Canadian Journal of Communication Vol 41 (2016) 443-454
©2016 Canadian Journal of Communication Corporation

Being-Jazz in the Middle

Maurice Charland
Concordia University

Maurice Charland is Professor of Communication Studies, Concordia University, Montréal, QC. Email: .

ABSTRACT  Jazz rhetoric can mean two things. The first is the discourse about jazz, its significance and its meaning. The second is the music itself as an unfolding form performed to an audience. Both have constitutive political effects that function through pathos prior to a distinction between subject and object. This pathos arises through in-betweenness or interality, and can be described in terms of the middle voice, Dasein, and aesthetic experience. This article develops these concepts through a discussion of the jazz rhetorics of Wynton Marsalis and Amiri Baraka.

KEYWORDS  Rhetoric; Jazz; African-American; Ontology; Aesthetics

RÉSUMÉ La rhétorique du jazz englobe deux phénomènes : Les discours sur le jazz, le décrivant, le donnant sens et signification et la musique jazz en tant que telle, qui apparait et se donne forme lors de sa mise en scène devant un auditoire. Ces deux ont des effets constitutifs d’ordre politique à travers un pathos qui précède toute distinction entre objet et sujet. Ce pathos émerge de l’intéral, d’une lacune relationnelle à laquelle on peut réfléchir se servant de concepts tels la voix moyenne, le Dasein, et l’expérience esthétique. Ceux-ci informent une analyse des rhétoriques jazz de Wynton Marsalis et d’Amiri Baraka.

MOTS CLÉS  Rhétorique; Jazz; African-American; Ontology; Aesthetics

Q. I am struck by your attempt to discuss jazz and rhetoric in one breath. Rhetoric usually means persuasive speech, but you seem to be describing a musical form and focusing on how it calls forth certain forms of consciousness. I would describe this in terms of interality, which is constituted in anticipations and in unresolved tensions. Could interality help us understand jazz? Does jazz help us understand interality?

A. I think so, but I must confess that interality is not a concept that I am very familiar with. You have described interality as something like “betweenness,” and I would argue that jazz manifests betweenness musically and culturally. Jazz developed historically through the (in many ways violent) encounter between European and African musical elements. Also, much of jazz is based in improvisation, where music and dance unfold between the constraints of form and what has already transpired and the openness of possibility. After all, one of jazz’s guiding maxims is that there is “no such thing as a wrong note, it depends on how you resolve it.” The musical significance of each note in an improvisation is between what precedes and what follows.

Q. But isn’t that true of all music? Each note is always between its predecessor and successor.

A. Each note played only has significance in relation to what precedes and follows. Strictly speaking, while our ears perceive air vibration frequencies or tones, we hear notes, which are tones organized within musical scales. Notes only exist as a relation of tones. To hear music is to hear a sequence of intervals, of relationships between tones unfolding in time. What is significant in jazz is that the next note, the note that is about to occur, is neither predetermined nor overdetermined, even when one plays a standard, a well-known piece. Performers can deviate from the given score. And of course, during an improvisation, there is great latitude regarding the choice of the next note. Furthermore, should one accidentally play a “wrong note,” by which I mean an unintended note, one can “recover” through the choice of the next note, and retroactively make the unintended note fit. Imagine if typing errors could be so “corrected”! But there is more to in-betweenness in jazz than open-endedness and improvisation. Jazz, like much if not all music, has dispositional and constitutive effects that arise fundamentally in and through betweenness. This is in part because music is immersive, in part because music unfolds as a form and hence creates and satisfies expectations, but also because music is constitutive of being. Furthermore, because jazz is an improvised music, the being-in-constitution is marked by in-betweenness. Finally, and significantly, jazz’s constitutive effects are not only on an affective or aesthetic plane, but on a cultural and political one as well.

In what follows, I would like to offer ways of thinking about the linkages between the aesthetics and politics of jazz. In my mind, this requires considering jazz in terms of rhetoric. Rhetoric is usually understood to be the art of language that produces oratory and political speech, but its philosophical roots and theoretical development go well beyond that. Rhetoric’s fundamental concern is how worlds are brought into being. In part, this is through the power of logos, of the W/word, not as a sign, but as an invoking, a figuring, an enrapturing, a musiking. Music conspires with this logos, providing pathos, and so power. Rhetoric, in its original conception, profoundly manifests betweenness. That is to say, rhetoric’s origins are prior to the development of what Derrida refers to as the “metaphysics of presence” (Derrida, 1976, p. 23), which takes as given a transcendental signified and sets up the subject-object distinction, which opens on to the possibility of man mastering nature through knowledge (Heidegger & Lovitt, 2013).

