JAZZ STUDIES Jazz Consciousness: Music, Race, and Humanity. By Paul Austerlitz. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2005. [xxii, 260 p. ISBN 08195-6781-7. $24.95.] Videography, discography, bibliography, index.
We ask a lot from jazz. To some commentators, jazz is definitive of twentieth-century Americanness, with Ralph Ellison characterizing American life as "jazz-based." To others, jazz is the epitome of the musical avant-garde, indeed central to "the great modernist tradition in the arts" (Alfred Appel, Jazz Modernism: From Ellington and Armstrong to Matisse and Joyce [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002], 7). During the Cold War, jazz was the United States' "secret sonic weapon," as touring musicians helped proselytize Third World domino countries to counter perceptions of American racism (Penny von Eschen, Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004]). And in the music's early decades, jazz was at once, to many young white Americans, a marker of earthy, streetwise hipness, and, to some cosmopolitan urbanites in other parts of the Americas, emblematic of sophisticated North American savoir faire.
Paul Austerlitz seeks to thicken this well-seasoned stew further with Jazz. Consciousness: Music, Race, and Humanity, which takes jazz's multivalence as a foundational premise. The book's somewhat portentous title accords with Austerlitz's ambitious aims. The theoretical touchstone of his project is the often-cited passage from W. E. B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk that casts African Americans as gifted with "double consciousness," born of their status as both black and American. As Austerlitz deploys the concept, however, Du Boisian doubleness is actually tripleness: jazz is African American, American, and transnational. These discrete but overlapping layers of identity are brought into dialogue through the concept of "consciousness," which Austerlitz introduces as something like a Weltanschauung, or as he puts it, an "awareness, mind-set, worldview" (p. xiii). "Jazz consciousness," he argues in his introduction, "creates a virtual space where we can confront, learn from, and even heal the contradictions resulting from social rupture" (p. xvi).
The book's odyssey very much tracks the author's own, which he describes as "a scholar-musician's journey." At a very early age, the Finnish-born Austerlitz moved to the United States, where he grew up listening to both European- and African American-influenced musics. He later became active as a jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, and bass clarinetist and was inspired by the Black Nationalist politics of the free jazz movement. Austerlitz, trained as an ethnomusicologist, is also an active performer and scholar of Latin music, with several publications on popular musics from the Afro-Caribbean and especially the Dominican Republic, including his first book, Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997). The various thematic strands of Austerlitz's biography-Afro-diasporic musicality and musical politics, the intersection of jazz and Latin American musical styles, Finnish cultural identity, the relationship between musical and academic performative spaces-parallel the structure, content, and argument of Jazz Consciousness.
Austerlitz outlines the book's theoretical framework in his first chapter, an exploration of "the larger phenomenon of North American jazz consciousness" (p. 1). The windup to this pitch is a slightly plodding survey of some fairly well-trodden terrain: the difficulty of denning "jazz" and musicians' ambivalence toward the label itself; the social constructedness of American and African American national identities; and "creolization" in the United States and its consequences. Austerlitz seeks to establish that in a country whose diversity has produced both social antagonism and the unparalleled opportunity for cross-cultural exchange, jazz is a singular vehicle for the elevation of individual and collective consciousness. In stark contrast to "the European tendency to exclude and categorize, to keep music in separate pieces," and "atypical of dominant trends in the United States," jazz consciousness represents an African-influenced "strategy of comprehensiveness" (p. 17), "a virtual space of inclusiveness created out of necessity by musicians contending with an exclusionist society" (pp. 19-20). Austerlitz's case in point is the career of Eric Dolphy, who, like the author, was a multi-reed player. He explains how the progressive musical approach of Dolphy, whose image appears on the book's cover, integrated his interests in European art music; rhythm and blues, bebop, and avant-garde jazz; and Hindustani classical music. "While it was marginalized," Austerlitz concludes, "Dolphy's art embodied holistic musicality manifesting 'planetary humanism' " (p. 24). In chapter two, "Rente Cloth to Jazz: A Matrix of Sound," the author erects a second pillar of his argument: "aesthetic links between jazz and other African-influenced musics." Borrowing from art historian Robert Farris Thompson, Austerlitz characterizes the "visual rhythms" of West African kente cloth and the circular Sanskrit symbol known as the mandala as "visual equivalents" of the interdependence, collectivity, temporal cyclicity, and "responsorial structures [that] underlie Afro-diasporic musics" (pp. 27-29).
