Quotulatiousness

January 22, 2013

Jazz has been shaped not only by musicians, but also by non-musical forces

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:42

Robert Fulford talks about some of the unexpected changes in society and how they impacted the evolution of Jazz music:

Marc Myers, who writes for the Wall Street Journal and blogs at JazzWax.com, shrewdly 
explains this process in his new book, Why Jazz Happened (University of California Press). He describes how events ranging from city planning to inventions in sound technology altered the nature of jazz during three decades beginning in 1942. In those 30 years jazz changed from an accompaniment to dancing and drinking to a concert-based performance art directed at careful, even scholarly listeners. Myers can give at least half a dozen reasons why this happened, beginning with the suburbs.

In California the sprawl of the cities did more than shrink the audiences for artists like Teagarden. It also redefined the way jazz musicians worked together. In New York they saw each other often, since most of them lived within a few subway stops. In California they were physically separated and saw each other less often. They had to plan their rehearsals and recordings with care. 
Arrangements became more important to them. And by the end of the 1950s West Coast jazz had its own smooth, orderly, distinctive style, music created by geography.

The G.I. Bill, by which the U.S. government paid the university costs of veterans, had an even larger effect. Under the G.I. Bill John Lewis spent years at the Manhattan School of Music and later founded the Modern Jazz Quartet, the most elegant group of the era. Dick Hyman studied music at Columbia and became a superb all-purpose arranger and pianist. Dave Brubeck learned techniques of composition from Darius Milhaud, a renowned French composer, at Mills College (And Brubeck never let you forget it.) Pete Rugolo, Nelson Riddle and Jimmy Giuffre made themselves musically literate with the government’s support.

They and their students and colleagues became a new community of broadly educated musicians, the first generation of that kind in jazz history. The government, by accident, altered the tone of an art form.

A single genius-level engineer changed the possibilities of jazz form more than anyone else. He was Peter Goldmark, a Jewish Hungarian immigrant who became the star of CBS Laboratories. His name doesn’t get mentioned in Why Jazz Happened, but Myers nevertheless pays tribute to his accomplishment. In 1948 Goldmark introduced the LP, the 33-1/3 rpm disc, which became the worldwide standard until the CD replaced it in the late 1980s.

Before Goldmark, musicians had been limited to single discs running three minutes. Improvisation had to be carefully limited. The LP record allowed them to write or improvise at much greater length.

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