AUTHOR: IVO MARTINS
EDITION: Guimarães Jazz Annual Journal #3 - Câmara Municipal de Guimarães/ Associação Cultural Convívio/ A Oficina DATE: November 2008
At the beginning of every year, when programming ideas for the new festival are bouncing around, the same
doubts resurface. What is jazz today? Is there a specific way to pinpoint this music by using a sufficiently safe
and universal process of identification? All the questions follow on a path to a definitive answer, but they do not
tire - they linger in time growing more and more dissatisfied and exhausted. In all the fuss caused when this type
of questioning goes on without any significant result, each option or choice of musicians or songs must start out
by distancing itself from the other outside interests in play. It should avoid the temptation to attract attention to
those events which are not quite representative of the real problems underlying the definition of jazz.
The facts challenge the capacity for providing answers when the innumerable ghost-questions reappear as new
specters of old doubts which move about over time. Thus, controversial issues are created: unresolved themes
about current questions on the place of improvisation, impeding the visibility of the music presented in the
context of the festival. When musical events are announced, they are also born, shaped in and by the media; it is
not simply a going through the motions of selecting and choosing. The options that come forward are
transformed into useful moments that enlarge the images of publicity and marketing, yet feed certain polemics
that find support in the broad-based tastes of audiences on the periphery of festival programming.
A festival program ought to represent an analytical space that encourages the concept of fruition and steers away
from holding external debates on the programming. If this can not be achieved, the festival itself becomes the
topic of a discussion lost on a detour from all that was intended to emerge when the initial choices were made.
It is not possible to transform the programming into a debate-problem about the limits of jazz. When it comes
time to make the selection, a sort of adherence to music that is reflected over all other genres takes place. When
this decision is transposed into a rhetorical act, the discourse constructed in the narrative bubble in defense of
the project and its cultural statement will include elements that characterize the choices being made, adding
distance from more general issues. To live within a world of commitments and complicity, dependent on outside
interests, pushes the festival away from its grander aims, making it akin to ways of playing out in duals. In
carrying out those processes that weaken the programming and in weaving a set of detours in the defense of
outside interests which are based on the vision of a bi-polar world, the festival comes out looking like a residual
means of expression. A mechanism of exclusion is established, stripping away the authority afforded to the best
opportunities to communicate, in favor of a program as an open moment of assimilation and confrontation for
all who appreciate jazz. We arrive at a situation in which nothing substantial can even be heard or detected in the
midst of such a raucous discussion.
A good many differences of opinion regarding aesthetic values exist in such polemics, and yet what is left behind
is a desire to just let go of or to become more opaque in the use of any sharper tools of persuasion. The most
characteristic aspects of a clear strategic choice disappear, and in this feeble way, the opportunity to generate
new ideas is lost. Our program has to give voice to the individual, and not to those outside or collective interests
defined by personal or group statements about any one certain choice.
Tastes and genres emerge as historical arguments in a weakened form of chronological analysis, amplified into
futile moments of discussion. The choices lose their protagonism, and people capable of thought are pulled away
and off into the periphery, leaving behind a legitimate center formed by Guimarães Jazz. We have given up
participating in order to get involved in an argument, leaving behind the opportunity for any fruition or
enjoyment. We do not have the space to feel, nor the pleasure to hear, that which the festival program presents to
us. We are always tripping over the same old questions of generational conflicts in the attempt to summarize
history into problems that have already been solved for quite some time now. The questions about what is new
and what is old, about the traditional and the modern, are like shifting sands in the discussions. Acting in a
persuasive way in any discussion about the problem of how to define jazz, and the arts in general, will denote a
clearly activist and militant connotation, manifest in the inability to understand contemporary music and
culture. Words suffocate jazz, and they place themselves in a dimension of vicious problems about the past in
which everything is history and in which events were limited to questions of a practical nature, related to a field
of action. Music and art are part of the field of thought, and aesthetic values deal more with formulations that
strive to find explanations about the present, referenced in the way in which we act.
Guimarães Jazz seeks out solutions for survival through its programs. The entire search for meaning dissipates
into the air, and thus all the ways to listen to and understand jazz at our disposal today undergo incessant
reexamination. The accepted rules and doctrines fall out of focus almost immediately, in the minute after we
hear the music, and many times the music turns against itself, inverting older values and declaring the results of
métisse blending and cultural incorporation, never before acknowledged, as something new. The collage-making
and the fishing for elements act to transform the natural processes of musical structuring and make measures of
normalization more difficult, repudiating codes and remaking regulations. The smallest sets of applicable rules
are being permanently readjusted and salvaged. History has proven that we are quite attached to old codes, yet at
the same time people are more predisposed to assimilating what is new. Dogmas and position-limits, shielded in
preconceived notions of style and institutionalized exteriority which is accepted by the majority, make people
dangerously accustomed to dispensing with the need to deliberate over issues in a decisive manner. Therefore, we
should never facilitate or yield to the simplified processes of conception. Guimarães Jazz is an affirmed
centrality, but not exclusive, striving to find a place for itself near the margins and the periphery. The debate over
the general questions relating to jazz, which occurs simultaneously with the festival, blocks the assimilation of all
its preparatory activities. The intention is for the programming not to get locked into a type of prison - in the
bilateral vision of the worn-out and increasingly irrelevant discussion in which camps are drawn between older
and more innovative jazz - without dispensing with the enormous open field, now liberated, which is free of
commitments. There is no interest in adhering to the surface of those groups formed within the centralizing
sphere of jazz, which comprises many figures who move about in the shadow of this music. It is preferable to
keep collectives and activist defenders of certain types of jazz at a bit of a distance. The discussion generated by
the questions surrounding how jazz is to be classified should not be introduced in the context of the festival
because it cancels out the effect of providing ‘spaces for assimilation’ and does not allow people to act in a
creative way with the imagination. We need to feel the other side of the problem in order to begin the permanent
re-creation of all the silent potentiality, and through its comparison with other alternatives, we need to expand
into new ways of planning and inventing spaces and incentivizing useful negations based on those spaces where
renovated constructions can be built. This feeling is not a simulation of what we do not want or of what we do not
assume, but rather a sufficiently interesting raison d’être which should be explored for its greatest potential.
