1969 - Festival Internazionale del Jazz
A pleasant encounter by Arrigo Polillo Jazz has been a subject of conversation in Europe for at least forty years, even so, very few people outside the restricted circle of the experts really know what it is all about. Most people think of jazz as being modern American music in a broad sense; others think that jazz is a thing of the past, belonging to the crazy years of Francis Scott Fitzgerald – who spoke of the ‘jazz age’ without really knowing anything much about it - or to those of George Gershwin.
The trouble is that even the experts find themselves in difficulty if someone asks them to define jazz and describe its characteristics and styles.
One, no-one or a hundred thousand, like one of Pirandello’s characters, jazz has been evolving and changing profoundly in the course of the last seventy years, gradually taking on guises and even meanings which are very different from each other. Thus today a formal definition of jazz is almost impossible: in order to explain what jazz is, it is necessary to tell the whole of its long eventful story, the beginnings of which must be looked for in the deportation of black people from West Africa to the South of the United States.
Jazz was born in this way: from the gradual assimilation of the Black African into the new continent. That is from the meeting between tribal music - or rather the many different variations of it as the Western African traditional music culture was, and still is, a very rich culture - and the ‘white’ music which the black slaves found in their new country. This was the origin of the plantation songs (the ‘calls’, the ‘hollers’, the ‘work songs’) and also of the Negro religious songs, the ‘spirituals’, in which the echo of Methodist hymns can clearly be heard. In the primitive ‘ragtime’ which was the instrumental music which preceded jazz and was mostly widespread in Missouri, the influence of French, Scottish and Irish popular music can be heard, and this can also be found in the music played by the brass bands which marched through the streets of New Orleans on happy and also sad occasions at the beginning of the twentieth century.
From those years, during which the features of jazz took form, to today, it has been a long hard road for Afro-American music.
Of course that road would have been less rugged if jazz had not always existed in surroundings far away from those in which the American ruling class lived and worked. Since, however, it has always been the music of black Americans, and to some extent of the Italian Americans and the Jews who had arrived in the new continent from countries in Eastern Europe, it has gone through long periods of crisis, interrupted only by a few happier times. You have to ask yourself, though, if those brief periods of good fortune coincided with moments which were as successful from the point of view of creativity, or whether success above all crowned the endeavours of those who tried to commercialise jazz, while sacrificing some of its most interesting and original characteristics. The real answer is this: jazz became successful when it tried to resemble other music as much as possible; when it tried to be catchy, suitable for dancing and enjoyable.
Today jazz musicians only rarely try to appeal to public taste; most of them prefer to play their own music without even hoping to share success with those on the ‘pop music’ scene. Many of them, in order to avoid having to bow to pressure being brought to bear on them in the United States by those in the ‘music business’ (and also in order to get away from racial discrimination), preferred to emigrate to Europe.
Here, in the ‘old continent’ jazz has a more tranquil life; even music produced by musicians belonging to the most daring avant-garde is accepted and studied, as well as, naturally, being imitated.
So, in Europe, more and more often you come across jazz played by maestros from overseas, and there are now many European soloists working with them who are also worthy of close attention.
A chance to meet with some among those at the top of their class, Americans and Europeans, is being given to us by the Jazz Festival which has been organised for the first time in Pescara. It will be a pleasant encounter for people who are already very familiar with Afro-American music; and perhaps it will be a surprising encounter for those who know nothing about this music apart from its name