Twentieth Century Music: How it Developed, How to Listen to It

By Marion Bauer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVII
JAZZ AND AMERICAN MUSIC

JAZZ, for better or for worse, is a twentieth century American product. It has come to be a generic term rather than to specify a type. Every one knows what it is but no one will undertake to define it.

Whether we like it or not, Europe considers jazz the one original contribution that America has made to modern music. And to Europeans, music is not typically American unless it reflects the Negro or the Indian. The composers abroad appreciated, especially after the War, how rejuvenating it was to introduce a primitive impulse into a tired sophisticated music. Stravinsky had done it by means of going back to pagan Russia; Bartok had uncovered a new melodic impulse through his studies of Hungarian folksong; Debussy listened attentively to the exotic harmonies of a Javanese gamelang. Jazz was another American shot that was heard around the world! And it has beaten its insidious rhythms into every corner of the globe.

Darius Milhaud said that jazz was like a beneficent thunder clap which cleared the art-sky. His tribute to jazz was his ballet La Création du Monde. In it he realized a project to release jazz from the narrow confines of the dance. He even dreamed of writing a jazz symphony, but wrote the ballet instead.

Stravinsky, in his Concerto for Piano, has the same curious combination of Bach and jazz influences which Milhaud used (page 236). The vigorous rhythm which characterizes all of Stravinsky's neoclassic works was present in Le Sacre du Printemps, but later it took on something of the jazz individualities and was widely imitated. The Piano-rag-music, Ragtime, Histoire du soldat, all reflect jazz.

Debussy, too, was interested in this curious American popular

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