Layabozi

On Jazz/关于爵士

The music we know today as “Jazz” has always defied any easy mode of description. Just as the term “classical” in music has come to creak and groan under its myriad associations, “jazz” has become a linguistic Atlas, groaning and straining to support the many strains of world music that are allegedly included in its syntactic kingdom. Even the world itself is slippery in meaning and in origins. In 19th-century New Orleans the verb “jaser” or “jasser” may have meant to add spice or flavor to something, but it most certainly had strongly sexual connotations as well. Naturally the mostly African-American musicians who were creating this music at the time had differing reactions to being associated with the term.

“Jelly Roll” Morton, who considered himself the inventor of jazz itself, did not despise the term. He was one of the first people to define the music, saying it must have at least three main elements to be considered jazz: syncopation, improvisation, and what he called “the Spanish tinge.” Other greats of the music, like Duke Ellington, abhorred the term, and preferred instead terminology like American Classical Music to describe what he was making.

Regardless of what you call it, jazz certainly is many things to many people, and in many respects it is easier to define the art form by what it is not. We are already nearly a decade into the 21st century, and jazz now commands a position of respect throughout the world. It is featured as a course of study in the elite music conservatories of the world, from Juilliard in New York to institutions around the globe. And yet even within these schools you will find vastly different takes on what a serious course of jazz study entails. Musicians graduating with jazz degrees in California and Finland, for example, might both receive diplomas, but they will be producing vastly different styles of music, all considered jazz under today’s very inclusive and almost politically correct terminology.

In many respects, when most people who are not intimately involved with contemporary music use the term “classical,” they are in a sense referring to music created from the Baroque period until possibly the 1930s; any kind of serious-sounding opera sung in Italian or German; and anything composed for or played by an orchestra. Of course we know that every day serious “classical” works are being composed by contemporary composers like Yiannis Xenakis and John Adams and hundreds of others, but yet many of their works have yet to be stamped with what the vox populi consider to be the requisite imprimatur of historicity to be considered sufficiently “classical.” Put simply, if it hasn’t been dead long enough, or if the composer hasn’t been dead long enough, it isn’t classical music.

Nothing could be further from the truth, however, and one of the greatest propaganda cons ever perpetrated on man – outside of the religious and political realms – is that classical musicians of yore, including Bach and Beethoven and the other greats, wrote their music as so many notes etched in stone. Once inscribed, these weighty musical steles were never to be altered, breathed upon or so much as scratched. As if they were the Ten Commandments themselves, etched by the hand of god.

But we know from serious historical accounts and the diaries and anecdotes of students and audiences of many of these greats that the opposite is true. In fact, much of what the great composers wrote was in part or in majority improvised, played in and of the moment and captured, perhaps accurately, using the conventional musical notation of the time (which is of course the standard still employed today). Mozart was known to be able to sit at the keyboard and produce endless variations on a theme; Beethoven was a renowned improviser well before he was a renowned composer; and Chopin was rumored to have rarely performed his own compositions the same way twice. How in keeping with the true spirit of the Muses this is, and how very much in contrast it is to the today’s fashion, especially in the music schools of Asia, I must aver, which spits out legions of automatons, musical typists who diligently interpret every word of the source music as if it were gospel and forget that real music must come out the other end of the machine they are manipulating.

Ask any young classical musician to play the piece they are currently studying in a different key and you will know what I mean. You will hear the sound of silence. In many senses classical music training, and therefore the appreciation of it, is connected to its strict adherence to the Scripture on the page. We have forgotten, to a large degree, that our ears hear and our eyes only see. Unless one is truly synesthetic, these senses are separate.

In encountering jazz for the first time, or in trying really to appreciate the art form, some people have difficulty understanding what is happening in the music because they are listening with a “classical” ear, in the current and worse possible sense described above. When listening to jazz one should discard the armor of the pedant and self-important music aficionado and listen instead, at first, for things primeval. This is not to say jazz is not an intellectual music. There are ongoing neuro-scientific studies that are showing that jazz musicians playing and improvising at very high levels show special brain activity that compares to the trance states of Tibetan monks, for example, exhibiting an almost immeasurable intellectual and spiritual function. Put another way, it is one thing to spend seven days composing a piece of music, but it is quite another to create and improvise and successfully perform a piece of music of similar quality on the spot. But jazz has its most fundamental, innermost space, the beat, the rhythm, the pulse, the swing, the heartbeat of a continent, of a people enslaved, displaced, uprooted, slaughtered, taught that they would never be equal to their masters, taught they were less than men. If we forget this root of the tree we are not talking about jazz: plain and simple. We don’t need to have lived through that suffering to perform or appreciate this music any more than a Korean pianist would have to grow up in Austria in order to play Mozart. But we should have some minimal level of awareness of the sociological origins of an art form if we are curious to understand it on a deeper level.

