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I’d promised to return to this note for some comments on the relationship I see between jazz and Calvinism. Here’s a start: Calvinism started a trend in Christianity that’s spread to many sects since: belief in an Elect: some small number of saints, those with the “correct” faith. Capitalism and Communism are “religions” (that is, creeds that demand more faith than evidence), that picked up on the same zeit geist. Ditto every modern Western “in”-group.
Teens, another artificial product of industrial society, are forever modifying their slang. As soon as the alien adults start to catch on, they modify the slang, the dress, the walk …
Jazz musicians inherited a ready made lingo from a crio of West African and English dating from the slaving days of the 17th Century. The word jazz itself meant “fuck”: whore house music. (See note to NEWS.) Jive, dig, bug, hep …
To belong to the in-group that Charlie Parker originated within jazz, the movement known as be-bop, you had to be on the stand with him at Minton’s, a co-creator. Dizzy, Thelonius, Mingus … (See Classics.) They were the new Elect.
If you’re Catholic, all the Jews go to hell, together with all the Pagans, and most of the Protestants. If you’re Calvinist, even most Calvinists are destined for hell. Once you could be hep if you listened to Dixieland; after Bird, you wanted to be hip, the new word, the crio undergoing new changes after remaining stable for centuries.
The great thing about being Christian is that for most groups all that’s required of membership is modest modifications of your dress, behavior, and vocabulary. It’s better than Patrick Ewing saying that he guarantees his Knicks will win the championship. Because at the end of the following June, some other team was wearing the NBA ring. But with claims of heaven, it’s a bet that’s never called. So far, it’s never been tested by taking a census of heaven, then another of hell. See? I’m here; you’re there.
Similarly, the great thing about being a jazz groupie is, all you have to do is been seen in the right club, listening to the right performer. He never demands that you get up on the stand and prove yourself by jamming with him.
Well, I try now, but it’s a little late to be very good at it. Sixty years after Bird improvised them, I’m still half-baffled by his harmonies. Maybe in another year I’ll be only a quarter baffled. Actually, maybe I’m only a tenth baffled by the harmony: it’s what he did with the chords! They’re so extended. Who could count that far? So fast?
But in 1950, I passed as Elite for a non-player. At least I think I did.
Now the guys play “outside.” Who’s to know what’s legitimate? Any non-chord note? Who’s to say what sounds “good” once you’re conditioned? Certainly not anyone who hasn’t been in on it. There are those who maintain that appreciation of some harmonies is “natural,” that there are correspondences between the relationships among the intervals, the character of the chord, and something in nature, in mathematics, in physics, in physiology … That’s been my view most of my life. There are others who maintain that it’s all conditioning.
I’m not comfortable with it, but I’ve been moving at least slightly in that direction. I certainly see it to be true in cuisine: is even human milk a “natural” taste for a baby? How would you test it?
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