EDITION: Guimarães Jazz Annual Journal #10 - Câmara Municipal de Guimarães/ Associação Cultural Convívio/ A Oficina     DATE: November 2015 


Jazz was always regarded with suspicion by official powers because it conveyed a strange “potency of no”. While
being able of capturing a wide spectrum of actions inhabited by a fascinating negativity, and appearing as the
perfect place for restless spirits, for gathering ideas, for protest manifestations, or for more or less elaborate or
spontaneous thoughts and deconstruction exercises which did not follow neither a pre-determined plan of
creative action nor a program of artistic overcoming based upon a political or social belief, this music was pushed
forward by the energy of its own dialectical propulsion through a field permanently in process of self-
transformation. These features contributed to build up an artistic platform unlike any other in the history of
music. Jazz's vitality derives from the energy of its own motion and it was precisely this dynamic which enabled
the discovery of some of its most peculiar dimensions and the aesthetical cardinal points that makes it something
unarguably distinct and autonomous from every other XXth century's artistic movement.

The musical unity formed by this music is not uniform in terms of its enunciation. In jazz everything
contaminates everything and gets infected by everything, whether through actions, gestures, disruptions, sayings,
observations, denial, phrases, agreements, conflicts, discourses, opinions, etc. In the overwhelming variety of its
idioms there was, however, a certain continuity in the sound which was different from the classical canon. It was
often impossible to discern what elements belonged or did not belong to this musical genre. Ambivalence and
ambiguity were part of jazz's identity while, at the same time, were the reasons why it was regarded as an
unresolvable problem. Therefore, since it is impossible to classify and to enframe this music in stable principles
and concepts, we should find other ways to understand and perceive it. Instead of trying to categorize and
compare it with other musical manifestations, we must confront ourselves with it using our intelligence, talent
and creativity.


Jazz has spontaneously achieved its main goal, which was to conquer its autonomy over other musical languages.
And this was done in the most original fashion: denying itself. When a musician improvises, therefore implicitly
refusing to crystallize its real time composition in score, he performs a sort of cultural hara-kiri. Nurturing a
stylistic death, jazz musicians use the method of real-time composition and explore it to the limit. Music
germinates and dies at the same time. This kind of existential fatalism allows him to develop a vast process of
permanent reinvention of himself and his music. Nevertheless, and despite the inherent constraints of this
method, when a musician ventures himself in improvisation he acts with great humility, because he explicitly
denies the source of his own art. The fact that he prescinds writing his music, thereby choosing to explore the
aesthetics of spontaneity, seems to indicate a desire to condemn the future of his art to oblivion. After each
improvisation one experiences a sort of regression to the beginning of all things and a quest for that primordial
silence that is the origin of every sounds in the world. While leaving a blank space, jazz musicians ritualistically
offer future musicians the responsability to fill the gap left open. This demonstration of spiritual solidarity means
that the improviser, getting off the stage with nothing written behind, invites other artists to share that
communal and fraternal space with him - and that is jazz's ritual. He refuses to accept music techniques and
written forms as the only media and tools of creative action. Instead, he chooses to work with contingent and
ephemeral procedures of expression; he establishes connections between popular cultures and scholar forms of
art, reconciles antagonistic interests, defends certain values, harbors ancestral heritages and preserves historical
Just like in politics, the musicians, being overtly selfish, redeem themselves through jazz because this music
enables them to behave intelligently and socially. In that sense, jazz is in its essence, more than any other musical
language, a form of altruism, a quality that should be more present in human existence. It vindicates a clearer
distinction between ethics and aesthetics. An ethic linked to a passionate quest for truth and beauty; the
aesthetics that consciously and deliberately transform love in creative praxis, materialized in a work of art. Art,
however, does not present itself as an effective, naked and immediate truth, but instead as foggy resemblance of
truth. It is this precise groundless and hopeless semblance which makes jazz so seductive - a way of seducing a
truth exhausted in itself. In a way, art is mimesis. Not as much an imitation of the real objects depicted as an
imitation of the effects inflicted upon us by those objects. In his “Philosophical Meditations”, Badiou refers to a
platonic definition of art as an “allurement of truth's semblance”. Therefore, it is not wise to take what artists do
too seriously and we must have in mind that it is very important to denounce art as a false truth, an extremely
ambiguous and sensitive territory which cannot be let alone and undefended before the power of all opinions
devoid of serious arguments. According to Walter Benjamin, beauty is an inevitable and indissoluble conjunction
between concealment and the concealed object, since “it is not the casing nor the concealed object that is
beautiful but the object wreathed in its veil”. Such a statement implies that anything which is excessively
exposed, obvious or ostensible becomes infinitely trivial. Only that which is wreathed and veiled may assume the
mysterious dimension substantial to the divine pedestal of beauty. There is no naked beauty because the
uncovered object ceases to relate itself with its former casing or veil. Again according to Benjamin, “beauty
vanished with unveiled nakedness and from man's naked body rose an entity above all beauty, namely: the
sublime - something above all images - the creative being.” Only the images or the shapes hiding its nakedness
have a chance to grasp beauty, whereas the sublime, nakedness with no shape nor image, is incapable of
conveying beauty's primordial mystery. The sublime is beyond the beautiful and it points out to the work of the
creator; in other words, it is beyond imagination. Nakedness symbolizes the loss of purity. Adam and Eve were
not naked because they were covered by a vest of divine grave, which they would loose soon after they sinned
against God's will. Indeed, every single act of exhibition of the body is pornographic and vulgar because it
shatters the sublime aura of the exhibited creature. Thus, to defend beauty means to accept and understand the
veiled object, in other words, the object refusing to reveal itself ostentatiously. In that sense, musical critics must
recognize the difficulty of music's beauty, whose semiotic intensity implies the absence of an immediate effect, a
delay in its apprehension, a narrative of discovery based on a slow process of recall. Writers must refuse any kind
of exhibition and defend themselves against the media's pressure because nowadays the slightest indulgency is
transformed into a pornographic object. A transparency hiding nothing is always obscene.


