Culture Wars

I had a funny feeling I’d want to clarify when I wrote this…

… I tend to see the jazz wars as part of the larger culture war about what we should believe, what the past means, and how we outgrow stereotypes.

Joe Moore, of Jazz Portraits, picked up on this post and perceptively commented thusly:

I’m not a big fan of the “jazz wars” thing, which most often pits Dave Douglas and his followers against Wynton Marsalis and his followers, with both sides trying to tell us how the other is ruining jazz. (I think there’s room for both and all areas in between – but I think it continues mainly because both camps want to be the “underdog” fighting for their beloved music against these artistic philistines.)


More than enough room for both and all areas in between. That’s a great way of putting it — too often we only get a choice of two. Like Joe, I am not a fan of the wars, internal battles that keep the “non-specialist” away. There’s no sense in arguing about what the music is when it keeps right on creating itself all along.

But without throwing stones, I would still be up for an argument in favor of an inclusive canon. I don’t feel jazz or any other music can be ruined. I know it’s an argument that can’t be won, but it seems like it’s part of what’s going on out there and hence it can’t be ignored. I was trying to get at the way it’s not dissimilar to the polarized cultural discussion of 21st century America. These are by and large battles about letting (or not letting) people be what they want to be. To me, tolerance and inclusion is worth fighting for. Hopefully we won’t have to be doing it so much longer.

Joe also brought me out on the below, and he’s right that I don’t think it’s the only way:

Also, I would say that the interaction of “different systems or different languages” is ONE WAY, as opposed to the ONLY way that “culture perpetuates and refreshes itself.” I’m not sure if he was implying that it was the exclusive path to artistic innovation, but regardless, it’s an interesting area for thought. Certainly much of jazz history can be explained by such a theory, but I’d balk at any attempt to make that theory explain every new artistic development in jazz, let alone the larger artistic world.

Maybe the only universal theory is that there’s no universal theory. Or not. You can find musical examples to disprove any theory about music making. Still — a willingness to listen to all kinds of music in the search is part of what I meant about collisions. Being open to understanding and integrating multiple codes is, for me, part of the process of inventing new ones.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Joe.