Play Your Own Thing: A Story of Jazz in Europe
It's the beauty of Benedikt's direction and Andrew Hulme's astute editing, which doesn't just draw a line between the nearly sixty Americans and Europeans who participate in the documentary but instead collects them together under the same voluminous umbrella, that may well change the mindsets of at least some of those jazz fans who believe there's a clear demarcation between the American tradition and what Europeans call jazz. What's perhaps the strongest message is that many of the European artists who play music that appears to be so distanced from roots of traditional jazz as to be unrecognizable are absolutely conversant in the language, and that said language remains an unalterable part of who they are. Trumpeter Arve Henriksen, pianist Christian Wallumrod and clarinetist Louis Sclavis may play music that bears little direct reference to the music that emerged in New Orleans in the early part of the 20th century, but that doesn't mean they haven't studied it, or that it's not one ingredient in the rich stew that now incorporates, in addition to cultural folk music from countries around the globe, the influence of contemporary classical music, electronic music and much, much more.
Tomasz Stanko Quartet Recording Lontano
Watching clips of contemporary artists whose music seems far removed from the tradition, juxtaposed with archival clips of American artists working with others in a more traditional context, simply brings focus to a clear and unmistakable fact: it's not that these artists can't work in the tradition; it's that they choose not to. Instead, finding their own voice, or way to contribute to a music that is unmistakable in its American origins but is now truly a music of the world, is essential to keeping it alive and well: if jazz is to survive, it has to be allowed to adapt and incorporate. Jazz has been a form of fusion from the very beginning, and if there's a single premise in Play Your Own Thing, it's that jazz's position as a uniquely inclusive rather than exclusive form is what has made it such a consistently fascinating art for nearly a century.
In a time when political divisiveness is creating so much trouble and strife, the message of freedom that underscores Play Your Own Thing, one that has been at the heart of the music from its earliest days, could well be applied to disciplines extending beyond the arts. From a strictly musical perspective, the documentary is exciting if only for its wealth of interview and performance footage. But if its main premise causes even a small percentage of those fans possessing a proprietary view of jazz as an American-owned art form to rethink that position, then it would no doubt be considered a resounding success by the artists who participated in its making.
Play Your Own Thing is distributed in North America by Naxos of America.
Captured from Play Your Own Thing: A Story of Jazz in Europe, courtesy of EuroArts.