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Farewell to Jazz

T. Adorno, 1933.

The regulation that forbids the radio from broadcasting "Negro jazz" may have created a new legal situation; but artistically it has only confirmed by its drastic verdict what was long ago decided in fact: the end of jazz music itself. For no matter what one wishes to understand by white or by Negro jazz, here there is nothing to salvage. Jazz itself has long been in the process of dissolution, in retreat into military marches and all sorts of folklore. Moreover, it has become stabilized as a pedagogical means of "rhythmic education," and with this has visibly renounced the aesthetic claims that it admittedly never ever made on the consciousness of the producers and consumers of dance, but did make in the ideology of the clever art composers who at one time thought they could be fertilized by it. They have to look around for something else and are certainly already doing so; but in the surviving clubs the last interjected false bar [Scheintakt],(1) the last muted trumpet, if not unheard, will soon die away without a shock. It is not big-city degeneration, deracinated exoticism, and certainly not, as naive people think, the bizarre quality of stimulating or clashing asphalt harmonies that appears in jazz and is vanishing along with it. Jazz no more has anything to do with authentic Negro music, which has long since been falsified and industrially smoothed out here, than it is possessed of any destructive or threatening qualities. Even the disrespectful use of themes from Beethoven or Wagner, which is intended to irritate and seemed to hint at a revolutionary undertone, is in truth nothing but the expression of the impoverishment of a music fabrication that became so standardized and attuned to consumption that it lost its last little bit of freedom, the musical inspiration, which it then stole wherever it could find itone might think of a sort of "patent-evasion" rather cleverly incorporating the pleasure of the cultivated person who is permitted to stumble across his cultural heritage in a club. Rather, what hollowed jazz out is its own stupidity. (2) What is stamped out, along with it, is not the musical influence of the Negro race on the northern one; nor is it cultural Bolshevism. It is a piece of bad arts and crafts. Jazz was the Gebrauchsmusik (3) of the haute bourgeoisie of the post-war period. Two things, in tandem, guaranteed its success. For one thing, it was available for immediate consumption; it registered the development of art music only in stunted reflexes, generally of impressionist harmonies. It remained danceable, on and on,

2 even for the unmusical person, thanks to the basic rhythm, always marked by the bass drum, even where the audacious cadences of hot music", syncopation as principle, and the burgeoning joy brought on by triple rhythms inserted into a four-beat meter seem to loosen all the bonds of upbringing and custom [Zucht und Sitte], Nothing was difficult to understand, and if the factory-made product seemed alien to the consumer, it was equally easy to use. Its excesses, however, recalled the erotic ones of the cinema, those undressing scenes, dubious trips to the beach, and ambiguous situations, all of which, under the dictates of a censorship that is deeply ingrained in them, stop short of final consequences. But at the same time, jazz presented itself as progressive, modern, and up-to-date. There was a world-economic resonance in the cheap foreign locales that could be imported at will from Montevideo, Waikiki, and Shanghai. The petit-bourgeois narrowness of dance lessons, polka, and galop (4) seemed left far behind; the sexless saxophone, squawking, declared its quasiagreement with risque things, and the harmonies, now mellow, now biting, not only had a stimulating effect but evoked distant memories, at once scary and comforting, of new music's realm of dissonance, which was otherwise avoided so assiduously and with which, it seemed, one could safely associate only here. As if that were not enough, as arts and crafts, jazz was characterized by the fact that, despite its transparently industrial origins, it was distinguished superficially from "vulgar" music; that consumption could be disguised as art appreciation. The concertizing "jazz symphony orchestras" are the obvious expression of this. Or, even more to the point: the technique of improvisation, which developed together with syncopation and the false bar [Scheintakt], The virtuoso saxophonist or clarinetist, or even percussionist, who made his audacious leaps in between the marked beats of the measure, who distorted the accents and dragged out the sounds in bold glissandihe, at least, should have been exempted from industrialization. His realm was considered to be the realm of freedom; here the solid wall between production and reproduction was evidently demolished, the longed-for immediacy restored, the alienation of man and music mastered out of vital force. It was not, and the fact that it was not constituted the betrayal and the downfall of jazz. The reconciliation of art music and music for common use [Gebrauchsmusik], of consumability and "class," of closeness to the source and up-to-date success, of discipline and freedom, of production and reproduction is untrue in all its aspects. Indeed, all the elements of "art," of individual freedom of expression, of immediacy are revealed as mere cover-ups for the character of consumer goods. In jazz, the charm of the ninth chords, of the endings on seventh chords, and of the whole-tone daubings are shabby and worn out; it conserves a decaying modernity of the day before yesterday. No different, on second glance, are those achievements of jazz in which people thought they perceived elements of a fresh beginning and spontaneous regenerationits rhythms. First, syncopation is new for popular music, but by no means for art music. In a master like Brahms, for example, it is accomplished with

