Thoughts On Adorno: A Sketch On Jazz

Since it was recognized nearly one-hundred years ago as a form of music, Jazz has become a loosely used term. In 1933, Theodor Adorno published his essay “Farewell to Jazz.” He explained that jazz–with it’s main characteristic during the 20’s and 30’s being that it was popular dance music–was standardized and banal. If it was 1933, I would most likely agree with Adorno that jazz was coming to an end. But it’s not 1933, and today his essay is quite dated.

Here’s the problem: when one gets their hands on this essay, or the other few essays Adorno published regarding jazz, he or she might believe that this still relates to our time, and I believe that there are many misconceptions concerning the subject. I’ve seen some people relate Billie Holiday to Ke$ha, merely because jazz was an early version of American pop music. I’ve also seen another desperate connection that “stereotypical” jazz, like Jaco Pastorious and Pat Metheney–who both arrived on the jazz scene nearly forty years after Adorno’s “Farewell to Jazz” was written–somehow relates to metal music.

I understand those arguments, but the jazz of yesterday is not the jazz of today, regardless of how hard Wynton Marsalis tries to make that happen.

Adorno was right about Jazz in the 1930’s in a lot of ways, but since his first essay on Jazz was published he lived through three more decades of the genre. Throughout those decades, jazz rapidly progressed as an art form and the world heard bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, post-bop, free jazz, and even beginnings of jazz fusion, while also decreasing significantly in popularity. Did Adorno ignore this progression? Did Adorno himself, while vehemently condemning the commodification of early Jazz music (which creates the argument that it is standardized and produced in a “cookie-cutter” style in order to sell more records), have a misconception as to what jazz actually was? And with so-called “Jazz conservatism” possibly killing jazz in our time, could Adorno’s thoughts on standardization be more true now than they were then? Do I myself have a misconception as to what Jazz actually is? Perhaps.

More thought-out writings to come.

1 comment
  1. rcbell said:

    Yet, I still wonder about one of the more popular radio forms of jazz…smooth jazz…

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