestion that the jazz critic’s duty is “to justify the ways of musicians to men” (echoing Leibniz’s definition of theodicy as “the justification of God's ways to men”) alludes to interests that would receive book-length pursuit by Ulanov in the coming decades; so does his implicit reference, when discussing musical intuition, to the passage of Aristotle’s De Anima that served as the locus classicus for Lonergan’s reinterpretation of Aquinas in Insight.


The Evaluation of Jazz

Barry Ulanov

In all arts violent changes occur with frightening regularity.  Not only do customs and movements and fashions change, but so do their makers and their imitators.  Jazz, youngest of the arts, is even more in the grip of bewildering upheaval than literature and painting and traditional music.  There are almost as many temptations in the way of personal integrity for a jazzman as there are for a motion picture artist.  Between the tumult of change of custom and fashion on the one hand and commercial allures on the other, most jazzmen find it hard to hold on to themselves; ill-equipped, undisciplined, most of them lose their early purity, their musical as well as their moral wholeness.  A slackening of standards occurs as obscure jazzmen become celebrities.  One can sympathize; one can understand their plight and explain their change; but one must also deplore and sometimes condemn.

Some big names in jazz—notably Charlie Barnet, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Billy Eckstine, and Herb Jeffries—have made far more than a passing effort to give music as much due as money, with varying success in both categories.  But they, like their more insistently commercial colleagues, have had to toe the box-office line to keep the money coming in, so that they could continue making music.  And toeing that line, which definitely forms to the right, means finding an identifiable and popular style and sticking to it, no matter how low the musical depths that must be plumbed.  Jazz has spent so many of its formative years just seeking an appreciative audience that most of its practitioners are content to find a formula that attracts people who will listen to them and buy their records and pay to see them; and when they have found it, they cling to it against all odds, even if depreciation of artistic quality follows.  The results are often an almost violent decline in the quality of jazz musicianship, and a kind of abject slavery to the mawkish marks of immediate identity and mass favor.

The problem of when an artist is good and when bad—and that most difficult of all the attendant queries, why—is a poignant one.  Critics who take their work seriously look for quality in a jazz musician.  They often find it, usually when the musician is just getting started, or shortly after.  Then, if well-deserved success comes to the musician, with that success comes the fixative.  To make success permanent, the orchestra leader holds on hard to the more popular elements of his band’s style and searches far and wide for superficial novelty while avoiding from then on the genuine novelty of artistic experimentation.  The virtuoso instrumentalist comes to idolize his own technique, and his ideas get lost in a sea of slimy syllables.  The singer subverts genuine feeling to the demands of a mechanical anguish.  The bulk of beboppers, following this pattern, after having made a large collective contribution to jazz, became lost in trite formulas in which they found inner and outer security—the certainty that they could make it instrumentally and that audiences would get what they had come to expect.  All too often, at this point in the career of a jazz artist, loss of creative imagination occurs just when one has hoped to see development into mature art.

When a budding artist becomes a blooming entertainer, the only standard that remains is the gold.  If this seemingly ineluctable process cannot be stopped, jazz will turn out finally to be what its most carping critics have called it, a decadent form of entertainment, an aphrodisiac designed only to rouse flagging glands and lagging hearts, to set bodies in motion and numb minds and souls.  But if this change is not inexorable, if some one or two or perhaps a dozen musicians continue to believe in the serious prospects of their own work and that of others in jazz, and if audiences can be educated to respect the genuine in place of the synthetic, then the garden will thrive.

All of this brings us to the positing of criteria.  How do we know what’s good and what’s bad in jazz?  We may agree that the majority of jazz musicians do not fulfill their early promise, that they yield to the importunities of hungry stomachs and ill-clad backs and the opportunities of success, financial and otherwise.  One can’t blame them entirely, but neither can one make a virtue of their needs and praise musicians for having given way to them.  One can only look for standards, formulate a working set of values, and give due praise to those precious few who make similar values the canon of their professional life.

Actually, something close to a viable aesthetic standard has been arrived at in jazz, if it is only the measure of the quality of outstanding performers; and maybe even broader criteria can be perceived hiding beneath the good of these musicians and the bad of the others who have sacrificed everything, consciously or not, for box-office survival.

