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Democratic Jazz

June 2024
1min read

It was refreshing to read a historical point of view on jazz as America’s musical voice (“What Is Jazz?,” October 1995), and as always Wynton Marsalis proved an articulate spokesman for the art form when he made parallels between its history and the history of our nation: “Jazz is a music of conversation, and that’s what you need in a democracy. You have to be willing to hear another person’s point of view. … The connection between jazz and the American experience is profound.”

Nevertheless, the exclusivity Mr. Marsalis expressed left me very uncomfortable. While I believe the historical context was right on target, he has pointedly excluded from this view much of the creative music of the last thirty years. History will certainly view the era since the mid-sixties as an explosive, confrontational, complicated, and creative time, and I am disturbed that Mr. Marsalis’s statements about the so-called avant-garde movc’ment during this period are inconsistent with his thoughts on jazz as a democratic conversation: “Many so-called cuttingedge forms assault the listener. But that’s not the identity of jazz. … I don’t know any people who like it. It doesn’t resonate with anything I’ve experienced. …”

He goes on to talk of rock, country, and country blues as not being as representative of the American experience as jazz because of their lack of sophistication. This artistic elitism is not consistent with the democratic voice of jazz spreading worldwide, and I hope that these intolerant remarks will be read as Mr. Marsalis’s democratic right to an opinion and not as history.

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