February 07, 2007

The Jazz Age

Dan Visel has an interesting meditation on collaboration-and-design over at sidebar ("the back porch of the Institute for the Future of the Book"). It's all worth a thoughtful read, but for me the money quotes are near the end, where the title of the piece ("the jazz age") earns its keep:

I'm not arguing that collaboration can't create something as grand as a symphony. It certainly can. But the things that collaboration can create are qualitatively different, and should be understood as such. (Bernard Rudofsky's Architecture without Architects could be brought in here, though that's been explored before.) When we think of collaboration in music, we don't think of the classical tradition; we think about jazz. I think that's a useful reference point: collaborators on networked books could be like jazz musicians, not having a score, but knowing how to improvise within predefined structures like twelve-bar blues. Even free jazz isn't free, though: when you listen to those old Ornette Coleman records now, the first thing you notice is how carefully structured they seem.

(There's something interesting about jazz becoming culturally dominant at the height of modernism; perhaps this is a natural response. Around the same time, the Surrealists were denigrating the novel as a form because it was too planned, too rational. They declared a similar preference for the improvised: automatic writing or drawing for example. There's an enormous amount of Surrealist poetry; a near-complete count of Surrealist novels could be made on two hands. [hmmm? take a look at City Lights offerings])

What we need to be thinking about is how jazz players learn to be jazz players. You can't stick a classically trained trumpeter in a jazz combo and expect he'll do a fine job: he won't. But that's essentially what we're trying to do.

And: we need to be looking at how jazz is designed: what sort of structures lend themselves to improvisation and collaboration?

Posted by oook at February 7, 2007 08:08 AM