Have you heard this recently, this ecstatic sustained outpouring of wise joys?

You can read the names off the record label before the music starts, so I don’t have to name the divine figures.

I nearly drowned in an online discussion this morning — what is the difference between “New Orleans jazz” and “Dixieland”?  That dangerous question quickly branched off into definitions of “Chicago jazz” and “true traditional jazz,” with small mutterings about “two-beat” and “four-beat.”

Gentlemen (for they were all male), these names were not invented by musicians.  From what I’ve seen in practice, the Ancestors did not go on the job or into the record studio and say, “Well, fellows, now we are about to create three minutes — or ten minutes — of Authentic _____________ (insert divisive name here).”

They might have said, “Here’s a song we love.  Here’s a good old good one,” but usually they referred to what they were doing as “playing music,” or — when things got too divisive — as “our music.”

(At this point, someone will expect me to repeat what Eddie Condon or Duke Ellington said about music.  I won’t.  My audience already knows those quotations by heart.)

I backed away from the online discussion because my GP is trying to get my blood pressure down, and such conversations are not good for me.  But I think of it this way: if your birthday present comes in a box wrapped with newspaper, and the present pleases you, do you need to obsess on the newspaper?

The nomenclature was invented by clubowners, record companies, journalists — to sell a product.  Music might be made into a product, but it is essentially a heartfelt personal creation, and arguing about the names for it ultimately has little to do with the art.  And such arguments fragment what is already a small audience.

So . . . call it what you will, if you must.  But realize that names are not the reality of what we cherish when we hear or play it.  And perhaps you might want to listen to that sainted recording once again.

P.S.  For once, I am going to exert imperial privilege — my blog is like my house, and if guests behave badly, I point them to the door.  So negative comments will not see the light.  And now, I am going into Manhattan — below Fourteenth Street — to savor some music.

May your happiness increase!

8 responses to “ART IS NOT THE BOX IT COMES IN

  1. Michael Hashim

    Yes, Michael! Much truth and wisdom here. A very valuable post: thank you!

  2. Happy Mother’s Day to one of my favorite Mothers!

  3. Wonderful post.  If you are inclined to permit, I might lift a bit of your wise text and print in the August or November edition of the Jazz Rambler.On a different subject, are you plannig to visit nola in its 300th year?  Best,   /paul

  4. jazzfoodreader

    Michael, may your happiness increase and may your BP decrease after an excursion into lower Manhattan. Oh, how I agree with you!

  5. You never have to ask permission from me, Paul. I’d be honored. There are some murmurings about a NOLA trip this summer. Sending love to you and the demure lJane at your side!

  6. A word, a mere syllable from dear LY always increases one and decreases the other, and in the best ways.

  7. John D. Smith

    Thanks for clearing the air.

    When in doubt, try music



  8. Michael, heaven forbid that any negative comment should sully the pages of your blog. You have increased my happiness a thousand times over, and this article is right on the money. I hate being asked what kind of jazz I play – there is no answer, short of offering a condensed musical autobiography and watching my questioner’s eyes glaze over with a mixture of incomprehension and boredom …

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