Saturday, September 15, 2012

`Get Up and Caper Round the Room'

The musical culture of New Orleans as delineated by the New Orleans City Guide published by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration (1938; rev. ed., 1952):

“The music of New Orleans has been as varied and colorful as the nationalities which have made up its population. From the operas of Paris, Milan, and Vienna came the classics which gained such popularity in the city during the middle of the nineteenth century; from the West Indies came barbaric, rhythmic chants that evolved through a period of years into work songs, dance melodies, blues, and jazz; from Canada and the outlying French settlements came the Cajun songs. The Creoles, descendants of pioneer French and Spanish families, absorbed it all, and contributed, in their turn, light airs and whimsical melodies.”
I especially like the part about “barbaric, rhythmic chants.” In 1971, just months after Louis Armstrong's death, Philip Larkin reviewed two books about the trumpter for the Guardian. Titled "Satchmo Still," the review is collected in Jazz Writings (2004). Larkin writes:

"Of course he was an artist of Flaubertian purity, and a character of exceptional warmth and goodness. But has anyone yet seen him as the Chaucer, say, of the culture of the twenty-first century? While we are wondering whether to integrate with Africa, Armstrong (and Ellington, and Waller, and all the countless others) has done it behind our backs."

Some of the most memorably pleasurable moments in life – and they’re always moments, never hours or days – have arrived while I was listening to jazz, live or recorded, trad or modern, amateur or professional. I like Larkin’s understanding of the music as explained in “Credo,” a 1967 record review collected in All What Jazz (1985):
“I can recognize jazz because it makes me tap my foot, grunt affirmative exhortations, or even get up and caper round the room. If it doesn’t do this, then however musically interesting, or spiritually adventurous or racially praiseworthy it is, it isn’t jazz. If that’s being a purist, I’m a purist. And the banjoist can stand on his head for all I care.”

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