Art is being incessantly deregulated, and this uncertain and random state is useful for certain elements placed on
the jazz landscape. We feel that nothing can be perceived as long-lasting. People live out successive moments of
experience as if they were a collection of episodes having no direct consequence on their easily forgettable
choices. Harmony is not uniformity, and it always needs work - an interactive effort dealing with different motifs.
The variety of ideas and taste, in this context, is assumed as the possibility for pragmatic constructions to be
established, articulated along a broad range of ways to see things and contemplate them. Thus by not attaching
choices, types, genres, styles and definitions onto the Guimarães Jazz programming, it appears as a necessary
final destination, a non-restrictive vision whose counsel comes from the need for opening and exploring
differences, among all the options that exist for us to choose from.
It is known how all the choices have been privatized and their aspect of freedom transformed, and how from
these choices many constructs of individuality were created, without the existence of the slightest unifying
identity. There is nothing to be said about innovative forms, neither about what appears to be different ways to
listen. The promotion of a unique and centralizing idea about a certain type of jazz, supported in more or less
original performances and innovations in the way to approach it, does not offer the least argumentative
consistency and is a useful abstraction that aims to achieve other goals. In publically upholding the existence of a
process of qualification able to evaluate programming choices, it becomes understandable how this pattern of
acting is out of kilter from the fragmentary and dispersed context of the contemporary cultural world. What
persists within the concept of evaluation, determined by a classification that goes from more to less, is the need to
persuade and to conceive of a power whose tendency is to fall back on all the other conceivable choices as an
external and obvious act of excessive cultural zeal.
THE DARK COLOUR
Is it not the white that supresses the darkness?
In the beginning, they all had the notion that music could make one surpass one’s own limits. Then, they became
circumspect, reflecting on the many ideas that gave origin to their fantasies. They were surprised when they
began to use such simple things, managing to shake up the safe positions of the old academic constructions about
art and music. What was known was how artistic pursuits glorified the sacred and would express an abstract
feeling of the sublime, the untouchable source of all creative inspirations, yet no one was able to predict that it
would be possible to synthesize the sound space so effectively, shared by so many varied and different cultures.
What was unknown was the extent to which the innumerable threats to the maneuvering of creation could
contain a level of unkemptness sufficient enough to cause rejections and confrontations as each new discovery
was made. What was understood was that true progress in the area of knowledge can only be obtained through
the act of thinking, and that the convulsions caused by many of these stories, ones which were never truly wished
for, are only the collateral effect of a doubt-laden, racist culture in an advanced state of decay. We must leave
these circumstantial worries behind in order to understand the details that have influenced the moments which
were present at jazz’s rebirth in each time period. It was known that instability and ambivalence of successive
artistic impulses were located in an open space lying before our very eyes as an exceptional field open to creative
exploration - a land waiting to be tamed - after centuries of political failures and great cultural weariness.
Culture has always felt a strange closeness with those who fail, and many artists have taken advantage of their
aura of the Outcast, gaining ever so gradually a greater importance for those marginal spaces where they manage
to construct their strong identities. The anxiety caused by these socially out-of-joint beings helped in the
understanding of how existential certainties about creative goals are reached, transforming them into ways to
question any new concerns which may arise. We learn how to live with less and to survive among the costumes,
the simulations and the mock-ups. Art must be carried out in the midst of many more or less innocent and naïve
acts in the epicenter of a state of uncertainty, which music will accompany to the tune of a good many sounds.
Jazz, as a means of resisting cultural and social domination in a racist country, was born of a set of culturally-
affirming confrontations, felt in an even more overwhelming way after legal discrimination was abolished and
equality declared. Music spreads surreptitiously among the broadminded emotions, sliding astutely among
people, to the sound of an unfettered wish. Sound began to slowly penetrate into the smallest public and private
spaces, at the same time endeavoring to satisfy the needs of the boundary-revelation, able to put an end to the
confrontation of the most diverse forms of ambivalence and impotence laid out before a dominating power.
