[Dixielandjazz] Dadaism

Rob McCallum rakmccallum at hotmail.com
Wed May 28 18:49:37 PDT 2003

Hello all

I agree with David Richoux.  Dadaism and early jazz have many connections.
Both achieved popularity during the disillusionment following WWI.  The
dadaists rejected the notion that society was a steady stream of
chronological improvement through the ages and that the slaughter of WWI
proved this.  Therefore, the dadaists were basically pointing out that the
presumptions of the art world up to that point (what is, is not, art and or
great art), had to be re thought, because the premise that mankind was
advancing was false.  Even though the cynical humor of the dadaists is what
is generally remembered today, drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa was
actually a very serious statement underneath.  I think they viewed
themselves at the beginning of a new aesthetic as much as at the end of an
old one.  The same can be said of early jazz.  It was revolutionary and
completely at odds with what the mainstream of both concert hall and popular
music was "supposed" to sound like.  If Livery Stable Blues isn't the
musical equivalent of penciling a moustache on the Mona Lisa, I don't know
what is.

As well, the Dada movement was very short lived as Surrealism came on, but
the surrealists were interested in jazz also.  People like Breton were doing
experiments with so-called "automatic writing."  The whole modernist notion
that what is real takes place in the moment and is a product of one's psyche
(Virginia Woolfe, James Joyce etc.) is mirrored in jazz because jazz is an
improvised music.  How much the musicians themselves thought about this, or
thought like this, seems to be negligible, but that these ideas were
discussed and that jazz was adapted by many of the "modernist" thinkers and
artists of the day does establish a connection.  I think this is one of the
reasons why the "Lost Generation" and the "Jazz Age" are used almost
interchangeably.  The process of an improvised music that rejected the staid
structures of the past fit well with the "intellectual" mood of the time.
Many period literary works make reference to jazz  and have characters who
are jazz musicians.  For a really interesting "modernist" read, one of my
favorites is Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf.  Hesse creates a very interesting
jazz musician character in the bizarre and intriguing landscape of the text.

All the best,

Rob McCallum

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list