Before this break, usually attributed to Plato, the being of beings was an in-between, in rhythmic movement. Being and world emerged together in co-constitution, a process prefigured through affective disposition. Much of this has been developed by Heidegger, who once taught a seminar on rhetoric and developed his early thought through his reading of Aristotle’s Rhetoric, which he asserted “must be taken as the first systematic hermeneutic of the everydayness of Being with one another” (Heidegger, 1962, p. 178). Although Aristotle’s Rhetoric itself is less a philosophical treatise than an “art” or handbook on how to develop convincing speeches in an ethical polity or polis (i.e., Athens) that prized the power of language more than violence, its philosophical starting points are far-reaching. Aristotle recognized that humans come to conviction not through reason alone, but through the interaction of logos, pathos, and ethos, where logos means argument, pathos means emotion or sentiment, and ethos refers to the character or trustworthiness of the one speaking. Pathos is primordial, because dispositional. The pathē (emotions, moods, attunements) are the source of care, interest, openness, and so on. Ethos, itself arising from pathos, is most powerful because audiences will not accept arguments from those they do not trust. Logos is important because it addresses the distinctly human faculty of reason, even if it is concerned with what is probable and a matter of opinion rather than what can be demonstrated with certainty. This way of framing coming to conviction led Heidegger to conclude that human being, Dasein or “there-being,” emerges in and toward the world.  Beings come to be as they apprehend a world they are disposed to through an ontologically prior pathos, which Heidegger translates as Stimmung, which in English means mood or attunement.

Q. Does Heidegger’s understanding of Stimmung bring us to jazz?

A. Not directly, but it highlights aspects of pre-modern ontology that we might otherwise overlook, which in turn helps us understand the politics of music. In the Rhetoric, Aristotle discusses pathos in terms of emotions rather than mood. This is because, from a practical standpoint, the successful orator will seek to manipulate emotions—short-term dispositional states such as anger, envy, and their opposites—to advantage, in order to enhance audience receptivity. While we could skip over Heidegger and go directly to the early texts, his translation of pathos as Stimmung is suggestive, because mood is less punctual and more diffuse than emotion, and so calls our attention to fields of affective disposition, such as those produced by music. Aristotle does not discuss music in the Rhetoric, since he is concerned there with oratory, but Jeffrey Walker (2008) argues that his brief treatment of music in Politics V is key to understanding the Rhetoric because it renders explicit the workings of pathē in relation to ethos and action.

Aristotle identifies two fundamental principles. The first, consistent with his understanding of habitus, is that one’s practices form one’s soul or psyche. Thus, for example, “ ‘mechanics’ and ‘laborers’ (banausoi and thêtoi) have souls ‘distorted from their natural dispositions’ (parestrammenai tês kata phusin hexeôs)” (Walker, 2008, p. 77). Furthermore, the effect of practices on the soul extends to musical taste: these workers “are thus responsive to music that ‘deviates’ from the normal modes with high-strung, chromatically irregular melodies and discordant harmonies” (Walker, 2008, p. 77). The second element of Aristotle’s view is that, against such predispositions, music can have a transformational effect as well because rhythm and melody offer likenesses (omonoia) to character traits and imitations (mimesis) of moral habits (McKeon, 1936). As Walker further explains, “Aristotle says that any pathos that can occur ‘strongly’ in some ‘souls’ or psyches occurs in all, in greater or lesser degree, and can be ‘roused’ by the appropriate kind of music, and that those who experience this musically induced emotion are ‘put into a state (kathistamenous, cf. kathistêmi) just as if receiving a medical treatment and katharsis’ (1342a)” (Walker, 2008, p. 77). Music can corrupt the citizen even as it can civilize the worker or slave. Finally, Walker observes that while katharsis is usually a medical or religious term, it is used by Aristotle in a manner similar to Gorgias, for whom music and logos, in the sense of word, are pharmakons that much like a drug put the soul of the hearer “ ‘into a state’ of courage or delight, as well as any other mood” (Walker, 2008, p. 78).

