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Jazz is intrinsically social rather than

purely musical, argues Dr Mark Doffman

Jazz virtue:

why play jazz in a recession?

the cultural establishment within British culture is rendered even more poignant with the ever-tantalising threat of its being proclaimed ‘the next BIG thing’. So I am left wondering what it is about this music that draws so many musicians to it. At a time when ever larger numbers of wonderful young players are emerging from training institutions and often struggling to find work, what are their rewards going to be for committing to a life in jazz? In understanding why musicians devote their lives to it, why it is worth pursuing, I want to point to the virtues of jazz as being intrinsically social rather than purely musical. So, what is jazz sociality? It could be defined in a number of ways, but I would argue that



nybody with an interest in jazz is acutely aware of its perennially uncomfortable position. Being politely ignored by

there are two particular elements of jazz as a social practice that mark it out as distinctive. Firstly, it sets up a dialogue between, on the one hand, a rich tradition and, on the other, an aesthetic of in-the-moment change (ie, improvising), and so offers us a musical analogue of the virtuous life we might all like to lead – grounded in our different heritages but rigorously subjected to examination in the moment. Secondly there is the constant, creative collision between the individual player’s needs and the demands of the group. The social/cognitive demands of being yourself within a group are evident in all music but I don’t feel that any western musical form other than jazz actively works through this ‘collision’ in as powerful or nuanced a manner. The virtues of understanding

yourself within a tradition (across time) and being yourself within a group (in

real time) can be examined through thinking about the way in which musicians improvise and groove – two central practices within jazz culture.

Grooving neurons

What is meant by groove? The term gets used in a number of ways, but for the purposes of my argument here, I want to focus on it as the feeling of flow, togetherness and rhythmic coherence in the music in real time. Many musics of the world (if not nearly all) have vocabularies that describe such feelings of mutuality and collectivity but each will have a different focus for these feelings. Groove, in jazz and much black music, can be seen as the establishment of such feelings through consistent, synchronous musical behaviours, often signalled through, for example, head nodding and foot tapping. Anyone who has ever been to a gig and seen the



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