Apparently, we are overwhelmed with doubts about an inglorious struggle against what surrounds us and what
pressures us, but surprisingly, what emerges in the ongoing attempts to interpret and comprehend our world are
impulses toward convergence and bonding, something which lifts us to attain powerful musical syntheses, ones
which radiate novel separations and divisions. Marcel Duchamp looked out onto an awning that he had built for
his new house and said:
“Happenings have introduced an element into art that no one had ever put in before: boredom. In painting,
boredom cannot be depicted. Doing something to bore the people who looking at it - I’d never thought of that
before! It’s a pity because it’s a lovely idea. In the end, it’s the same idea about silence that John Cage had in his
music; no one had ever thought of it before.” (1)
All the situations that result from this reveal the boredom of post-industrial societies and send us back to old, by-
gone metaphors. We remember those which speak to us of rivers and of their obsession with reaching the sea, for
once there they can begin the process of their own rebirth. Color also wants to reach the light, this untouchable
element that enables births in the culminating moment of its identity - an identical material equivalent to the
maximum threshold of knowledge whose movements of perfection compromise all artists. It can be understood
how the notion of light and perfection, as well as the rivers and the sea, can rest on the idea of something that
comes of nothing as an intermediary and bonding concept of a saving expression about Jazz, when jazz had been
so totally invisible for so long. All forms of Jazz are instruments of sociological representation destined to live in a
temporal space invaded by many sources of experience. The cold light, as well as the liquid materials which, in
their assimilating searches, comprise the impersonal and rational mass of all thought, give birth to the inability
to establish correlations on the many past and present artistic events. The work of constructing a sequential order
depersonalized the age of music, transforming it into a condition where chronological and rational explanations
could be fabricated for it. The structuring of all found sequences was, for a long time, unable to provide a level
ground where the intended observations could be made. Qualitative changes, types, genres, styles and definitions
applied to existing forms of performance are the process to domesticate the creative process, assigning it a place
and establishing a hierarchy for it. This redefinition tells us nothing about the search for universality in art, nor
does it enable us to surpass the present state of timeless indifference. The goal of history is not to culminate or
conclude any undertaking of social refinement, and the apparent improvements which we can see around us are
vulgar alterations of circumstances caught between periods of time. These modifications are little more than
projections of collective jitters and the accumulation of mass unease felt when trying to separate the inseparable
and when putting the great rushing flow into order. No one is predisposed to looking at the events without the
luster of great narratives and the consequent grandiose destinations. This fact does not present serious problems
for the mechanical functioning of the retina, nor does it affect analytical mechanisms that deal with sight. When
we think about the potential of our hearing, we can re-dimension Jazz placing it under the keen glance of our
hearing, and yet nothing enables us to be totally sure we make the right observation within our repetitive acts of
reflecting and thinking. The problems which we face when we listen to a song make us unable to reflect upon
what is new in a balanced and harmonious way. On the other hand, we cannot keep from feeling the sensory
warmth of color, another of those ordering elements which simultaneously act as a disorienting part of the senses
because, despite the immense loneliness experienced when we think, there exists some comfort which comes
from the iciness - an unpleasant space where we find ourselves and isolate ourselves. Through the pleasure
revealed in a piece of wished-for modernity, we negate a feeling of disappointment which occurs as we experience
the anguish to think of all the countless victims of racial segregation and the other countless victims of genocide
and exploited peoples. It is known now, after so many nation-saving ideas had been announced based on ideals
of never-before-reached progress and after so many years of frustration, that art emerges ever clearer with a
fundamental relevance for structuring the collective given the impossibility of finding an exclusive and natural
response for the problem of our identity. Jack Kerouac crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, having a walk to work up his
appetite when he recalled:
“Don Joseph is an amazing horn player who wanders about the Village with his moustache, with his arms folded,
holding his cornet which pops when he plays it sweetly, or better, hums. He’s the greatest and smoothest horn
player since Bix or more. - He hangs out by the jukebox at the bar and plays along with the music in exchange for
beer. - He looks like a dapper film star. - He’s the great, super-glamorous Bobby Hackett secret of the jazz world.
And that guy Tony Fruscella sits cross-legged on the rug and plays Bach by ear on his trumpet and later at night
he’s blowing it with the boys in some modern jazz session. Or George Jones who plays a great tenor in the
backyard at dawn with Charlie Mariano, just for fun, because they love jazz, and once on the docks at dawn they
played a whole set while some guy was tapping out the rhythm with a stick.” (2)
Perhaps because of all these stories we began to feel the invisible presence of a type of disorder, the chaotic and
random element that accompanies the creative act. There exists a concept of freedom articulated in the central
patterns of self-experience, reflected in one’s capacity for initiative and expressiveness. This individual force
moves along with the pace of life and grabs our attention, directing it toward a new paganism of sorts. We search
for personal energy, the new crucial moment of existence, able to be heard in music as a single and indivisible
expression released through successive artistic battles. Oppression tends to originate in an opposing response. In
art, repairing the lack of balance among various forms of coercion is done, and once the opportunities to find a
definitive and pleasing solution have been wasted, the problems of contemporaneity no longer provide a happy
We can also see that the current situation is that this art, after the music has been performed and the recordings
inventoried, has been transformed into an immense narrative. A museological idea has sprung up and has begun
to immediately deal with the conservation of music.
Thus, what is being sought after is a useful and necessary end for the precarious opportunity that some
reasonable solutions can be found - an exit - from a place whose deepest centrality we are still unaware of, where
all our ancestral inheritances coexist, having come out of the open hole of human ignorance in which we are still
prisoners. Artists’ freedom lives in intuitive moments of understanding where it is impossible to find the smallest
pathway or collective cause which antecedes and surpasses all learning. There is nothing to show us the reasons
which spur artists to exaggerate. No one knows the identity of the persons who have stirred up all these excesses,
transforming them into art. The passage discovered through art emerges as something frozen by the attempt to
escape from the ever-deepening submersion into the primordial swamplands of creation. When moments are
difficult to concretize, the instincts revealed leave traces of resistance behind them, ways to go ‘culturally
beyond,’ ones which lie in the place between reasoning and fear, here on this strange planetary prison. In all
systems, the geometry of agreeable straight lines builds comfortable sensory frameworks, stripping authority
away from the slightest oblique and contrary movement without causing great pangs of pain. Musicians continue
to place themselves in what we might call the most perfect world of all feelings - a type of state or place for
executing things, one where they can delve into experiencing the chances for communicating without making just
one single person responsible. In this world of indifference, communication is done through a color.