Q. Why is the idea of a drug important here?

A. This brings us back to what you are calling interality. Drugs not only “distort” perception, they transform subjectivity itself. Western metaphysics leads us to think of communication in terms of a sender-receiver model: A sender gives a speech or plays the blues, and you receive and decode it. This is such a lame account. If the speech or song resonates, you are moved. You are no longer where you were or who you were before. In fact, it becomes fallacious to even speak of “you” as an essence or fixed position. The ontology of there-being, which Heidegger takes from Aristotle, does not distinguish categorically between being and world. Being emerges in the world and changes along with the world. This being is always becoming. At the risk of reproducing western metaphysical categories, we could say that the object of perception transforms the perceiving subject, or more precisely, the being of there-being and the there of there-being are always entangled, to borrow the concept of entanglement from quantum theory.

Q. Does that mean that all music is drug-like and constitutive? What about the music I hear in the shopping mall?

A. Several years ago, James Crosswhite argued that rhetorical studies should expand its understanding of pathos to include mood, and that a full account of public rhetoric would even include background music in malls (Crosswhite, 1989). There-being might then take the form of shopping-being or bored-being, I suppose. Let’s face it, most of us do not go to the mall to listen to its music, and those who produce mall music do not consider us audiences. Their aim is that we become immersed and reconstituted through musical pathos as mall-subjects. While the ontological process is pretty much the same in each musical encounter, the character of there-beings is contingent on the given musical forms as well as the already given character of beings in the moment of musical encounter. I recently heard Hendrix in a local mall’s jewellery store. I doubt that the owner had a hand in it, but the music certainly transformed my mall experience because it was Hendrix, and because I was already familiar with his music and its roots.

Q. You said that you were interested in jazz. Is this only a matter of taste, or is jazz-being special in some way?

A. Taste is part of it. There are as many states of being-with-music as there are musical forms and traditions. I could say that I like jazz, but putting it this way re-animates the subject-object distinction that I am trying to avoid. Expressing it properly would require the middle voice, which English lacks. It was available in Ancient Greek, which might have inspired Heidegger’s abstruse style and such phrases as “nothing noths the thing.” I suppose I could say that jazzing beings
me-jazzed or jazz beings me-in-attunement. In other words, I resonate in jazz- moodedness. But there is more to it. Jazz sensibility or more precisely its sensibilities ranging from Louis Armstrong’s West End Blues” to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme are linked to the political sphere much more explicitly than most musical forms. Admittedly, the history of Western music is animated by debates regarding the emotional meanings of given works and how these are expressed or engendered by various forms, genres, compositions, and performances. Furthermore, this history is marked by claims regarding which among these are ethically superior. But with jazz, the question is not only ethical, not only about how the music disposes the soul, but also about how it functions to give rise to forms of political community. Furthermore, there are competing rhetorics of jazz.

Q. What do you mean by “rhetorics of jazz”?

A. I mean two things. First, I mean discourses or lines of argument that address the ethical, cultural, and political aspects of jazz. I call these “rhetorics” because they are directed toward persuasion. Claims are made regarding jazz and on behalf of jazz. They describe jazz, celebrate it, and also advocate certain forms of jazz practice. There are several different rhetorics of this sort, which offer quite distinct interpretations and vocations for jazz. Second, by “rhetorics of jazz” I mean “arts” in the way that Aristotle’s Rhetoric is an “art,” which is to say a practical guide to composition based on an understanding of the effects of form. It might seem strange to us to think of music in rhetorical terms, but the idea was quite common among Renaissance scholars, including Zarlino, Burmeister, and Glareanus (Vickers, 1988), who treated rhetoric as a master, and so “architectonic” art, to use McKeon’s term (McKeon & Backman, 1987). And while one can make a persuasive case that musicians or musicologists influenced by the Italian Humanists applied rhetorical principles too mechanistically and carried the speech-music analogy too far, as in their debates over the relative merits of monody, of a single musical line as in Gregorian chants, versus harmony, with multiple lines—think choral music in counterpoint—Sharpe (2000) convincingly argues that music and oratory are alike in that their affective meaning and power arises in their performance, as they unfold in time before an audience. Furthermore, and importantly, these two types of rhetoric are related. Claims on behalf of jazz, of its political and social importance, are based not only on its socio-cultural history but also on the dispositional effects of its musical elements.

