Duke Ellington Orchestra British Tour – October 1958 005
Pages 6 and 7 of a souvenir brochure for Duke Ellington's tour of Britain 5th - 26th October 1958, presented by Harold Davison and Norman Granz. Both pages feature an article by Duke Ellington on the future of jazz.
|Catalogue Reference Number||NJA/PRO/6|
|Title or Caption||The Future of Jazz|
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Which way is jazz going?
Questions of this kind are never easy to answer, and in this case it might be easier to answer another question, namely : where is jazz coming from? Because one of the most important
distinctions between the musical scenes of yesterday and today is that the average young musician nowadays comes equipped with conservatory experience, with a background of educational equipment that is way out ahead of the training most of the musicians had not too many years ago.
As far as the future of jazz is concerned, it is by no means certain that this will be the only factor in determining which way things will go. Whether jazz will be more folk-like in nature, or less, whether it will be less or more mechanical, is not important. What is important is that it must live, and the only way it can live is with the existence of an ever larger and more keenly interested audience, to give it the support that must always be its life blood.
Jazz, like any other form of art, has to be subsidized. If there are more intelligent listeners, of course, it will move in a more intelligent direction. This does not necessarily mean, however, that it will leave the realm of folk music and tend to move into a more mecawque type of thing.
Recently 1 was asked whether I felt that jazz had moved a great distance away from its folk origins. With the present state of rock-and-roll music I donât know how anyone can even consider asking such a question! Rock-and-roll is the most raucous form of jazz, beyond a doubt; it maintains a link with the folk origins, and I believe that no other form of jazz has ever been accepted so enthusiastically by so many. This is probably an easy medium of musical semantics for the people to assimilate. Iâm not trying to imply by this that rock-and-roll shows any single trend, or indicates the only direction in which things are moving. It is simply one aspect out of many.
I have written a number of rock-and-roll things myself, but am saving them for possible use in a show. As far as my own music in general is concerned, 1 would categorize it as Negro music. It represents what 1 absorbed as a child and have grown up with among the people around me who were musicians ; and beyond that, my own self and my surroundings have been injected into it.
There have been many rebellions concerning our music through the years. As far back as 1933, when I said 1 was playing Negro music, some critics complained â Sophisticated Lady is not Negro musicâ. But the fact remains that Sophisticated Lady is Negro music its the Negro / know, and my interpretation. No matter how many controversies may rage about the direction in which our music, or jazz in general, is going, the music will continue to develop along natural lines. Some of it may become more complex, and some of it will remain simple. There will always be some kind of folk music around, be it rock-and-roll or hillbilly music.
Actually the word â simple â is sometimes misleading and is subject to many interpretations. Take, for instance, a recent composition entitled Night Creature. We gave this number its premiere a few months ago at Carnegie Hall, performed by our orchestra combined with the Symphony Of The Airâa total of 111 men. Despite this, I feel that Night Creature basically was done in quite a .simple manner. It could have been developed into something far more complex, and elaborate ; but essentially it tried to tell a rather simple story in fairly simple language. The main purpose of it was to try to make the symphony swing, which I believe we did very successfully.
What we did with Night Creature was, in effect, a new argument, on a much larger scale than ever before, against the theory that jazz cannot be written. There are still a few diehards around who believe in this ; in fact, not long ago I made up a little story to interpret their attitude. There was a little raggedy boy out in the middle of a field. He was wandering through the grass and Stumbled over what appeared to be a black stick. He picked it up and sat down under a weeping willow tree. We, of course, know that it was a clarinet he was holding ; but he didnât know what it was. But somehow or other, intuition told him to just blow on it and when he blew, out came jazz. And that's the way jazz is supposed to be, according to these diehards it s not supposed to be prepared or planned in any way. (
Another theory they hold is that there is such a thing as unadulterated improvisation without any preparation or anticipation. It is my firm belief that there has never been anybody who has blown even two bars worth listening to who didnât have some idea about what he w'as going to play, before he started. If you just ramble through the scales or play around the chords, thatâs nothing more than musical exercises. Improvisation really consists of picking out a device here and connecting it with a device there, changing the rhythm here and pausing there ; there has to be some thought preceding each phrase that is played, otherwise it is meaningless.
So, as I say, jazz today, as always in the past, is a matter of thoughtful creation, not mere unaided instinct; and although it is impossible for me or anyone else to paint any accurate picture of things to come, I am sure that it will develop into something very big and beautiful. It will be a combination of the contribution of all those people who are supposed to have natural ability, and the work of all those who come out of the conservatories to add their embellishments.
As you may know, I have always been against any attempt to categorize or pigeonhole music, so I wonât attempt to say whether the music of the future will be jazz or not jazz, whether it will merge or not merge with classical music. There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind. Classical writers may try to write in the jazz idiom and jazz writers may venture into classical territory, but the only yardstick by which the result should be judged is simply that of how it sounds. If it sounds good itâs successful; if it doesnât it has failed. As long as the writing and playing is honest, whether itâs done according to Hoyle or not, if a musican has an idea, let him put it down on paper. And letâs not worry about whether the result is jazz or this or that type of performance. Letâs just say that what weâre all trying to create, in one way or another, is American music.
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