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Notes on the Mouldy figs essay


 Discuss the war between Dixieland (old fashioned) jazz and the modernist bebop revolution
 Bebop advocates saw it as an advancement of jazz, progress of a kind and saw big band,
Dixieland and swing as being antiquated, too easy to access, faddist and commercial
 Supports of Dixieland, swing and big band accused the bebop movement of being pretentious,
impossible to access, for a privileged elite and not being real jazz
 Cannot separate the issues of race, gender politics and commerce from the story of the
development of jazz, as they are integral
 Genres and brand names: The swing revivalists disagreed on intricacies, but agreed broadly that
a specific piece of music could not be called ‘jazz’ if the musicians involved were not improvising,
and whose separate parts were drawn at least in part from African-American rhythms
 Leonard Feather (Of Metronome magazine, a proponent of bebop and progression) said that
‘swing’ is ‘just another word for jazz’, that it is ‘not a different music from jazz’.
 For revivalists, swing was used to denote a very easy to see species of popular music, whereas
the modernists sought to use it as a brand name.
 Art and commerce: The revivalists hated the success of swing bands, the fact that they
dominated the charts more than any other genre, and the way it was shamelessly commercial in
its very intent, how downbeat and metronome contributed to this phenomenon, metronome
asserted “…the best in jazz has been and always will be successful, commercial”.
 Folk culture and European culture: The revivalists were quite proud to admit that the music of
Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton was ‘Vulgar’ and ‘low’ art – they sought to distinguish
themselves from swing as being ‘high’ culture, with its ‘symphonic prentensions’
 Revivalists started to identify themselves and their music with folk music in an effort to be
separate from swing
 This allowed them to define jazz as being folk music of the negro which, thorugh the process of
commercialisation, had become
 Even though it sought this status, it was spread through the culture industry, though papers,
records and clubs, and thus was a commercial music just as swing was, though to a smaller
 In this way, they sought now to criticise swing as not being too commercial, but as being ‘too
european’, too much a ‘dilution’ of the ‘traditional framework’ of jazz (Moldy figs)
 Nothing more sabotaged the african-american tradition of simultaneous improvisation like the
European artefact of written arrangements (Bernard Gendon)
 The highest cultures of West Africans didn’t commit their improvisatory works to paper not for
lack of intelligence, but from an intellectual desire to keep it completely free from restraint,
believing that to commit the ‘jazz idiom’ to ‘the rigidity of written language’ would ‘vitiate’
rather than ‘preserve’ it
 Progress and the new: To the modernist, jazz was on the up and up, constantly changing