Hounding Out The Jazz Traitors

In his foreword to the new edition of The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Jazz, trumpeter WYNTON MARSALIS invokes the spirit of Louis Armstrong and lambasts the “primitives” and “jazz rockers” who have betrayed the truth and the tradition of the music.

LOUIS ARMSTRONG: my home boy. Yes, Pops, the father. Louis Armstrong gave Americans and the whole human race some insights into rhythm and into personality that were different from anything that ever existed before. He defined swing and refined improvisation to such a high human degree that he provided the inspiration for people all over America and all over the world to want to swing and want to improvise. Because he was a great artist, Louis Armstrong gave humanity profoundly accurate information within the context of a brand new art form: JAZZ.

In a era like ours, when ignorance and falsehood wear so many crowns, what we need now perhaps more than ever is accurate information. In the interest of truth, we now find ourselves in an era of growing rebellion against the aesthetic denigration that jazz that began when major figures started making fools of themselves and dupes of their listeners. Instead of them refining and elaborating the integral elements of their idiom, those culprit major figures diluted the substance of their art in the name of expansion.
Much of that willingness to dilute a vital art form came from the belief that was mutually held by the Third Reich and Henry Ford: that history is bunk and ca be ignored in the pursuit of purely selfish goals that offer no illumination into experience other than further proof of the human capacity for corruption.

But the point of art is not to cultivate but to combat corruption. As Ralph Ellison has pointed out, craft is a substantial aspect of morality. Consequently, the musician who offers the innocent and willing listener an artefact in sound that shows no respect for craft or tradition is being more than inept, is being more than a sell out; this musician is actively corrupting the sensibility of the listening public. And, as the Third Reich proved, determined corruption can lead to catastrophic events.

The corruption we began to face after the misinterpretation of Ornette Coleman’s innovation, and after the anger jazz musicians felt towards the success of English rock groups, resulted in a fraudulent cult of the primitive on one side and an equally counterfeit musical dialogue with adolescent passions knows as jazz-rock, now “progressive” jazz. The cult of the primitive disdains instrumental technique, harmonic knowledge, specific study of Western forms and of other idioms that they pretend under the battered flag of “world music” to have incorporated into their own so-called art. What distinguishes this cult isn’t innovation but the unarguable inability to perform on a professional level in any jazz situation other than the eccentric corner they have so successfully painted themselves into for the last 20 years. The purveyors of “progressive” jazz, of jazz-rock, form a peculiar aesthetic androgyny.

I say these things not out of opinion but from experience. I have stood on bandstands with cult of the primitive frauds and know, in great detail, how little they have mastered of the specifics required to consider yourself a musician. Owning a scalpel does not make one a surgeon. I also grew up playing in jazz-rock groups. We didn’t pretend to be making art; we knew we were only making money. That fact in and of itself separated us from those sellouts who claim to be extending their art instead of their assets.
Fortunately, things are changing and the fugitives from the boot camp of unswerving discipline and dedication can feel the breath of bloodhounds. Yes, in the corners of America, north, south, east and west, there are growing numbers of young musicians who are aesthetically arming themselves with the weaponry necessary to overthrow this runaway regime of degeneration. It doesn’t matter whether the musicians are men or women, Smitty Smiths or Teri Lynne Carringtons; they are gathering. I recently heard Philip Harper, a young trumpet player, and Don Braden, a young tenor player. Each of them was dead serious about this music. I knew then that what Louis Armstrong gave us all was inspiring another crop of artists who would inspire even more musicians to provide the accurate human information the is the purpose and function of all art. I was also confident that they would some time soon be included in a book like this.
It Don’t Mean A Thing, If…


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