June 19, 1920
Page 42
The Marche Funèbre of “Jazz”
Raucous Form of “Music” Has Lost Its Hold on the Popular Mind—Listening to Some “Masters” of This Type of “Entertainment”

ITS birth was inevitable—and so is its death. Evoked out of sheer sensationalism, ramified by an ill-placed enthusiasm on the part of the unmusical, commercially exploited to the nth degree—Jazz had its day, and it was a glorious one. But every fad has its day, and Jazz “music” is no exception to the rule. It would be difficult to find to-day many “Welcomes” on musical door-mats for Jazz, the simple reason being that the nation is tired of it.
When a nation tires of anything, whatever it is, that thing is bound to go. Over in England, some years ago, when Arthur Balfour was undergoing one of his periodical phases of unpopularity, the Crowd fashioned the phrase “Balfour Must Go,” which was rapidly abbreviated, as is the way with crowds, into the symbol, “B.M.G.” It would not be out of place to say that every musician in the United States should to-day make due entry in his diary of the symbol, “J.M.G.,” for not only does Jazz deserve to go—it is going.
If we recall that the persons immediately interested in the survival of Jazz unmusic are the sellers of it, we are spared a deal of conjecture as to the reason of its continued existence even so far as this. But Jazz, like cheese and Fords, has to be pushed, else would there be no gorgeous dividends to split up.
So the musical convulsions of a few harmonic freaks have been thrust upon the long suffering public until they accepted Jazz for the identical reason they accept any nationally advertised product—they were forced to feel that they wanted Jazz—and they got it.
The blatant appeal of the stuff, the exaggerated minor effects, the unmitigated noise, the purple patches of disharmony—all these elements contributed hugely to the selling success of Jazz scores. The music stores sold copies by the cartload—and if there is a special musical gehenna reserved for such folk, may they roast therein forever! The records carried the Jazz legend, likewise the player-piano roll, till Mr. Man-in-the-Street admitted Jazz in all its obviousness and crudity, to the bosom of his inmost family. One is inclined to think he did it because Jazz is so horribly obvious.
The writer of this happened to be in a vaudeville house in one of our largest cities recently, and a Jazz visitation being on the program, he thought he would try to sit it out—this being the sixty-first Jazz injection he has suffered. Well, presently, after the buxom retailer of marital woes had given place to the virtuosi on the xylophone; and after the virtuosi on the x. had given place to the star of the bill—an ancient damsel who gave nine songs and three encores, without any undue provocation on anybody’s part—the Jazz fiends appeared.
The present writer’s training in the profession of writing has disciplined him to a certain restraint when dealing with unusual lunacy on the stage, or the concert platform—but he is forced to confess that if he had written what jumped up in his mind, after the first offering of the Jazz gentlemen, no editor, who possessed any feelings of delicacy for his readers, would have printed his remarks.
However, for the sake of the musical history of America—and chiefly for the sake of the history of MUSICAL AMERICA—-he refrained from writing what he could have written, but he did produce this:
Listening to the Experts
“This thing they call Jazz is positively one of the most awful and most inexcusable of musical sins ever committed against the face of the people. To-night, in a prominent vaudeville house, I saw and heard (couldn’t help hearing) five young men who proclaimed themselves Jazz experts. They appeared, clothed in white, and proceeded to play, so to speak, on various instruments—piano, violin, trombone, and what not, from which unoffending instruments they called forth such dismal and discordant wailings, such tomcattish howlings, such immoral dissonances as to render them instantly liable to thirty years in jail for making public nuisances of themselves.
“They didn’t play ragtime—which might have been excusable on racial grounds; no, they played (to employ a courteous term) Jazz, and they played it for all there was in it. And, at the last analysis, there wasn’t very much in it.
“The first offering was a delectable item dealing with ‘Blues,’ whatever that means. If it implies that hearing it gives one the blues, there, are thousands who’ll hurriedly agree. This number they tore from the vitals of the piano and the violin and the trombone and what not—embellishing it with hair-raising runs, spine-chilling slides and general musical indecency. After the third number we left the theater.”
At the time we thought it a thousand pities that such able-bodied young men shouldn’t make a more decent living at some healthier trade than musical gymnastics. But, perhaps, they know their own business. Judging from the way they played, they didn’t.
Jazz has had its day. It has pounded and banged and prodded our musical senses for many moons now. It’s high time we had some fresh novelty. And we will.
For that’s one of the delightful aspects of the American public—they will take to novelties. Wherein lies their great and child-like enthusiasm. Others, not of the immediate public, teachers, musicians, critics, and the like, will possibly deprecate this tendency to rush to the very newest in music (and in everything else). Still, it is an indubitable evidence of liveliness on the part of the people—and that’s something devoutly to be wished.
Not American
The public snapped up ragtime because there was nothing better in view. They “fell for” (the popular phrase is inevitable) this business of Jazz because there was nothing better in sight. Is there not, here and there, a teacher, a musician, a director, astute enough write a real folk-song—something eminently and essentially American? Jazz isn’t American; it isn’t even music. Rag-time came a little nearer the mark, but not near enough for most of us. Where, then, is the man who can give us something which will be at once alert and authentic, American and attractive, lively and living?
Coldly and analytically speaking, there is no possible logical reason for Jazz’s existence; but here he is, and here must linger for a while until the very ignoramuses who play him fee some sense of boredom, then he'll be cast out. And none too soon. For a more disreputable, savage, tiresome, hideous, screaming piece or musical tomfoolery has never been thrust on the public before the red days of Jazz.
It may be deemed frightful to say this, but it must be said—and in all sincerity. The writer believes that the Jazz blacksmiths got their unholy inspiration from old Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies, for what are they but the forerunners of polite Jazz? This may raise a hornet’s nest about these journalistic ears. But what matters? The very best thing one Jazz composer did was to impudently lift an entire section from something of Liszt’s, transpose it, and pass it off to us as original Jazz. He wasn’t the only one. Hence this theory.
Be that as it may, Liszt (despite his occasional vulgarisms of tone) will live; the Jazzians will not. Relying, as they do, upon sheer aural blasphemy, their novelty must die—has, indeed, died—and so Jazz becomes mere musical anecdote.
Pounding a. drum, blaring through a tinny trumpet, scratching a mediocre violin, all accompanied by incoherent human cries, bleats, yells, screams—this isn’t music. Only a fool could call it such.
When the Jazz mechanics evolved the crude idea of building Jazz tunes, they rightly decided that the more ugly and noisy their stuff was the more it would sell. And it has sold. More Jazz sold last month than Beethoven. But doesn't worry Ludwig, nor does it worry the educationalists and the real musicians. They know that Jazz is simply a nine-day wonder; the authentic musician comes back to old Ludwig in the end—even if he does take a dip into the new water of Jazz.
Any music palpably built upon the principle of unavoided noise, and nothing more, isn’t music at all, but sheer disturbance. Hence the declining popularity of Jazz. For, although the general public may be, and frequently is, ignorant of musical values, yet there is in every man and woman an inherent sense of rhythm, which makes in the end for full musical satisfaction—rather than fool musical delusion.
So it goes. Through the fantastic vicissitudes of ragtime and fox-trots “Blues” and Jazz—the spirit of American Music moves, surely, winningly, sincerely and inevitably toward the building of a music for the people that shall be truly American, and truly music—and nothing else.
In the meantime, we bid a cheerful au revoir to our old friend, Mr. Jazz. Play the Marche Funebre, please—and don’t jazz it.


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