November 4, 2013

"Why didn’t Ellington consider his music jazz?"

Kathryn Jean Lopez asks Terry Teachout, who says:
His problem was specifically with the word “jazz,” which for his generation (he was born in 1899) still had strongly sexual connotations. Ellington believed that such ostensibly vulgar labels would prevent jazz from ever being taken seriously by artists, critics, and scholars, so he tried to come up with a different way of referring to the music. At one point, the label he preferred was “Negro folk music.” Needless to say, it never caught on.
Here's Teachout's new book "Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington," which contains the sentence — Teachout's second favorite of his sentences, he says — “He talked not to explain himself but to conceal himself.”


gadfly said...

On the other hand, Ellington must have considered his jazz to be music.

Carol said...

The double CD Duke in Fargo is awesome, except for his lame singers. It was recorded live on acetate at a routine road gig in 1940.

Anyway, I recall when rock bands didn't really embrace the term "rock 'n' roll" either. "Rock" was Chuck Berry and stuff. It was a time around 1970 when groups took themselves very very seriously. I think it was 80s hair bands who finally embraced it.

David said...

Duke also considered his music to be symphonic. Which in many cases it was, though not always following the traditional forms. He wrote and performed some long pieces.

David said...

Carol, you dewy child, Bill Haley, Elvis, the Beatles and many others embraced the rock and roll nameplate.

One of the Beatles--Lennon I think--said at the height of their experimental and creative fame that in their hearts they were just a good little rock and roll band. Which they were.

In the early 60's, when they were just coming to fame, the Beatles did a series of BBC live gigs playing rock and roll standards in the standard way. I have all the shows and they are fabulous.

Bob R said...

I have the book, but have not finished it. I love the fact that he spends so much time on the band members. Much more relevant for someone like Ellington than for Armstrong (Teachout's last subject) who in more of a soloist. I have a few quibbles with Teachout's points of emphasis concerning Ellington's struggle with long form composition. Other than that, excellent so far.

Carol said...

David, but after the Beatles and Stones, bands became "psychedelic" or "blues" or whatever. I don't recall people referring to Hendrix or Zep or Cream as *mere* rock. The term just went away for awhile..then came back. I think as artists become more self-conscious, they eschew the most logical category for their music. Which is what Duke was doing.

Lennon was always very upfront that he was a rocker.

St. George said...

It does not mean a thing if it is lacking the correct nomenclature.

Plus, one must always travel by a underground conveyance whose designation is that symbol with which the English alphabet begins.

JRoberts said...

About eight years ago - just before I moved from Southern California to the Atlanta area - I found a great little jazz station that originates from Cal State Long Beach, but also streams over the internet.

By listening to it, I've learned so much about this incredible art form that is uniquely American. Unlike SiriusXM or iTunes radio, the DJ's really love what they play and seem to have this deep appreciation for what jazz is.

Ellington, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Vince Guaraldi, Ramsey Lewis, Sinatra, Louis Armstrong - a what a rich heritage!

Titus said...

I feel a teany bit sorry (not really) for Katie Jo Lopez. The 40 year old virgin is surrounded by all these conservative men and not one wants a peek of her cooch. She goes to PAC's and cruises and interviews all the conservatives but she doesn't get any.

She constantly falls in love with these politcos and yet...nothing.

That has to hurt.

Mick Havoc said...

Once giants roamed the earth. We listened to the truly gifted and took them for granted.

Now we listen to Kanye West

I am not enjoying the decline

St. George said...

"Don't Get Around Much Anymore"

B.B. King and the Ellington Orchestra

The Crack Emcee said...

Mick Havoc,

Once giants roamed the earth. We listened to the truly gifted and took them for granted.

Now we listen to Kanye West

I am not enjoying the decline

Here's my step-father playing with Duke.

I would suggest, after your insertion of Kanye West into the canon, that what's declined is your ability to appreciate great music as it unfolds historically - in other words, listening to the truly gifted and taking them for granted - again.

It's no mistake Kanye's last album was considered brilliant, while still labeled as "difficult" listening, because artists schooled in Jazz aren't in popularity contests, but credibility contests, and he'd won that already. Oh fuck it - let me cut to the chase:

The day it was declared Rap wasn't music was the day the debate over quality was lost.

So, if you don't understand what you're listening to, just say that, but keep claims of "decline" pointed directly at yourself:

My old man would've loved Kanye,...

JoyD said...

So the Duke didn't appreciate the term "jazz" -- what an old time gentleman. Love his music, in all its various incarnations.
Thanks, J.Roberts, for the tip about Cal State Long Beach jazz station. In return I recommend Wyoming Public Radio. I'm always saying to my husband, playing music during his marathon kitchen sessions, "this is great stuff" and he says, "it's Wyoming" and I say "of course".
PS, we're from Ohio.

Mick Havoc said...

Point taken.
I'm just old.
Now I know how my dad felt when he first heard the stones. ;)

Brian said...

I think what we're really looking at here is a question of certain artists transcending the boundaries of the particular style for which they first gained prominence.
Tom Jobim is known as one of the founding figures of Bossa Nova, but a quick visit to the Instituto Antonio Carlos Jobim website will quickly show that his creativity far out reached that stylistic classification.

Steely Dan is a rock band, but so much more…
It has been said that the recently deceased Jim Hall (RIP) was not a jazz guitarist but a jazz master who played guitar—once again, listen to his chamber and orchestral works…

What is jazz, anyway? My father, who played guitar and banjo in English jazz bands from the 1920's on, always maintained that jazz after the late 1930's was "not jazz as i know it…" And yet he loved Thelonious Monk, go figure!

"It ain't what you do, it's the way how you do it"