The Cambridge Companion to Jazz
Mervyn Cooke and David Horn, eds.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
£16.95, 426 pages, ISBN 0-521-66388-1 (paperback).
£47.50, 426 pages, ISBN 0-521-66320-2 (hardback).
Université de Metz
This book, a collection of nineteen contributions, is divided into five parts
of three to five chapters each: Jazz times, Jazz practices, Jazz changes, Jazz
soundings and Jazz takes, preceded by an introduction. Organising the material
seems to have been somewhat difficult for the editors for the content of chapters
three through five, as their titles indicate, is rather (even?) less homogeneous,
though not necessarily less interesting, than the rest.
As an introduction, Krin Gabbard begins with an obligatory overview of "The
word jazz" and what it has come to mean, and underlines the difficult
definition of jazz as genre, due to its ambiguity towards its own status and
the constant push and pull of "art v. money".
David Horn's chapter will probably be found difficult by the uninitiated,
as it requires close familiarity with jazz history and past debates about
but it highlights (again, but probably inevitably) the ambiguous relationship
of jazz with "money", makes a case for talking about the "jazz
event", as opposed to "performance", and attempts to locate "The
identity of jazz" stylistically in a combination of sound, rhythm and
timing, and culturally in its essential, though not exclusive, connection
with the black experience.
Bruce Johnson's contribution, "The jazz diaspora", is partial.
It would have required broader treatment, as it focuses largely on Australia
In "The jazz audience", Jed Rasula tackles the reception of jazz
and its connotations, mainly in the 1920s, and underlines its global, rather
than American, character, especially since the Swing Era.
Robert P. Crease's frequently illuminating chapter on "Jazz and dance" covers
the tight links between jazz and popular dancing from the Progressive Era
via the Jazz Age to the Swing Era.
Travis A. Jackson, in "Jazz as musical practice", examines the various
ingredientsswing, improvisation, harmony, instrumentation and timbrethat
might be seen as characteristic of jazz practice. In one instance, however,
he makes things difficult for himself when he claims that certain stylistic
characteristics can no longer be called jazz once other musics have borrowed
them. (88) He concludes, taking his cue from Duke Ellington, that it is what
jazz musicians do with the ingredients that makes the difference.
Bruce Johnson, in an impressively complete philosophical discussion and with
perfect command of previous debates around the question, nicely succeeds
in the seemingly superhuman task of capturing "Jazz as cultural practice",
making ample use of the contrasts and affiliations between the genre and, respectively, "art" music
and popular music.
In "Jazz improvisation", an inevitably technical chapter, Ingrid
Monson covers the main elements of the practice.
In "Spontaneity and organisation", Peter J. Martin completes the
treatment of improvisation by examining what is and what isn't jazz, a permanent
preoccupation of this volume which reflects that of the critics/purists and
some of the musicians themselves. The essence of jazz lies in "the relationship
between individual inspiration and the expectations of the collectivity in
which it must be expressed". Improvisation should not be perceived as
wild and unpredictable and its spontaneity is always to be reconciled with
organisation. Innovation and tradition always resolve their tensions, as
they actually do in other cultural practices. Martin's study of Charlie Parker
the epitome of the improvisatory genius is convincing but suffers from repetitions
(145-147) when dealing with the early part of his career.
Co-editor Mervyn Cooke, in "Jazz among the classics, and the case of Duke
Ellington", analyses the often difficult relationship between the two
musical genres and the heated debates around jazz's occasional borrowings/inspirations
from classical music, as well as the claim of a part of jazz to be accepted
In "1959: the beginning of beyond", Darius Brubeck, the famous jazz
pianist's son, is enlightening in his focus on the year 1959 as a turning point
which ushered in the advent of "contemporary" jazz.
