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Jazz

By E. E. Nimon

At this late date it might seem a bit unsporting to wake the sleeping dogs and bring out an old our like Hugues Panassie if it weren't for the fact that he is the inspiration for a very formidable class of individuals who, in their iron-fisted championing of "pure jazz" are doing their level best to keep hot music in a state of suspended animation.

For those with short memories, Hugues Panassie is that colorful Frenchman who "discovered" jazz in the early thirties and later went on to write two very widely circulated books about it. Le Jazz Hot, the first one, is considered something of a milestone in the history of the criticism of hot music. His other book, The Real Jazz, though not a milestone, has developed into a sort of bible for those above mentioned "purists."

Not only a press agent for hot music but also a successful promoter, Hugues deserves credit for having blown the breath of life into that walloping organization, The Hot Club of France, and was instrumental in forming the French recording company called Swing. On his whirlwind visit to this country circa 1938, he did the spade work on Victor's re-issuing program, organized those lusty Mezzrow-Ladnier Quintet sessions on Bluebird, and godfathered one of Basie's best waxings, the Panassie Stomp.

All that glitters is not gold, unfortunately, and as a pundit Hugues has been known to give himself over to such dogmatizing that myriad grains of salt are required for most of us to digest his writings. Famed Concert Meister Eddie Condon was once so unkind as to remark to the effect that, "We aren't giving him lessons on how to squash grapes; where does he get off trying to tell us how to play hot music?"

The fact that he is not a native American is probably the main reason why Panassie has failed to get a really accurate view of the jazz picture. At the time he was formulating his conception of it, Americans were busy fawning upon any and every eminent European classical musician obtainable. But in his native Europe the bell-shaped opera sopranos, weirdly posturing conductors et al were, comparatively speaking, the honorless prophets, while the imported hot records from the New World and the American jam bands got the vivas, saluts, and heils. The European Parlophone company, with branches in almost every major country on the continent, still carries a large number of the old sizzlers like Louis' West End Blues and Luis Russel's Feelin' The Spirit, which had been out of print in this country for years until the recent flurry of reissuing began. Oh, yes, life in Europe was soft for jazzmen.

In The Real Jazz, Panassie tells us hot music is a finite thing which attained its unalterable shape at the time Buddy Bolden was assaulting the bayous with his battered cornet, and that any musician not conforming to the recognized shape is most certainly "not in the idiom" and most likely a "show-off." What Panassie and his "purist" cronies fail to understand is that hot music was born, nursed and grown to manhood, struggling all the time against a frigid environment, and that its whole course of development has been and will be largely a result of this environment and the adjustments the individual musicians make for it. Jazz, like most other art forms, is a much more personal thing than many would have us believe.

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