[Dixielandjazz] ESR: jazz survives mainly as fuzak

Edgerton, Paul A paul.edgerton at eds.com
Mon Nov 15 16:24:43 PST 2004

Rob McCallum wrote:
> But it's not because of a "decay" that Punk rock or trash novels or Kenny
> G or Jerry Springer or whatever exists, it's because people have the
> freedom to express and define themselves.  Defining "art," or "literature"
> or "music" is entirely up to each individual in this era.

I can't argue with that. But ESR's point was that certain "Genius Artists"
broke the connections with popular taste that kept an art alive -- and
funded. Once somebody like a John Coltrane has turned away from popular
appeal, his many lesser imitators will produce derivative music having
neither art nor popular appeal and  drive away the audience. In other words,
a genius can get away with -- and even make attractive -- things that in the
hands of lesser talents become distasteful.

Clearly there was no such thing as a mass market for music 100 years ago.
The only way to hear music was at a live performance, or perhaps a piano
roll. Musicians were acutely aware of the audience's reaction to their work.
Part of Louis Armstrong's genius is that he broke new musical ground and yet
was immensely popular. This was probably driven in part by Louis's desire to
please -- and be loved by -- everybody. In a sense, Louis himself was shaped
by a kind of patronage system.

Sid Vicious, on the other hand, is a very good example of the imitators that
ESR thinks are destroying art. If Rock and Roll music was at first a popular
form of musical protest, then Sid Vicious has stripped as many of the
popular elements as possible leaving only protest -- protest against
anything popular or musical.

Perhaps as we move from an era of mass-markets into one of micro-markets,
the role of the audience will once again become decisive in guiding the
growth of artists. (Anybody care to discuss this idea?)

> The author is using the term "popular culture" as coded text to justify
> his romanticizing of a supposed lost cultural era.  Had he been alive
> 200 years ago, he'd have probably been equally disappointed.
If you mean to say that ESR is an elitist, I will readily agree. His
cultural frame of reference is very different from the one most DJML readers
know. I sincerely doubt his conceptual map is similar to ours. The trick is
to factor that out and see if there is anything we can learn from his point
of view.

Beethoven gave public concerts, and some of the things he did outraged his
audience. He had disdain for the patronage system ("There is only one
Beethoven!"). And yet his music spoke to people, and did so in a lasting
way. But then, he was a genius, not an imitator.

-- Paul Edgerton

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