Why Jazz Should Be the Genre of Choice of the Conservative Movement

As I was driving home this evening, listening to Art Blakey push out some Moanin’ and thinking about what I wanted to write about this week, it occurred to me that jazz is really a very conservative art form; or, more aptly, a liberal art form in the classical sense of the word, that rooted in liberty and freedom. Jazz, after all, is all about freedom.

Sure, the stereotypical conservative Republican is supposed to listen to country music. And there’s nothing wrong with country music, but the genre of choice of conservatives everywhere should be jazz. Of course, country music has its roots in jazz, as all truly American genres do, but, like so much of modern music, it has become somewhat formulaic; hence, the joke about the country singer’s wife leaving him, his truck breaking down, and his dog dying. (That oft-jested theme, quite ironically when one considers it, is actually the antithesis of what it means to be conservative, at least in the sense Reagan spoke of it; as a brighter tomorrow.)

The Republican Party, which is, theoretically, supposed to be the standard bearer for the conservative cause, was formed chiefly to forward the abolitionist cause in America, which led to the freeing of millions of slaves. Jazz was born to free the souls of African-American slaves even while their bodies remained captive. (Sometimes, too, it was instrumental, no pun intended, in physical freedom as slave songs like Wade in the Water, precursors to jazz, assisted runaway slaves in their flight to freedom.)

Ken Burns’ documentary, Jazz, opens with the great Wynton Marsalis describing the art form.

“Jazz music objectifies America. It’s an art form that can give us a painless way of understanding ourselves. The real power of jazz and the innovation of jazz is that a group of people can come together and create art, improvised art, and can negotiate their agendas with each other and that negotiation is the art.”

Jazz is organic. All art is organic to a point, one could say. People can do whatever they want with their creations, but for most art forms there are certain rules that are generally followed. Not so with jazz, or at least jazz as it was and should be.

Moanin’ actually exemplifies this perfectly. Jazz critic Gary Giddins stated that Moanin’ “set the music world on its ear” and was “part of the funky, back to roots movement that Horace Silver, Mingus, and Ray Charles helped, in different ways, to fan.” Even the creation of Moanin’ was the result of improvisation. Pianist and composer Bobby Timmons, who was a sideman in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, often played the opening eight bars between tunes and only nailed out the rest after some encouragement from fellow band member Benny Golson.

And so it is with classical liberalism, which values the individual above the collective, and freedom above rules set from on high.

Marsalis goes on in his Jazz interview to describe how he could go anywhere, strike up a conversation with some fellow jazz musicians, and create something on the spot, communicating through music. This can only be done if there’s no structure and this lack of structure is the only thing that can create something so completely unique and wonderful. Again, country music has its place, as does classical, pop, and just about anything else (sans heavy metal, which is just ear-splitting racket), but there’s nothing like jazz to make the soul come alive!

And it’s when the soul comes alive that things get done. I’ve long believed that the flaw inherent in statism is that little good can come of people being forced to an end. Feeding the poor is great (teaching the poor to feed themselves is even greater) and something that should be done in a civilized society, but a large scale government program managed from on high isn’t just inefficient, it robs society of what may be the most important part of that act; the humanity. When one is not moved by something within himself but by the point of a spear, the desired outcome will never last. Relating it back to music, how many of us hated piano lessons early on only because it was something we were forced to do but later found a love for once it was something we got to do.

America is referred to as an experiment and the scientists are we the people. Our best ideas come not from a central planner creating a one-sized-fits-all plan or bureaucrat doing something because “those are just the rules”; our best ideas come from the ground up, often from people who were told “you can’t do that” by the establishment. Jazz, too, is an experiment created first by those who were looked down upon as lower than the lowest class and even today boasts of greats that are true rags to riches stories. Now, go and create some jazz in your life, be it musical or otherwise, and don’t let anyone tell you you can’t!

Music to Inspire!

