There was a time when jazz could be described as the music of the black American, but in an age of multi-racial interest in and commitment to jazz, that is no longer necessarily the case. If anything, jazz ceased to be a black man's music with the dawn of 'modern jazz', and we may note an acoustic/electric distinction between the traditional and the modern.
Since the twentieth century was a predominantly petty-bourgeois age, I think it only fair to define jazz as a form of serious petty-bourgeois music. I would even go so far as to say that it was the American equivalent of European classical music, which, in the twentieth century, also developed a specifically petty-bourgeois integrity, though one more conservative and, contrary to superficial appearances, deeply rooted in tradition than its American counterpart. Although, following Schoenberg's lead, much of this European music is atonal or, at any rate, relatively atonal compared to nineteenth-century Romanticism, it has remained largely acoustic, not rivalled the best modern jazz in the use of electric instruments. Furthermore, it has retained, in the great majority of cases, a dependence on scores and conductors, thereby betraying a respect for conceptual appearances which, except in a small minority of cases, is not to be found in modern jazz, or even, as a rule, in its traditional precursor. Clearly, American jazz is more transcendental than European orchestral music and thus entitled, in my opinion, to be regarded as a mainstream, as opposed to subsidiary, form of petty-bourgeois serious music. And this in conjunction with a similar distinction which I have elsewhere applied to art and which can, I believe, be applied to most other subjects as well, depending on whether they pertain to the genuinely petty-bourgeois nations of the Western world, like America and Germany, or to the pseudo-petty-bourgeois ones, like Britain and France, which are still firmly rooted in bourgeois tradition.
Thus, in art, the distinction between Expressionism and Impressionism, as pertaining to the genuinely petty-bourgeois civilization in the earlier stage of its development, and Cubism and Symbolism, which pertain to their materialist and spiritualist counterparts respectively within the confines of the pseudo-petty-bourgeois nations, is paralleled, in music, by the distinction between jazz on the one hand and classical on the other, a distinction itself capable of being divided into a spiritualist and a materialist side in each case, so that we may speak of acoustic tonal jazz as the materialistic counterpart of late-Romanticism and, by contrast, of electric tonal jazz as the spiritualistic counterpart of neo-Classicism. We may also mark the evolution of jazz from an earlier to a later stage, again paralleling the evolution of classical from late-Romanticism to non-serial atonal composition on the materialist side, and from neo-Classicism to serialized atonal composition on the spiritualist side, which I shall define in terms of atonal electric on the one hand and atonal acoustic on the other. Thus where the one side signifies an expansion of spirituality with the assistance of electric instruments, the other side signifies a contraction of materialism through the use of acoustic instruments - something that has also happened in European serious music, though, in my estimation, to a less radical extent.
If, then, jazz may be claimed to have progressed from a stage stemming from bourgeois tonality to a stage aspiring towards proletarian atonality, and to have done so from two points of view, viz. a materialist and a spiritualist, is there any possibility, I wonder, of its evolving beyond this latter stage to an absolutely proletarian one? The answer to this has, I think, to be - no. For jazz, whether acoustic or electric, would cease to be jazzy if it abandoned the one thing that keeps it tied to the relative, albeit extreme, petty-bourgeois level - namely, percussion. Jazz, of whichever variety, is the wedding of pagan rhythmic vitality and consistency to either tonality or atonality produced on mostly artificial instruments, formerly saxophones and trumpets, latterly electric keyboards and guitars; though the two kinds of instruments, corresponding to an earlier and a later manifestation of the artificial, often overlap in practice. Jazz is simply incapable of evolving beyond petty-bourgeois criteria. It cannot be the ultimate music since, to all appearances, it is a penultimate music, relevant to an extreme relativistic civilization. Beyond and above modern jazz must come the universal proletarian music of electric atonality.
Why should music progress to an atonal integrity? The straight answer to that is: in order to escape from rhythm and thus be in the best possible position to intimate of the Divine Omega, that is to say, to impress rather than to express. Melody reflects an atomic integrity to the extent that it is composed of rhythm and pitch - the former horizontal, the latter vertical. Melodic music is therefore quintessentially relative, a compromise, as it were, between rhythm and pitch, which is only possible and morally acceptable during an atomic stage of civilized evolution. Before this compromise arose, music was absolutist on the horizontal level of rhythm, a music of the soul, feminine and sensuous. After it has passed, music will become absolutist on the vertical level of pitch, a music of the spirit, masculine and intellectual. Such music can only be atonal, or non-melodic, the complete antithesis of pagan music, having transcended rhythm in its absolutist dedication to pitch, whereby a musical impression of the transcendent will be achieved. That is the moral significance of atonality, and such atonality can only be truly transcendent, and therefore in the best position to intimate of the Divine Omega, when projected from an electric basis - the most artificial, or synthetic, technical medium.
