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Democratic Jazz

June 2024
1min read

Fascinatingly as your interview with Wynton Marsalis unfolded, his view of so-called classical music—“Classical music doesn’t prize improvisation. It doesn’t place a premium on individuality”—is somewhat misleading. If Marsalis is referring to the classicalized music and performance of about 1825 to 1900,1 would agree that they don’t prize improvisation.

But slavish devotion to the written note is a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of music. Beethoven, Mozart, and J. S. Bach were among the greatest improvisers and extemporaneous performers ever. Since its invention musical notation has served as a memory device, to organize several parts playing at once, but, with the exception of the nineteenth century, was never more than a recipe for sound. Performers were expected to add their own spice to the final product. The emergence of jazz can be seen as a return to the heart and soul of music performance for centuries: improvisation.

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