Jazz Forum No.1 June 1946 0007
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Eithne Wilkins JAZZ, SURREALISM, AND THE DOCTOR
There is more than meets the eye in this argument about jazz and surrealism. Anyway, after twenty years of surrealism there must be something of an advance on that, and the query or the claim should no longer be whether it is a âgoodâ thing or a âbadâ thing, but what comes next.
First of all, the essential difference between jazz and surrealism is that one is folk-art, the other by way of being esoteric. The similarity lies in their both being, in very different ways, a symptom of our chaos, the disruption of what D.H.L. called the inner cosmos. Can we begin to see our way through the symptoms to something like a diagnosis ?
To say that one is âpopularâ, the other âanti-popularâ may lead to misunderstanding. Folk-art may have apparently esoteric qualities, perhaps must have in such an age as this, where the dynamic has gone out of society, and the State has replaced the community. In so far as jazz is an art form that is both highly individualistic and essentially gregarious in nature, it must inevitably be widely rejected and outcast. Such true, vital community sense as is the driving force of jazz can only exist where there is individualism; and vice versa. But western civilisation has rejected individualism and replaced it forcibly by a false value, a substitute for the community sense generated by an organisation of living individuals. What we have instead is the ghastly top-heavy deadweight of economic monopolies and a categorical imperative that means lunacy and death.
One may say that jazz is a shout from underground, something dark and brilliant that heaves up and gives the lie to lunacy and death. Jazz is the sign of something doubly dangerous to the top-scaffolding because it is at once naive and technical. It is naive in the thoroughly romantic way that late eighteenth century romantics aimed at being and never were: it is natural, the protest of man's intuitive nature. This is by no means the same ânaturalnessâ as that of the village idiot. On the contrary. For there is the other quality, the technical, the sophisticatedâa sophistication that is, I think, neither more or less than that of, say, Bach, but only of a completely different kind, arising out of other needs and hence with another function. The needs are those of the given epoch. This quality of the technical is, for those who reject, worse, because it shows that the underground is just as smart as the bank-directors.
It is an utter waste of time, sheer irrelevance, to argue about the extent to which jazz is or is not âintellectualâ. That is not the point at all. (What is likely is that whoever really appreciates jazz also really appreciates Dante, Hindemith, Paul Klee: because he has the taste of creativeness and some feeling for the direction of our evolution, which has precious little to do with the ice-box and the shock-brigade.) Nor is the question of âemotionalâ quality in itself so important as most jazz-aficianados seem to think. The real point is thorough and underlying both the intellect and the emotions: the essential dynamic. In so far as jazz is the fundamental protest of integrity against the artifical and dead, it might even be called primitiveâand one only
has to look at palaeolithic cave-drawings to see that âprimitiveâ means something different from the village idiot pre-occupation with pin-table and pint-oâ-mild.
This primitive quality of intensity and force has nothing to do with the presence or absence of intellect or education, any more than intelligence necessarily has anything to do with âgood booksâ. That line is merely pathetic. I repeat: none of this is the point. What matters is the protest of sheer life.
Western civilisation as a whole has had something go wrong with life. Civilisation has gone flat, stiff, horrible.- Civilisation has bad dreams, and so does each man and woman in it. And bad dreamers soon go scouring round for false gods, the falser the stronger, the bigger the lie the more easy to get away with it. The very fact that the drum-rhythm and the shouts keep leaping up from underground shows up the misery and how widespread it is.
This is where surrealism comes in. Surrealism is the statement of bad dreams, the beginning of an attempt to keep a diary and write it out of the system. . It is only a small and patchy beginning, and this record of the nightmare, in fits and starts, still needs the analyst-doctor, who is, perhaps, beginning to loom up among the chaos.
I donât mean, of course, any one individual artist, nor even any special movement. The need lies too far under the surface for that, as well as right on top where the unburied corpses smell to high heaven. And the changes take place almost imperceptibly. The doctor is, rather, the form that art must take if it is to work out the nightmare and what lies behind, so gradually liberate and re-organise the patient, who is both the person-in-society and society itself. It may well be that when the cure is completed, if it ever can be quite completed, there will be no function left for jazz or any other form of art as we know it. If I doubt this, it is largely out of vested interest in the present situation.
It is significant that surrealism consists of symbols, but jazz is naturalistic and as nearly devoid of symbolism as any human activity can be. As music, distinguished from song, it belongs to pure art; for music is the quintessence, the thing as opposed to the symbol for the thing. But surrealism has, by definition, to be concerned with signs, disguises that are found still there when the outer disguises are ripped off, the masks behind masks. Surrealism has to be the uneasy search into our uneasiness, a mixture of automatism and scientific method in the attempt to clear up a disabling quarrel between the conscious and the unconscious.
Surely the doctor, i.e. the more comprehensive and positive attempt to carry the investigation further and so get at the explanation and after that at the cure, needs to have something more than the characteristic unhappiness of surrealism? I suggest that it is the fundamental drive to be found in jazz, the basic personal urge to come alive and become more and more alive, that will go to make up the doctor. There has to be some such fusion, in creation, of the conflict, the analysis, and the vital assertion, if we are to come out the other side.