How can anyone speak about jazz and not doing it persuasively? How is it possible to diminish the effects of the
impulse to fill in the void using mere words? When we write, we are always acting persuasively, writing always
conceals a secret desire for power, a tacit instinct of domination. Therefore, we speak and write in order to fight
with our ideas and imagination against an hostile solitude and our own hopelessness towards truth's
inaccessibility. Knowledge is a certain relation of conformity and similarity between the spirit and material
world, between subject and object. Art is as peaceful as a desert, a space of contemplation located within the
limits of truth and verisimilitude, since there is no such thing as an absolute, perfect and infinite knowledge. To
get to know everything in its totality would require the invention of an ultimate science and a spanless
intelligence. Both these conditions are beyond the reach of mankind but this does not mean that we are not
capable of acquiring certain kinds of knowledge. We acquire our knowledge of the world through our senses, our
rationality and our emotions. In that sense, every knowledge is essentially mediation, since the slightest parcel of
knowledge conveys the signs of our body, spirit and culture. Every idea is human in its essence, and therefore
subjective and limited, because it cannot represent the absolute and permanent complexity of the reality in which
individuals live. According to Simmel, human beings “need a certain amount of truth and error as much as they
need a certain amount of clarity and obscurity in the images representing the elements of life that we create.”
This tendency to peacefully accept the flaws of our knowledge will perhaps save man from apathy and despair
towards the greatness of objective and subjective reality. Truth is unachievable and we try to overpass this
handicap using our imagination and fantasy. Montaigne wrote that “the eyes can only perceive things through
the shapes of their own knowledge” and, according to Kant, we can only think employing the configurations of
reason. Other soul would think differently, other wyes would see a different landscape, other ears would hear
different sounds. Such a contingency compels us to perceive and think about the world as we see it. Thereby,
there is no such thing as a direct access to the truth; we can only grasp it using our sensibility, our rationality,
concepts and theoretical devices, devoid of any contact with divine and absolute dimensions. There are
mechanisms of perception and understanding between ourselves and reality.


