So, I’ve been spending some of my spare time reading The History of Jazz by Ted Gioia, which I recommend to anyone with an interest in jazz, music history, or even history in general. The book is densely packed with perspectives on the African influence on American musical culture and vice versa, including the anthropological process of syncretism and the Moorish invasion of the Iberian peninsula all the way back in the eighth century.
However, one specific concept really spoke to me and resonated with my experiences on a truly personal level. Gioia makes the argument that the peculiar fusions of culture which incubated jazz music were a product of the loosened social restrictions that defined 19th century New Orleans. Increased tolerance of foreign cultural influences allowed an absolutely huge range of music to be consumed and internalized by the population. To quote Gioia himself:
Beyond its purely musicological impact, the Latin-Catholic culture, whose influence permeated nineteenth-century New Orleans, benignly fostered the development of jazz music. This culture, which bore its own scars of discrimination, was far more tolerant in accepting unorthodox social hybrids than the English-Protestant ethos that prevailed in other parts of the New World… This comparatively less rigid atmosphere helped shape attitudes and behavior patterns in New Orleans…
What really hit me about this passage can be encapsulated in four simple words: don’t be a snob. When I was younger and studying music in college, I thought jazz was the end-all, be-all of music. I didn’t want to listen or play any other style. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was really limiting both my education and musical development. How ironic was it that I held such an elitist mindset when jazz music was born from the open-minded collaboration of all kinds of influences?
It took a real humbling in the realm of pop music to wake me up. I definitely regret the time I spent thinking I had found the best kind of music in the world. I still love and have a passion for jazz music. It’s my comfort zone and my favorite kind of music in which to immerse myself. But I can now recognize the beauty of and connect with more kinds of music than ever before. Even songs or entire styles that one might dislike will have plenty to teach a musician with an open enough mind to really listen. Some really amazing things can emerge from an inclusive, rather than exclusive, creative process.
Even though this lesson took me many years to learn, I am glad that I can strive to be more humble with whatever time I have left in being a musician.