By contrast, jazz never abandons the percussive root and is consequently always part expressive. When atonal and electric it can be predominantly impressive but, as already noted, it would cease to be jazzy (and thus to swing) if ever it became exclusively so. There are, of course, jazz albums which abandon the percussive root intermittently, and certainly this can be said of the now-defunct American band Weather Report. But, overall, jazz predominates on such albums within any particular composition, and must necessarily continue to do so, in the context of relativistic civilization. Conversely, when the melodic or atonal apex is abandoned, as it often is on albums that feature a drummer in the role of band leader, the resultant music sinks beneath jazz to a purely rhythmic level, approximating to the pagan, and may be defined as the most evil music conceivable. Again, jazz usually predominates on these albums, and sometimes the overall balance is such that pure rhythm will be preceded or succeeded by pure pitch or, at the very least, unaccompanied melody. For it often happens that one extreme calls forth another, and certainly I can think of a number of compositions in which frantic rhythm from the drums is countered by electric atonality from either sax, guitar, or keyboards, so that the impression created is of a music in which the parts are at loggerheads and seemingly indulging in a musical tug-of-war between rhythm and pitch, alpha and omega. This is not, to say the least, a particularly laudable situation! But neither, for that matter, is the analogous context of a 'melody' at war with itself, now predominantly rhythmic, now predominantly atonal, and indisposed to the preservation of a melodic compromise, or classical balance. And yet these situations mirror the evolutionary struggle which is constantly taking place between rhythm and pitch, as between evil and good, soul and spirit, in an extreme relativistic age. Such struggles are also taking place in European classical music, though, as a rule, on less radical terms.
When we ask ourselves what it is that makes jazz a serious or civilized music, I think the basic answer has to be: its commitment to instrumentality, and therefore relatively high degree of artificiality. Vocals do of course occur, but usually as a minor rather than a major ingredient in the overall instrumental scope of an album, as pertaining, on average, to one or two tracks, and then more usually of a religious connotation - one compatible, needless to say, with petty-bourgeois criteria. For it is virtually axiomatic that to be civilized, particularly on the extreme relativistic level we are discussing, music must be either exclusively instrumental or accompanied, in part, by vocals of a religious significance. An album of romantic songs, on the other hand, falls somewhat short of the civilized by dint both of its excessive commitment to the voice - a natural instrument - and the sexual or emotional content of the songs. Being civilized, at whatever stage of class evolution, is to a large extent synonymous with being religious (spiritual), though being sophisticated is a subsidiary requirement more likely to find favour among materialists, whose music, while being exclusively or predominantly instrumental, isn't consciously intended to convey a religious notion. No doubt, much of the jazz I characterized, a short while ago, as materialist, through its dependence on acoustic instruments, is only entitled to consideration as a civilized music on account of its technical sophistication. But by this fact alone it stands in an inferior relation to its spiritual counterpart, whether of the tonal or atonal varieties.
While we may therefore be justified in discriminating between the civilized and the barbarous, as between jazz of one kind or another and such popular romance-biased kinds of vocal music as blues, soul, funk, reggae, rock 'n' roll, pop, rock, and punk, it often happens that respected jazz musicians abandon the civilized level not for the barbarous as such - though the incorporation of, say, rock elements into jazz creates a 'fusion' music which may broadly be defined as bourgeois/proletarian - but a kind of popular petty-bourgeois level, implying the production of albums with a preponderance of vocals, and vocals, moreover, of a romantic and/or sexist nature. And yet, as a rule, these musicians cling by a slender thread to their civilized roots, even if ambiguously, and retain at least one track of either pure instrumentality or a vocal bias whose connotations are distinctly religious. With the greatest, most civilized jazz musicians, however, there is little or no concession to the popular at all. Musicians like Jean-Luc Ponty and John McLaughlin have been producing a succession of instrumental albums year after year. They are fast becoming something of an exception in the realm of modern jazz, a small minority of the consistently civilized. Perhaps it is no mere coincidence that both Ponty and McLaughlin are European?
And yet a European in jazz is almost as unusual as an American
in classical, not merely in terms of performance but, more significantly, of
composition. Why is it that, just as
there were so many great European classical composers in the twentieth century,
there were, comparatively speaking, so few great European jazz composers in
it? And, conversely, why should there be
so many great American jazz composers but, by comparison, so few great American
classical composers? Is not the answer
to both these questions that whereas classical is pre-eminently a European
phenomenon, jazz is an American one pre-eminently, and that, though
cross-fertilization does occur, the mainstream commitments to each type of
music will be regional, accruing to the continental divide. The American jazz composers who adopt
classical influences are as rare a breed as the European classical composers
who adopt the influence of jazz. Rarer
still are the American classical composers and the European jazz composers,
both of whom, though working in an alien tradition, sooner or later tend to
bend their respective types of music back towards their native influences, so
that American 'classical' becomes jazzy (Copland, Gershwin, Barber, Bernstein,
et al.), whilst European 'jazz' becomes classical or, at any rate, retains a
respect and proclivity for classical procedure (Ponty,
McLaughlin, Catherine, Weber, Hammer, Vitous,
Akkerman, et al.). And this no less so
when the composer/performer concerned has spent many years on the other
continent, particularly in the case of European jazz musicians who have
emigrated to or chosen to work in