Erik Satie and Thelonius Monk appeared at the same time, spoke about Picasso without the cubist school,
Beethoven without classicism and Schönberg without the twelve-tone scale. Satie went on a bit more to say:
“Note that in all my music, it is I who am doing it … All the flats (especially) all the sostenuti (even the doubles)
are done TOTALLY (from head to foot, of course!) by me. All this is quite curious and denotes a great strength of
character (honest and faithful). I also exalt myself… Yes. … The musician is perhaps the most modest of the
animals, but he is proudest of this fact. It was he who invented the sublime art of mistreating poetry. If someone
were to discover something truly novel, everything would begin again.” (3)
Meanwhile, Monk managed to get closer, showing an interest in going away. It seemed as if he were late. What
mystery might be occupying their minds? Them, the misunderstood artists, in permanent self-imposed exile,
unique figures of their time?!
Over time, we have been learning how to act according to the most elementary rules of clandestine life. In the
change from their original conditions of existence, men have altered and transported their medium as they go
along. All refugees and expatriated people seem to always be returning to the place of their origins. They go
round in a sentimental circle where their ideas will always radiate forth, and parallel to that, there will be
increasing numbers of those who depart en masse, as in history, on such grand journeys. Those who have no
nationality, no territory, or no country will continue to exist. … From this strange form of segregation, new
displaced populations will emerge, floating collectivities reflected in a type of double. No one is rather surprised
by these facts any more, and nothing compares to the situation which, to the amazement of many people, began
to take over the world and so-called civilized Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. No one would have
thought it possible that beginning with the First World War, and that in a short stretch of time, that 1.5 million
Russians, 700,000 Armenians, 500,000 Bulgarians, 1 million Greeks and hundreds of thousands of Germans,
Hungarians and Romanians would leave their homelands, with the subsequent introduction, on a judicial basis,
of the status of de-naturalization and de-nationalization applied en masse to all citizens.
By analyzing these aggressive forms of displacement, it becomes understandable how people need to escape their
homelands although many people we know do not feel the smallest desire to run away nor are they aware of the
brutality of their condition of being socially closed off. Moments of clear annihilation must be attained for people
to make the decision to leave - generally too late with respect to one’s objective possibilities for success. It might
be a priority to quickly come up with a sketch of probable accomplices to help in the escape and get to it right
away. Jazz was imprisoned inside a people who, after considering all the likely prospects for saving themselves,
and after some hesitation, became aware of the scope of the populations involved. Yet this would not facilitate
sociological research. The number of people eligible for this difficult operation of trans-cultural métisse-blending
was infinite. It would have to be someone who would know how to use voice and sound adeptly, knowing how to
turn them into a disguise of many shapes and appearances - a perfect accomplice in this vast migratory
It has been quite some time now since we have discovered that during the course of History some people are very
good with their hands. People have appeared possessing the profound knowledge of the risks of putting the
production of a defense structure into string instruments, wind instruments and percussion, one able to
safeguard their roots by using scenarios of circumstance and mimicry that deceive. They simulated many
characters whose milieu forced them to recreate and imitate. Their vocal and sound abilities, formed by the set of
instruments invented by these men, set about modeling a conjugation of art and artifice in an adjusted way. The
creators could thus confuse, dissimulate and lessen the strategy of having to fight against the snuffing out of their
origins and face their segregation, establishing in the integrating success of music a type of way out/solution. We
could not complain about the fact of our being prisoners of collective conventions from a ferociously binding
exterior or of the definitions and socially normalized orders for all bureaucracies - a way of illuding attempts at
humiliation and control over everything we were thinking about. To be a people in the middle of a socially
powerful context would include the ability to identify one’s own self and to know how to survive culturally.
It is not in us to contradict or to be dissuaded that we ever ceased to be exclusively original and the “center of the
universe” - even though we cannot continually redefine the life of each one of those persons whose race/culture
boundaries could still provide us with identity. It was also unknown how to articulate a process of
separation/bonding without stamping out our great preserved heritage. Also being restored was an idea of a
musical world represented externally for each person and taking in the surrounding social context in which a
reptilian defense instinct of one’s own references is developed. All people want to escape the forced and clearly
oppressive assimilations that are revealed around us.
