THE MUSIC BOX

The supposed antipathy of the highbrow "classicists" to all forms of popular music is a strangely persistent myth that keeps cropping up all the time in writings and discussions about jazz. Last Monday's interesting "Swing" column, for instance, used the phrases "blinded by tastes" and "overexposure to culture" to express what a lot of people honestly and unthinkingly believe, that classical music, in contrast to popular but ungrammatical jazz, is some sort of esoteric cubbyhole where a number of aesthetes hide away from the common emotions of man.

It may seem paradoxical on the surface, but, actually, a taste for real jazz usually takes more time and effort to acquire than a feeling for Beethoven. The circumstances that begat the two different types have, in this discussion, nothing to do with the case. Most jazzmen would be amazed at the similarity between strict jazz and the thoroughbass music of Bach's time. In both cases you have the rigid rhythmic pattern over which an intricate web of thematic variations is woven. Bach's work had the advantage of being composed by a single highly developed talent, while jazz has to depend on a rare combination of many talents, a band where each player can give the theme a unique personal twist without destroying the musical continuity. When it's "in the groove," a good band rises out of its usual formulas (ordinary jazz is the most rigidly formalized routine in all music) into pure spontaneous variation, and that is the very stuff and foundation of great music. What makes old-fashioned, Bix-Beiderbecke-variety jazz an interest of the few is the same specialized form that keeps, say, Bach's "Art of the Fugue," from becoming widely popular.

History is not going to judge music by its original environment or function, however much these factors influenced its creation. When a great musician has lived and breathed a certain style of music, doing as much as he can with its latent possibilities, the result will be art whether it hails from Vienna or the other side of the tracks. No "classicist" in his right mind would fail to recognize jazz, when well done, as art, deserving as much, if not more, respect than many of the patched-up things which, under the name of a Lizst, a Smetana or a Rossini, pass for "classical" music. It is up to the popular musicians to get over their inferiority complex, and work to give their style of music the place in the musical hierarchy it is potentially worthy of.