Rand & Music, and the

Monday, January 27, 2003
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Rand & Music, and the Roots of Jazz: I’m not sure why Ayn Rand’s views on art, or especially music, are even worthy of consideration (let alone scholarly study), since all she did was elevate her preferences to absolutes. Sure, art and music can be objectively defined to a certain extent, but Rand eschewed that which didn’t meet her personal approval under the guise of her rigorous, objective definitions of art, and she alone determined what is or isn’t “rational” by creating wacky, objective constructs.

I recently observed a discussion on jazz by some Objectivists, neo-Objectivists, and/or pseudo-Objectivists, and I have been thinking that perhaps the complexities and contributions of jazz music are not understood by the overly-rigorous Randians.

Note that Murray Rothbard was a fan of early jazz and American popular ballads, and he believed that this music was one of America’s greatest contributions to world culture. He recognized the joyousness, passion, and complexity of even the most commercial styles maintained for mass audiences.

The early jazz musicians, in fact, are some of the most exacting perfectionists that emphasized musical tricks and gimmicks that required precise musicianship, whereas modern jazz provides more opportunity for musical expression.

As Tyler Cowen has heroically pointed out, “mainstream” does not necessarily equate with “low-brow” or poor taste, as the Randroids would say.

To quote Tom Bethell on jazz: “The new musical language arose spontaneously in New Orleans, without the guidance of intellectuals or theoreticians of any sort. In the St. Louis area the same thing happened at the same time, with the sudden appearance of ragtime. And the blues emerged, also simultaneously. This was a near miraculous confluence, and it has never been explained. The jazzmen in New Orleans I spoke to could not begin to explain how it had happened. Not that they were interested, particularly. It’s as though they were the unconscious “carriers” and transmitters of a musical language that had appeared only recently, but whose origin was as much a mystery to them as it was to everyone else. We probably know less about the origins of jazz 100 years ago than we do about musical developments in Europe 500 years ago.”

On the African-American “roots” issue, although jazz roots are said to have been planted in about 1890, as a result of local black folk expression fused with a white, classical style to create a mainstream “jazz” sound, it was not noted as such (a distinctive musical sound) until many years later, past the turn of the century, when music critics spoke of a “jazz” sound. In 1917, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, all white guys, made the first jazz record ever released. Of course, the self-pronounced jazz “experts” like to say that the DJB sound was “black-derived”, but marketed to a white audience by a white band because of the accepted political climate of the time. However, Jack Teagarden, along with Barney Bigard, Bix Beiderbecke and Paul Whiteman were, in essence, among the fathers/proprietors of the early jazz period.

The Ken Burns PBS presentation on jazz music was perhaps too politically correct and far too ignoring of the Cajun-Dixie influence on the jazz age, and instead, Burns focused on the development and proliferation of African derived music, and the combined economic, political, and social conditions that brought about the jazz sound. Perhaps studies of the roots of jazz are influenced by a politically correct climate, and less biased research needs to be done in this area.

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