Charlie Mingus continued totally absorbed in his piano playing. As you can imagine, this situation could be
bothersome to anyone, but not because we could see him so near to us but because his enormous hands would
not stop moving about on the keyboard. He might have guessed what we had pictured in our minds when he said:
“One day I felt happy playing the piano. At once I took up a cheerful melody … moments later I came across some
dissonance which made it sadder. I realized then that the piece should have two parts. The story would be one of
a clown who tries to please his audience - just as we jazz musicians do - but no one likes it. (…) I don’t like it that
they call my music jazz, I don’t like that word. Do you know what it means in New Orleans “to jass a lady”? It
means to screw, to screw and nothing more. When I screw, above all I’m making love.” (4)
The space where musicians lived was a type of walled-in territory full of obstacles built by individuals unable to
communicate. Abandoned by their original languages, they had to reinvent other forms of expression to be their
survival guide. The non-place of their frustrations had give rise to an equalizing integration. Artists were
segregated into disguises of a paternal and compulsive assimilation. Race became the center of separation,
something social, weighty and dense. There was nothing crueler than to subject a population to a stigma based
on the vulgarity of appearances, and this within a society already having reached its maximum limit of masks per
citizen. The system made its defense of sluggish racial apathy vis-à-vis the idea of freedom, with the target being
a people who had formerly been slaves. The releasing of these profound racist and social symbols results in this
liberating moment, one so often heralded and so often postponed. This is where the permanent desire for change
appears, associated with everything that occurs in Jazz - to live music revealed as a recent evolution on the
calendar, transforming the unexpected into an unshackling opportunity for escape.
“For more than half a century there has been talk about the revolution in science and technology; other groups
have spoken with the same insistence of the international proletarian revolution. For ideologues and believers,
these two revolutions represent two contradictory but complementary sides of the same divinity: Progress. From
this point of view, returns to the past and historical resurrections are unthinkable and reproachable. (…) If there
is a word that defines these years, it is not «revolution» but «revolt». However, it is a question of «revolt» not
only in the sense of a disturbance or violent change as one situation becomes another but also in a return to
origins - a revolt as a resurrection.” (5)
We still need to know how to be utilizers, without losing the primeval sense of values discovered over time and in
the medium of our dramatic collective experiences, expressed in innumerable metaphors of sublimation within
the actions we have carried out over centuries. Art is a manifestation achieved through positive ways of
surpassing and overcoming misery and incapacity. Many have erroneously used the laws of providence, whose
principles of justice and equality boil down to measures of a pragmatic kind. Later it was discovered that in such
a practice a serious loss of references would occur, hidden in utilitarian forms of action. Even today, these ways
of behaving continue to negatively influence contemporary societies.
There are still people who wish to believe in the abundance of their creative manifestations as a way of prevailing
over countless social, political and economic limitations. To mock the state of pursuing musical or artistically
invented forms leads to an escape which then converts itself into an act of surpassing, supported by the survival
instinct. If we indeed want to act and release our energies - those pent-up by hardships and the barriers of
successive causes of tough luck called fate, from which those who strayed did not survive - it is better not to think.
The informing elements of Jazz are simple lines of movement, permanently redrawn as naturally recurring and
involuntary actions of unwitting survival - peripheral life in a state of its own, condensed into the image-laden
hope of being able to surmount limitations because it is in this hope that all impossible horizons are built. The
perspective, as a fundamental element for redefining the visible, reaches its lesser limit of enclosure when the
place for any journey or escape comes to signify salvation and hope. With Jazz we feel an obligation to belong to
the world, to a place that is being remade around us, without wasting our purpose in our own personal search.
We thus begin to understand, in the scope of all the musical types possible, the broad variety in what is
attempted, with these creators being able to seize the opportunity to banish paralyzing darkness from their
creative traits. In art we douse the destructive sadness which emanates over the pagan space. What is released is
a strange energy within the absolute relationship toward nature and instincts which thus contradicts the clever
will of social constructs, themselves frozen in collectively integrating lethargy and inhuman and powerfully racist
Walking along the path cannot put the force of imagination to sleep. The route which thought takes is a watchful
state able to guide works of art in the direction of dreams, and vice-versa. Thinking of a color can be an abstract
solution able to alter opaqueness and darkness, opening up a pathway. All open sound reflexes, associated with
the permanent creative state, act in an indirect way on all forms of music and can aid in the emerging from an
enormous enveloping blindness. The ample sensory space, lit up by a musical state impossible to understand
separately and representing a universal unit, is what is detected inJazz. Beauty takes on, at times, strange
interpretative metamorphoses, altering dark things which we have taken out from our reading, listening and
viewing. The word “bluelight” can be understood differently: in that we are forced to see a color or in that we
might see here a type of free-transit, a language-passkey able to open the door to a world of discovery instead of a
secret. Reading from back to front can correspond to the discovery of a passage to our interior way out. Light
shines on what was pulling us into the nets of gloomiest darkness.
Curiously, a search for the best way to direct our perspective begins with the color of Jazz. Observation falls back
on the act of listening at the time music is performed, an activity through which light is made. When we
understand the contrary in our lives, the illuminated area gets dragged along, invisible due to the strength of the
color which blinds us. Our course may be a sound path inside us which does not express many considerations or
opinions about our knowledge. A zealous sensation of devotion interrupts the internal pathways of discovery and
hampers the impulse to offend social rules and desires. Those dependent on this bonding process of external
tensions are only cogs in the incomplete and collective machinery that produces nothing substantial and that only
offers a hardly tolerant sentimental refuge.