Of all the arts there is none so perplexing as music, none so difficult to write about, none so productive of argument and disagreement.  And of all the branches of music there is none about which people get so exercised as jazz, none about which they get so distraught, so determinedly disorganized, none in which they resist disciplined thinking and logical procedure so violently.  And yet of all the arts and all their branches there is none in which discipline and logic, clarity and orderliness should be easier than in jazz.  The art of creating spontaneous notes and chords and extemporaneous rhythms—the art of improvisation—is still small enough and young enough to be surveyed and assayed.  It is worth while, therefore, to organize working criteria for jazz and to take a long, reflective, retrospective view of the achievements of jazz from its beginnings to the present.

Actually there are very few general standards with which most of us approach any of the arts.  Basically, there seem to be three: freshness, profundity, and skill.

Freshness means, of course, freshness of idea.  Another way of putting it offers an even more ambiguous debating term in the arts—inspiration.  How do you ascertain a musician’s freshness or inspiration?  It seems to me that we can do no more than compute mathematically in this branch of musical activity—but that is not so little.  It is altogether possible to name the figures a man plays, to compare his phrases with all those that have gone before, and to make a firm quantitative judgment and the beginning of a qualitative one as a result.  In poetry or painting so much has gone before that just naming the stock phrases and figures, tropes and images and textures and color combinations, is an impossibility; but in jazz the process is not so difficult.  The thirty, forty, fifty, or sixty years of jazz, depending upon how you date its history, can be totted up, listened to for the most part on records, and at least outlined on paper.  It is possible to follow the blues tradition, the common variations on the even commoner themes, the rows of familiar riffs, and the mountains of only slightly different solos.  And from this it is further possible to come up with common sounds, with basic ideas, to note one long curve on a graph, reaching to bop and then changing shape and direction abruptly, whether for good or bad.  The very least, then, that we can do with freshness of idea or inspiration is to name the changes wrought by musicians, to discover exactly what they are doing with notes and chords and rhythms, and to make public that discovery. In the next category of standards we may find some way of deciding the value of those changes.

Profundity is one of those grimly determined words that cover a multitude of meanings and can be carried over from one field to another, from activity to activity, from level to level.  In jazz, in its early years, the word was almost entirely missing from verbal discussion—and properly, because until some of the later Ellington, until Charlie Parker and Lennie Tristano, there was little if anything in jazz that could be called really profound.  Nonetheless, profundity must be the end and purpose of jazz as it is of traditional music, of painting and poetry and the novel.  And if jazz is a bona fide form of music it has a supreme opportunity to achieve profundity of expression; for a distinguishing mark of music is its ability to portray states of being rather than things with the qualities of those states—sorrow rather than a sorrowful girl, joy rather than a joyful boy, tragedy rather than a tragic event, pathos rather than a pathetic situation.  While traditional music, however, must confine itself to the static, to the written mood, caught once forever, jazz can make an infinite number of grasps at profundity—profundity in its permanent forms and profundity at its most fleeting and elusive, its most transient—because jazz is by its very nature spontaneous, an improvised art.

If profundity is—or should be—the goal of jazz, how does a jazz musician achieve that end, and how does a listener recognize it when it has been attained?  The answers to these two questions are not easy to find.  Of course part of the procedure is to convince jazz musicians that every profound urge and effort they may feel and make should be expressed in their music, that their music comes closer to offering them an adequate expression for the intangible integers of sorrow and joy and tragedy and pathos than any other creative outlet they have.  Then, the vital purpose of their work having been named and recognized, they will be well on their way toward achieving it, seeking always to perfect their skills, to find the means toward the end of profundity; even as Bach and Mozart did, as Stravinsky and Hindemith do; perhaps reaching the important conclusion that virtuosity with no other purpose than self-display is as pointless as words addressed to a mirror, and that exaltation and ecstasy are greater than “kicks” and “having a ball,” and that they lie within the reach of musical talent and equipment.  Exaltation and ecstasy can be achieved in music, even though they cannot be equated with any given set of notes.  Thus must one consider the second standard, for no clearer description of it can be found outside of the great works of art themselves.