Jeff Pressing, though he occasionally seems to chafe at the lack
of space allotted to him, succeeds in being pedagogical and
accessible in "Free jazz and
Stuart Nicholson, by contrast, gets twice as much room as anybody else
to deal with "Fusions and crossovers" but he puts his 36 pages to good use,
contrasting, among other things, jazz-rock and "fusion". He is
in perfect command of his topic and capable of sustaining interest, as he
in Jazz-Rock: A History (1998). Incidentally, Paul Zorn, already
dealt with in the previous chapter, gets additional treatment here for
total of nearly four pages, which his contribution to jazz certainly does
not warrant, something the editors should have taken notice of. Also, in
where the proofreading has been practically impeccable, one may deplore
that the name of the (French) Caratini (Jazz) Ensemble has been misspelled
in the text and in the index. Perhaps this reflects what French readers
might see as a relative weakness of this book: the noticeable patchiness
of the international
David Ake's chapter, "Learning jazz, teaching jazz", deals with the
informal and formal teaching of the music. In 1968, an indication of the institutionalisation
of jazz education, the International Association of Jazz Educators was founded,
although formal teaching predates its existence, having emerged in the 1940s
with the opening, along with a few other schools, of the Berklee School of
Music which included a jazz programme which, in the meantime, has educated
hundreds of jazz musicians. Since the 1970s jazz studies programmes have flourished
in many North American colleges and universities, about 100 all told, employing
2000 teachers. In addition, jazz-history classes are very popular as part of
the general education courses taken by college students. "Name" teachers
like drummer Max Roach at the University of Massachusetts or guitarist Kenny
Burrell at UCLA have found their place within such programmes. So the prime
training ground for jazz musicians is no longer the neighbourhood jam session
but the academic programme. However, the jazz played in colleges, Ake argues,
tends to be somewhat Eurocentric, based as it is on concepts of "serious" music,
due to "the classical orientation of most instructors".
This is a rather basic chapter, with the risk of appearing obvious to the
initiated, but it should prove quite helpful to other mortals. Towards
the end, it inevitably
waxes a little technical in the last part of the discussion. Although the
author seems to understand why colleges, for pedagogical reasons, favour
approach within a band format, he oddly enough deplores the fact that jazz
pedagogy in higher education ignores "the musics of the avant-gardists
and the early New Orleans players" and marginalises other skillsrhythmic
and auralthan the knowledge of scales and harmony.
In "History, myth and legend: the problem of early jazz", David
Sager revisits the controversial and hazy origins of the genre and, among
argues intriguingly that improvisation might have developed in New Orleans
out of necessity among semi- or non-reading musicians in the early black
music groups which, apparently, used published dance orchestrations and band
Thomas Owens, in "Analysing jazz", gives us a panorama of jazz criticism,
emphasising the seminal works of Gunther Schuller, André Hodeir and
Paul Berliner, and presenting an overview of the veritable influx of books
and theses on jazz since the 1970s.
Robert Walser, for his part, competently tackles the difficult question
jazz". He begins his discussion with the 1987 resolution adopted by the
United States Congress, sponsored primarily by members of the Black Caucus,
proclaiming jazz "a rare and valuable national American treasure".
This resolution, in effect, decontextualised and reified jazz, erasing the
history of American racism and treating the genre as a "collective achievement
rather than as a variety of ways of music-making in which particular people
have engaged in particular historical circumstances". However, African-American
musicians themselves have made an argument for jazz being authentic art, "America's
classical music", created by Blacks by transcending the conditions of
its/their origins and giving it universal appeal, presenting " a vision
that others also recognised as an ideal worthy of celebration". But
value judgements on jazz, a music which developed during the age of mass-mediated
culture and thus quickly spread around the world, have also been the product
of constant recontextualisation, the music assuming importance in geographical
locations and in circumstances far removed from its origins. Attempts to
jazz may also be seen as responses to a long history of denigrating the music
and its performers.
Among the non-musical reasons for valuing jazz we find its role in breaking
down social barriers and in disinhibiting white society. Walser ends
with an intricate analysis of Louis Armstrong's famous cadenza in "West End Blues",
underlining the multicultural character of his music as an epitome of "the
agency and creativity of African-Americans as they engage with and adapt to
a changing world by appropriating styles and mixing discourses." He concludes
by emphasising that jazz "lets us experience utopia".
In "The jazz market", Dave Laing makes a valuable analysis of the
economics of jazz, seeing the genre as a labour-intensive activity which
finds it difficult to make gains in productivity. Hence, jazz musicians are
poorly rewarded financially and the figures presented here are striking.
Jazz needs subsidies and sponsorships but, unlike classical music, has had
little success in attracting them, which may be one of the reasons for the
attempt to value jazz as America's classical music.
Krin Gabbard returns in the last chapter to give us a brief taste of
the place of jazz in fiction, photography and the cinema.
Altogether, there are in this book valuable contributions which will
mainly satisfy knowledgeable jazz fans. However, in this reviewer's opinion,
a "companion" volume,
without being an encyclopedia, should be at least partly a reference work
to which the reader can return for consultation whenever the need arises.
volume only marginally fulfils this requirement and is more of a collection
of articles about jazz, though, obviously, an attempt has been made to cover
every aspect of the genre. It does contain an index of musicians cited with
short bios of the main ones is included, as well as a brief chronology of
jazz. But one or several tables outlining the various jazz styles and their
would certainly not have been out of place, even if some have occasionally
appeared in other books. Knowledge of these styles seems to be expected as
a prerequisite. All of this will probably make this book useful reading to
the previously converted only.
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