Using The Jazz Trope For Assimilation

Scott Krane By

Sign in to view read count
I read an interesting thing in the Harvard Gazette today. Hansung Ryu a cellist from Seoul who played a summer concert at Harvard said "If Harvard were an Aaron Copland song, it would be 'Hoe-Down'—difficult to play but very colorful and exciting." Ryu played selections from "Rodeo" at Harvard's Sanders Theater on August. 3. The Gazette quoted the cellist saying, "Whenever I play Copland, it makes me feel the way I do about America."

Jazz is both a genre as well as a trope used to signify Americana. Aaron Copland, not considered an innovator of jazz music, instead used it as he used Western music and cowboy culture as a trope to evoke a sense of assimilation. Like America, the jazz trope is always taking in new parts that must reshape to fit the whole. Apropos, it is fascinating the way someone from Seoul relates Copland with his perspective of America, no?

"Copland composed "Billy the Kid," he recalled, having heard his immigrant mother sing cowboy songs she heard growing up in Dallas, Texas." said Gail Levin, co-author of 'Aaron Copland's America: a cultural perspective,' and distinguished professor of art history and American Studies at Baruch College.

"When Copland spent two months in 1928, working in Santa Fe, New Mexico, he spent most of the time working on Vitebsk, 'a study on Jewish Theme for violin, cello and piano,' which connected to his growing up in the 'Eastern European Tradition.'" she said, adding that "Drawn to modernism, Copland's life and work reveal his cosmopolitan tastes even while he, like so many of his contemporaries, strived to find his own American identity."

Another example of how jazz and other American tropes have helped immigrants to assimilate and other foreigners like Hansung Ryu to experience America is heard in the composing of Arnold Schoenberg's American years.

"The tonal music that Schoenberg wrote in America is quite diverse." said Michael Cherlin of the University of Minnesota and author of Arnold Schoenberg's Musical Imagination.

"In contrast, the <"Theme and Variations for Band" (1943), a work that was meant to have pedagogical as well as esthetic value, responds to the tradition of music for wind band, then and now a distinct part of American culture. [Another] example is Schoenberg's little known arrangement of an Appalachian folksong, "My Horses Ain't Hungry" (1935). This piece, left uncompleted at the composer's death, showed Schoenberg's interest in learning about and contributing to another aspect of musical Americana."

But more importantly, like Copland, it is Schoenberg's taste for jazz.

"With typical irony, Schoenberg described being 'driven into Paradise.' Musical culture, especially of the sort that Schoenberg left behind in Europe, is something one develops over a lifetime, involving highly sophisticated performance practices and deep, historically informed knowledge of compositional traditions." said Cherlin.

"And though America had her own traditions of popular and folk music as well as jazz, the roots in traditions that Schoenberg knew best were relatively shallow on this side of the Atlantic."

This amalgamation of continental styles is unmistakably jazz.


More Articles

Read Jazz Stories: 2016 What is Jazz? Jazz Stories: 2016
by Michael Ricci
Published: December 31, 2016
Read Words and Music: Why Liner Notes Matter What is Jazz? Words and Music: Why Liner Notes Matter
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: September 19, 2016
Read Jazz Popularity and You What is Jazz? Jazz Popularity and You
by Douglas Groothuis
Published: August 26, 2016
Read Jazz: The Sacred and the Profane What is Jazz? Jazz: The Sacred and the Profane
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: May 13, 2016
Read The Virtues of Jazz What is Jazz? The Virtues of Jazz
by Douglas Groothuis
Published: April 12, 2016
Read "Jazz Cosmos: Music and Modern Physics" What is Jazz? Jazz Cosmos: Music and Modern Physics
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: April 10, 2016
Read "The Virtues of Jazz" What is Jazz? The Virtues of Jazz
by Douglas Groothuis
Published: April 12, 2016
Read "How Teachers can Swing in the Classroom" What is Jazz? How Teachers can Swing in the Classroom
by Douglas Groothuis
Published: April 8, 2016
Read "Jazz Music Is Ecstatic Language" What is Jazz? Jazz Music Is Ecstatic Language
by David Arivett
Published: April 9, 2016
Read "Jazz Stories: 2016" What is Jazz? Jazz Stories: 2016
by Michael Ricci
Published: December 31, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!