Skill is the easiest of the three standards to describe, to understand, and to recognize.  The abundant technical skill of such men as Roy Eldridge, Johnny Hodges, Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, Charlie Shavers, Coleman Hawkins, and Benny Goodman is beyond argument.  But what of that corollary skill, the ability to express fresh and profound ideas?  This must come from practice and from conviction, from the desire to express such idea, a desire which is really a need and as such molds the means necessary to its vital end.  Because jazz musicians have almost always been interested more in achieving great control of their instruments than in controlling greatness, they have usually become mechanical virtuosos and little else.  On rare occasions something more has appeared, and that brings us right back to the previous categories.  For the something else that was added was spontaneity, and the spontaneity was compounded equally of freshness and profundity, since the truly spontaneous, the completely unrepetitious, is by definition fresh; and the fresh is by definition inspired; and the inspired more often than not contains elements of profundity.  Spontaneity was recognized as the greatest of all the jazz skills when it was first heard; it remains the hallmark of a jazz musician who is also an artist.

Throughout this discussion, one working principle has been clear, I think: that these three criteria are interdependent, that each of the standards rests upon the others.  Without skill, there can be no freshness or profundity.  Without freshness, the skill is hardly noticeable and certainly of little worth.  Without profundity, an artist is incomplete, having achieved his skill and freshness to no purpose.  And yet, to reach that elusive profundity, a jazzman must have freshness and skill.  Any two of the three are means to the end of the other standard.  The most vital of the three, and the really important end of the other two means, is profundity; but it cannot be separated from the other two.  Ultimately the relationship becomes triangular—an isosceles triangle of arrows, with profundity as its apex and the arrows flowing in both directions.

Having attempted to establish critical standards for jazz, it might be well to discuss for a moment the value of criticism in the arts.  I know no statement of the function of the music critic, and the frequent abuses of that function, closer to what I regard as the truth than this paragraph from Igor Stravinsky’s series of Harvard lectures on the Poetics of Music:

To explain—or, in French, to explicate, from the Latin explicare, to unfold, to develop—is to describe something, to discover its genesis, to note the relationship of things to each other, to seek to throw light upon them.  To explain myself to you is also to explain myself to myself and to be obliged to clear up matters that are distorted or betrayed by the ignorance and malevolence that one always finds united by some mysterious bond in most of the judgments that are passed upon the arts.  Ignorance and malevolence are united in a single root; the latter benefits surreptitiously from the advantages it draws from the former.  I do not know which is the more hateful.  In itself ignorance is, of course, no crime.  It begins to be suspect when it pleads sincerity; for sincerity, as Remy de Gourmont said, is hardly an explanation and is never an excuse.  And malevolence never fails to plead ignorance as an attenuating circumstance.

“. . . to describe something, to discover its genesis, to note the relationship of things to each other, to seek to throw light upon them” —that, I think, sums up the critic’s prime obligations to his readers.  And “. . . the ignorance and malevolence that one always finds united by some mysterious bond in most of the judgments that are passed upon the arts” —that I think adumbrates the major offenses of which the critical gentry are sometimes guilty.  The world of jazz has been subject to harrowing attacks—not always malevolent, but often ignorant, and just about never well-informed, rarely noting “the relationship of things to each other.”  Uncertainties continue to prevail in the average man’s approach to jazz and jazz criticism.  We have reached a point in the speedy maturation of jazz where it is necessary, therefore, to declare working critical principles. Not only must standards be named, but they must be referred to clearly and relentlessly.

In our time it has become fashionable to assert the eternal, truth of the proposition that there is no eternal truth.  The concomitant of that antidogmatic dogma is that there is no verifiable good or bad.  And the inevitable conclusion of that pair of premises is that there is no way of ascertaining the value of a work of art.  There are no guides, really, no standards, no criteria; there is only “taste,” according to this view.  And taste varies directly with the number of people in the world, all of whom, of course, though they have no standards by which to like or dislike anything, know what they like.  By the simplest sort of deduction it becomes apparent that judgment is impossible, that criticism is unnecessary, and that critics are intolerable.

