Is jazz cultural appropriation
An album has just been released that could seem like a greeting from bygone times - had the past times not been so modern. The American trumpeter Don Cherry, who was born in 1936 and died in 1995, plays on this recording, which was made in Copenhagen in October 1965, together with four Danish musicians. You belong to the staff of the jazz club "Montmartre". A few weeks later, Don Cherry was supposed to record the record "Complete Communion" in New York, one of the first great works of free jazz. In Denmark, however, as the album "Cherry Jam" shows, things were more conventional. The jazz specialist listens to "hard bop", everyone else listens to a mostly fast-played, rhythmically strongly accented jazz variant that focuses on the trumpet and saxophone solos. You can also hear that the trumpet sometimes leads the action, but the four other musicians, each for themselves, perform their own and do not stand back from their imported colleagues.
In rock music, the bands rule. Soloists sometimes emerge from such fixed units, and more often the musicians in a band stay among themselves and mainly play together. Jazz works differently. His associations are more temporary, with a group gathering around a leader to record an album or to go on tour. Then you go your separate ways again. As early as the next session, the leader can become a "sideman" or the accompanying musician can become the boss.
For this to work, two prerequisites are necessary: a large, but simply structured repertoire that everyone knows, and mastery of your own instrument. Dilettantes have a hard time in jazz, but the freedoms for experts are all the greater. Everything that sounds good or interesting is then possible.
Duke Ellington and Miles Davis didn't like the term "jazz" at all
Don Cherry, the son of a Choctaw and a black man, traveled to northern Europe for the first time in 1963 to perform with local musicians. He stayed for a few weeks or months, returned to the United States, traveled again to Copenhagen or Stockholm, to settle in Sweden in 1967. He stayed for many years, including the pocket trumpet. Dozens of then young Swedish jazz musicians went through his school. And he was not alone: the saxophonist Stan Getz had lived in Copenhagen, where he was followed by the trumpeter and band leader Thad Jones. The pianist George Russell lived in Stockholm, where bassist Red Mitchell was also at home. At least a dozen names could be added to the list.
The close ties between the American musicians and their white companions from the north of Europe soon produced a form of jazz of their own: In 1961, Stan Getz transformed the Swedish folk song "Ack Värmeland, du sköna" into a jazz ballad, which she gave Title "Dear Old Stockholm" making it the jazz standard. Such mixtures even gave rise to their own sub-genre: Nordic jazz. The first track from Don Cherry's new, old album, a composition entitled "The Ambassador from Greenland", also bears traces of this jazz variety.
Regarding the old, but current question in the context of the ongoing discussions about identity, discrimination and participation, whether playing jazz for non-black people is actually a case of impermissible "cultural appropriation", the Don Cherry case is an interesting one for the history of jazz but not at all unique tangent. Which, however, only makes it more interesting for the discussion.
The roots of jazz are immovable in African music. Everything that is characteristic of jazz can be traced back to black, African origins: polyrhythmics, polymetrics, the question-and-answer dramaturgy. Jazz is a creation of black musicians. The two most important jazz musicians, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, understandably disliked the term "jazz" at all, because its roots in English slang on the American west coast at the turn of the century, which in their opinion would inadmissibly blur the music's African roots .
The access of the black jazz musicians to the white song material was of course a kind of self-defense
On the way from Africa to the middle of Western music history via the slaves who were deported to America, the history of jazz is, however, also the history of the interpretation and thus appropriation of popular entertainment songs from the first half of the 20th century, originally composed by whites were: "All Of Me" for example, "My Funny Valentine" or "Autumn Leaves". An essential working basis of jazz is therefore the so-called "Real Book", a collection of around 500 "Lead Sheets", simplified representations of melodies and chord progressions of the standards. In the light of the current debate, it could also be called a handout for cultural appropriation of all kinds. As a slip collection it was illegal for a long time because it was not licensed by the songwriters. The sixth edition, available today, no longer contains any copyright infringement.
The access of the black jazz musicians to the white song material, which is also part of the history of this side of appropriation, was of course a kind of self-defense. The melodies of well-known white hits were also the trick to be heard in a society dominated by whites, blacks and their culture, of course. Duke Ellington, born in 1899, son of a Washington head waiter, played as a dance musician for a mainly white audience from the late decade on. A song repertoire of black blues, completely unknown in this world, would not have worked.
With too simple concepts of identity and cultural appropriation you will not get too far in jazz. Rather, on the African basis, the challenging, dazzling bursting, supplementing and transforming traditions and identities is an integral practice of jazz.
Incidentally, the ballad "You Took Advantage Of Me" is one of the small works that Don Cherry and his Danish pack recorded in Copenhagen. It was written in 1928 by the white composer Richard Rodgers and the white lyricist Lorenz Hart. It goes without saying that it has long been part of the "Real Book". Don Cherry puts the ballad in his version on the album on a long series of fast, pointed notes. The lyrics of the song are: "I'm so hot and bothered that / I don't know my elbow from my ear" - "I'm so excited and confused that I can't tell my elbow from my ear". The song is about a loss of identity. It is performed by Don Cherry, however, with great self-confidence.
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