Music vs. Words

9 Dec

Trumpeter Nicholas Payton wrote in his blog last week that Jazz was dead. It generated a big buzz. Many people didn’t get his point, which was addressing the word jazz and not the music. My take on this is rather simple.

1. Jazz is a word. The music that was played by Minugs, Parker, Trane or whoever, was never a word. It was music. Words are assigned to music to make it compatible for discussion, and also for marketing. That’s OK. But the essence of music lies outside the realm of words – otherwise we wouldn’t have needed music.

2. Anyway, we do use these words (Jazz, Rock, and so on) which unsuccessfully try to capture something that can’t be captured. Since we use the words, we can have a discussion about their meaning, relevance and effectiveness; But it will be a discussion about language, not about music.

3. My personal agenda is: what I care about is creating amazing music and presenting it to the people. I don’t worry about definitions. I compose, practice, perform, and do my best to repeat this endlessly, intensely and creatively. When this is being done, I don’t care what’s it called. Whether the word ‘jazz’ will be alive, dead, asleep, or googling itself, my artistic and spiritual goals will remain the same.

4. This is a racial issue. As I’ve said I don’t care so much about genre-names, but Payton is trying to make a historical point. To be very clear – when I play Jazz, of course I’m playing Black American Music. I never felt anything else. If Payton (or anyone) feels the word Jazz is a generalization which leaves Blackness out, it’s worth pondering. I’m not saying the word Jazz should be replaced, but at least the point should be understood for what it is.

Paul Motian, 25 March 1931 – 22 November 2011

I would have felt weird if I only discussed the death of a word, or an idea, in the same weeks of Paul Motian’s actual death.

Paul was one of the greatest drummers since human expression is documented. I won’t link to any specific video, but I’ll just say that I’m playing more hours a day, more intensively, and with more awareness these days, partly inspired by him.


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