Early jazz commentators in the 1920s: some gems

In the 1920s, many critics of early jazz came from the classical field or were trained in reviewing dance orchestra dates. As jazz was developing, plenty of uninformed commentators raised their hands with something to say about it. In most cases, symphonic jazz was considered a significant advance upon primitive negro jazz and collective improvisation, and these writers were eager to see how jazz would divorce from dance and become part of the classical jazz idiom.

Here's a small selection of some priceless comments:

"The negro, with his unusual sense of rhythm, is no more accurately to be called musical than a metronome is to be called a Swiss music-box" (George Jean Nathan, Comedians All, Knopf, 1919, p. 133).

"We have before expressed our conviction that the trouble with Jazz -the best Jazz, according to the showing of the Palais Royal-ists themselves [Whiteman's band] is its conformity, its conventionality, its lack of daring... it seems to us that this music is only half alive. Its gorgeous vitality of rhythm and of instrumental color is impaired by melodic and harmonic anemia of a most pernicious kind. Listen to Mr. Archer's "I Love You" or to Mr. Kern's "Raggedy-Ann", or to Mr. Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue" (Lawrence Gilman, Music, New York Tribune, February 13, 1924).

"Jazz rhythms shakes but it won't flow. There is no climax. It never gets anywhere emotionally. In the symphony it would either lose its character or wreck the structure. It is exactly analogous to the hoochee-coochee" (Virgil Thomson, Jazz, American Mercury, August, 1924).

"Jazz is lacking the most important source of rhythmic variety in serious music, namely, variation in the length and shape of phrases, with artistic use of figuration" (B. H. Haggin, The Pedant Looks At Jazz, The Nation, December 9, 1925).

"We should not, however, jump to the conclusion that because of its extraordinary rhythmic gift alone the Negro dancer and musician should be taken seriously as an artist. Rhythm is not, after all, an art in itself" (André Levinson, The Negro Dance Under European Eyes, Theatre Arts Monthly, January-June, 1927).

"There is not, and never can be, a specifically jazz technique of music, apart from orchestration" (Ernest Newman, Summing Up Music's Case Against Jazz, London, printed in New York Times Magazine, March 6, 1927).

"America is a purveyor of the most dreary, the most brainless, the most offensive form of music that the earth has ever known (jazz!!!)" (Ernest Newman, Music And International Amity, Vanity Fair, April, 1930).

And to end this list, here's the last word, the ultimate comment:

"American music if not jazz. Jazz is not music" (Paul Rosenfeld, An Hour With American Music, J. B. Lippincott, 1929, p. 160-166).

(selected comments taken from the essay Consider The Critics, by Roger Pryor Dodge, included in Jazzmen, edited by Frederick Ramsey, Jr. and Charles Edward Smith)

2 comentarios:

  1. ¡Qué cosas hay que leer!
    Precisamente ayer leí en un libro Críticas de periódicos de París Cuando se estreno Carmen de Bizet: Pusieron la obra por los suelos. Bizet se murió al poco tiempo. Pienso yo que de pena. Por cierto la Habanera de Carmen se llama "EL Arreglito" Y fue compuesta por el español Sebastián Yradier. Bizet Creía que era un tema.
    sin autor, popular, y lo metió en la Ópera.
    Juanjo González

  2. Thanks for this reminder that critics are sometimes deafened by the roar of their own minds. There is no accounting for taste, perhaps, but it's not hard to notice that those with their heads up their xxxxx usually have tin ears.