Consider this striking instance of a rhetoric of jazz spoken by Wynton Marsalis, Grammy-winning trumpet player, educator, and artistic director of New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center in the final episode of Ken Burns’ 19-hour 2001 PBS documentary series on jazz in America:

The thing in jazz … that would make all of these people [jazz greats] give their lives for this, and they did give their lives for it, is that it gives us a glimpse into what America is going to be when it becomes itself, and this music tells you that it will become itself, and when you get a taste of that, there’s just nothing else you going [sic] to taste that’s as sweet, that’s a sweet taste, man. (Burns, 2001)

This is a remarkable statement, for Marsalis metaphorically links physical sensation, aesthetic experience, political experience, and the being of America as he praises jazz as a distinctly American art form. This rhetoric, which dominates Burns’ documentary, figures jazz as America’s ethical saviour. As David Harlan explains:

[U]nderlying the whole nineteen hours is Burns’ stubborn hope that in the genius of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday—that is to say, in the continual improvising carried on by the sons and daughters of American slaves—America might find [citing Burns] “the way not only towards our own future but towards redemption for the crimes that permitted this injustice to happen.” (Marsalis & Ward, 2009, p. 40)

Such views are not uncommon among jazz writers and critics: Jazz is “America’s music” and in large measure responsible for America’s unique and in part Africanized cultural sensibility. Indeed, it is rare to find any history of American popular music that does not recognize the central importance of blues and jazz, originally African-American forms. It is furthermore not unusual for jazz to be praised for realizing in nuce the American promise of freedom and equality. Furthermore, jazz occupies pride of place in reflections on the aesthetic politics of race: to it is attributed African-American, American, or black “structures of feeling,” to use Raymond Williams’ (1977) evocative but ill-defined concept. Jazz instantiates, mediates, and calls forth a racialized and politicized life-world.

In considering Marsalis’ vision of jazz, it is important to recall that rhetorical practice is agonistic, that is to say it is born in struggle and manifest in controversy. Thus Marsalis’ remark cannot be seen as merely a report on a state of affairs. It is a claim, which is meaningful as a response to actual or potential counter-claims. He is advocating for jazz in the face of both popular indifference and competing jazz rhetorics. Marsalis, echoing Albert Murray, argues that while jazz emerges from the African-American experience, it is a music for all Americans because it swings: “Swing—the dance and the music—bespeaks the flexible nature of American life. … [In swing,] every beat requires musicians to reassess their relationship to one another. This is what makes swinging so challenging. You are forced to constantly be aware of other people’s feelings” (Marsalis & Ward, 2009, p. 40). Furthermore, as Marsalis explains to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, “The Constitution is a supreme example of swing. How can we figure out how to meet each other’s objectives and be together and for it to feel so good? Now, when we look at swing, it brings together opposites” (Marsalis & Ward, 2009, pp. 171–172).

Against the redemptive vision offered by Marsalis, African-American poet and cultural critic Amiri Baraka celebrates jazz’s potential as a medium for authentic black expression in the face of the cultural co-optations of white America. While he does not denounce swing in itself, and indeed praises some African-American jazz performances as “swinging,” he is wary of what swing became as it crossed the colour line: “Swing music, which was the result of arranged big-band jazz, as it developed to a music that had almost nothing to do with blues, had very little to do with black America, though that is certainly where it had come from. But there were now more and more Negroes like that, too” (Baraka, 1963, pp. 164–165). Critical of what he considered the assimilated black middle class, Baraka’s commitment was not to America, but to the development of black culture through an avant-garde or “out” black arts movement. Thus, unlike Marsalis, who seeks to remain within the structure of feeling or mood of a continuous tradition, Baraka admits black roots and acknowledges the canonical contributions of black artists from Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to John Coltrane, but seeks to move beyond them. Reviewing a 1966 performance in Newark, he observes:

Listening to Sonny Murray, you can hear the primal needs of the new music. The heaviest emotional indentation it makes. From ghostly moans of spirit, let out full to the heroic march spirituals and priestly celebrations of new blackness. I mention Sonny here—and Albert Ayler and Sun-Ra—because their music is closest to the actual soul-juice, cultural genius of the new black feeling. The tone their music takes is a clear emotional reading of where the new music is. And Pharoah [Sanders], Marion [Brown], Charles Moore and the others got into it the other night. And sound ran through us like blood. (Baraka, 1967, p. 154)

“Ghostly moans” alludes to work songs and early blues, just as “spirituals” does to an important strain of African-American choral music, but although these elements may emerge from a tradition, they are given voice in a “new music” with a “new feeling” consubstantial with black blood, which will not be compromised by white sensibilities or by what Baraka considers hard bop’s reactionary and unimaginative taking up of blues and gospel figures in response to the challenge of bebop.

