The Evolution of Jazz: True Art in the Making?
In his article “The Styles of Jazz” Joachim Berendt claims that ‘[the]evolution of jazz shows the continuity, logic, unity, and inner necessity thatcharacterize all true art’.
According to Berendt jazz can be seen as “true art”,which he believes requires “continuity, logic, unity, and inner necessity”.However, this characterisation leads to a variety of problems: What do we defineas “true art”? Must art possess all the elements attributed to it by Berendt – or less,or more? Is jazz even art, not merely popular entertainment, and does that meanart cannot be popular or entertain? And most importantly, if art possesses all of Berendt’s attributes and if these attributes can be found in jazz, does it necessarilyfollow that jazz is art? As Gridley, Maxham and Hoff point out: “Is jazz artmusic? To address this question we must have definitions of jazz and art music.”
As finding a definite definition for would be too lengthy an exercise for this essay,I will accept what is considered as Western art music as “true art” for argument’ssake and will use Berendt’s premise that art requires “continuity, logic, unity, andinner necessity” in order to investigate these questions further and show that jazzmay be seen as art, but perhaps not measured by Berendt’s standards.In an effort of finding a suitable definition for jazz, Gridley, Maxham andHoff identify three main characteristics that set jazz apart from art music:improvisation, syncopation, and popularity during the twentieth century.
If these points are central to jazz, then they are the main factors to investigate in light of
Joachim Berendt, ‘The Styles of Jazz’,
The New Jazz Book: A History and Guide
, (London:Peter Owen, 1962) p. 3 f.
Mark Gridley, Robert Maxham and Robert Hoff, ‘Three Approaches to Defining Jazz’,
The Musical Quarterly
, 73:4 (1989), p. 515
Gridley, Maxham and Hoff, p. 519 ff.1