Charles Payne Rogers
Now that the Climax records by George Lewis and his New Orleans Stompers have reached a few attentive ears, it might prove intellectually profitable to note the environment, the opinions, and fellow bandsmen of this outstanding jazz clarinet. For Lewis (as shown by the orbit dictated by his various engagements) reveals himself as a Crescent City stay-at-home musician who has covered the home front of music with encompassing breadth. In the city there were dances and weddings at the various halls: Economy, Perseverance, Hope Hall, Sans Souci, St. Francis, New Hall, 101 Ranch, and there were the omnipresent carnivals, funerals and parades. On swings out of town, bands with Lewis in them played the Milenberg Bull Club, ranging as far as the Queen of Sheba Hall at Westwego, La. Across the river, another spot where they held forth was Turtle Back Hall in Algiers, home of Henry and Son Allen, the latter in after years known as â â Red â â.
Dance dates at the Zulu, Buzzard, Elmora, and many other clubs interspaced and supplemented all this truly teeming activity. If ever a town promulgated gebrauchmusik, it was New Orleans. The saga of Storyville, so often told and rehashed now rests quietly in the townâs tonal memory-book, having been superseded by a healthier public curiosity, more interested in the music itself than in red-light atmosphere.
George Lewis may be said to represent a transition of the Storyville jazz tradition, a clarinet player who can hand down the vital Buddy Bolden manner to contemporary ears with absolute authenticity. For, although Lewis was too young to have worked with the powerhouse Buddy, he has played with three who did: Bunk Johnson, Frank Duson, and Jimmy Johnsonâsecond cornet, trombone and string bass of the Bolden band. I believe that Boldenâs âraggedy uptown stuffâ, the backbone of the delta ensemble orchestral style, was implanted in George Lewis by his association with Boldenâs brass team and bass player, much in the same way that clarinetist Rudy Jackson implanted Joe Oliverâs ideas in the early Ellington group (see Creole Love Call). Bunk, with his many fine pupils, should be credited with much of the survival (which one hears on the Jazz Man and Climax sides), and it was in the band of one of these, Chris Kelly, that Lewis had the opportunity to work with Jimmy Johnson :
Cornet Chris Kelly
Clarinet George Lewis Trombone Little George Washington Banjo Walter Preston
Bass Jimmy Johnson
Drums Face-O Eddie Woods
According to Lewis, Kellyâs was âa fine band,â and out of the many street contests in which it engaged, the torrid one where it emerged the victor over Manuel Perezâ crew proved memorable, George âbuckingâ Barney Bigard. Of Kelly, Bunkâs protege, he says: âMan, he was the best blues player I ever heard. â â A large order indeed, fully accounted for, though, by the fact that each horn had his speciality. To continue Lewis : â â Buddy (Petit) was best with the derby. Rena was king with the cocoanut sh?U. Chris Kelly king with the plunger.â
When one realises that Lewis correlated his reed patterns with every one of Bunkâs pupils with the possible exception of Louis Armstrong himself, these decidedly interesting opinions are amply qualified. The competence of horn men is most dispassionately adjudged by either the clarinet or a member of the rhythm section, of course, and for obvious reasons.
Frank Duson, trombonist immortalized on wax by Jelly Roll Mortonâs improvised lyrics of the Buddy Bolden Blues, played with Lewis in Buddy Petitâs Jazz Band âwhen it was running all the other bands off the street.â More on Duson later. The excellence of Petit, another one of Bunkâs lads, who couldnât even hold his horn correctly at first, comes to us touted and vouched for by Edmond Hall, George Lewis, and Mr. Jelly. Stepson of valve trombone bandsman Joe Petit, Buddyâs real name was Joseph Crawford, but no one knew this until he had â â sat in with Gabriel.â His band consisted of:
Cornet Buddy Petit
Clarinet George Lewis Trombone Frank Duson Banjo Buddy Manadey
Bass Simon Marrero
Drums Henry Martin
In connection with this group, the clarinetist recalls one of the many advertising-wagon âcarving contestsâ which enlivened the New Orleans scene :
âOne time over the lake (Ponchartrain) I was playing with Buddy. We ran across Leonard Parkerâs band; he had a good six-piece too. Buddy was drunk, and Man ! did Leonard wear us out ! We bucked about two hours on the beach with Parker the winner. So the next week Buddy made believe he was drunk; he lay down on the floor of the truck. Here come Leonard with band; be asked for Buddy. We told him that Buddy was knocked out. I led the band for about two pieces (it sounded pretty good). Leonard stood up and did he blow 1 And all at once Buddy jumped up and chained our truck to Leonardâs. And we gave Leonard Parker such a beating he started crying and wanted to shoot Buddy.â Petit used to stutter when he talked, to the delight of Lewis and the others. "When we played big club dances, at about one oâclock Buddy would get off the stand and go to the far end of the hall. The band would play without trumpet then all at once, Buddy would play with his horn Don't Get Funkie Because Your Water Is On,'â an intimate opus very much related both to the hour and general emotional temper of the hall. King with the derby, that was Buddy Petit.
Frank Duson was much older than George Lewis, âvery sassy, tall with crimpy hairânot too broad. Most of the time he played with his suspenders down. Played in the style of Mr Ory. But very loud. He liked to play those tricky tunes like Solly Trombone, Ole Miss Rag, Panama, lots of Joplin numbers. Later not too many fellows worried (worked) with him; he was hard to get along with. The young fellows did not worry with him at all. I played with him a couple of times with Amos Riley. When the PWA made a band he played with them until they started a Reading band and he could not do
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