Jazz history is usually written as a succession of genres, at least until the late 1950s, when a number of new forms emerged pretty much contemporaneously in the wake of bebop, the genre identified with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie that fundamentally transformed jazz. Marsalis considers this development of styles an augmentation, while Baraka treats it as a series of negations, of syntheses or overcomings. For both, jazz has black roots, improvisation is fundamental, and the music emerges from historical experience, but for Marsalis, jazz emerges in a conversation with a tradition and works through a given form. For Baraka, the new music reaches back to authentic roots and reworks their elements, but is directed forward and outward, against familiarity, even as its authenticity requires a staunch commitment to blackness. In other words, for Marsalis the black experience is a constitutive element of jazz as a home for American being, while for Baraka true jazz opens a clearing for the emergence of new African-American being.

Q. So jazz is not one thing?

A. Exactly. Like most musical and artistic forms, genres, and movements, jazz is not monolithic. In addition, jazz itself is a politically contested field. Indeed, many jazz artists and critics have been uncomfortable with the term “jazz,” because they see it carrying limiting stereotypes ranging from brothel music, the devil’s music, popular dance music, smoky nightclub music, to a dated or defunct commercial style. As such, much separates the aesthetic and political centres of the three rhetorics of jazz I have outlined. Nevertheless, they lay claim to a common musical heritage rooted in African-American culture and experience and assert the genius of certain canonical figures, such as Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. Furthermore, they share the view that music has the power to open subjectivity, being, or the “soul” to forms of collective life.

These rhetorics of jazz echo the Italian Humanists, as well as Nietzsche and
Heidegger, for whom the world comes to appearance through metaphor in a poetic aletheia or unconcealing. Of course, poetic language, even if allusive, has a cognitive component. It is rhetorical as it announces and figures a world to behold. But this beholding must be subtended by an apprehensive stance, which is constituted affectively through form. Thus, as Heidegger’s student Grassi (1980) explains, for Horace the constitutive power of poetic rhetoric derives from “Musike—not music, but the organizing power of the muses and poets—[which] creates the measure for everything that is not merely ‘outside’ of man in the form of ‘external nature,’ but which manifests itself in him, in his drives and passion” (p. 75). In this, the world does not stand objectively, nor is it beheld by a subject that stands apart from or before it. Rather, the world’s appearance exists only in a relating to an apprehending standing-being within it. In Heidegger’s terms, Dasein, being-in-the-world, emerges though affective disposition, through Stimmung (his translation of pathos), meaning mood or attunement. In other words, there-being is attuned or mooded being. As such, this being is neither a monad nor static, for it is attuned to harmony and rhythm as unfolding movements of expectations, tensions, and resolutions.

Q. You seem to like using present participles as nouns.

A. I am trying to convey a process and ongoing movement with neither subject nor object. This is a common device in Heidegger’s writing, as he attempts to write in the middle voice, which “puts our dominant voices in question and hence moves aside the fundamental beginning” (Scott, 1988, p. 160). What I have been trying to get at is that both music and rhetoric work in a constitutive manner, in that they bring forth subjectivity affectively. Furthermore, I do not want to suggest a subject-object distinction where an autonomous musician or orator acts through music or speech upon an audience, bringing that audience to a new subjectivity. Rather, I want to argue that musicians, orators, and audiences are always already in a middle, even when they do not so see themselves. Furthermore, these jazz rhetorics, in both the sense of speech about jazz and in the structures of jazz performance, highlight this betweenness, or what you call interality, although each in its own way.