Two hazards of the kinds of sweeping claims and broad categories on which Austerlitz's first two chapters depend are reductionism and selectivity, pitfalls to which Austerlitz, despite his frequent caveats, often falls prey. On page 18, for example, he writes: "African Americanness has thus been a culture of shrewd improvisation based on all materials at hand." He echoes the views of E. Franklin Frazier (whom he acknowledges), Amiri Baraka (whom he does not), and the brilliant multi-percussionist Milford Graves (whose first-person account comprises the book's final chapter) in noting how "members of the [black] middle class, embraced European-derived culture so fully that they lost touch with their own vernacular traditions." But is this purported rejection of vernacular traditions simply a matter of "losing touch" or might it also suggest a much broader range of aesthetic preferences than is habitually ascribed to "the black community"? Furthermore, need "improvisation" under adverse circumstances be attributed to "African Americanness," or could it, in accordance with the author's own professed beliefs, be a more cross-cultural response to discrimination? In fairness, the author acknowledges the latter point, though only as a somewhat peculiar, unintegrated afterthought about the improvisatory skills of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European classical musicians (p. 20).
The notion of jazz consciousness as fundamentally inclusive itself seems to grow out of an overly idealized picture. Jazz's big musical tent has always encompassed discourses articulating exclusiveness as often as inclusiveness: the insiderness and willful, if playful, esoterica connoted by song titles like Charlie Parker's "Klact-Oveeseds-Tene"; the ambivalence and even hostility of many African American modern jazz musicians in the 1950s toward traditional blues; the only gradually waning resistance to acknowledging the formative influence of Latin musics on jazz; among other examples. Austerlitz admits that "the inclusiveness of jazz consciousness is not absolute," pointing to the marginalization of women and the exclusiveness of black nationalist musical collectives (p. 18), though again only as a fleeting and somewhat perfunctory non sequitur. It would appear that to Austerlitz such evidence of the all-too-human complexity and contradictions of jazz culture, its openness and limitations, its promise and false promise, are but exceptions to the rule, mere speed bumps on the road to conviction.
The three central chapters-individual studies on Machito and His Afro-Cubans, jazz's aesthetic affinities with Dominican popular music, and the reception history of jazz in Finland-are the strength of the book. In particular, Austerlitz's third chapter, the most extensive English-language study to date on Cuban bandleader Francisco "Machito" Grillo, his brother-in-law and musical collaborator Mario Bauzá, and their seminal Latin jazz band, is the book's highlight and will likely become required reading for future undergraduate or graduate courses covering Latin jazz. Austerlitz weaves scores of Spanish- and English-language sources that would ordinarily be difficult to come by into a coherent biographical narrative. The chapter's central message is Machito's and Bauzá's conscious goal of " 'marrying' Cuban music to jazz" (p. 56) to create a creolized style that was neither strictly Cuban nor strictly jazz. Motivating this marriage, Austerlitz claims, was "Machito's vision of Afro-diasporic unity" (p. 71), the desire to create a band "ideologically based in the African diaspora" (p. 93). Adapting Charles Keil's model, Austerlitz distinguishes between "authentic," "stereotyped," and "expropriated" Afro-Cuban culture, repeatedly mapping the distinction between "real" and "stereotyped" culture onto a black-white dichotomy. Complicating this picture, however, is the unaddressed fact that from Louis Armstrong's recording of the Latin dance band standard "El manicero" as "The Peanut Vendor" to Kenny Dorham's album Afro-Cuban, and beyond, African American jazz musicians, too, have played "stereotyped" Afro-Cuban music.