Music is one of the greatest forms of art there is. There’s something visceral and primeval about it. Just an arrangement of sounds, but it can move men to tears. Some of the best, some of the most emotional scores, are those composed for cinema. They may remind us of the film but even on their own, to someone who may never have seen the film for which they were written, they can stir up great emotion. What follows are some of the great musical scores of cinema as well as a few others, all of which might serve as a soundtrack for the more inspired or inspiring moments of your life. So do battle, fight dragons and climb mountains! And while you do, listen to some Williams, Silvestri or Holst!

  1. Forrest Gump Suite by Alan Silvestri (from the film Forrest Gump) – Heroes are ordinary people who answer the call during extraordinary times, usually unaware of their greatness. This score is a fanfare for the common man living an uncommon life. It starts simply; includes movements of sadness, joy and sentimentality, as all life does;  crescendoes epically; and ends as simply as it began, like an old man peacefully reflecting on a full life.
  2. Main Theme by Michael Kamen (from the TV series Band of Brothers)  – A haunting and humbly heroic score, perhaps not tear-worthy on its own but certainly when accompanied by the emotional and humbly heroic subject matter of the series. By the middle of the series it only took but a few notes and seconds of the opening credits for me to be overcome.
  3. Roll Tide by Hans Zimmer (from the film Crimson Tide) – A most serious theme for a film that deals with the most serious of themes. Definitely one to prepare you for battle.
  4. Take Us Out by Jerry Goldsmith (from the film Rudy) – I was late to the game (pardon the pun) as the first time I actually heard this score was at the introduction of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, so every time I hear it I can’t help but think of her. And despite of what you may think of her politics, she, like the eponymous film character, is a great example of the American Dream of the common man (or woman) rising to greatness and the notion that greatness doesn’t always have to be defined by epic heroism – the aforementioned slaying of dragons or the actual battle – but is, instead, often defined by simply rising from adversity to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. Take Us Out, like Forrest Gump Suite, is a fanfare to the common man. After all, what’s so great about a kid from Joliet, Illinois wanting to play for the Fighting Irish and succeeding through endless perseverance? The better question is, what isn’t? The Main Title from the film is also excellent, expressive of the innocence of Rudy.
  5. West Wing Main Title by Snuffy Walden (from the TV series West Wing) – A quaintly patriotic score for a brilliantly patriotic series.

More to come!

Brought to you by the free market

I joined some friends for dinner in Seattle on Saturday evening. Afterwards, the sun having decided to make an appearance, I decided to take a stroll around Downtown and was drawn to Westlake Park by the boisterous sounds of Seattle’s own Titanium Sporkestra, who bill themselves as a renegade marching band playing anything from Black Sabbath to gypsy anthems. They had attracted quite the crowd and young and old alike were having a great time.

I make it a habit of not giving money to people on the street (I prefer to give food) but I gladly make exceptions for street performers as I did on Saturday. I don’t know whether they had a permit to play (considering the size of their band I assume they did), but I really don’t care. I see performers like the Titanium Sporkestra, the a capella group, A Moment in Time, who perform in front of the original Starbucks, or the sadly passed “Tuba Man” as performing a service in the free market. I was able to stand there and listen to a few songs all for the bargain price of a couple bucks (or even free, had I so chosen) and they were able to rake in hundreds of bucks (I even spotted a $100 bill in the jar they passed around to great reception after each song) to pay for their jaunts to events like Austin’s SXSW, their latte’s or maybe even Obama’s re-election campaign. (I suspect, despite their capitalist pursuits, a fair number of them probably aren’t Republicans.) Even better, their performance was brought to you by the free-market (and, yes, you can argue that the park was provided by government and it’s possible they’ve even received a government grant in their day, but just go with me on this). Nick Licata didn’t have to direct several thousand dollars of taxes to a program to get them to play. Sally Clark didn’t have to go around town handing out flyers and putting up posters announcing the event. It all just happened thanks to the independent and entrepreneurial spirit that exists even here and would, no doubt, exist in an even greater capacity if government would just get out of the way. There’s absolutely zero need for a government appointed Arts Commission or Office of Cultural Affairs. Not only is it not necessary, but by relegating some of the arts to the purview of the bureaucracy, a strong argument can be made that the creativity of the artists is being stifled.