When we write about art or music we agree to join a global chain of communication that forces the reader to
agree with the author by blocking his mind with an intense flow of positive information. If the author's
arguments are not helpful to the full understanding of the musical or artistic work, the reader may be induced to
a state of lethargy, hibernation, passivity and inactivity, therefore contributing to an outburst of violence,
ignorance and brutality, because the author is denying the reader the possibility to participate and intervene in
the process of generating the theories and thoughts essential to the experience of life, which are to be expanded
and transformed into universal knowledge through art. According to Badiou, “thought is that in which coexists
the visible configurations of humanity and the urgency to speak.” Words are the outcome of thoughts, and
speeches are the outcome of our desire to persuade by hyperbolical eloquence other people to believe in our
opinions. These discourses may contribute to distort other people's perspectives and to provoke a sort of error or
parallax, an incision between what one sees and what one says, due to a tumescence of the ego. Too much ego
may bring negative consequences to our evaluative capacities. Hence, the terms are reversed: the word, that was
supposed to point to the future, ends up transforming itself into an alienating infection, defensively turned
backwards and rambling obsessively around the present. All theories about contemporary art are based on
exhaustive historical research and, nonetheless, that work is insufficient and incapable of bringing forth an
assertive critical thought about art. A good critic presupposes a balanced evaluation of the past, the present and
the future. Within such a temporal scale, every individual turns into an intuitive observation post, a cognitive and
emotional radar capable of seizing artistic thinking, that is, to see and to be seen by other people. One must have
a minimum degree of credibility in order to convince someone to believe our opinions. There are some people
who only believe an idea if they agree with the principles and values behind it; other people don't need to agree
because they are more obedient. The first are free spirits but lack discipline; the latter are disciplined but not
free. The best paradigm of a serious exercise of criticism is the one reconciling both attitudes: to obey the criteria
of independence, competence and commitment with historical research, and, on the other hand, to seek
knowledge, beauty and truth, to resist against dogmatism, sophistry and the media's tyranny.
Nowadays, one may question if there are conditions favoring the emergence of a critical discourse affirming itself
as more than just a mere opinion. An opinion is by definition devoid of effective consequences because it is
never as radical and acute as the artistic works which constitute its object of analysis. A society full of opinions is
a colorblind reality, lacking the color of negativity or, in other words, the profitable results of shrill dialectics. An
opinion is self-absorbed by the personal interests of opinion-makers and is focused on the optimization of pre-
existing realities, while leaving the status quo of dominant social and economic relations intact. People avoid
negative evaluations because they know that hostile reactions may jeopardize communication, but a critic based
on opinions is nothing more than harmless.


When we write it is impossible not to feel an urgency to persuade, an unconscious desire to impose a certain point
of view. We imagine, pursue, feel; thoughts, ideas, delusions, fantasies and dreams flow inside our minds, and we
hope that our thinking will somehow interfere with the other person's mind. To write is to choose the best
combination of words, thereby trying to elaborate verbal thoughts adequate to the representation and
description of the musical idea presented in the work in analysis. Presently, writing an essay about music
presupposes the formulation of several deductions descrying the differences between rational and sensible
dimensions, between beauty and moral, between images and ideas, inscribed in a given artistic object or event.
This sort of writing must avoid poetic writing, since poetry is much closer to sensible than to rational world. On
the other hand, writing involves taking risks and should include the reader in that same purpose. It is important
to put aside the notion of the audience as an uniform and homogeneous entity, a stable and constant community
of human beings. The aggregate of potential readers is the mirror of humanity in all its contradictions and
diversity. The higher is the degree of unification, the less necessary it is to produce new ideas and the less those
ideas will endure time pressure as eternal and universal realities. Critics should present an idea or a structured
thinking perceived as a political statement, and this means sending an action-oriented message addressed to the
polis. In that sense, they must undertake a mission of defending artistic risks, and the reader must determine his
position having that in mind. The critic must be indifferent to the principle of neutrality. He must avoid being
entrapped by all comercial pressures, resist the temptation to mimic other person's points of view, to plagiarize,
to exaggerate his rethoric, to fight against an unknown enemy and to favor obscure interests. A critic is someone
devoted to his reader only, an abstract entity which may sometimes be capricious and unpredictable. He is not
obliged to be fair, no matter what discomfort that may cause him.

As we said before, when a critic thinks about a musical work it is his duty to impersonate a generic non-
communitarian and socially heterogeneous audience eager to take risks. He must achieve a high degree of purity,
both of the structure and of the language used in his writings, in order not to be confined within the limits of
pure sensations. Only then may he begin a process of deduction, opposite to that of sophistry, a sort of
discoursive double of every critical activity that subverts, through excessive loquacity, the fundamental nucleus in
which his modus operandi is grounded. A good critic must put himself at risk, just like musicians do when they
play. Jazz critics must make an effort to discover all the elements present in the music in analysis and make use
of all the resources offered by language. They may recommend the reader what to hear and how to hear it. Each
and everyone of us has to make decisions in a world full of musical possibilities. Critics are useful because they
help us making our choices. This does not mean that a critic is obliged to make absolute and definitive
statements, or that it is his duty to validate some musicians, perceived as the only legitimate heirs of a given
tradition, hence excluding all the others. Critics must choose according to their beliefs and knowledge, and this is
why their function is different from the historian or the theoretician's function. To criticize means to think.
Hovering above the audience's collective murmur, which disappears and dissolves into silence right after the
concert, the critic's work fathoms the horizons of those creative experiences and prepares the conditions for its
future recognition. To criticize is a reflexive action, an intrepid antecipation of the music's merits based on its
impact upon the audience's minds and emotions. Critics should attempt to establish connections between
different genres of music, expanding and reorganizing the previous mapping of all those musical forms. Their
power lies in the possibility of refusing to nominate, through affinity or, on the other hand, through the scope of


