JAZZ: Gary Giddins, W.W. Norton & Company
"Giddins on jazz"


You write that there are four distinctive phases of jazz development. Can you help readers to focus on what you define as the current phase's classical status?

Yeah, what I mean when I say that jazz is now in a classical status is not that . . . it's become more Mozart-ian or anything like that. What I mean is that it now performs the way we consider a classical art of any kind. It's in the museums to some degree. There is so much jazz history that, you know, when I was a kid a new record by Horace Silver or Stan Goetz, John Coltrane – you know, you ran out and bought it. And as you learned more about jazz you also wanted to hear about more . . . of the early guys. But today you buy a new homage to Thelonious Monk or you buy Thelonious Monk. It's a different - so much history has accrued. And so, instead of a music that's constantly creating new pieces, a lot of the new music is actually created as homage to past music or its reinterpretation.

During the nineteenth century, nobody necessarily wanted to hear performances of classical composers of an early generation when you had Schubert and Schuman and Liszt and all these guys writing right then. You wanted to hear what they were about and that's the way in jazz through most of its history. But in the twentieth century, classical music truly became a classical music in the sense that the composers were completely overtaken by the interpreters. After Stravinsky's generation, the stars were no longer the guys who were winning the Pulitzer Prize for music; it was the famous pianists and violinists. It was no longer some new young Verdi or Puccini; it was Maria Callas and Placido Domingo, whoever the - they were the stars. That's where the commercial emphasis was, on the interpreters.

And jazz to a certain degree, right now it's often about interpreting the past rather than creating exciting new works; also jazz has become a classical music in the sense that its primary audience to some degree is in the academy. It's now taught routinely at universities all over the world. That's still a fairly new development. It's in museums; it's in Lincoln Center; it's in the Smithsonian; it's a very different status than it was basically, when it was basically a street- smart music for a people that sort of lived on the cutting edge of American culture.