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Authentic Jazz?

Peter Madsen By

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I'm sitting here in my narrow little coach class seat with almost no legroom for a 6'4" mutant like myself returning from a great one-week tour with an amazing Austrian recorder player named Winfried Hackl. Winfried plays all different sizes of recorders including a huge bass recorder he built himself that has a beautiful deep sound. We played some jazz, some music by G. F. Handel (originally played using chord symbols by the harpsichord player) as well as some 14th century repeated bass lines called 'grounds' that we used for improvisation. I played on a harpsichord (that Winfried built himself) and an organ from the 15th century (tuned in mean tuning) as well as the string sound on a keyboard. This was a great creative experience for me and I was just thinking how unfortunate it is that non-American jazz musicians and their creative musical ideas have been almost completely ignored or looked down upon by the American jazz public for not being "authentic" jazz and therefore not worthwhile. I've had plenty of amazing experiences with jazz musicians from countries outside the U.S. to know that this is complete nonsense and that the term "authentic" is a useless term in designating quality.

Now that this music we call "jazz" is a century old and has grown universes beyond it's New Orleans origins it seems to me that using the label "authentic" to determine quality or anything else is not only useless, but also belittles the thousands of non-American creative musicians that have dedicated their lives to being jazz players and composers. For almost it's entire history each new American development in jazz has been fought over as to its value in comparison to the older styles that came before and any development outside of the U.S. has been basically ignored completely. To me it seems useless and foolish to judge any particular form of jazz better or worse than any other for any reason, especially because one is more 'authentic' than the other. I prefer to look at jazz as an open fertile field of creative possibility without restriction, regardless of class, gender, race, religion or location. Just because an art form began a certain way and in a certain place and by certain people does not mean that only people that play or paint or dance in this way are performing quality art. All art must change and grow beyond its beginnings. All new art develops from the old and soon the new becomes the old and is followed by another new and so on. As each new individual or group tries their creative hand at any art it will change given that we are unique individuals living in unique communities and by our nature will bring something new to it. Some of these new ideas will be so strong that they will affect other artists as well as the public at large and some not. Not all new ideas will be as powerful as those of a John Coltrane or a Pablo Picasso.

Jazz is no longer just Black American men's music. Maybe early jazz in New Orleans could be described this way, but even that is in question as we learn more of the importance of Creoles (French and Spanish speaking people of mixed blood) as well as Caribbean's in the early development of jazz. Very shortly after its inception jazz was also developing away from its originators as it was being taken up by many people across this country and soon by people overseas in Europe. Jazz is now also White and female and music of the world as well, open for all that find value in it, to add their own personal touch into the mix. There is room for all in this incredible music. It has plenty of room for new types of styles, rhythms, melodies and harmonies. It's openness is one of the main reasons it is so great and I believe it would have died out long ago without this openness and tolerance for change. This doesn't mean the music is being co-opted and everything before is of no value either. This is another one of the great things about jazz. The earlier styles don't lose their value simply because of their age. Older jazz music deserves to be honored and studied and given its full value. But let's also keep an eye on the new from all around the world to see where the jazz music journey is going. In future articles I want to talk about some of the wonderful creative music coming from other countries as well as from our own. I'm looking forward to the next hundred years of jazz development.

By the way I want to thank all of you who are sending me e-mails. I really enjoy hearing from you! Keep it up! I do have a new e-mail address starting this month, please take note.

See you next month!


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