The determination to shoehorn varied, if jazz-related, topics into an all-encompassing thematic framework-inclusiveness and Afro-diasporic musical affinities-often distracts from the richness of the content. Chapter 4, for example, on jazz consciousness in the Dominican Republic, is an interesting account of "the importance of the saxophone in merengue" (p. 110) that documents efforts by innovative musicians like Luis Alberti, Tavito Vasquez, and Carlito Estrada to fuse rural merengue styles and jazz. The ironic development of jazz-tinged big band merengue against the backdrop of the Dominican Republic's notoriously "Hispanicentric ideology" is a fascinating one. Austerlitz's indulges an unnecessarily rigid either-or, however, when he insists that the "aesthetic link between early merengue and jazz . . . results from shared [African-derived] musical ingredients rather than from North American influences" (p. 100). It seems limiting to characterize the scores of merengue saxophonists who were avid students of jazz recordings as first and foremost musicians "alive to the living links [in] the diasporic soundscape" (p. 105).
Austerlitz's chapter "Rhythm Music: Jazz in Finland" adds to the growing body of scholarship on jazz in Europe (e.g., Jeffrey Jackson, Making Jazz French: Music and Modern Life in Interwar Paris [Durham: Duke University Press, 2003]; and Mike Heffley, Northern Sun, Southern Moon: Europe's Reinvention of Jazz [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005]). As in other countries, jazz in Finland has its own idiosyncratic history: from the initial popularity of a novelty style, "noise-jazz," influenced by German cabaret music; to the "schoolboy bands" that played music more directly modeled on the "hot" jazz of the 1920s; to the accordion-led dance bands of the 1930s and 1940s that gave an indigenous twist to American popular music; to the "Finnish Latin music explosion" in the 1950s. This chapter presents some of the most compelling evidence for jazz's "doubleness." As one Finnish writer observed somewhat stereotypically, though still provocatively, through jazz, "Negroes have taught us to see that every-day Americanized life can be full of rhythm, color, and joy" (p. 130). Particularly interesting is how this chapter highlights the peculiar social and cultural associations that accrete to various musical styles and genres (e.g., how the tango became and remains a symbol of Finnish musical identity) and further underscores how political antipathies have historically been at the core of cultural nationalism-whether Germanness as anti-French, Dominicanness as anti-Haitian, Americanness as anti-Communist, or Finnishness as anti-Russian.
Austerlitz lets Milford Graves have the final word in his last chapter, an edited transcription of taped interviews with Austerlitz's undergraduate professor at Bennington College and "a seminal influence" on his work. This chapter reflects the encouraging trend in jazz studies toward a revised picture of musicians as not just single-minded artists "lost" in their work, but as broadminded, intellectually engaged, and politically conscious citizens of the world (see, e.g., Eric Porter, What is This Thing Called Jazz: African American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists [Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002]). To an even more personal extent than Dolphy, the musical outlook of Graves exemplifies the inclusive jazz consciousness the author has in mind. Proficient in West African, North Indian, Afro-Cuban, and jazz drumming styles and a key member of the jazz avant-garde in the 1960s and early 1970s, Graves is a man of tremendous intellectual curiosity, having, in 2000, received a Guggenheim Fellowship to support his electrocardiographic studies of "Biological Music." Above all, Graves is an apostle for autodidacticism. Though his narrative is wide-ranging, perhaps even motley-moving freely from self-healing to quantum mechanics to the sociopolitical meanings of free jazz-Graves's skepticism of systems, predictability, convention, controlled environments, and beaten paths is a regular refrain. The degree to which readers find Graves's conclusions illuminating or persuasive will undoubtedly vary, but his intrepidness as a musician and as a thinker is impressive nonetheless.
In his introduction, Austerlitz expresses his hope that "this book will reach beyond the ivory tower and speak to music fans, players, and readers from all walks of life" (p. xix). Perhaps to this end, Austerlitz advises that the book's six chapters, while best understood as a whole can also be approached as a collection of individual essays. This is good advice, since the structure of the book's content is at once its biggest obstacle to success and its saving grace. Austerlitz's attempt to accommodate multiple parables in one sermon brings together some often informative stand-alone studies that hold together rather tenuously as building blocks of a more sweeping argument for the exceptionalism of jazz.
Carnegie Hall, New York, NY…