So congratulations to Musiclover for introducing jazz to its reportage. This column in particular will seek a dialogue between past and present, between the giants of old and the today’s modern masters, to open for the reader a small window into the vast current of jazz, America’s Classical Music. In starting this trip we will dip our toes lightly in the water and begin at the beginning in next month’s column with a discussion of the progenitors of the music: Scott Joplin, Buddy Bolden, Louis Armstrong and other giants. We will touch on matters sociological, philosophical and epistemological, but always strive to keep music as the focus of our discussion. But for the moment let’s try to put away the rulebook and listen to music, any music, with our ears and our hearts as well as our minds. As Duke Ellington once said, “There are only two kinds of music, good and bad.”

By Nicholas Bouloukos

Originally published in the March 2009 edition of Music Lover magazine, which is available in many music and book stores near the Shanghai Conservatory, near the intersection of Fuxing Lu and Fenyang Lu, and in other fine magazine shops.

我们如今所谈论的“爵士乐”,历来就拒绝为某种定义束缚。就如同“古典”一词涵盖了无数分支,“爵士”也仿佛成了双肩掮天的阿特拉斯神,庞杂的世界音乐体系把他的身躯压得几乎变形,巨神却依然呻吟着拖住它们。这些各具形态的音乐类型不都声言自己隶属庞大的爵士王国吗?不仅如此,甚至是爵士——Jazz这个词本身,也难详其意,难寻起源。在19世纪的新奥尔良,”jaser”或者”jasser”这两个单词都意味着更火辣或者更多一份情调,但事实上它们都含蓄着一个有关性的语境。而作为爵士乐的发起者,大部分非洲裔美国音乐家却对“爵士”这个说法抱着不同的态度。
“Jenny Roll” Morton自恃为爵士乐的发明者,他温和地接受了“爵士”这个名称。Morton是少数几个最先为爵士定义的人之一,他认为爵士乐必须具备三个特点:切分音,即兴演奏,以及他所说的“一点西班牙风情”。而当年另一些音乐巨匠,比如Duke Ellington,却对“爵士”这种说法嗤之以鼻。在他看来,他所在做的音乐被称为“美洲的古典乐”才更加合适。
而无论被冠以何种名号,爵士乐历来就是一种见仁见智的音乐形式。或许换一种角度,用“非爵士”的特点来描述它会容易一些。21世纪的前十年即将过去,爵士乐也应当得到全世界的注意。从纽约著名的朱利亚音乐学院到全球各地,爵士早已成为最顶尖的音乐学府里研习的一门课程。然而,即使在这些学校之间,对于爵士课程所应研习和传授的内容,还一直存在着分歧。比如两位分别毕业于加利福尼亚和芬兰的爵士学生,他们虽然都已获得专业认可,但却会创作出风格截然不同的音乐,并都被认可为爵士乐。现今“爵士”已成了一个拥有足够包容度、并且不带偏见的音乐术语。