I start the other way round.  Perhaps as a self-apologia, perhaps as a result of a naïve faith, but also because I cannot accept the chaos of such a ruthless relativism, I believe that music critics have the obligation to justify the ways of musicians to men.  Many jazz musicians believe—they have more than an opinion about their music; they have a fierce faith in what they are doing.  For those who are conscious of the direction they have taken, it is always possible to name and to define proper and improper procedure in jazz.  I use these moral terms advisedly, for musicians have set standards for themselves with all the zeal of churchmen, and they have attempted to convert others to their position with all the superhuman strength of reformers.  Such a setting of standards and such a drive for followers characterized the rise of bebop.  Such a plotting of problems and suggestion of solutions identify the working method of the Lennie Tristano school of jazz.  For jazzmen, as for painters and poets and architects, there must be a declarable end, and there must be a definable means of arriving there.  It is my conviction that all the significant sounds of jazz have been produced as a result of some conscious merger of the three principles suggested above—profundity, freshness, and skill.  The exact extent to which the vital men and women of jazz have been aware of this triangular relationship is certainly beyond proof.  But a serious discussion with any of them at any important point in their careers would have yielded and will yield a clear demonstration of such concerns.

Now profundity, freshness, and skill, no matter how irrefutably discernible in the work of a jazzman, do not all by themselves produce finished masterpieces.  The three elements must be joined together by some reactive force which assures a tight reciprocal relationship among them.  In jazz, again as in most of the arts, there is, I think, no trouble in naming that reactive force.  As it operates in each musician as an individual it can be called intuition; as it operates among a group of musicians playing together it can be called tension.  In one of his most lucid passages Aristotle explains that intuition occurs when the mind is in direct contact with itself, when the subject of thought and the thinking process are identical, without any external object as a middle term.  [See Aristotle, De Anima, Book III, Chapter 4.—A. F.]  This seems to me an excellent description of intuition as its enormous constructive force is felt by the jazz musician.  Carrying this description along to the realm of collective improvisation, one may say that tension, in the particular sense in which I am using the word, occurs when one musician’s mind is in direct contact with another’s—and perhaps another’s, and still another’s.

When skilled jazzmen can summon up fresh and profound ideas by using their intuitive resources, and can, beyond their individual contributions, contact the intuitive resources of their colleagues, you get that highly agreeable tension, that motion of minds expressed through instruments or human voices, which is first-rate jazz.  The means are many: they may be melodic, rhythmic, or harmonic; they are always at least two of the three and often all three.  Whatever the means, however many musicians are playing, their end is nothing unless it is produced with an unmistakable tension, the product, in turn, of individual intuition.

Enter now the music critic.  This worthy (if such he be) has a function which parallels the jazz musician’s, down the melodic line and up the harmonic chord.  The minor aspects of that function come first, the clerical labors of naming the materials at hand, the tunes or chords with which the musicians are working, the accuracy with which they play, alone and together.  An intelligent, trained, objective critic should be able to spot the familiarity or novelty of a musician’s work, judging it by the standard of all the jazz that has gone before, with which the critic’s acquaintance must be broad.  For these duties, his faculties must be alert, disciplined; he must be able to hear all that he has ever heard at all times—or at least as much as is necessary to hear borrowings and describe them—and to know when what he hears is a new contribution; and when what he hears is new he must be able to sense its quality—if not to appraise it—and to decide whether or not a degree of profundity lurks within it.

A critic of jazz, be he a constructive guide to musicians, a professional interpreter of the musicians’ music to its audience, or merely an enthusiastic and intelligent member of that audience, needs to acquire skill and intuition, like the musician he is criticizing.  All the training available will not make it possible for you to recognize and appreciate freshness and profundity in music if you cannot to some large extent duplicate the performer’s intuitive power.  Days and nights bent over phonographs, huddled around bandstands, may permit you to hear how much of Roy or Dizzy, Bird or Lester or Hawk or Louie, Billie or Ella or Sarah has been borrowed by a trumpeter, saxophonist, or singer; but this equipment has a limited value.  With it, you will be able to do your accounting; but you will not be able to do any more if you cannot yourself intuit as the jazzman does, when the jazzman does.  Without intuition you will be merely an accountant adding up figures, making necessary but negligible arithmetical computations, deciding percentages of Eldridge, Parker, and Young, Holiday, Fitzgerald, and Vaughan.  Freshness and profundity, the vital elements which cannot be assigned to direct influence or found in precise quotation, will remain blobs of uncertainty.  For the informed and intuitive critic, however, accounting measurable elements only inaugurates activity; the freshness and profundity which mean so little to a comptometer mean everything to him.  He looks for individual intuition and collective tension with the eagerness of a baseball scout on the trail of a new DiMaggio or Feller, and with the prospect of a far greater reward.  And in his search he grows as his intuitions expand.  He makes thrilling discoveries as he delves further into the work of musicians.  If he is successful, he becomes genuinely, joyously creative.  Creative criticism means really “digging,” in both the conventional and the jazz sense of that word; you must penetrate deeply in order to learn, and, having delved deep, you may understand.  The man who really “digs” can more often than not describe the next development in jazz before the musicians have reached it.  His intuition is such that he always understands what is fresh, what may be profound, and welcomes it and fights for it, joining to the music in which he finds creative strength his own vigorous voice, in which musicians can find inspiration and untrained audiences can find a trustworthy guide.

