Jazz: Jazz and Music Essay

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Essays on Music
THEODOR W. ADORNO with Introduction, Commentary, and Notes

New translations by Susan H. Gillespie

Uniaersity ot' CøIifornia press

On Jazz

On lazz

The question of what is meant by "jazz" seems to mock the clear-cut

. -\i)



definitive answer. Just as the historical origins of the form are disappearing into the fog of the recent past, so its range is disappearing within its ambivalent use at the present moment. For the purpose of providing a crude orientation, one could concede that it is that type of dance music-whether it be used in an unmediated or slightly stylized form-that has existed since the war and is distinguished from what preceded it by its decidedly modern character, a quality which itsell however, is sorely in need of analysis. This modernity is perhaps characterized most strikingly by those resistances-differing considerably according to region-which are encountered in jazz and polarized along the lines of either its quality of mechanical soullessness or a licentious decadence. Musically, this "mo-

sot uses it), modifications which remain constantly permeated by this elemental form. The most commonly used modifications are the displacement of basic rhythm through deletions (the charleston) or slurring (ragtime); "false" rhythm, more or less a treatment of a common time as a result of three & three & two eighth-notes, with the accent always on the first note of the group which stands out as a "false" beat [Scheintakt]l from the principal rhythm; finally, the "break*," a cadence which is similar to an irrrplgylggtio!, mostly at the end of the middle part two measures before the repetition of the principal part of the refrain. In all of these syncopations, which occasionally in virtuoso pieces yield an extraordinary complexity, the fundamental beat is rigorously maintained; it is marked


over and over again by the bass drum. The rhythmic phenomena pertain to the accentuation and the phrasing, but not the timing of the piece, and even the accentuation consistently remains, related precisely through the bass drum and the continuo instruments which are subordinate to it, a fundamentally symmetrical one. Thus the principle of symmetry is fully respected especially in the basic rhythmic structure [Grossrhythmikl. The eight-bar period, and even the four-bar half period, are maintained, their authority unchallenged. Simple harmonic and melodic symmetrical relationships correspond to this as well, broken down in accordance with half and whole closures. The sound exhibits the same simultaneity of excess and rigidity. It combines objectively maintained expressive and continuolike elements: the violin and the bass drum are its extremes. But its vital component is the vibrato which causes a tone which is rigid and objective

to tremble as if on its own; it ascribes to it s this being allowed to interrupt the fixedness just as the syncopation is not allowed to in



Europe the saxophone is considered representative of this soun{ thfinstrument against which the resistance has concentrated its forces. In truth, the instrument to which so much modernistic infamy is attributed and which is supposed to perversely subject the over-stimulated Western nerves to the vitality of blacks [Negen:itøIität], is old enough to command respect. It was already discussed in Berlioz's treatise on instrumentâtion;2 it was invented during the nineteenth century when the emancipation of the art of orchestration stimulated the demand for more refined transitions between woodwinds and the brass instruments, and has been used-clearly not obligatorily-in pieces such as Bizet's UArlésienne Søite, which has long since been considered a classic. In many countries it has been used for generations in military music, and therefore is no longer shocking to