PARIS, 15 April 2001
- Jazz is in the process of becoming the musica franca, the one
language spoken everywhere, a glue in the global village, the musical
common denominator; like English. It will not necessarily remain "America's
only native art form" forever.
The music is changing and
being changed by the music of the world around it. Maintaining
cultural exclusivity is difficult with today's fast-moving information
technology where everybody everywhere is able to hear everything right
- now. As somebody said, "The future is not what it used to be."
The momentum is there, the race is on, a new reality is
being talked about in many places - all over the place. The marriage
of jazz and the ethnic musics of the world can be seen through many
Bill-topping Turkish percussionist
revels in what is still seen by many to be political incorrectness. "I
am not classical, or folk, or rock or jazz," he is proud to say. "I
am just following my instincts." The former Ornette Coleman
bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma has teamed up with Ocal to make an album
called "Groove alla Turca," a title to be taken literally.
It features shuffle beats, funk, odd-metered rock and bebop trumpet
mixed with Turkish vocal techniques, a specialty of Ocal's. The music
fits Ocal's on-stage outlaw charisma - a sort of cross between an
Anatolian rocker and a Swiss gangster (he's been living in Zurich).
Tacuma puts it mildly: "Many varieties of ethnic music are in the
process of making themselves known to jazz."
jazz, musicians from Brooklyn to Capetown and Shanghai, no longer
divided by their own individual ethnicities, are able to communicate
with each other. More and more non-Americans are studying it. Close to
50% of the students at the largest and most prestigious jazz
conservatory, the Berklee
College of Modern Music in Boston, were born on foreign shores.
There are now university level jazz programs in Istanbul, Porto
(Portugal), Lexington (Kentucky) and Paris. And there are jazz schools
in Trondheim (Norway) and in Hanoi. The International Association of
Jazz Educators conducts larger and more culturally inclusive
conventions each year.
Rava has recorded excerpts from the opera "Carmen."
Another Turkish percussionist, Ocal's mentor the veteran
Okay Temiz, has
formed a band he calls "The Black Sea Jazz Orchestra."
French guitarist Nguyen Le combines jazz with the traditional music of
his native Vietnam. The Russian saxophonist
Chekasin, who can run chord changes worthy of Cannonball
Adderley, blows two reed instruments at the same time like
Kirk. At the same time, he avoids uttering the word "jazz"
as though it were some sort of contagious disease. Voted the most
popular jazzman in the USSR in the 1980s, Chekasin now says "I
still do everything the same - but different."
future, a film-maker like Ken
Burns will no longer be able to justify the subtitle "The
Story of America's Music" for a documentary called
Jazz. Not that its
history will become, in the American sense of the word, "history;"
meaning forgotten. With African ancestry and some European elements
added, the music has remained African American from Jelly Roll Morton
through the Marsalis
brothers. That foundation will remain while the superstructure
moves and evolves. So be it.
As a strictly "American
art form," jazz is beginning to grow fat. Other continents and
colors are insisting on a say. There are many more good people playing
it now in many more places, but less great ones. Direction is lacking.
The fight defending the image of jazz as the smartest branch of
popular music around is getting tougher. There's competition, and a
brain drain. Talented, motivated young instrumentalists learn to play
Brazilian, African and Indian music, among others, as well.
Conventional jazz formats - play the line, solo, take the line out -
are getting seriously tired.
Americans now learn how to play
in the odd meters common to the music of the rest of the world. (Even
a waltz used to be "foreign.") While the rest of the world
learns altered chords and Miles
Davis lines like "Donna Lee." So, although more people
are learning how to play it, it sounds different. Record producer
Manfred Eicher describes it as "music from the edge. From the Far
East or the Far North, for instance." His company
has been releasing music from the edges of jazz for many years: "Then
the edge moves to the center where there are people with good
antennas, and it becomes a new central fact." The success of the
process is not so obvious to
Zabor, author of the PEN/Faulkner prize-winning jazz novel The
Bear Comes Home: "Who knows if the worldwide fluidity
of communication will create amazing new opportunities or simply
dissipate the essences already preserved in different forms?"
