Whither jazz without the church?

NPR played a nice piece on currents in jazz, the dropping of the boundary between different approaches to jazz. They played a piece by an Indian-American, a Desi, that sounded great to me. I do not easily listen to jazz that strays too far from its roots. But this was fine.
My question is, as we get more and more jazz musicians who did not grow up in the Black church – earlier a basic element in the musical education of jazz musicians – and did not grow up playing the games, esp language games, of Black children, will they bring the same approach to jazz that has been the hallmark of that genre? Many musicians in the past without that background have become giants of jazz, so that question is settled but in the context of the vast majority of jazz artists coming from that culture.
This is not to say that jazz cannot go off in other directions just as rock and roll did, becoming first more country aka White with the rockabilly stars like Elvis; then becoming more avant-garde and experimental and meeting the emotional needs of an entirely different fan e.g. heavy metal.
But then we begin to wonder how to use the word jazz. My own musical taste was determined in large part by an early experience in a Black church. We do see, for instance, Indian-Americans like Kamala Harris who are raised in both the Desi and African-American cultures. But I am thinking more of people who fall in love with the music of jazz but without that early background in the most elementary forms: the blues and church music.
I can no longer say I like rock and roll, b/c most people will not think of the early rock and roll of Fats Domino and Chuck Berry, neither one esp “Black” in a cultural sense but intensely Blacker than a young grunge artist from Seattle (watch someone slam me for musical ignorance – is grunge still around?) They will assume I am talking about the current Top 40 and so forth.
Music changes, no doubt. Hip-Hop I like, lots of Rap I am not drawn to although both are clearly directly out of the deepest African-American tradition.
So Whiter Jazz? is not a clever or poignant title b/c it’s been used so often but it does express my wonder at how the music derived from the clash of musical cultures during the Slave Trade goes through so many changes but at its root, at its heart, you can still find in videos from West African cultures the basic elements of jazz.

I just finished Traces of the Spirit by Robin Sylvan and he shows the directions that African-derived music has taken, primarily rock as exemplified by the Grateful Dead, house music and disco, rave, heavy metal, and hip-hop. While musically these genres do stray far from the musical principles of the African diaspora, they all contain one certain element – and this surprised me – the sense of entering another state of consciousness. In the church it is called getting the Holy Ghost, in Vodou and Santeria it is called being mounted by the god, but these genres Sylvan discusses all have in them elements of a emphasis on the body and its ability to be transported mentally into another sphere. All but Heavy Metal find this sphere filled with love and togetherness, similar to the church experience, but even metal heads find release and comfort in the music (many state the music helps them not act on their dark impulses)

On Oct. 13 we’re supposed to go dancing and the conguero told me he’d like me to sit in with the band next time we come, so I’ll report on that in this context.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *