Jazz Consciousness: Music, Race, and Humanity


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Paul Austerlitz
Jazz Consciousness: Music, Race, and Humanity
Wesleyan University Press
ISBN: 0-8195-6782-5
260 pages

Jazz Consciousness works from the premise that jazz, while often classified as a strictly American art form, embodies a sense of inclusiveness that not only influences other genres, but also soaks in the music of other cultures. This, of course, is nothing new—this idea has been tossed about for years. Yet Paul Austerlitz, an ethnomusicologist and musician, sets out in this book to explore how jazz has the power to engage various cultures.

The book is divided into six chapters, each of which can be read independently. The middle section features lengthy histories of the music of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Finland and how jazz became a part of their musical culture. The influence of Cuban rhythms, eventually becoming "Afro-Cuban and representing a true meshing of musical styles, is well documented here. Many will enjoy the chapter on Finland and how a rebellious society latched onto jazz and combined it with their own folk music. These chapters provide ample evidence that jazz is a truly worldwide phenomenon that is easily adaptable to various styles.

Of lesser interest are the chapters that bookend the middle. I lacked the patience to grasp the kente notation from the various examples in the chapter on that particular form of musical notation. But the final chapter, a lengthy autobiography of musical scholar Milford Graves, seems particularly misguided. It's as if a musician recorded an entire album, yet brought in an entirely different band to record the final song. It also seems ironic that, given the wide community that jazz has created, Austerlitz spends such a disproportionate amount to the theories of one person.

Jazz Consciousness is a good read, although perhaps not in the way Austerlitz intended. The discussion of the influence of jazz worldwide, and its similarity to other forms of music, is interesting and worth reading. Judging by the introduction, however, Austerlitz may have had more academic aspirations in mind. Be that as it may, much of this book is accessible and informative.

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