Don’t Be A Music Snob

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.



  1. srogouski · September 26, 2015

    I understand your point. But when I look back at my teenage years, I’m actually happy I was a “music snob.” Now the memories of my youth sound like Brahms and Beethoven, not Madonna and Flock of Seagulls. Music snobbery was one way, for me, to rebel against the corporate crap that was being shoved down our throats.

    Liked by 1 person

    • javajazz1 · September 26, 2015

      I think you can split the subject of art up onto two sides. Notice I said “can” and not necessarily “should!”

      On the one hand you have criticism, which is a key component in art. I know it’s cliche but they say that art is not created in a vacuum. Taste is a natural result of criticism, assigning a generally positive or negative value to a piece of art as an object of study.

      On the other hand is the creation of art, and this is the side of the line that I mostly stand on, although I think maybe everyone has the capacity for both. In my own creative process, I’ve found that worrying about taste really limited me for a long time. Notice that I’m talking about “worrying about taste,” and not necessarily “having taste.”

      I think the main problem is, and I feel strongly enough to make a generalization, that when an artist worries about whether they’re making art, they are limiting themselves to examples that have definitely gone down in history firmly on the side of the art vs not-art line. To take your example, as a critic, I’d have to agree that Madonna and Flock of Seagulls is very corporate in nature and their position on the art vs not-art continuum is questionable at best. However, as an *artist*, who is to say I could not take those influences and incorporate them into what I do and *make* them art? If I indulge in the kind of snobbery where I only study and immerse myself in influences that I can assure myself are definitely art, I might miss out on a lot of developmental opportunities in my playing.

      But I definitely do understand where you’re coming from, and I don’t think that having taste or preferences in your listening is a sin of any kind. Thanks for the awesome comment, I really love discussion of all kinds of topics!


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