Jazz is gossip.
There. As always, I spent it on the title. I’m wondering if I should sully the obvious (insert self-congratulatory slap on the back here) truth of that line by giving it an entire post – surely it would work better as a stand-alone, tightly-condensed little aphoristic gem? (Yes – this is more of that obnoxious self-congratulatory behaviour on display, but cut me some slack – is it a gorgeous formulation or what? I’ve been so pleased with myself ever since I hit upon it, I can’t stop smiling. Widely. Rather stupidly – there. That’s your recompense.)
It came to me when I was driving home one night, listening (as I often do), to that seminal album Time-Out (1959), by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. It features the extraordinary Blue Rondo a la Turk, Kathy’s Waltz, the seminal (and therefore only song most people have heard by these splendid musicians) Take Five, Pick Up Sticks, Three to Get Ready, Strange Meadow Lark and this rather stunning little thing called Everybody’s Jumpin’. It’s this last that got me thinking, and in the fond hope that it might have the same effect on some others, I’m (ever so helpfully) attaching a link here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3aqw0RY384
It started out like this. As ever, I was humming the ‘home riff’ or point of departure (and by virtue of being aforementioned departure, also, importantly, point of re-entry into the song proper) when it dawned on me that I was in a curious space; an interstitial one pregnant with possibility, where it felt (in keeping with this metaphor) that something was being born. In my head, since I can only thinkreadwritedreamsee in text, I called it a phrase. Once established, by virtue of all the musicians consenting that this indeed *is* ‘home’, each one started venturing out by way of soloing; there began the game of Chinese Whispers. It became obvious that what informed the soloing was the acknowledgement – sometimes the merest hint of it sufficed – of this starting point, from where it cast further and further afield; the home phrase took on a cultural afterlife all its own, before, inevitably winding back to the source, but only to elaborately take it into another space.
Consider now, reader dearest, how the informal ‘web’ that underpins culture works. You hear something. In repeating it, you add/subtract/explicate/repudiate/play with it, to make for a ‘better story’ (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), and before you know it, it has become something else. Rumour or ‘hearsay’ is thus born. Circulate it – in a perambulator, if you must, for it is an infant yet – and you’re staring at the beginnings of that most monumental of all things – gossip.
Can classical music be equated thus? My head says no, my gut quite the opposite. Perhaps it is a more codified exit-point, but isn’t any form of improvisation essentially, structurally, a deviation from an established norm? To me, it is gossip yet, but perhaps the kind of thing you’d hear in the corridors of power – the Rajya Sabha, the Assembly. It hasn’t the playfulness, the levity, the vivaciousness of office gossip – the valued information exchanged over the coffee dispenser. The knowing look you give the boss you’ve just heard about, as you slide into place to dash off yet another infernal reportarticlelecture (insert output of labour of choice here). No. For that you want some jazz. Of course you do. Everybody’s jumpin’, after all.