3 incomparably greater richness and penetrating depth of construction than in the jazz writers, in whose workas the "textbooks" of hot music* unwittingly but all the more drastically revealthe apparent variety of rhythmic constructs can be reduced to a minimum of stereotypical and standardized formulae. But thenand this explains the stereotypical qualitythe rhythmic achievements of jazz are mere ornaments above a metrically conventional, banal architecture, with no consequences for the structure, and removable at will. The bass drum, for which the capers of the other instruments are of no consequence, is already one expression of this. But above all, the way the compositions themselves are constructed. For the schema of the eight-measure period, with its bisection into half- and full stop, the old, cheap schema of dance music much more meager, for example, than the formally rich waltzes of the great Johann Straussis thoroughly in force in jazz. The "false bars," which essentially constituted the supposed rhythmic charm of jazz, have their essence precisely in the fact that rhythmically free, improvisational constructions complement each other in such a way that, taken together, they fit back into the unshaken schema after all. Hence, for example, to cite only the simplest and most frequent case in point, two measures in three-eight and a measure in two-eight are combined sequentially to make a four-four measure, as marked out by the drum. And what is true of the individual measure is true, as well, of the musical period, as can easily be observed in its harmonic and melodic articulation. If someone had wanted to take the syncopation and rhythmically improvisational impulses to their logical conclusion, then the old symmetry would have broken apart; but along with it the tonal harmonic structure, as is actually the case in the jazz experiments of Stravinsky. But then jazz would have lost its consumability and easy comprehensibility, and would have turned into art music. In vain, for those same conclusions, drawn from the dissolution of the old tonal periodicity, had been arrived at long before, more thoroughly, by art music, before anyone even thought of jazz. Jazz didn't take this kind of risks; it contented itself with the boredom of its false effects. Very characteristic, how easily it was able to part with its ferment, syncopation, i.e., the movement of emphasis away from the "good part of the measure" [vom guten Taktteil] of metrical time. Kurt Weill, whom people used to like to link with jazz on account of the sound of the saxophone, sacrificed syncopation and false bars in the conscious search for accessibility and made the primitively symmetrical speech accents of song verses his metric rule. But for the last two years, with an eagerness that will not redound to their credit, and that people have already seen through, the jazz manufacturers have already been switching to the kind of patriotic kitsch that nowand perhaps not by accidenthas been overtaken by a government verdict at the same time as jazz, precisely because it is closely related to it. The military march has long been lying in wait underneath the colorful arabesques of jazz. But the social stratum that has consumed jazz until now, even if it has not been convinced of its aesthetic inferiority, will be all the more inclined to give it up politically, because in the context of what is possible to do between two four-beat measures, jazz is simply unable to offer any variety. What it was possible to learn

4 from jazz is the emancipation of the rhythmic emphasis from metrical time; a decent, if very limited and specialized thing, with which composers had long been familiar, but which, through jazz, may have achieved a certain breadth in reproductive practice. Otherwise not much will be left of it, other, perhaps, than the memory of the few pieces that had the elan of first beginnings, like Kitten on the Keys* (5) or the singing of The Revelers,* and of an era that was petrified into history with a single blow. Jazz has left behind a vacuum. There is no new Gebrauchsmusik to take its place, and it will not be easy to launch one. But this vacuum is not the worst thing. In it is expressed, wordlessly, like the alienation of art and society, a kind of overall state of reality that words are lacking to express. This vacuum may be wordless, but it is no false consciousness. Perhaps in the silence it will grow loud.

(1933; GS, vol. 18, pp. 795-99),

NOTES BY RICHARD LEPPERT 1. See p. 492 n. 1. 2. Adorno uses an English neologism, Stupiditat. [translator's note] 3. Adorno's use of Cebrauchsmusik in this instance serves the purpose of driving a wedge between the haute bourgeois sense of (socially autonomous) art music, and jazz as a music that has the "social function" which art music supposedly lacksan issue that is complicated for Adorno to the extent, paradoxically, that he sees autonomy as part and parcel of art music's critical social function, while at the same time acknowledging that autonomy is turned against itself once it is adopted as a component of the cultural capital of artworks by the very haute bourgeois (in this instance) from whom it distances itself. On Gebrauchsmusik, see p. 133 n. 2. 4. The polka and galop were popular social dances in nineteenth-century Germany. The galop was a very fast 2/4 dance. 5. "Kitten on the Keys" (1921), music by Zez Confrey (1895-1971), was a popular novelty piece often performed by both Confrey and pianist-bandleader Vincent Lopez. Confrey performed it at Paul Whiteman's famous Aeolian Hall concert in New York in 1924, where Gershwin also premiered Rhapsody in Blue. Confrey's recording of the fast-paced showpiece is available on various reissues. 6. Concerning The Revelers, see p. 275 n. 5; and "Revelers" and "Shannon Four," in Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound in the United States, ed. Guy A. Marco and Frank Andrews (New York: Garland, 1993), pp. 586, 621.

T. Adorno, Essays on Music, 496500, translated by Susan H. Gillespie