Summarizing Plato’s Phaedrus, Grassi (1980) notes its distinction between three kinds of speech. There is speech that affects the passions using images that do not arise from insight. This would be false speech, “rhetorical” speech in the usual sense. There is speech that is entirely rational, which is to say theoretical, and thus divorced from the passions. Finally, there is “true rhetorical speech … [that] springs from the archai [(the structure of being and world itself)], nonreducible, moving, and indicative, due to its original images” (p. 30). Grassi argues that the Italian Humanists shared this part of Plato’s view of language. He also argues that poetic language is at the origin of human historical consciousness, that it provides the basis for apprehending the world, and that it is fundamentally metaphorical and based in pathos. Thus, true rhetorical speech is not conceptual; pathos precedes apodeixis (demonstration). Furthermore, this pathos is mooded rhythmically and musically: “Dante defines poetic language as a ‘rhetorical idea presented in music’ ” (p. 76). Metaphor offers a grasping of the human historical world through likenesses, and likeness itself is constituted through measure, including rhythm and tone. Furthermore, effective poetry cannot rely on just any metaphor. Chosen metaphors must be perspicacious, arising from the poet’s ingenium, which is to say imaginative capacity to figure “the relationship between things in order to grasp their fundamental meaning” (p. 91) with respect to human existence. As Bruni explains, this grasping occurs by “uncovering the ‘similar in the unsimilar,’ i.e., what cannot be deduced rationally” (p. 92). Uncovering here is a key term, since it recalls what the Greeks referred to as aletheia, a knowing based in a moment of revealing and concealing. The Italian Humanists, in a manner consistent with Plato’s understanding of true rhetoric in the Phaedrus, required that the rhetor-poet have insights in harmony with the fundamental nature of the universe or arche. This was not a matter of hearing the truth or seeing things as they are, but of being attuned to the muses or to the divine spirit, just as Heidegger demands of beings that they be authentic, through attunement with the fundamental moods of Being. As such, the world comes to be and is coherent to the understanding through an ordering based in a measure the muses provide in rhythmic movement. Grassi explains:

In the activities of the Muses, the concept of order plays a prevalent and unifying part. The order of movements appears in the dance, the order of tones in song, and the order of words in verse. Furthermore, order is the starting point of rhythm and harmony. … The reference made in [Plato’s] Laws to the “order of movement” seems particularly significant because movement represents a fundamental phenomenon in the realm of existence; whatever is perceived through the senses shows a becoming, that is, a movement in itself (change) or a movement in space. Through the application of a measure, movement proceeds within certain barriers and under certain laws; it is, as one might put it, “arranged.” (p. 31)

The muses do not offer concepts, but “‘open’ a cosmos. … Through the Muses, confusion, obscurity and the like are cleared away and abolished. All these fundamental characteristics of the Muses create the state of μανια [mania], of rapture, of frenzy” (Grassi, 1983, p. 15).

Q. Doesn’t this mean that ingenium is related to truth?

A. That is difficult to answer, since it depends upon what you mean by both “related” and “truth.” As you know, Socrates was committed to a real prior to the realm of appearances. The Italian Humanists were Christians and believed in God. Similarly, Heidegger ultimately was committed to the realization of authentic being. Nevertheless, ingenium does not proceed through representation but through figuration; it is not cognitive, not based in logos, but affective, based in pathos. As such, it is not guided by “truth” as correspondence; there is no single truth, but various serviceable orientations toward existence that it can bring forth; it provides attunements.

A commonplace in jazz education is that listening is central to the art. This is most clearly illustrated by proficient drummers whose four limbs can work independently, each one responding to one of the ensemble members. As Ingrid Monson (1996) explains, beyond technical proficiency, the improvising jazz musician must master listening to the other members of the ensemble to know what and when to play. An optimal performance manifests the spontaneity and synergy of a conversation or, better yet, an interacting African-American congregation. When this occurs, musicians are in the middle. Toshio Akiyoshi, the Japanese composer and pianist, likens this moment to Zen. “Basically, it’s that you are not there. … The process we are talking about, which some call mooshing, is a process of creating or actually becoming the music” (Moore, 2004, p. 402). In this mania, the inspired musician has the ingenium to hear and bring forth what is potentially present in a historically situated moment of human existence. Of course, this does not mean that the enthralled jazz musician is actually captured by goddesses or spirits, but that in improvisation he or she enters a state of simultaneous attunement and self-effacement. There is no self-possession, but neither is there dispossession. Rather, a clearing arises where a self-in-performance, a self-in-the-middle emerges, neither overdetermined by the past (or a score), not held in a static present, but moving iteratively outward. Furthermore, this self-in-performance opens a space that audiences may also enter. The performance not only constitutes the performer in the middle, but calls forth the listener as well. This musical calling forth of an audience also unfolds in a rhetorical middle voice. It must address the there-being of its audience even as it reworks it, seizing the Kairos.