The jazz audience is like no other in the world.  It becomes a part of its music, falling in with foot, head, hand; bouncing in or out of time; surrendering to the jazzman’s mood with an eagerness that often borders on hysteria, that sometimes produces rewarding reflection.  As no other group of listeners or viewers, the jazz audience rises and falls with its stimulus, reaching manic heights at one moment, the depths of depression at another.  Not the maddest balletomane, not the most stagestruck theatergoer, not the most starry-eyed movie fan, neither dog fancier, bird lover, nor baseball fanatic projects so completely into the working and playing frame of another living being.  For the duration of a three-minute record, a half-hour radio program, a couple of hours in a night club, the jazz fan, according to his lights and loves, becomes Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, or Billy Eckstine.  However unreal this transmigration of musical souls may actually be, to the jazz lover this foolish fancy is right and proper—and, furthermore, undeniable.

One of the salutary results of the remarkable identification the jazz audience makes with its heroes and heroines is an academic knowledge of its subject without precedent or comparison.  The true jazz fan’s ability to recognize dozens of trumpeters, trombonists, saxophonists, and pianists has long been properly celebrated.  There are even some with so keen a sense of rhythm and sound that they can identify drummers with as little trouble as most people distinguish Vaughn Monroe from Dinah Shore.  What is even more remarkable, many jazz fans listen with the kind of attention and intelligence which permits them to hear every technical facet of a performance, though they are sometimes without musical training.  Again and again they can recognize the well-known chords on which an obscure melody is based; they hear subtle key changes and subtler variations based on passing tones; they follow the development of a solo, the spread of a section voicing, the break or continuity of an arrangement, with an accuracy that would do a brilliant musician or a trained critic credit—and all without knowing the right name of anything musical, without the vestige of a musical education.  Such untrained understanding can proceed only from love. Such affection must be deserved.

One must respect the undying devotion of the jazz audience to the jazz musician, recognize its fruits, and even pay homage to it.  One must also, I think, demand something more, in return for the pleasure and stimulation, the emotional and intellectual satisfaction, provided by the jazzman.  One must insist on a double responsibility on the part of the audience—a responsibility to itself and to jazz musicians.  The responsibility to itself takes one fundamental form—education.  The responsibility to musicians is just as simply categorized—support.

To make its identification with the jazz musician complete and meaningful, the jazz audience should study music.  It must learn the difference between a chord and a piece of string, learn the simple facts of musical life, the technique of the art, and set these in a more complicated context, the history of all the arts.  When jazz audiences become better equipped, they can help to break the stranglehold of the great booking corporations and the alternate death-grip and whimsical relaxation of press-agent-promoted fads which now handicap jazz so seriously. 

And what must the musician himself do on behalf of his art?  His function is, of course, to play.  But to play what, and how, and where, and when?  It is easy to answer these questions if you are a musician or critic in the classical tradition.  However much disagreement there may be over the merits of Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Beethoven, Berlioz, Debussy, or Ravel, there is general agreement that all of these men are part of the standard repertory, ranking somewhere under Bach and Mozart, and leaving much room for many others.  However much contention there may be about the quality of contemporary music, it is clear by now that Stravinsky and Hindemith, Schoenberg, Berg, Bloch, Bartok, and a few lesser lights have earned a substantial place for themselves in the concert and recording activities of pianists, violinists, chamber groups, and symphony orchestras.  But the jazz musician, who has to depend so much on his own resources, has no such simple solution to these several problems of what and how and where and when.

The jazzman in New Orleans before the closing of the red-light district in 1917 led an uncomplicated musical life.  With only the blues and a few related tunes to rely upon harmonically and melodically, with rhythmic strictures to confine any desire to wander with the beat, he was not only able, he was commanded to know all the answers before he picked up his horn to blow.  The result was a very narrow avenue for creative imagination—the exploitation of instrumental technique.  A further result was the evolution of jazz sounds away from the crinoline and old lace of nineteenth-century Louisiana to the denim and pongee of the riverboats.

