Magazine article Gramophone

Music and Ethical Responsibility

Magazine article Gramophone

Music and Ethical Responsibility

Article excerpt

Music and Ethical Responsibility

By Jeff R Warren

Cambridge UP, HB, 213pp, 60 [pounds sterling]

ISBN 978-1-107-04394-7

Ethical jazz is a term first coined in the 1990s by the former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway. More accurate but also more misleading would have been jazzy ethics, in which principles of good improvisation are applied to social relationships. The bassist and academic Jeff Warren works the ground in the middle with an approach that would be easy to caricature as hippie interconnectedness, though in fact it's the very opposite of The Muppets' bass guitarist, Floyd: 'Hey, man. Just play the gig. Never get involved in politics.'

Had Warren been aware of Holloway's model, he would likely have grouped it with other noble attempts by non-musicians to use an idealised vision of musical behaviour to solve bigger problems. Free jazz might enable its participants to 'be themselves' within a group structure but we can't all be John Coltrane. Even if we wanted to be.

At the heart of Warren's book and argument is an account of improvising at a gig, his actions and reactions at the time and his reflections afterwards, drawing on the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty to show that training and knowledge and first principles will only take us so far as musicians and responsible people. What's needed is a perception of self, space, time, colleagues and audience that goes beyond 'being a good listener', avoids self-consciousness and continually works to break and then reform habits of interpretation.

What does that mean for us? Warren attacks the primacy of the score, in favour of a holistic approach that arrives at the same clearing as Celibidache from the other side of the forest. His focus on improvisational music-making may perplex the Bach-to-Boulez school of listener but he is not unaware of the pitfalls awaiting any grand, unifying theory. Not all musical situations demand the personal relationship between performer and listener that he holds as exemplary. In their different ways a One Direction stadium concert and a Ferneyhough festival both draw an audience and then ignore them, which is fine for everyone concerned. …

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