从很多方面来说,大部分听众对当代音乐的发展并不曾给予密切的关注。当他们言及“古典乐”,大多是指从巴洛克时期直到上世纪30年代,用意大利语或德语演唱的听起来颇严肃的歌剧,或就是所有为交响乐团谱写并由其演奏的作品。我们当然知道,当代的古典音乐家从未曾停止过创作新的“古典乐”作品,他们中包括Iannis Xenakis,John Adams,以及不计其数的同道者。然而,许多这样的作品仍需被贴上“人民的认同”这样的标签,才算是得到了必须的认可,才能被定论为“古典”。换言之,如果一种音乐,或是创作这种音乐的作曲家还没有入土为安并经历足够长的等待,就不能被归结为“古典”。
以上种种其实皆为谬论,然而迄今为止另一种错误宣传一直困扰着人们——撇开宗教和政治领域不谈——每当言及昔日的古典音乐家们,包括巴赫,贝多芬以及其他的伟大先驱,总好像他们的作品一旦写成就镌刻入石,乐谱变作沉重的石匾,不能被改变,无法被感悟,也不会被擦去。乐谱如同十诫一般,由上帝之手刻写而成。
但翻开历史的旧账簿,从那些伟大音乐家的学生或听众留下的日记、传闻中我们发现,事实并非如此。那些伟大的古典作曲家的作品,部分甚至大部分都被用来即兴演奏。这些即兴既恰到好处,又符合时代的音乐特征,当然也还是依靠当时传统的音乐符号来将这种即兴准确表现出来。而那时的音符标准其实也一直被沿用到今天。众所周知,莫扎特能坐在键盘前,即兴演奏出一段主题的无数种变调;贝多芬在成为著名的作曲家前,早已因他的即兴能力闻名;而有关肖邦的传闻早就声称,这位钢琴家面对自己的作品时,几乎从未作过两次完全相同的演奏。怎样才算是遵循着缪斯女神最真实的灵魂?这种做法和现在流行的方式又有多少不同?我必须说,在当下,尤其是一些亚洲的音乐学校,不断制造出一批批音乐机器人,他们打字一般演奏着音乐,勤勉地读着乐谱上的字字句句,如同在颂唱着真理,却忘了真正的音乐并非来自他们所操纵的机器——却是他们自己。
如果你让一个在学习古典音乐的年轻音乐家把他正练习的曲子换个调再弹,你就会明白我的意思。除了沉默你什么都不会听到。古典乐的训练和欣赏,一直以来就以写在纸上如同经文般的曲谱为依据。在很大程度上我们已经忘了,我们的耳朵能听见音乐,我们的眼睛却只能看见谱上的符号。除非人的感觉互通,听觉和视觉仍是必然不同的。
无论是刚开始听爵士,还是正在学着欣赏这种艺术形式的人,很多都会困惑——这音乐中究竟发生着什么?原因?是他们依然用“古典的耳朵”聆听爵士。也可能情况比我们上面所说的更糟。聆听爵士时,请脱去学究式的打扮,也别自以为是或心存偏见;而是去听,并首先去抓住那些最原始的东西。这并非说爵士乐是不动脑子的音乐。根据最新的神经科学研究,当爵士音乐家高度专注于演奏和即兴时,他们的大脑会进行非常奇特的活动,这种活动和一些僧侣在出神状态下的脑部活动相似,都深藏着不可估量的智力和精神活动。换一种说法,花七天时间来写作一首曲子,和在演奏的同时创作并即兴,并取得和前者相当的成功,这是截然不同的两回事。爵士乐最基础也最核心的是它的节拍,节奏,给人的冲动和摇摆的感觉。这其实是一片大洲的心跳,也是生活在这片大陆上的一整个种族的心跳。这个种族被贩作奴隶,远离家园无从寻根,甚至被残忍地杀害。他们被告知永远不能和他们的主人比肩,甚至不被当做完全的人类。如果不追根溯源,我们所讲的就并非爵士——就不能看清它的面目。当然我们无须再经受同样的苦难才能学会演奏和欣赏这种音乐,就如同一个韩国的钢琴手无须生长在奥地利才能演奏莫扎特。但如果想对爵士有更的了解,就必须意识到爵士这一艺术形式的社会学背景。
要感谢《音乐爱好者》杂志能开设专门的爵士乐板块。而这个专栏,将致力于把古往今来的爵士语言融汇到一起,让新老爵士音乐家在这里相遇,也让读者能从这扇并不大的窗口里窥见当今爵士乐——这一来自美洲的古典音乐的洪流。我们的视角将广及社会学、哲学和认识论领域,但音乐无疑仍是我们所谈论的中心。我们来一起学着扔掉所有的课本和规则,来聆听音乐——不分形式种类,用我的耳朵,我们的心,也用我们的大脑。就如同Duke Ellington早就说过,“世上只有两种音乐,好的,和不好的。”

文:Nicholas Bouloukos

翻译:许珏

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