In July last year Ivan Hewitt wrote an article in The Telegraph which attempted to account for why jazz as an art form wasn’t funded appropriately, that it was the Cinderella of arts funding. He sought to understand why jazz didn’t have the same cultural status in the UK as say opera even though the audiences are equivalent, and he concluded that the image of jazz was the problem, that people didn’t take jazz seriously. In the same month, the New Yorker published a satirical piece called Sonny Rollins In His Own Words which inverted assumptions about jazz performers such as Rollins by having the fictionalised Rollins say things like ‘I’ve been doing this for all these years … I wish I did something else”. I was really surprised that, though this was clearly labeled by the New Yorker as a piece of satire, the jazz press seemed to freak out about it (“Shame on The New Yorker” said Howard Mandel). I think humour is an incredibly important aspect of jazz culture. Rather than viewing parodies of Jazz as problematic or suggesting that the music needs to take itself more seriously, I suggest that humour provides a platform for us to engage critically with the myths, standards and values of Jazz itself.
Roddy Doyle wrote a short story called Jimmy Jazz which follows the aging Commitments protagonist Jimmy Rabbitte through a story about his hatred of Jazz, and the efforts he goes through to get back in the good books of his Jazz-loving wife Aoife after she accuses him of being immature and limited in his music tastes. Jimmy’s hatred of Jazz runs deep but in trying to convince his wife that he’s changed he proceeds to lie about his relationship with the music, in order for normal marital relations to return. As a test of his resolve, Jimmy’s wife continues to play jazz wherever possible, whether it’s Brad Mehldau while preparing dinner or by making Jimmy wear headphones while making love, with the sound of Coltrane’s My Favourite Things ringing in his ear while he reflects to himself “The boys in Guantanamo haven’t a clue”. Jimmy is in remission for bowel cancer at the time and during his treatment he’s been reunited with his friend from The Commitments Outspan who is in the advanced stages of lung cancer. As a reward for broadening his musical tastes, Aoife buys him two tickets for the Keith Jarrett concert at the National Concert Hall in Dublin as a Christmas present and suggests they take Outspan with them. When Jimmy does his research on Wikipedia he’s horrified to discover that Jarrett is renowned for his for his hissy fits and his distain for inattentive audiences. As a lung cancer sufferer Outspan is prone to coughing fits, so Doyle sets up a comedy scenario by creating a tension between serious artistic practices on stage and the everyday trials of the cancer sufferer. The story ends well but, by using humour as a form of critique, it provides a way in to thinking about the codes and conventions of Jazz as well as the overblown mythologies and values that surround the music.
So considering this, sit back, relax, enjoy these Jazz Rants and please don’t take this lineup too seriously!
Note: this article is an edited version of a Rant given as part of the 2015 Jazz Rants at Club Inégales on Wednesday 18 November, as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.