What Is Academic Jazz, Does It matter?
“Academic jazz” is a phrase that startles me. What does it mean? Today, jazz music, jazz dance and jazz poetry are mainstream academic subjects. Libraries of books on jazz theory, performance, improvisation, history, analyses, events, styles, and personalities abound. Many believe jazz, particularly in its bebop and Avant-Garde forms, is intellectual, making it suitable for academic inquiry. If public intellectual giants such as Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Cornel West, Jack Kerouac, Amiri Baraka, have been steep in jazz and its expression, it has to be intellectual.
Nevertheless, jazz music is not a creation of university departments or conservatories of music. It came out of Africa, a continent perceived as backward. Most of the earliest practitioners of jazz in the USA could not read nor write English or music. They learnt and played their musical crafts by ear. That said, we may confront with the question, does academic jazz or the jazz of academics matter? (more…)