AS A MODEL
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
James Michael Jarrett
In this most secular of ages--what we could call
Age of the Book--where both the addressor and the addressee
are demonstrably absent,
it is most fitting that pages of
acknowledgment take the form of prayers
(as Derrida would
remind us, always already answered).
In every case,
are benedictions posing as invocations.
Written after books
nevertheless, stand at their beginnings;
in the liturgy of the Book,
call to personal muses that will be summarily answered.
shall not depart from this practice.
What follows is a list
of magical names which will,
summon forth my
I took my first graduate course in English as something
of a lark. It was a course in modern American literature
taught by Dr.
actually to start,
He encouraged me to continue,
To him and two other faculty
members at the University of South Florida,
owe a special
debt of gratitude. Robert Chisnell made me aware of the
tropes of Medieval drama. Joseph Bentley provided my first
- .~ -l -
My experience at the University of Florida has been
It is, nevertheless, possible to
out a few moments that have made it
while in my
offered by Gregory Ulmer and
Aubrey Williams and sat
in a class taught by Robert Ray.
subsequent work has virtually been an improvisation on motifs
raised by these men.
I would like to acknowledge the
influence of a most unlikely pair of scholars.
taught me to read postmodern criticism with the rigor of a
Jesuit and the eye of a heretic.
Melvyn New gave me the
opportunity to read extensively in the literature of satire
and the freedom to write a highly experimental
Both genuinely cared about my progress.
regard the members of my supervisory committee--Gregory Ulmer,
Robert Ray, Anne Jones, Andrew Gordon, and Robert D'Amico--as
friends, no small praise given the institutional
under which students and professors operate.
A host of people, sometimes unknowingly,
to my work
Some to whom I
owe a special debt of gratitude
Richard and Yvonne Jarrett, Michael Disch,
Bruce Carnevale, Alex Menocal, John McKenzie, William Kinnally,
Michael and Lori Fagien, Don Ball, and Eric Whiteside.
wish to thank the two people who,
as my model
which is to
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ABSTRACT.................................. .......... xi
1 JAZZOLOGY: A BIRD'S EYE VIEW................ 30
Warming Up a Riff......................... 31
Thriving on a Riff........................ 48
Just for the Record....................... 52
Out of the Tropics........................ 60
Notes......... ................... ... ... 65
2 OBBLIGATO: I GOTTA WRITE TO SING THE BLUES.. 69
Agr ments................................. 69
Obbligato Played with a Borrowed Horn:
Ellison's Invisible Man and
Derrida's Dissemination................. 87
3 SATURA: FILE GUMBO.......................... 108
Amalgam..... ... ...... ......... .. ..... 108
Eight to the Bar:
Ondaatje's Coming through Slaughter,
Cage's Silence, and a Gathering of
-_ S *
Rapsody in Read: Reed's The Free-Lance
Pallbearers and Barthes's
S. . ....
CHARIVARI: CONJUGAL WRITES.................. 239
Chasse Beaux................................ 239
Chasin' the Twain:
New York, New York and Levi-Strauss's
The Raw and the Cooked.*.............. 273
WORKS CITED. ........ ............................... 306
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH................................. 319
Gregory Ulmer, Applied Grammatology: Post(e)-Pedagogy
from Jacques Derrida to Joseph Beuys
Whitney Balliett, American Musicians
(New York: Oxford
Paul de Man, Blindness and Insight:
Essays in the
of Contemporary Criticism, 2nd ed
apolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1971)
Nathaniel Mackey, Bedouin Hornbook
Joseph Kerman, Contemplating Music
: Challenges to
(Cambridge: Harvard Univ
. Press, 1985).
The Confidence Man in American Litera-
: Oxford Univ.
Robert B. Ray, A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood
(Princeton: Princeton Univ.
Michael Ondaatje, Coming Through Slaughter
Jacques Derrida, Dissemination,
Gunther Schuller, Early Jazz:
Roots and Musical
(New York: Oxford Univ.
The Free-Lance Pallbearers
The Futurist Moment: Avant-Garde,
Avant Guerre, and the Language of Rupture
Harvard Concise Dictionary
Merriam and Fradley H
: The Hi
Len Lyons, The
Jazz on Records
: William Morrow
as a Soc
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
DRIFTING ON A READ:
JAZZ AS A MODEL FOR LITERARY AND THEORETICAL WRITING
James Michael Jarrett
Chairman: Gregory L.
Major Department: English
A pun on Charlie Parker's composition "Drifting on a
Reed," my title points to three questions which guided this
what happens when
jazz enters the discourse
of this culture
to what extent is j
an effect of
Last, and most important,
what could it
mean to employ jazz
as a model for writing?