It is not by chance that we remember the book “Our Need of Consolation is Boundless” and if we think like Bird,
we still continue outside reality causing us to doubt its actual presence. Full-time companion on the periphery as
a symbol of marginality, citizen in the alchemy, drugs and underworld of hallucinogens, Bird’s adventure seems
rather strange. Bird might well have said at that moment exactly what Lady Day (Billie Holiday) said on the
“… during the time at Log Cabin the girls tried to make fun of me and called me ‘lady’ because they thought I was
uppity for not wanting to go to the tables to pick up tips and money. But the name Lady stuck even after all of
them had forgotten how it came up. Lester took it and added ‘Day’ from the name Holiday and that’s how I got to
e called “Lady Day” (…) (6)
“Black musicians have to take their hat off to her. Charlie Parker and people like him and me were born with
that. And we have to externalize it in some way. Those guys didn’t have it in them. They had to work and to study
more just to get to that point.” (7)
How do you locate people capable of placing a liberating color onto music? How do you develop resistance in the
personality of those who never let themselves be denied by the pressures surrounding them or by the threatening
speech of the powerful? Those who do not wish to be pushed away from socially agreed upon preconceived
notions, from annihilating collective security, from the sacred center of history and from the knowledge guarded
by the academies and venerable institutions of learning will never be able to come face-to-face with marginality
as a solitary place, or a space of exclusion and isolation where a terrain of confidence exists offering artificially lit
spots and sordidly supervised areas. Jazz is not protected by the pseudo-paternity of a so-called ‘equal for
everyone’ law which promotes easy access to the enormous proliferation of protective actions, with fears and
transgressions surrounded by walls and borders that linger in an existential limbo where safety does not exist.
Condominiums appear in contemporary urban society as a revivalist example of a totalitarian concentration
camp, now more open and post-modern. The fashion for safety, as with all fashions at the end of socially
insoluble times, resembles the tastes and habits of untended and unfettered times of social decadence,
transformed into luxurious groupings under the pompous glow of those buildings put up as a residential and
domestic prison. Prisoner at a pleasant distance from all other notions of ambivalence, and far from
contamination and other wicked company, Jazz has been a floating surface which has cautioned and continues
to caution us about how to detect the smell of all impure deaths and poorly buried bodies. It has sought to
struggle against the thankless job whose mission it is to discover a musical color that can liberate from obligation
and duty and fight paternalistic and tutelary centralism which conforms and is consistent with correct behavior.
To explain what has happened and to try to narrate the various stories of numerous events (already told) is the
equivalent of finding a likely story among so many other insignificant ones that may have occurred at any time-
spot in our lives. Many other cases in our little global world have made the strange desire to narrate and to take
on the general idea of how powerless we are to flee from anything anywhere quite commonplace and ordinary.
In the beginning, they lost their original places. It is not that we can definitively consider these folk as strange,
but the tribe from which they came, this sort of social archipelago, has been transformed into a type of raft, lost
and afloat. Held by strong winds and currents, it was carried away forever from its home port with dreadful
psychological and cultural consequences. It is here that for the first time a miraculous and saving empathy
appears, which makes the members of the same horde unmistakably transparent to each other. Later this
phenomenon widens and grows, in parts more or less the size of that small island, but now they are more intense
and humanly luxurious, full of small and bashful sounds and noises that become more familiar with the passing
of days. With a ‘soundscape,’ as referred to by Canadian composer Murray Schafer, the characteristic of a group -
a sound landscape or sonosphere - pulls its members inside the psycho-acoustic sphere. Individuals begin to live
in a continuum of spirit and sound, a type of specter-embrace, part real and part imaginary, which displays itself
as a protecting entity. One day there emerges the first construction of sounds so smoothly organized among the
acoustically perfect and imperfect, now transformed into an amazing mechanism of communication hitherto
unknown. It quickly becomes increasingly universal since it no longer depends on things as trivial as date and
place of birth. Given its own features, it would be impossible to determine its origin if it were seen back to front.
What is known is that Jazz had been given to the world, but it could have well been another type of music. An
individual song, just as any other one, keeps for itself immense secrets impossible to be heard. Even today, its
most audible part persists, bringing disciples and followers along with it. It reveals itself to all enthusiasts with a
powerful force of attraction, becoming sovereign, endless and inevitably eternal. It intermingles, boldly and
inopportunely promiscuous, with all other music it comes across. Its impetus is our impetus, and in the counter-
current of life it is good that we let ourselves be carried off.
Coltrane hurried by and confessed:
- I’m off on my second adventure, and I feel safe about it. See how along the same path as your favorite themes -
Armstrong, New Orleans and Miles - there are still a lot of people who are knocking themselves out to notice what
geniuses you are.
He had just come out of the darkness made up of the central platform contained in these words, and when this
story ended without any important outcome, a light strong enough to take in colors surrounded his music.
Obliged to travel without leaving behind traces, we had to redo the description of events. A sort of musical Tower
of Babel was constructed - Jazz.
Someone screamed out of one of those innumerable windows:
- The history of Jazz does not go back to its origins and always ends up dealing with only the most self-centered
interests, those that serve the goals of its own narrative. Events exist and also have a considerable past behind
them, one which we know nothing about and which we prefer to know nothing about.
