Jazz music was first creole culture and so has French language roots. As according to Roland Barthes, a language vehicles philosophy. Put the two together and voila: a Jazz song does not only “romance,” “bop,” and “swing,” by virtue of its moving up North to Chicago, New York, Kansas City, and politic by virtue of it moving up North to New York and out west to Los Angeles. It is also a song of “vagabondage,” and “badinage,” as those concepts exist in French language.
Badinage: to joke
“One Ne Badine Pas Avec L’amour” is the name of an Alfred de Musset play. It translates officially to “No Trifling With Love”, or in plain speak “do not play around with love.” Written after de Musset’s devastating relationship with George Sand, in the play Perdican attempts to get Camille, a woman he can no longer love because she is now serving God, jealous by wooing her sister Rosette.
First played in 1864 in France, around when Jazz was making its unrecorded first steps, New Orleans Jazz, identity (blues) melded to comedy (melody, improvisation,) was badinage with morals and even with life itself. It badine-d with everything. The first sites for Jazz were brothels where parties were continued after people were shot according to Jelly Roll Morton in his autobiography Mister Jelly Roll.
New Orleans Jazz songs were essentially constructed and improvised to be cathedrals of badinage.
What’s left of badinage? There is not much Jazz badinage going on as popular culture. Musicians have kept up the core of what Jazz meant to first be: melody first and foremost, harmony, and improvisation that however is no longer the soundtrack for libertine playfulness.
Hip Hop, for the most part the myth of a young male or female “stagelee,” David vs. Goliath (who oddly respects goliath,) his winnings, his wealth, the state of a new culture David as every album (except for indie Hip Hop,) elaborated through rap, seems to be the soundtrack of new play. However, it doesn’t feel like we are living in an era of play. It seems to be a deeply serious era with playful moments. It’s an era of political rallies and the quest for a new culture. Even Hip Hop is legitimized in the press only really because it signifies a race’s vitality and business acumen. We don’t seem to be living in a Hip Hop age.
Perhaps the Jazz age was an age of badinage, of playfulness, for people of all social classes, and this one deeply serious about what one should never play around with (despite the slogans of party Hip Hop,) as de Musset put it. It feels like we are living the beginnings of the emergence of a post white patriarchal society and its culture; of new praxis guided by new principles.
Jordan Casteel’s nudes are a great example of “an end to badinage.” She’s painted a series of nudes of young David-like black men, inside of homes, all without a penis shown.
Her subjects are Harlemites. Casteel constructs fictional characters with the original Harlemites, Davids defined by friendly backgrounds as much as by their bodies. Fictions primarily because of the colors that they are in and because they are men and young men without physical ‘imperfections’ such as man breasts or extra fat. They are perfectly blue, green, red, orange, men.
Why not paint them with penises, since they are nudes? Casteel is painting in an age of Hip Hop slogan cultural domination, wherein rappers like Kanye West publicize the size of their “dicks” (his new album The Life of Pablo is full of examples.) Hip Hop has since birth been about hubris. The young eat it up because of this hubris: “Hip Hop hubris was and still is genius at being remarked; genius at getting girls; genius at being political and independent; genius at lyrics; genius at rhythm; genius at dressing up. This genius, as interpreted by most listeners, does not hide a penis.”
Why do the opposite? According to Brittanica.com, a rhythm is an ordered alternation of contrasting elements. This may be woman and man in the same painting, misery and strength, contrasting colors, etc. …, all of which combined constitutes what a rhythm being lived and the elements of a rhythm. Here we are presented males with sculpted bodies castrated, left without the object that America most wants to see. They have no clothing on and thus have no signs of wealth.
We are being painted a new rhythm; iconography for a new culture; the paintings of a new education.
She castrates machismo. She also castrates the possibility of a certain gaze on blackness.
The Harlemites in her paintings are in the end New Yorkers and as such, emblems of city life. She castrates the city from its signs of wealth (buildings, parties) by showing community. Finally, she castrates David from the legend that he will beat Goliath, showing us black men in an age wherein Hip Hop sells them as New Money Davids but who in reality are doing the worst as an American group, despite the sculpted torso.
Basquiat painted New York much differently, often colorful and with lyrical written deconstructions. A great example is his 50 Cent Piece. Basquiat painted ingenuity and complex thought, David’s thoughts.
Mark Bradford is well known for his paintings on Los Angeles topology and I’d like to think that some of Stanley Whitney’s Color Field, or the WSJ put it Color Chunk, paintings are abstractions of the city, its grid, as lived by lively subjects (thus his painting’s titles such as Dance the Orange,) inspired by living in New York City. All three artists hint at cities being wild and reckless.
Despite the slogans (“I’m from New York!” – Jadakiss.) City living is the most directly responsible, in the Americas, for the everyday of all blacks. It is in cities that bills are passed or not and that civil rights movements were mainly executed. It is in cities that mass culture is planned and executed. Casteel’s subjects seem to be silenced by the city, and not reckless like in Basquiat’s. One nude, ato, sits near a picture of his mother, perhaps the reason why he lives in a home.
Why not a new badinage? Play is not inherently bad. Play is bad when characters act foolishly. There should be a new badinage. Americans obviously have the taste for it. A badinage based on principle perhaps: a new lovely Jazz. As Esperanza Spalding intends for jazz / badinage to be.