The jazzman in Chicago, Kansas City, or New York in the twenties followed somewhat more complex patterns, but his aim, like his sounds and sights, was trained on the same basic objectives.  Men like Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson, women like Bessie Smith, broadened the emotional and intellectual range of New Orleans jazz and brought dignity to their profession.  It remained, however, for Duke Ellington, something more than a greatly skilled primitive, to suggest the profound potential of jazz.  And it fell first to Benny Goodman and his generation, then to Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Charlie Christian, Charlie Parker, and Lennie Tristano, in quick order, to translate the potential into the actual.

No longer, then, does the jazzman stand alone, uncluttered technically, emotionally constricted.  Behind him is a history and a tradition.  Before him is an art. But again: what, how, where, when?

In analyzing the functions of the jazz critic and the jazz audience, in attempting to set up working criteria for everybody seriously concerned with jazz, I have announced with considerable brazenness that a balance of inspiration, skill, and profundity, molded by the individual intuition and collective tension developed among jazz musicians, should produce first-rate jazz.  These words shield a formidable brace of ideas, of sometimes impenetrable abstractions; the words and the ideas are too often loosely used, too little understood, too rarely invoked with consciousness by musician, critic, or audience.  I have made some attempt to pin the words and the ideas to notes and chords and working procedure in jazz, because I think that such a stocktaking, such a review of principle and process, is fundamental to the healthy growth of this medium of expression.  And of all those who may have the capability and/or concern to take this stock, to make this review, it seems to me that the most critical effort must be made by the jazz musician himself.

The man who plays jazz is faced with several cruel alternatives.  He cannot in the future, unless he is intellectually slothful and emotionally spent, return to the kindergarten constructions of his New Orleans forebears, though he must pay his respects to them for yeoman service in building a craft with the crude implements at their disposal.  If he is at all sensitive, he knows that the bop school, which at first surged so brilliantly through the jungle of jazz weed, later began to grow its own brand of weed-heavy, clumsy, too often aromatic of the worst of weeds, and rotten at the roots.  Rejecting these choices, the creative jazzman is left at the mercy of his own inspiration, his own groping after profundity, his solo intuition, and the rich tension he may feel when playing in a group—all tempered, if meaning is to be achieved, by the skill in exercise of these faculties which can come only from hard, directed work.  And there, I think, lies the answer to the perplexities suggested by the one-syllable queries.

What?  The jazzman must give up the stagnating security to be found in playing in and around familiar chords, where he loses all his inspiration and any hope for profundity in the false comfort of hackneyed phrases, repetitious ideas, and fixed choruses.  He must recognize that he as an improvising musician has for his basic materials the note and chord unburdened by other men’s manipulation of them.  Sooner or later he must learn the limitations of most of present-day jazz and the free field that lies ahead of him if his background permits him to explore the lines of poly tonal and atonal music played in contrapuntal frames.

How?  By accepting the existence of principle, by searching for and finding it, and then by practicing precept, the jazzman can, I am convinced, find his way to articulate communication of ideas at the art level which music that is at once poly tonal or atonal, contrapuntal, and improvised must reach.  What this means above all is a dedication to purpose, a governing humility, a refusal to accept adolescent success as any real indication of ability.

Where and when?  The kind of jazz that seems to be growing up around us, less and less fitfully, more and more artfully, demands a hearing.  It will out, but not necessarily before large audiences, almost certainly not within large ballrooms and theaters, and definitely not for great reward.  This music will be played wherever and whenever a musician finds a friend—in his own home, in little studios, in big back rooms.  It will be played with such conviction that its progress will become unmistakable and its difficulties desirable; it will make its way, as all enrichments of human culture have in the past propelled themselves, from obscurity to public acceptance.

Clearly I am demanding an assayable maturity of the jazz musician; I am insisting on the essential dignity of his calling; I am trying to demonstrate that out of the half-century or so of jazz an art has taken shape.  The resources of jazz are huge.  It is the function of the musician in jazz to cull and command those resources, to make of his work a vocation in all the beautiful meaning of that word.

Posted April 3, 2008

Back to Barry Ulanov page