A strange sensation of mistrust appeared in relation to what had been said and if we could go back. Those who
for a long time were able to prepare a grandiose exit from an enormous initial darkness, placing the survival of
their own imagination at stake, ended up outraged. The individuals for whom Jazz had just constituted a
discovery became their greatest enemy. Today, artists live more ensconced in the drunkenness of their work than
other musicians who did the work themselves in sublime moments of creation, taking risks and dying for their
ideas. They did not know each other well enough to understand how these affirmations would repeat themselves
over time. What is certain is that beginning at that time, confrontations of all types were to start up, with
perfectly chaotic, ridiculous and stupid causes and reasons, unleashing polemic pretenses and a marked need to
feed the selfish and self-serving affirmations of certain individuals wishing to acquire a position. A new cycle
began. That which a short time previously had seemed a great, peaceful and saving totality quickly took on
multiple expressions, varieties, genres and subgenres. The most curious thing is the fact that all these things,
instead of being the grounds for unifying those who ran away and those who came together, began to be a
strange source of conflict and divisions and even an odd radicalism. The image of these confrontations was so
intense that we no longer even remember how we were able to escape from that dangerously abstract, small and
The fragility of time was unable to contain so many people without casing serious damage.
We were in that small group of people dissatisfied with tedium and boredom, with the monotony and the
mediocrity of art and its relationships to outside interests, and we resolved to undertake an imaginary journey
without any desire to return. Tedium spurns the sophisticated person and increases the excess of experience.
Everything has already been seen and done, and this translates into boredom in an avant-garde pose. For a long
time we imagined the periphery as a type of Promised Land, a place where we would be safe from the terrible
mechanism that levels off concepts, keeping in the midst of all practices and all things a type of pagan goddess
that would require the most painful sacrificial amputations as tribute to stay alive.
At this moment we seem to hear the distinctive voice of Ornette Coleman accompanying Burroughs during the
note-taking period from his heavily delirious phase of “The Naked Lunch”. What a fantastic similarity between
the words and the alto saxophone !
Fast and white ... insects screeching...
I woke up with a metal taste in my mouth.
I awoke from the dead with the odorless scent of death.
A grey monkey gave birth to me.
The sharp pains from amputation...
- the taxi boys are waiting for ...
- the words Eduardo said as he died of an overdose in Madrid.
The swollen flesh trembles in pink convulsions... orgasms... movement to light a cigarette...
He was standing wearing a 1920s-style straw hat that someone had given him... whispered beggar words fell like
dead birds in a dark street...
No more... no more... No mas...
A sea of hydraulic hammers at a brownish-purple daybreak with a smell of the gutter... the faces of young
laborers twisted yet covered in lantern light... broken bulbs...
- They are building the city. Lee nodded with an absent expression...
If Lee knew the right way to go, he would certainly be glad to tell him... -
It’s no good... No bueno...
Come back Friday.
Tangier, 1959” (8)
Jazz is produced by visions that transcend language. Anyone who questions imagination as a factor able to mold
reality should look at the event as if it were the realization of fate. Inside the soul is contained what will happen
to it. Visions belonging to the sound experience - something external and impossible to describe with language -
takes us to the notion of ostracism and exile, half-way to the elaboration of identity. In art, creators reach a
strange form of perfection after their death. Jazz bursts through the unconscious with great intensity with the
consciousness unable to give it better artistic form. Thus, music in us is in an impersonal limbo of our existence
and not a rationally assumed sound surface. The strength of Jazz comes from the turbulent reconstruction of
sounds that elevate and undulate, originating in the depths of any and all verbal definitions. As the music
progresses, we have witnessed accumulations of energy, giant waves of passion, permanent increases in intensity
and pace. Musicians create a vocabulary and syntax according to how they speak; they construct a musical super-
language considered bizarre and exotic by some, and it is thanks to its flexibility and capacity for adaptation that
it settles and contorts, escaping us constantly. Even today, Jazz is untranslatable in the mixture of smooth and
abrupt forms of all types of musical linguistic elements. Forms coming from the most varied African roots, as well
as many others of European origins, together with an expansive number of oriental and urban imports, shake up
all our previous comprehensive acquisitions with a jolt. However, in this there is a simultaneously active
symmetry exposed under a classic model as if it were a mathematic measurement. InJazz, life is tension without
there being any possible rest among the various elements in action, as if there existed a shaman-like power which
has become real over ideas in a painful materialization of life in a supreme ritual.
At the present moment, it is not possible to believe in utopian visions as associated with states of visionary
induction, located in various idyllic sentiments in numerous romantic mythologies. The existence of a totally
unknown genius musician is a misnomer, as is an incorruptible talent abandoned and ignored. These existential
frameworks cannot exist in a world whose accumulated capacity for communication makes everything non-
existent. Events can be instantly broadcast anywhere and people possess powerful communication tools where
they can be heard and lived out in a forcefully open context as never before in the past. It is difficult to perceive of
this phenomenon of globalization and the means by which it develops in multiple cultural activities. We live in a
consumer age in a world of increasing abundance, and the emergence of a society is shaped more in relation to
the consumer than to what is produced. Social integration takes places through the seductive impact of the
market, lessening people’s civic commitment to a frightening extent. An economic war has broken out as the
means of deliverance from unemployment and crisis follows the path of continued use of large-scale innovation
grouped together in what we call technology.
There was in the past a harmonious distancing of those who possessed of knowledge and those who pushed them
away from “the people” (considered by some as “inert clay” for the fervor of their creation). The mission to
transform reality into creation presupposed the existence of a periphery, of a parallel world realized in work done
by oneself, often through painful experiences of solitude and isolation.