To engage these questions,
examine representations of
z in literature and film.
working from a
critical posture associated with postmodern literary theory
and taking Gunther Schuller's study,
jazz and locate
four multivalent images--rhapsody,
charivari--which mark the entry of
jazz into discourse.
r a f I t a a. S S
to be perceived
constrained by modes
He suddenly became awar
weird, drowsy throb of the
African song and dance had been swinging drowsily in his brain
for an unknown lapse of time.
--George Washington Cable
is an oversimplification of the situation we actually
My feeling--or my doubtlessly ineradicable prejudice
writer--is that nothing will endure if
that our present task, precisely (now
it remains unspoken;
that the great literary
rhythms I spoke of are being broken up and scattered in a
of distinct and almost orchestrated shiverings,
to find a way of transposing the symphony to the Book
to regain our rightful due.
source of Music must not be the elemental sound of
or wood winds,
but the intellectual and
written word in all it
of perfect fullness and
the totality of universal relationships.
of a tune
. but couldn't I,
it wouldn't be a question
in another medium?
would have to be a book:
don't know how to do anything else.
One story told by jazz aficionados--probably the one most
frequently repeated--goes like thi
A socialite asked Louis
Armstrong to define jazz.
if you gotta ask
you'll never know."2
Coming from an entertainer who would one day be accused
(charged with playing the role of Uncle
Tom), Armstrong's rejoinder seems puzzling--uncharacteris-
a S. .3 .t .. -
the normally sanguine
feeling especially zealous about his art,
merely expressing a heartfelt conviction.
though, whether prompted by frustration or conviction, Arm-
strong's motivations are essentially irretrievable.
importance of hi
declaration lies neither in its putative
origins in an individual psyche,
nor in its correspondence
with some "real"
in its status as a
in the words of Kenneth Burke, an
allegory: an interpretation of one semiotic system by the
terms of another.3
through an imaginative act of "reframing," we might be able
to hear it as such).
jazz speaks, wh
it has made
then, at least for my purpose,
iat does it say?
is this: when
To engage this question,
necessarily involve myself
in several large issues in
initiate an investigation into what might
be called the discourse of
jazz in literature
(nonfiction and fiction)
Scorsese's New York,
Throughout this study I
assume that our experience of
jazz is not simply a matter of
like any other experience, musical
is contingent upon, mediated and constrained
by, prior representations.
it turns out,
is an idea
and presence in and for the West."4
Detailing this history
and tradition is a task this study assumes.
literature and critical theory will
ately notice that my real subject here is the problem of
representation and that my study is redolent of
tively indebted to)
(if not posi-
such well-known, applied studies as Hayden
Metahistory and Said's aforementioned Orientalism,
like the authors of these texts,
I seek not to formulate
a veridic discourse about some autonomous object
been, and, often still is,
of musicologists, histor-
ians, and Orientalists), but to theorize a group of texts
which constitute a body of knowledge.
I examine systems of discourse;
from Said, analyze "the text's surf
Like White and Said,
to take another phrase
ace, its exteriority to
what it describes"
s does differ from
historical texts as
"in reality formalizations of poetic insights that analytically
precede them and that sanction the particular theories used
to give historical accounts the aspect of an
His elaborate schema, which systematically organ-
the ways rhetorical tropes are formalized--transformed
arguments, and ideologies--bears this out.
regards Orientalism as "a distribution of geopolitical aware-
nPCC in-n Asacd-h~Pi r
crhnlv a r 1 v nnnnm r -
Snri n1 nnaI rl
sustained argument bear this out.
jazz as the
musical and written dissemination of several culturally engen-
dered images or,
in Barthes's designation,
trust that this
will not only bear this out,
convince the reader that,
when applied to the study of
(and, by extension, any kind of text), postmodern
critical theory is not merely adequate for analysis
but for invention
White foregrounds the logic of consciousness
thinker chooses conceptual strategies by which to explain or
represent his data"--MH,
x); Said foregrounds the logic of
(the "intellectual, aesthetic, scholarly,
went into the making of an imperialist tradi-
foreground the logic of writing.
this is a matter of emphasis.
written representation seriously:
three texts treat the
first, because writing
always signifies a strategy of circumscription, whereby some
thing is forced to submit to the institution authorizing the
second, because writing always signifi
strategy of production,
whereby a thing is made to come into
representation, made to make sense.
it is a commonplace.
It refers to,
but at the
same time summarily refuses to define or sanction, an accepted
body of knowledge about ja
of language to obscure mor
zz, and it points to the "capacity
than it clarifies in any act of
In other words,
rhetorical figure of aporia
imbued with an ironic voice that
tacitly acknowledges a preestablished and normati
knowledge, and, paradoxically, afforded "a basi
tific or moral authority."5
Armstrong, a sign functioning
as a metonym for the sign
jazz, alludes to and,
an inarticulable body of knowledge and an ever-receding epis-
temology for the express purpose of warranting an authorita-
tive, but highly problematic,
withdrawal from discourse.
as a gnomic expression,
a speech formula repeatedly
appropriated by members of a subculture
(which I shall call
"the jazz community"), Armstrong's rejoinder reflects and
reinforces social relationships.
