The Non-Classical Nature of America's Classical Music
Regarding Collier’s other “myths,” other problems arise. There is no need to challenge whether Americans appreciated jazz before Europeans. First of all, who cares? But secondly, this position assumes that African Americans are not included with the American collective. Other than the extremely religious community, most African Americans were great fans of jazz. Even within the church (although this is not largely acknowledged), many of the musicians doubled as jazz/ church musicians, which implies that even in the church, jazz was going on. Much of the repertoire of the early brass bands (particularly in New Orleans) was material influenced by hymns and spirituals. Collier’s notion reveals that by his conception, African Americans or the African American community was not considered a part of the America that Collier cites. There is no need to even qualify Collier’s perception of the racial tension in the United States. His notion is absurd. Collier’s perspective on whether or not musicians who fled to Europe and abroad found what they were seeking is greatly debated by the works of Bill Moody, Tyler Stovall, William A. Shack, Larry Ross and a host of others.
Returning to HR-57, perhaps we might find informative two important yet subtle points within the larger document. When listing six major impacts or contributions of jazz on the large scale, Conyers posits:
“3. [Jazz] is a true music of the people, finding its inspiration in the cultures and most personal experiences of the diverse people that constitute our Nation...”
“6. [Jazz] has become a true international language adopted by musicians around the world as a music best able to express contemporary realities from a personal perspective;”
As we seek to continue to honor the integrity of jazz and perhaps even follow the tenets of HR-57 to preserve, understand and promulgate the past, present and future of jazz, we might ask ourselves what story do we tell? How might we tell it? And how will the story be received?
Tony Bennett is right, “jazz is spontaneous, honest, and natural, and it is a celebration of life.” It perhaps is the greatest contribution created by a myriad of talented individuals who innovated, championed and protected an art form derived, nurtured and developed in the United States. It may well be the greatest contribution the United States has presented, is presenting and will continue to present to the world. But it is not “classical music!” To refer to it as classical music is perhaps one of the misrepresentations, distortions and misconstructions that Max Roach so adamantly refutes.
In his ever-growing infinite wisdom, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a 1964 speech at the opening of Berlin Jazz Festival titled, “Humanity and the Importance of Jazz,” remarked: “For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith. In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.” (http://www.hr57.org/pages/903831/index.htm)
Burns, Ken, Lynn Novick and Geoffrey C. Ward. JAZZ/ a Florentine Films Production, distributed by Warner Home Video, 2000
Collier, James Lincoln. The Reception of Jazz in America: a new view. I.S.A.M. Monographs: Number 27. Brooklyn, NY: Institute for Studies in American Music, 1988
Hasse, John Edward. Jazz: the first century. NY: William Morrow, 2000
Moody, Bill. The Jazz Exiles: American Abroad. Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press, 1993
Roach, Max. “Jazz,” in Freedomways: A Quarterly Review of the Negro Freedom Movement. Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring 1962
Ross, Larry. African-American Jazz Musicians in the Diaspora. Lewiston, Queenston, Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2003
Sales, Grover. Jazz: America’s Classical Music. NY: Da Capo Press, 1992. [Reprint of Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1984]
Shack, William A. Harlem in Montmartre: A Paris Jazz Story between the Great Wars. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002
Stovall, Tyler. Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000