© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
"It was difficult for the public, and impossible for the musical establishment, to take "seriously" a music played by a black subculture and white dropout rebels in dives and dance halls; whose leaders were hailed as "Satchmo'," "Prez," and "Bird"; whose recorded masterpieces bore such frivolous names as Potato Head Blues, Taxi War Dance, and Shaw 'Nuff. How could anyone be serious about a music bursting with such wild humor, parody, and lewd shrieks? A music wedded to sexy dancing and profane lyrics? A music that sent players and listeners alike into states of holy-roller ecstasy? How could you be "serious" and have such a screaming good time?"
- Grover Sales, Jazz author, educator and publicist
By way of background, the following appeared in www.jazzhouse.org as an obituary following Grover Sales’ death in 2004. You can locate the complete text for Jazz Is "Serious" Music in Jazz: America’s Classical Music [New York: Prentice Hall, 1984; New York: Da Capo Paperback Edition, 1992]. Grover is filling-in while the editorial staff at JazzProfiles develops its reviews of three, new books on the subject of Jazz.
“Strongly opinionated and superbly literate, longtime Bay Area resident Grover Sales was the kind of jazz critic who left no doubt about where he stood on issues ranging from the genius of Lenny Bruce to the paucity of gay jazz musicians.
During a career that spanned 50 years Sales [1919-2004] wrote about jazz, film and cultural politics and published widely in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, the Tiburon Ark and Gene Lees' Jazzletter. He wrote three books: Jazz: America's Classical Music, a biography of John Maher and, with his wife Georgia, The Clay-Pot Cookbook, which sold more than 800,000 copies.
Sales was also publicist for the Monterey Jazz Festival from its birth in 1958 until 1965, and for the hungry i nightclub. He also did freelance publicity work for artists such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland and Dick Gregory, and wrote liner notes for several Fantasy recordings.
Over the years, he taught jazz history courses at Stanford University, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, San Francisco State University and the JazzSchool.
Sales became a jazz fan at 16, after hearing a broadcast of Benny Goodman's band with drummer Gene Krupa, and later became what he called "an inveterate Ellington groupie" after hearing a recording of "Black And Tan Fantasy".
After serving in the Army Air Corps in Southeast Asia during World War II, Sales studied at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and then settled in the Bay Area, where he received a BA in history from the University of California at Berkeley.
In addition to his wife, Sales is survived by a daughter and two stepsons.”
Jazz Is "Serious" Music
From its earliest times, "respectable" people, regardless of color, scorned jazz as low-class trash not to be mentioned in the same breath with "serious" music. This condescending posture still crops up in record catalogues, critical essays, and news columns that erect a mythical fence separating jazz from "serious" composition.
Even jazz enthusiast Leonard Bernstein fell into this trap in 1947 when he wrote, "Serious music in America would today have a different complexion and direction were it not for the profound influence upon it of jazz." (Esquire.) This inference that jazz is not "serious" might have amused John Coltrane, who spent his days practicing and his nights on the bandstand. "No one,"said Ellington, "is as serious about his music as a serious jazz musician." When a student asked Dizzy Gillespie during a band break if he ever played any "serious" music, the puckish trumpeter grew serious indeed: "Just what do you think we're doin' up here—foolin' around?" Bassist Ray Brown told the Chevron School Broadcast: "One of the great fallacies of all time is that the classical players felt the jazzman, if he were good, just rolled out of bed one morning and was able to do everything on his instrument. But if you want to play a two-octave D scale [he demonstrates] you have to study, practice, you don't luck up on it, and you spend the same amount of time a guy would who plays in a symphony orchestra."
It was difficult for the public, and impossible for the musical establishment, to take "seriously" a music played by a black subculture and white dropout rebels in dives and dance halls; whose leaders were hailed as "Satchmo'," "Prez," and "Bird"; whose recorded masterpieces bore such frivolous names as Potato Head Blues, Taxi War Dance, and Shaw 'Nuff. How could anyone be serious about a music bursting with such wild humor, parody, and lewd shrieks? A music wedded to sexy dancing and profane lyrics? A music that sent players and listeners alike into states of holy-roller ecstasy? How could you be "serious" and have such a screaming good time?
Another little-known aspect of jazz that renders its lack of seriousness all the more absurd is that jazz players have pushed the technical frontiers of many instruments far beyond classical boundaries, doing things on the string bass, drums, brass, and reeds that symphony players said couldn't—or shouldn't—be done. Left to their own devices with no music school to interfere, they experimented and, like most American inventors, became pragmatists: "If you plug it into the wall and it lights up, then it works." When Charlie Mingus found that classical string bassists rarely used the third finger of the left hand, "I started using the third finger all the time."
This break-the-rules attitude does much to explain why jazz players often develop techniques that astonish symphony musicians. When I introduced a concert pianist to Art Tatum on records, his first reaction was, "All right — who are those guys?" On hearing a fast Charlie Parker solo, a symphony clarinetist insisted I was spinning a 33 rpm disc at 45 rpm. Classical musicians marvel at Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen who strums the double bass like some giant guitar. The Trombone Concerto Rimsky-Korsakov wrote as an endurance contest is something J.J.Johnson and the late Kai Winding could play in their sleep. This determination to play what the Academy considered unplayable is one reason why jazz blossomed with such richness and variety within an amazingly short time. But there were other catalysts of jazz's sudden growth that made it, in the words or composer Virgil Thomson, "the most astounding spontaneous musical event to take place anywhere since the Reformation." … to be continued