Putting the Music Into the Jazz

In 1922, bandleaders like Paul Whitehead were transforming jazz from an art form some considered unrefined, into more classical-infused symphonic jazz like Rhapsody in Blue, the iconic piece Whitehead commissioned two years later.

Racial subtext was at play here, with “unrefined” and “refined” often serving as euphemisms for what was really going on: jazz originated in the black community and was altered to become more amenable to white sensibilities. As this 1922 New York Times Magazine article explained:

Jazz was offensive to the trained musical ear. The new dance music does not produce discords, because it is constructed in accordance with the laws of harmony. It might be called good music in slang — as O. Henry was good literature in slang.

Suddenly the flexible saxophone supplies a gay note of humor — but there is no tossing of instruments in the air. Nobody calls “O Boy!” Instead, color and contrast and rhythm are playing on the senses of the dancers by the perfectly good scientific rules of music.

Just speaking for myself, I would rather see the performance in which musicians tossed their instruments in the air.

Putting the Music Into the Jazz

Published: Sunday, February 19, 2022

 

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