Daily Archives: April 14, 2010

“MONSTROUS!” SHE SAYS

Lisa Ryan, who creates lovely impressionistic YouTube video-collages related to Bix Beiderbecke, sent along this quotation she found in a biography of Josephine Baker.  The speaker is dancer Isadora Duncan:

It seems to me monstrous that anyone should believe that the jazz rhythm expresses America. Jazz rhythm expresses the primitive savage.

I wonder what “jazz rhythm” she had heard in her days and nights in the United States, Paris, and Moscow.  Had she been terrortized by the primitive passions of Bechet, Miley, or Oliver, I would understand.  But I wonder if the music that so upset her was no more than a tea-dance band (violin, saxophone, piano, drums) one-stepping through STUMBLING.  Or did she get upset when someone read Vachel Lindsay’s THE CONGO aloud? 

Poor Miss Duncan: she didn’t go to the right places or hear the right recordings.  Would James P. Johnson’s SNOWY MORNING BLUES have struck her as “monstrous,” or the dancing of Bill Robinson?  Was her terror the fear of all things African-American?  I hope not. 

I must be off, to see David Ostwald and the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band devote themselves to the music of that “savage” Mr. Armstrong.  It will amuse me to envision Miss Duncan, clapping her hands over her ears and fleeing as the band begins its Wednesday night ritual of WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH.  Oh, what Isadora missed . . . !

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