The Tunisian lute virtuoso
Brahem has been teaming up with the jazzmen
Dave Holland and John
Surman, both British by the way. Listeners in Brahem's own country,
however, do not know what to make of his syncopated, 20th century
neo-African chamber music. Many Tunisians feel that he is not
respecting tradition enough, while he is sure he is extending it. "The
Arabic lute tradition had remained basically unchanged for centuries,"
Brahem says. "Other elements of our culture have been changing
very quickly, like everywhere else. People have been forced to adapt
to many new things. They want to hold on to some part of their
identity. In the past, traditional music has been at least one thing
they thought they could count on."
The future of the
music is growing out more than up. It may or may not be getting
better, but it is getting everywhere. Growth is horizontal more than
vertical. There appear to be no more
on the horizon - no giants with the required combination of humility,
strength and intelligence to lead a movement are emerging. On the
other hand you can now go to just about any city in the developed
world and hear a world-class rhythm section. (Thirty years ago there
was only one outside the US, in Paris, and that had an American
Nunez is from Galicia, a region in the northwest corner of
Spain. Galicia has an ancient Celtic culture like Scotland, Ireland
and Brittany. Nunez plays bagpipes that are cousins to the pipes in
those countries. He puts Galician music together with the blues and
Arabic, Gypsy and Jewish music from southern Spain. His albums sell
platinum, 100,000 copies in Spain. Nunez may be closer to rock than to
jazz - one critic wrote that he "plays the pipes like an electric
guitar" - but the term "world music" is expanding to
become a widely-defined reality as well as an over-simplified
marketing tool. "I love it when music is old and modern at the
same time," Nunez said. "Isn't it strange how all music is
connected somewhere along the line?"
Founder and owner
of the independent California-based record company Water Lilly
Acoustics, Kavichandran Alexander has produced collaborations between
Third World musicians and such extended-definition jazz names as
Fleck and Jon
Hassell. Putting two new edges together, Alexander, who is of
Tamil origin, produced what he described as "the first recording
- ever, of Indian and Chinese
classical musicians playing together." He also produced one
with Iranian and Indian classical musicians together for the first
time, ever. Creating this sort of new reality "has more meaning
to me than winning a Grammy."
New boundaries are being
crossed, and erased. Some ethnic fusions go back to
There is currently a klezmer revival. Jewish immigrants brought this
400 year old Eastern-European traditional music to America, along with
the Yiddish language. Klezmer was born in Odessa, which has been
called "the Russian New Orleans." Improvisation plays a
central role with klezmer (as it does with jazz, of course). For a
time you could dance to both. Benny Goodman was a working klezmer
musician before he came to be called "The King of Swing."
Everything is fusing with everything. At the same time, it
is important to remember that all branches of what we call Western
popular music can be traced back at some time or another to Africa.
From tango to rock 'n' roll to
The complexity at the moment is such that Africa is importing
African-based music, re-processing it and re-exporting it. Roots
become branches, and the branches grow into new roots.
well-known American jazz pianist and composer
said: "What I like about Africa is its variety. Africa does
not start south of the Sahara. There is as much African spirit in
Ghana as in Morocco." Weston has concertized with the Moroccan
master musicians of Jajouka, and with Gnawas from the southern Sahara.
He was invited to a Sufi
festival in Egypt, and then he went to Aswan to "spend some
time with the Nubians." An enthusiastic supporter, he relates to
Africa as though it's all one big home-town: "African music is an
enormous tree. It is our past as well as our future.
is more present in our lives than ever. Blues, samba, calypso, reggae,
salsa, jazz - Africa is everywhere."
Music plays an
essential social role in West African village life. By the age of
Bona was playing weddings, funerals and feasts in his native
village in Cameroon on a self-made guitar. When he was 14, he heard
that a Frenchman in the nearby town of Douala wanted to start a jazz
club. Although he knew next to nothing about jazz, Bona, a fast
learner, was recommended. He learned enough listening full-time to the
Frenchman's large LP collection to open in three weeks. Later he moved
to Paris and, playing bass-guitar now, toured with an international
assortment of veteran players like the American Brecker Brothers,
Sadao Watanabe from Japan, and Austrian-born
Joe Zawinul. Eventually,
moved to New York. Occasionally he tours Cameroon. Jazz is everywhere.
Mike Zwerin has been
jazz and rock critic for the International Herald Tribune for the last
twenty years. He was also the European correspondent for The Village
Voice. Mike Zwerin is the author of several books on jazz and the jazz
editor of Culturekiosque.com.