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What is Jazz?

WHAT IS JAZZ?

Jazz: The Sacred and the Profane

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“As above, so below" --Hermes Trismegistus A warning: this article is worth reading only if you believe, as I do, that jazz is not just a form of entertainment, but an art form that has deep significance for our lives and contributes to our search for meaning. I fully appreciate the value of “digging the music" and leaning into it for its rhythmic syncopation and feelings of fun and excitement. But for many of us, jazz is part ...

WHAT IS JAZZ?

The Virtues of Jazz

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Any jazz aficionado knows the musical virtues of jazz, whether they are a musician, a jazz writer, or simply a committed jazz listener. In classical Western thought (that is, in the musings of cats like as Aristotle and Plato), a virtue is a kind of excellence in performance that flows from a settled habit. One who plays the flute as it ought to be played--the proper tone, pitch, and timing--displays a virtue or sharp skill in that musical instrument. One ...

WHAT IS JAZZ?

Jazz Cosmos: Music and Modern Physics

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To the memory of Leonard Bernstein, the greatest musical educator of all time, a great conductor and composer who loved jazz and whose televised lectures brought a whole generation of listeners into insightful contact with the music. Maybe you remember how astrophysicist Carl Sagan's vision of “billions and billions of stars" captured the awesome feeling of seeing the firmament of the heavens, marveling at its beauty and contemplating the incredible universe. Well, strange as it may seem, many ...

WHAT IS JAZZ?

Jazz Music Is Ecstatic Language

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Leonardo DaVinci once said, “Do you know that our souls are composed of music?" Music and religion are intimately linked, and music is one of the most powerful tools to convey religious meaning. As human beings, we have been given the gift of musical language which can help transform us from our humdrum, everyday existence, into something out of the ordinary. Whether music excites or soothes us, it transports us to another place. When we play and listen to music ...

WHAT IS JAZZ?

How Teachers can Swing in the Classroom

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I am a jazz aficionado as well as a philosophy professor. Being in front of a classroom teaching is my favorite place on earth, second to a good jazz club with hip friends. In the midst of a philosophy class, I may wax enthusiastic about the transcendent qualities of a John Coltrane saxophone solo or the preternatural swing of Buddy Rich's timekeeping or the song-writing and band-leading genius of Duke Ellington. These comments are not merely idiosyncratic. They reflect something ...

WHAT IS JAZZ?

Co-Improvisation: Explaining the Magic

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When we listen to great jazz performances, we pay most attention to the soloists, some of whom become our musical heroes. In that respect, jazz is an affirmation of the individual, the uniqueness and liberation of either the “free and joyful spirit," of whom there was none greater than Louis Armstrong, or the arduous struggle of the existential hero to become free, a musician whose inborn talent and valor met the awesome challenges of life and music. Perhaps the most ...

WHAT IS JAZZ?

Jazz and Moral Theory: Swinging the Right Way

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Morality matters to all of us. We protest when we are robbed or defrauded. We praise heroes and heroines. We condemn moral monsters. We laud a Mother Teresa and condemn a Ted Bundy. We recognize good and bad habits. We rebuke those who do evil; we praise those who do good. We attempt to honor our conscience and call others to do so. Morality matters to music as well. Consider piracy, contractual obligations, fair compensation for work, plagiarizing ...

WHAT IS JAZZ?

Deconstructing Money Jungle

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Duke Ellington was born at the turn of the century. Because his career stretched from the roaring twenties to just after the Nixon scandal, and because of the large breathe of his work he has been a household name for decades. Most individuals know Ellington for his work pioneering big band music, as a bandleader, composer, and brilliant improviser. Few ever reference Ellington's solo piano music or small ensemble work; mainly because he did not make many recordings of this ...


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