The rhetorics of jazz that we have seen offer variants of this movement. For Marsalis, jazz is attuned to the America-being-itself, for Baraka authentic avant-garde jazz is attuned to blackness. This leads to distinct artistic trajectories. Marsalis favours a jazz that resides firmly in the tradition, attuned to dance, eros, and the body, and so providing an affirmative and familiar home for being. Jazz being would be manifest as swing-dancing-with-others-being, affirmation-in-blues-being, bop-dissensus-in-community-being, and Ellingtonian-eloquence-being. Marsalis finds these in the groove of blues, the rhythm of swing, the improvised conversations of the jazz combo, and their distillation in musical composition. Marsalis is at home in Armstrong’s New Orleans, Count Basie’s Kansas City, and Thelonious Monk’s Harlem, where even dissonant and strained improvisation continues to respond to the pull of form, of functional harmony with its play of anticipations, and of danceable rhythmic movement. Baraka also recognizes the significance of these, but is wary of stagnation and the dilution of black music by white or middle-class sensibilities. His Marxist-informed advocacy of the black arts movement in the 1960s celebrated jazz’s ability to express black experience and he applauded what he termed “the newly forming avant-garde” for innovations and departures that continued to rely upon authentic black elements:

Blues was the original Afro-American music, and bebop the reemphasis of the non-western tradition. And if the latter saved us from the vapid wastes of swing, singlehandedly, the new avant-garde (and John Coltrane) are saving us from the comparatively vapid ’50s. And they both utilized the same general methods: getting the music back to its initial rhythmic impetuses and away from the attempts at rhythmic regularity and melodic predictability that the ’30s and ’40s had laid on it. (Baraka 1967, p. 79)

In this, Baraka like Marsalis is committed to roots, but not to the home that Marsalis’ aesthetic provides. Thus, while sharing common origins, their aesthetic sensibilities diverge. Furthermore, politics resides within this divergence. Marsalis is attuned to the sweetness of America-in-itself, while Baraka is attuned to authentic-blackness-despite-America. This does not mean, however, that their differences are consequent of a prior political choice. The world comes to appear as one resides aesthetically within it. Neither reason nor deduction determines this residing. It arises beyond logos, in the pathos of musike. The politics of jazz arise through ingenium¸ through the aesthetic figuration of Dasein.

Q. Are you saying that Marsalis and Baraka together “cover” the field of possible modes of jazz being?

A. Hardly. There are other jazz sensibilities and other political rhetorics of jazz. Marsalis and Baraka’s rhetorics of jazz have been particularly influential, however, particularly in policing the boundaries of what will be called jazz. Each in his own way insists that not all contemporary improvised music is jazz: the trajectory of jazz originates in and carries forward the African-American experience. Not everyone would agree. There are other jazz rhetorics. Furthermore, jazz is performed and heard internationally, and being-attuned-to-jazz-in-Montréal, being-attuned-to-jazz-in-Montreux, and being-attuned-to-jazz-in-1930s-Harlem cannot be the same. Being flows and changes. It cannot be pinned down categorically.

My claim is more modest: Jazz provides us with the opportunity to examine how affect or aesthetic experience is politically significant as it elicits modes of attunement. Furthermore, we can understand this process of attunement as an unfolding that is not based in a distinct subject and object of experience. Rather, this unfolding arises in-between; I suppose you would say that it is interal. Specifically, world, music, musician, and audience are becoming through an interplay of pathē, which furthermore is open to possibility through improvisation. Finally, this tells us that one need be neither black nor American to be attuned to jazz, just as one need not be white to be attuned to country music or Bach. Rather, while it would be foolish to contend that these or any other aesthetic forms can offer each an identical experience, they offer the possibility of shared attunements and fellow feelings, and can serve as what Kenneth Burke refers to as “equipment for living.”


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