No matter how neutral one desires to be, writing is always impregnated by the self, because its author is someone
who conveys a certain point of view. In that sense, the writer becomes a written word. A critic evokes a certain
place where a concert happened or a memory registered in the writer’s mind. Writing is a peculiar field of
representation, translated in the author's idiosyncrasy, his existential dilemmas, his fiery passions, his flaws and
virtues, interacting with each other. Only that which can be named may be constituted as memory. The multiple
variables interfering with this process transform thought into something subjective, making it impossible to
reach a definitive and absolute definition or truth. The lack of a precise and final definition, capable of
explaining all the vast dimensions and complexities of jazz as a musical phenomenon, implies the recognition of
an inevitable absence of solutions. The impossibility of explaining jazz using a simple formula gives it an
universal scale, where all that is composite, contingent and non-totalizable proliferates and reigns supreme. In a
world full of different singularities, writing must address itself to everyone because it is impossible to find an
unique and exact definition of music. Jazz's beauty and truth lies upon the mysterious destiny of its own enigma,
an obscure meaning trapped in its own origin. Jazz creates ephemeral, contingent, random and fortuitous
musical ideas that overshadow its author and reveal their universal greatness. To create music by playing it is an
action of thought that, in that sense, does not allow critical activity to be ever fully finished. The word's polysemy
and the countless aesthetical references emerging in a world full of sounds and speeches transforms jazz in
something universal - an utopia of an intelligible place shareable by everybody. A definition is nothing more than
that, whereas art is a thought whose results indict a real presence and not a mere collection of objects. Critics are
often a confession of the author's failures and limitations, of his circumstances, of his way of living in a world
where everyone is the master of his own vocabulary. Its value is that of a testimony, a chain of thoughts in which
ideas fit. A critic perceived as testimony is a token, a synthesis of the truth favoring the emergence of an universal
truth treating everyone equally.
When we write it is impossible not to face deflections or misrepresentations of what we are saying because ideas
are not pure. It is possible, however, to attain a stable reference, something which allows us to distinguish
seriousness from demagogy or an engaged discussion about a certain subject, often corrupted by commercial or
other obscure interests. The people who write about music must let themselves be touched by a truth conveyed
through an almost inaudible murmur - a truth printed in the multiplicity of transcultural idioms present in jazz.


There are three different types of judgements corresponding to three different attitudes towards music.
According to Badiou, the first one is “indistinct judgement”. This is a sort of judgement through which one
merely states his enthusiasm or dislike of the music. It is an incipient and fragile judgement about the quality of
the sensations experienced during audition. It is an appreciation about a neutral and forgettable event, which is
followed by apathy and a gradual loss of memory of what has happened.
There are, however, other ways of perceiving a concert or a record, different from the evaluative simplifications
typical of “indistinct judgement”. Complex evaluations are somewhere between pure joy and forgetfulness, and
presuppose the existence of arguments supporting one's opinion - it is not enough to praise the music only, but
to prove that there are relevant ideas coming from it. In this sort of judgement the artist emerges as the main
protagonist of the critic. To perceive the musician as a singular entity allows us to absorb his music in a different
way, integrated within jazz history, and to ignore opinion trends. The fact that the critic understands the
musician's singularity makes him capable of establishing connections between the artist and musical idioms,
between jazz's historical genres and the particular identity of his music. This kind of judgement is called
“diacritical judgement” and its mission is to provide a more substantiated evaluation of the music, beyond
aesthetical pleasure. Thereby, “diacritical judgement” is a more sophisticated and qualified version of “indistinct
judgement”. The intellectual weakness of this opinion comes from the fact that its arguments are solely grounded
on historical knowledge, and history by itself is inefficient as interpretative mechanism.
There is a third and more enlightened way of perceiving and evaluating a musical piece: “axiomatic judgement”.
This sort of judgement is concerned about the effects of music on the listener's thinking. It means that the
receptor wants to know how the ideas behind the composition or the improvisation in analysis were developed,
and that he is also interested in understanding its formal innovations. To evaluate presupposes assessing the
music's dynamics, aesthetical and epistemological fractures, rhythmic, harmonic and compositional qualities,
idiosyncrasies, colors, emotions, overall sound and physical elements, breathing, silence...


