To the editors:
Salim Muwakkil's "Pop: I'm Bad, Therefore I Am" [January 22] reveals a confused and contradictory attitude towards jazz. On the one hand, in describing the musical tastes of the "black bourgeoisie," he notes that "jazz has become an exclusively aural art form; dancing is not allowed. (Jazz began as dance music. But to satisfy Western canons of art--canons that exclude dance music, except waltzes, from the category of serious music--jazzmen seeking respect ignored the feet.)"
On the other hand, he praises the bebop pioneers of modern jazz, Parker, Davis et al, and compares them to the present-day hip-hoppers. Yet it was precisely the bebop jazz musicians, not "jazzmen seeking respectability," who moved jazz off the dance floor and into the annals of great and serious music.
Muwakkil can't have it both ways. The problem is that all real music transcends sociology. Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, etc, etc, may have been "teenagers" when they conceived the angry lyrical visions that lifted jazz into its golden age, but they were no mere teenage phenomenon. What they felt as rebellion they expressed as art. And art is created by individuals, just as it is individuals who listen to art music, individuals who have higher expectations of such music than that it set their toes to tapping (or wet their pants--my God!). The "hipsters" who "dug" Parker and the others were a musically serious coterie. And one has only to read about the struggles of people like Charles Mingus to get their music listened to above the din of booze and make-out to appreciate how different the acceptance problems of jazz and rap are.
It's really too early to pronounce on any possible contribution to music of this latest mass pop-music fad. But for Muwakkil to accuse those of us, black and white, who love jazz as having somehow betrayed jazz by listening to Davis's Kind of Blue in the peace and privacy of our homes or applauding the Kronos Quartet's rendition of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" in the concert hall is simply wrongheaded.