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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 17, No. 1. March 4, 1953

"Some Great Mass of Warm Yeast"

page 10

"Some Great Mass of Warm Yeast"

Music has been defined by a certain optimist as "pleasing sounds." Others disagree, but there can be no argument if we say that music is merely a series of sounds persisting for a certain length of time. That observation is necessary for there are two musical groups at Victoria—the Jazz Club, and the Musical Society, and while the members of each are agreed that the noises they themselves produce are pleasing—nevertheless, there is not the same fraternal unanimity concerning those noises which the other group produce.

The disdain which many classicists have for jazz, and which in return, many jazzmen have for the classics, though it might be the cause of good music, stems in fact from a disregard of the common inspiration of these two forms. A glance through the writings of modern authorities on both classics and jazz—in its true form—will show that there is a very ready realisation on both sides of the close inter-relation between the two.

Classical music is written music. It springs from an emotion or inspiration in the composer which he will attempt to infuse in the performer, by means of symbols and words written on paper.

The performer, or in the case of the orchestra, the conductor, must attempt to reproduce that emotion to the fullest extent of his capabilities in order to pass it on to his listeners for their pleasure and Government. As a result there arise all the different interpretations of the Mime piece of music, and the worth of these may be Judged from their emotional intensity.

In jazz the music is created contemporaneously with the emotion and is more closely dependent upon it. True jazz is improvised, and is best performed by a small group because it is almost impossible for a large number of musicians to feel at the same moment an emotional experience so similar that the piece they are playing will be an integrated unity. Thus the need in large orchestras for a conductor, whose worth is measured by his ability to imprint on the members of the orchestra his own opinions and feelings concerning the music.) The bands of Duke Ellington. Louts Armstrong in the early part of his career, and Fats Waller, are sufficient examples of this jazz.

Jazz Valid...

It must appear then, that even if a person dislikes jazz he must admit that it is a musical form as valid as the classics so loved by the gentlemen with the long hair.

Robert Coffin expresses the point this way: "In classical music, the composer is the prime element—In jazz, it is the musician." But both forms are founded on sincere emotional experience.

Critics find it hard to agree perfectly on a comprehensive and limiting definition of jazz, but all without exception are sure of one thing. When Andre Coeuroy says: "Improvised Jazz is the most potent force in music at the present time." he is not referring to the syrupy product which exudes from the radio like molasses out of a tin on a hot day and the amount of skilful and scornful invective which men like Hughes Panassie and Charles Delauney pour on commercial music easily surpasses the pronouncements of classical critics for sheer ferocity.

Popular music la more stereotyped mass of warm yeast which has impregnated itself into every nook and cranny of our society. It is present as a commercial product for which clever men have created a demand, and having created it spend vast amounts of money to ensure that the demand will never wane. They have bought genius and talent, which are bent solely to the purpose of creating new variations on a theme. The product sells well and the result—more money.

Popular music is more sterotyped than a block of tenement houses. Twenty-four hours of the day it is "plugged" by disc jockeys, radio stations, hit parades and publishing houses. It is with us and is part of our society—like "True Romances," and the "B" grade "quickies," and as long as there is a demand for it popular music as it is today will never disappear.

...But Pop's Stereotyped

It have said that our brand of popular music is stereotyped—as far as lyrics are concerned this may be seen simply by examining the words of any six or seven "hits." The presence of the eternal theme, treated in thinly disguised variations, is only 100 obviously apparent in-all of them. Separated from the appeal of the appeal of the vocalist, and the slick orchestration, the words fail natter than a belly flop. The music consists of a thematic formula, as varied as the whine of an electric saw, and is embellished with superficial novelties taken from classical music and from jazz. For example the attractive eight beat coda, which is the "Amen" of ninty-nine per cent of commercial music, was brought into prominence by Jelly-Roll Morton, the rag-time pianist, as early as 1911. There remains the presentation of these songs, and it must be admitted that in this much thought and effort has been spent in sugar-coating the product for the jaded taste of an almost satiated public. Percy Fath's arrangement of "Delacado," Mantovani's arrangement of "Green-sleeves," the Les Paul and Mary Ford novelty and Ben Knight's performances on the Steinway are, in their own ways, masterpieces of presentation. "They provide piquancy for a huge mixture which is uniformly as flat as last year's home brew.

If are to speak of music then, we will speak of Beethoven and Bartok, of Goodman and Grapelly. That mass-produced opiate—commercial music—may be left without concern in the hands of Big Business and the Schools of Dancing.