Articles by Ratzo Harris
There has been a pernicious fallacy that music sets up moods and can be used for the control of the masses. The arts can enhance the methods used to shape the thinking and actions of groups of people, but cannot be equated as a method for doing so.
It can be so easy to think of music as existing separately from the society it’s performed in, as if it weren’t a cultural phenomenon.
While the analytical similarities of Thelonious Monk’s “Friday the 13th” and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” might be interesting to some people, these two iconic musical figures have something else in common. Both were extremely individualistic and found it difficult, if possible at all, to compromise their artistic visions to satisfy the whims of their handlers.
While the standards for achievement at two-year colleges aren’t as stellar as at a conservatory, the teachers are dedicated and the students are motivated. Granted, the talent pool for music students is limited, but the creativity displayed by the professors in order to help them make good music is fervent and often heroic.
Jazz Camp West’s non-institutional environment and the lack of age limitations are what make the camp unique. I would add that the lack of emphasis on jazz vs. funk vs. mambo vs. samba vs. hip-hop is a contributing factor. But probably the single most important factor in fostering a sense of community among the campers and faculty is the lack of cell phone service and difficulty in accessing the internet.
I had to stop reading Scottish Church Music after a while. Not because of its content, which I find fascinating, but because the service staff and the fellow sitting next to me were making remarks about my reading something that included musical notation.
Founded by Patricia Parker in 1996, the festival is the temporal sonic canvas for Arts for Art, Inc., “a multicultural, artist-initiated and artist-run organization whose purpose is to build awareness and understanding of avantjazz and related expressive movements.”
In my thinking, the exclusion of audience participation means that measures have been taken to keep it from happening, but its disinclusion merely means that it was never taken up for consideration. Audience participation at orchestra concerts is not considered as essential to the music’s performance. And now that jazz-studies programs are nearly ubiquitous in American academic institutions, we should be concerned that institutional-based jazz-studies programs have the potential for disincluding the relatively experienced performer from their learning environment.
Many people attending jam sessions look at them primarily as a place to perform, and not a place to listen and learn. It’s the latter attitude that is the key to appreciating, and making the most of, a jam session.
The most valuable performance tradition in American music—more important than subscription orchestra concerts, new music series, musical theater, rock concerts, and the opera—is the jam session, where musicians of any age, stature, and stylistic bent will agree to improvise at least one song together with the intent of making the best music possible.