J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Hearing Humanity in Music (or not)

Many jazz artists, like John Zorn and Don Byron, have experimented with Klezmer music, so Joann Sfar’s graphic novel, Klezmer, could be of interest to the jazz community. It won’t be discussed it in much detail, because, disclosure, it is published by a corporate cousin of my publishing house (its sales have no impact on my compensation).

It does bring to mind radical left-wing Gilad Atzmon’s supposedly satirical Artie Fishel band, whose website features this comedic gem:

“Klezmer: Gypsy music played badly to a degree of genuine art form. Artie expertise.”

He kids, because he doesn’t love. It seems he willfully misses the art and humanity of the music that has crossed genre boundaries. Sfar’s afterward offers some interesting thoughts:

“I think about Shostakovich, who for years carried around in his suitcase his Opus 79, “On Jewish Folk Poetry.” And each time Stalin or the others would forbid him to present it. I think about Isaac Babel, whose short stories on Odessa were scattered, banned, lost. I love that mad project they had, of getting people to like the Jews.

“I think human populations need friendship. When men sense that they are not liked, they invent the blues or Gypsy music or klezmer.” (p. XXII)

Most jazz artists get the affinity between klezmer, jazz, and blues. Evidently, Atzmon does not. Again, it shows the dangers of politicizing art, as opposed to creating art that might be political. Duke Ellington always said there are only two kinds of music: good and bad. That’s a more rewarding perspective, than insisting on evaluating art through a narrow ideological perspective.

As Sfar suggests, jazz, blues, klezmer, and Gypsy music share a similarity in that they are all music of the underdog. That is probably an unattractive aspect to political artists like Atzmon, who court power through their activism and extremist associates.