In his book “The Ignorant Schoolmaster”, Jacques Rancière proposes an interesting reflection about Joseph
Jacotot, a professor at the University of Dijon who, being French and exiled in the Netherlands, was forced to
teach without knowing a single word of Dutch. All evidences pointed towards a helpless situation but what
happened proves that the “gift of listening” and “the community of listeners” are more powerful than language
barriers. Without a concrete educational programme to follow, but aware of the importance of knowledge, both
students and teacher were not conditioned by bureaucratic obligations and felt free to discover a way of
communicating with each other. Innovation is impossible when there is pressure to solve immediate problems. In
that case, people have the tendency to repeat themselves and to mimic conventional behaviors. In Rancière's
parable, there was enough time and commitment to undertake a creative and distinct educational process.
Everyone contributed brilliantly to surpass what otherwise would be an unsolvable linguistic problem. What
teacher and students did was achieve a minimum link between two disparate linguistic realities. A bilingual
edition of “Telemachus” was chosen to be that link and the cornerstone in that extraordinary process of
communication and learning.
The experience described above was grounded on a slowdown. Low speed allows us to pay attention to what
surrounds us and meditate on what we hear. This attitude towards life is the opposite of contemporary societies'
ideology, an ideology shared and propagated by hyperactive egos intolerant to slowness. It is necessary to slow
down and to deliberately ignore the massive bombardment of information or, otherwise, everybody will suffer
anxiety attacks. We must learn from the parable and understand the reasons why contemplation has saved
professor and students from sterile repetition.


The main issue implicit in all cultural manifestations is the pressure of time. Our highly competitive consumer
society encourages and stimulates people to choose constantly. Each decision, made in a context of abundance of
objects available to the consumer, including works of art, makes people believe that their choices are preceded by
a careful evaluation of the buying objects. But, in fact, what really happens is that people are induced to
passivity, thereby balancing the man of action's lack of contemplation capacity with a false notion of
effectiveness. The intellectual idleness which characterizes modern consumers forced cultural journalism to
adopt mundane criteria and to refuse any other kind of interference deeper than mere advice. Its main goal is to
reach the greatest number of people, with highest efficiency and in the shortest time possible. Today, all news,
reviews and critics constitute no more than ephemeral acts of evaluation, simplistic textual exercises incapable of
vindicating music's legitimacy and dignity. Hence, it may be useful to remind George Steiner's words: “it would
be almost cruel to compare music's communicative richness with the word's sterile excitations (…) and the
attempts to translate music into words only generate powerless metaphors.”


Nowadays everything is uniform and flat. Texts about music are only relevant and interesting when the author
creates new ideas about how the listener may absorb what he hears, thereby providing him new experiences
through written words. The apology of the accessory and subsequent depreciation of interior life caused the
emergence of a journalistic kind of criticism, in which prevails a talkative style based on querulous echoes and
never-ending comments about the same subject - judgmental pyramids of paraphrases. These techniques,
themselves increasingly more standardized and scientific according to the social environment of globalized
societies, are applied indistinctly both to old and to modern music, both to traditional and to experimental
Cultural criticism is not a science, nor a scholar discipline, not even an autonomous kind of knowledge. One may
say that to elaborate a critic is a way of thinking using all different sorts of knowledge available, a way of
producing discourses over discourses, drifts, vanishing points, a chance to escape the alienated race towards
entertainment. Sometimes, critics play a role in the legitimation of misunderstood, underground, independent or
radical works of art, thereby defending the artists disrespectful of so-called mainstream criteria. In such cases,
critics grant the artists the gift of existence in a world apparently indifferent or even hostile to their work.
When evaluating something, wether in favour or against it, we enter the realm of fiction. We tell stories about the
musician's work and analyse the music's singularities, trying to explain and clarify its most peculiar elements. In
contemporary world, with planetary communication, internet and media overexposure, music, recorded or
performed live, comes with presentation texts full of judgements, evaluations, critics and, in some cases, fiery
praises of the musicians's careers. It's mere propaganda, a superficial, poor and repetitive narrative. It is,
however, a useful tool at the audience's disposal, since most people ignores the meaning of jazz phenomenon and
needs a certain amount of information about the musicians, trends, genres and artistic contexts in order to
understand the music. Nevertheless, these narratives suffer from a irresolvable insufficiency that may be
perceived as a denial of the universal dimension of knowledge, which is the main quality of an ethically pure
critic. When the written word becomes propaganda, everything is permitted.
Today's cultural criticism avoids controversy or deep questioning of art and music, and that which has a positive
pole only is devoid of invigorative tension. A positive society, where all contradictions and disruptures are
neutralized by the uninhibited impulses of the self and by obsessive quest for profit, emerges as a devitalized
scenario where people are only concerned with survival and accept passivity. Therefore, negativity is crucial to
the existence of a dynamic and seething society, because it embodies unconformity and contradiction in itself.