It would be of great consequence to take this open-minded and more liberated spirit up again. In the past people
of culture were more detached from formal commitments and thus they would unmask lies, fail to recognize
ideologies and regard thoughts as relative. We ought to reclaim this lost distance in contemporary culture in a
dramatic way. It would be interesting to give priority to those who think, to those who know how to act without
constraints or commitments and thus acquire a singular intuition and discernment in order to interpret the
world. The only thing remaining is lucidness and the trust in their ethical and cultural authority developed over
the years as demonstrated in their right-minded thought. The degree of involvement of cultural agents in the
market, accompanied by all other types of outside interests, strips them of their independence and puts their
perfecting of the preparatory analyses in jeopardy, making those elements which could help to better formulate
their decisions unviable.
By not belonging to a class or group of outside interests in the mutual conflicts they subject themselves to, by
being rejected by each one of these moveable nuclei of influences, and by refusing to commit to every one of
them, we are creating a guarantee of existence - something conducive to the chance for attaining a keener
judgment of what reality is.
It is in this sense that the myth of the unknown musical genius playing somewhere in a public square or in a
subway station represents the metaphor of someone who knew how to keep distance and refuse protection,
opting to be a perpetual traveler who, in accepting the experience of failure as a life strategy, made his own
intellectual life, and those of others, more real.
There still exist many dangers able to result in artistic vulgarization and the lack of quality in cultural events. The
growing importance of the culture market has been seen by some people as blatant expropriation, and many have
criticized this apparently glowing moment which calls for more and better culture. Protests go up against all the
invading market forces which incentivize profits or speculation in art, and it is thought with this new situation
that an inescapable cultural uniformity will be installed - an imposed model based on an incurable state of
homogenizing cultural products and touring circuits. It was said that what was being promoted was a new
species of man, a social replacement devoid of quality concocted from the idea of the mundane, dreary and run of
the mill individual. Culture would then be based on insipid and uncharacteristic cultural practices. In this far
from optimistic context, taken into consideration is the possibility that dull cultural uniformity would prevail,
supported by the monotone indifference of the public unable to reflect upon issues of taste and absolutely void of
the ability to choose.
Curiously, in the era of globalization, the culture market seems to react the same as other markets, showing the
benefits of diversity and of quickening the pace of what is in fashion. The aforementioned dangers of becoming
clichéd have not taken shape as many had foreseen, that is, with respect to a noted weakening of standards seen
in a more generalist formula geared toward a lower-ranging audience profile. This world - in the meantime
created by these new cultural agents deprived of ethical sentiment and focusing exclusively on business and
speculation in a market subjected to operating under the usual rules of ups and downs - has brought with it a
whirlpool of products, many times ones which oppose each other. Confusing and distorted situations have been
created, forcing us to rethink all predictions and to find new strategies for survival and resistance.
With all these stories which one may regard as the chronicle of a people that moves forward in time, making a
return to the jumping-off point impossible, very different places than the ones which we had left at the beginning
of our adventure/journey/escape are being found. When it is no longer possible to return completely or to
reinitiate our condition of human beings unable to go beyond the limits imposed by the most elementary
impulses, we come up with the most unbelievable excuses, blaming incompatibilities and making grotesque and
partial imitations of the innumerable justifications that seek to recover wasted time. One might ask if it was
worth the trouble, or in fact worth such effort, because when a type of music as extraordinary as Jazz was found,
people immediately started to speak different languages. This plurality of understanding is not the same as
relativism, however. If a monument, work of art or an individual thought were wrong or endless, and if many
interpretations were to come of them, this multiplicity of readings would symbolize the wealth of human creation
more than the uncertainty of our human knowledge. What had given us great pleasure in our contact with the
richest musical colorations and in experiencing the numerous journeys via people and places where we had
departed was not enough to prevent many insoluble divisions.
Today, an accumulation of facts and relationships can be seen, correcting errors and integrating the knowledge
acquired under a broader whole. There exists a renewal that places Jazz as abundantly limitless matter, as
endless constant change of new unreleased works which spark profound questioning about the music. Sartre
used to say that he would begin again at any moment, as if he were refusing to be made prisoner of his own past,
as if he were declining to take responsibility for his already completed actions and writings. “Shine” or
“brilliance”, a fundamental facet of beauty, appears to support Mircea Eliade, who says of Vishnu: “mystically
perfect beings are radiant”. Multiple and global individuality as a form of popular expression has begun to act
and cause the most diverse types of selfish behavior, making us move about in circles, as if we were all lost and all
perfect strangers. Everything always goes back to the beginning of all beginnings, with art being that which
transcends us because it manages to survive within a medium of total powerlessness. Of all truths, art is that
which best directs us to a place with neither an arrival nor a departure.
(1) Marcel Duchamp, Engineer of Lost Time (from the portuguese version: Engenheiro do tempo perdido), Assírio & Alvim,
(2) Jack Kerouac, On the Road (from the portuguese version: Viajante Solitário, Ed. Minerva, 1975, p.156)
(3) Erik Satie, from the Portuguese: Escritos em forma de grafonola, & etc, 1993, p.103
(4) Cuadernos de Jazz, Charles Mingus, no. 39, 1997, pp. 37-38;
(5) Octavio Paz, Uma Terra, quatro ou cinco mundos, Presença, 1989, p. 80;
(6) William Dufty, Lady sings the Blues, Biografia de Billie Holiday, Regra do Jogo, 1982, p.63;
(7) William Dufty, Lady sings the Blues, Biografia de Billie Holiday, Regra do Jogo, 1982, p.241;
(8) William Burroughs, Refeição Nua, Livros do Brasil, 1959, p.241.
TRANSLATION: SCOTT M. CULP