Thursday, March 17, 2011

'This raises a very interesting question on the difference between classical music and jazz.'

[James P. Johnson (Art work by Suzanne Cerny)]

Yesterday AfriClassical posted: “Homeschooler: 'was looking for black composers and I came across your site. It is perfect for my purposes.” The post consisted of an email from Danielle Bennette, and it had this postscript:

“PS If ever in town send me an email. Also, what would you say is the difference between classical music and jazz (instrumental)? The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, as well as the French Quarter Fest will be happening soon. & It's festival season!!”

We have received a thoughtful commentary on the question from our principal advisor, Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma of Lawrence University Conservatory in Appleton, Wisconsin:

“This raises a very interesting question on the difference between classical music and jazz. The heritage of the two contrasts very strongly but as they have evolved for the past 80 years or so, the difference has begun to blur. This is because some figures in jazz have sought extended forms (James P. Johnson, William Grant Still, and Duke Ellington, as samples), while classical music has taken on some jazz characteristics, even momentarily (Paul Hindemith, Darius Milhaud, Serge Prokofiev, to mention non-Americans). The borders have continued to become diffused with works by Anthony Davis, David Baker, and any number of others. If one tries to define jazz with reference to improvisation, arrangers for the big bands are thrown into question, while classicists who go for aleatory works get included. I've been at a loss to define classical music, until I came across the words in Dr. Wendy Hymes' dissertation, when she writes about social intent, yet it remains awkward even to select a term for classical music ('art music' is the current term in Africa, while Haitians call it 'mizik savant'), but the blues is certainly art music and jazz requires a greater depth of theoretical knowledge that is untested in the classical world. Maybe cubby holes is a kind of segregation that Black music just refuses to recognize.
Dominique-René de Lerma

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