There’s never been a single thing wrong in producing delightful art and though primordial writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, the emancipating hedonists of the 20th century, and very important others who have shaped this country’s culture with veritas and justness would surely all in join to argue that delightful does not further society, that delight is the stuff of Marie Antoinette and of Royal society during La Regence, letters from Diderot to Sophie Volland, they would too learn to love the new delightful jazz in this nation that seeks to perpetually run its boredom down.
Like with language, music can be used as a mask of sophistication, especially when a society has poured its resources into making that music in particular a symbol of its civilization. Such has been the case for Jazz music for some years, to the point where many Americans quite simply think of Jazz as a symbol of sophistication. There is a new movement in Jazz that seeks to return the music to not being a mask for many of its listeners but music to forget one’s self through and produce a new crowd for jazz. It’s doing it through delight. Given that Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, and a bunch of Jazz musicians have never wanted to agree to the term jazz since it was coined by white critics anyways, let’s call this new way of doing ‘it’ Delight.
Most if not all human societies produce masks and some embrace masks more than others. Many African tribes such as the Kongo that African Americans descend from put masks to ceremonial use and these masks were art and can be found today in museums such as New York’s Met as such. When blacks began to produce an own culture in the US, they immediately produced a multitude new masks to best exist in American society and to signify sophistication to counter the accusation of being just a negro. One of these masks was mimicry of language without an understanding of the language being mimicked. Being ‘docile,’ an enslaved soul, itself was a mask that protected from whips and music historian Eileen Southern writes in The Music of Black Americans about how slaves would sing sad songs in the day to plantocratic delight but would play their own boisterous rhythms after dark, once there was no one overseeing ‘em. Jazz was not initially no mask at all and was pushed aside by the black supposed-bourgeois for not being art (mask.)
Jazz became a mask both for whites and blacks fairly recently. Jazz lost touch with crowds by the 1960’s and unless for what was left of cool jazz, jazz-fusion, the occasional outlier like Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert, and smooth-jazz, it never regained its footing in American society for it had been replaced with juvenescence’s (Robert Pogue Harrison has written the book on the concept) love of youth music. Jazz, however, continued to be venerated as art, partly because white critics and musicians found a symbolic esteem for it aided by the fact that they were white. It especially doesn’t speak to the world that has come after the late 1960’s, the U.S.’s, France’s 1968, etc. The instrumentation does not dance or fascinate as much anymore. Jazz songs are often written in an old world pop troubadour style of painful or ideal love that are a far cry from the songs that post-modern society adores.
In the late 1990’s and the 2000’s, several Jazz musicians began to want to end the theatre of beautiful masks it was, as if Noh theater, and produce genuine fascination, amazement and even dance again. They would like to fascinate and dance american sentiment. Their names were and now are Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman, Esperanza Spalding, Cecile McLorin, some of Wynton Marsalis, an all new Charles Lloyd, and many other musicians. Even Charles Llloyd’s “of course, of course,” once an example of emancipating hedonism can only be Delight to the American polity of 2016 as it’s played on his new album I Long To See You. Delight musicians produce music that aims to delight first and foremost and perhaps fascinate if you catch a live show. They delight with artful melody, singing, complexity, and with band.
Joshua Redman’s albums are up there in delight and so are Charles Lloyd’s latest releases. Lloyd especially plays to cultivate a lightness of being, rooted in 60’s and 70’s dissenter philosophies (he left Jazz and moved to Big Sur.) Some of the best Delight is sung Delight, wherein Ashleigh Smith, Norah Jones, and Cecile McLorin bring this society happy as Giacomo Puccini did in old Europe and continues to after his death. Gregory Porter does the same.
Esperanza Spalding plays Delight with heart. I have interviewed her for MIC and she spoke passionately to me quite honestly about concepts that went beyond my horizon. She is a Delight musician, like a Color Field musician, who gets unjustly labeled cute or fun instead of genius.
Lightness is the very opposite of the heavy hard playing (New Orleans, Kansas City, bebop, hard bop, free) that old Jazz is venerated for. Jazz musicians were well known for playing hard and twisted, as if a level of Dante’s inferno that is a child of red light districts and mafia money in Kansas City, unless of pop song and ballad jazz. Pop song and ballad jazz is jazz’s traditional lightness and many new New Jazz musicians such as Cecile Mclorin Salvant, Kandace Springs, and sing us contemporary versions of old pop tunes.
Jazz today is the same as jazz yesterday, though without as much revolution. Nothing is being invented, all is being reinvented and adapted to contemporary society. It’s much less wild now, and does not seek scandal. Jazz’s angel of a black power Mallarme (Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler) possessing musicians as do Voodoo spirits to play insanely complex music, is no more.
Political Swag still thrives, side by side with Delight. Jazz-fusion is also what The New Jazz musicians focus on, for example Robert Glasper. A new Hard bop, intellectual vibrant blackness, is the west coast sound of Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, that of Roy Hargrove and to an extent the music of genius Jason Moran. This time, no complex theories like Sun Ra’s or Wayne Shorter’s come attached: it’s, quite simply, music.
No one gets hurt this time by Miles Davis’s ego these days. All Jazz musicians are professionals and kind; the music now features a cavalier exclamation point in its image and composition. Jazz has now become a sign of maturity, as it is meant by this country’s customs. Then there’s Delight: a lightness of being, that leaves racism at the door. No egos make grand claims. Crowds are delighted. No one is publically on drugs.
It’s the stuff of poetry critics to find delight in poetry to match with that in jazz music, and the same goes for painting critics and theater critics. It is the stuff of anthropologists or philosophers to identify the arcades of a new thinking that matches delight in Jazz music. As Diderot wrote in a letter to Sophie Volland, it is a sculpture’s nature to beckon philosophers and other writers to it; I have only done a miniscule part and am only one of the many that the monument that is Jazz beckons. I know one thing: It’s a life and death situation for Jazz music and marketplaces kill traditions; the only way to save Jazz is by building it a crowd. It’s working.