As a juxtaposition, on the other side of Pine Street, Key Bank has set up a nice little area with tables and chairs for people to enjoy the rare sunny weekend. Again, this brought to you by the free market.

And the wonders of the free market don’t stop there. Also gracing the intersection of Fourth & Pine were two wildly different religious groups, a Christian Evangelical handing out tracts about the love of Christ and a group of Black “Hebrews” spreading a racist message (think “Nation of Islam” except they’re wearing Stars of David). At least they were doing it passively. Neither group was state mandated or forcing their ideology on anyone. The free market will direct people toward the best ideology.

The Homogenization of Radio

Having a radio station that only plays one type of music does target a specific audience and that makes it easier to sell to, which is what radio is all about but then again it doesn’t encourage a broad mind.  I like to listen to a variety of stations: NPR, The Point (80’s), The Buzz (talk radio featuring Tom Lykis), KING (Classical), and C89.5.  This last station is one of my favorites.  It broadcasts out of Nathan Hale High School and is completely independent.  They get all their money from the Seattle Public School District and listener support.  They also are cutting edge.  I really like European techno and C89.5, even though they debut music about a year after it comes out in Europe, is usually the first to play that song in Seattle, if not the U.S.  When C89.5 isn’t playing techno they usually play R&B and they often do so one song right after the other, mixing their playlists.  When this happens I turn the dial (usually to The Point).  Commercials on these different stations are usually different because the stations target different audiences. Usually I just tune out though. That’s one thing that’s different about radio compared to TV.  When you get into a TV show you are more likely to watch the commercials because you want to see what happens on the TV show you’re watching.  When you’re listening to the radio the song is not interrupted by a commercial and so when a commercial does come on you can tune out.  It’s hard to approach the problem of homogenization for me because my tastes are diverse and I have an open mind.  If I hear something I like I listen to it, be it Jazz, Techno, or sometimes even Rap.  I guess stations should play a somewhat diverse line up but if it gets too diverse then it’s pointless.  It doesn’t make any sense to play some Hank Williams Jr. after playing some Snoop Dogg.

Musical Copyright Infringement and Napster

As I write this I’m listening to music I downloaded off the internet.  And I don’t feel bad about it at all!  First of all, most of the music I download you can’t buy in stores: things like Smurfs Techno, the Mary Tyler Moore theme, odd national anthems, hard-to-come-by Bosnian techno.  Second, the music I download that you can buy in stores doesn’t necessarily affect my CD purchase.  Just last week I bought some CDs from Columbia House.  Its standard offer is buy one, get two free, plus shipping.  In the end it comes out being about $8 per CD.  This is a decent price and I’d probably buy a lot more from Columbia House if they had a wider selection.  I also like to buy CDs second-hand.  This is what the oligopolistic record companies don’t understand.  No one wants to spend $19 on a CD that may have one or two good songs.  That’s why things like iTunes are a step in the right direction because it allows one to buy only the songs one likes.

One thing that people bring up when discussing this topic, and it’s a very valid point, is that before the advent of the internet people made bootleg tapes all the time.  It is rather hypocritical of bands like Metallica, which achieved their success from so many of their fans sharing music, to turn around and sue Napster.  I guess this is just another indication of how power corrupts and once one achieves it they forget where they came from, even a group as “anti-establishment” as Metallica.

So I’m going to keep downloading music.  I really don’t think the FBI is going to come knocking on my door because of the 300 some TV Theme files I have on my laptop.  If there’s a CD I like I’ll buy it, even if it is $19.  Sometimes that’s a decent price if it’s a really good CD (like the Kill Bill Soundtrack I just bought).