Taking a phrase introduced
by Malinowski and theorized extensively by Jakobson,
It conveniently divides the world into
those who do not know what
jazz is and those who
no longer ask, and it sententiously reaffirms a set of shared
(cultural codes or connotations)
about the nature
of the music.6
the double bind it
- P- I- .
example, Barthes observes that language manages "very badly"
"when it has to interpret music," and Elmer Bernstein
Man with the Golden Arm,
The Magnificent Seven, Walk on the
Armstrong's quip when he states,
"Music is particularly emotional:
if you are affected by it,
you don't have to ask what it means."7
Indeed, music is traditionally characterized
" "unrepresentable," "largely unknowable and mysteri-
that is to say,
as a woman.
Novelist Fatima Shaik,
The Mayor of New Orleans, acknowledges this when she has her
character, Walter, declare,
and truth is too,"
"Music and love is both women
and thus echo Nietzsche's formulation,
"Truth is a woman."
of film music, note
is it when she w
in her study of the discourse
rites: "the tendency to
align music in general with the feminine circulates extensively
a wide range of critical
He imagines the drum
And Duke Ellington
as a woman,
"its form a
its skin a maidenhead";
in his autobiography, Music Is
in a poem entitled "Music," he writes:
a beautiful woman in her prime,
a scrubwoman, clearing away the dirt and grime,
a girl child
sweet and beaming,
A thousand years old,
Although this stanza and the ten which follow it make one
its discourse by advancing
"a real or feigned disbelief
in the truth of
its own state-
It inscribes, even shrouds itself with
(aporia/unsigni f abilityy.
It does thi
the level of employment or narration
the level of poetics or figuration
the level of
(the implications of an epistemology based on inarticulable
a secularized version of divine revelation)
and the level of exposition or argument
And it lays claim to a double enigma.
be neither notated on a score, nor represented in words.
classical music cannot be put into words, or
nonetheless, be notated
(here and elsewhere I
employ the term classical music and,
to convey a hint of
the proper noun Music
as an inclu-
sive term referring to the entire European musical tradition).
In fact, notation and classical music are related reciprocally;
the development of each is unthinkable without the other.
Jazz, on the other hand,
as wholly other.
this claim demands scrutiny; we must return to
Before we do that,
we shall consider another
bold claim--one made by Mallarm6 in the 1890s.
as a pedal point for my study.10
"Mystery is said
The jazz community,
like all subcultures, differentiates
from the larger culture:
by marking off a body of
knowledge--what Julio CortAzar had one of his bohemian char-
acters in Hopscotch self-righteously proclaim "a repertory
of insignificant things"--that distinguishes and situates
an "inside" and an "outside" audience,
by protecting and policing this body of knowledge by
repeating it in the form of gnomic codes or references to
Indeed, as anyone familiar with
the hit parade
(or the rankings of Cash Box, Billboard, Radio
and Records, and Rolling Stone)
(creates and reflects)
When a subculture,
out of all the utterances made by its member
, grants one
statement the status of "proverb," recognizes it
it does so by repeating it.
when a subculture, out of all
the utterances made by a single,
repeats one particular statement,
statement acquires meaning;
it becomes a proverb.
Repetition, as numerous theorists argue, has consequences.
According to Benjamin,
it "emancipates the work of art from
its parasitical dependence on ritual,
" displaces the whole
"authenticity," and brushes "aside a number of
outmoded concepts, such
as creativity and genius, eternal
value and mystery."
writina specifically of the
price system. "13
We shall concern ourselves with,
less utopian themes and look at two effects of repetition:
the destabilization of the notion of author and the notion
If a statement gets repeated, gains recognition
proverb or cultural code,
then it must give up its
lusive product of a single consciousness.
express agreed upon
For the materialist,
they are products
For the metaphysician,
they are utterances of
rejoinder to the level
of proverb, paradoxically,
its author to one--but only the first--in a
to cite an "already-written" truth about
retrospectively transforms the author of the phrase,
you'll never know,"
"collective and anonymous
" the voice of
The phrase itself
is transformed into a system of rela-
completely independent of what one literary theor-
de Man, describes
of a presence."14
it means only what,
"the substantive assertions
y, it can come to mean anything.
but everything that,
"collective and anonymous voice" of
i ma 1 rl mnl tB nn 4- a r A nn n h a aa I l o t nf mt i nrt
1 ^jyc~ h ^^ mn a n i
through work or help from on
I must delineate what
I mean by this now-
mysterious voice of
jazz and investigate its textual-political
but before I begin that task,
notice that the conditions
the reader must
spacing, and graft-
which operate on Armstrong
rejoinder--making it possible
and destabilizing it at one and the same time--moving
from an "original" utterance created in the moment to a cita-
tion of the "already formulated"--all derive from an economy
(writing in the broad sense)
and operate on
Far exceeding any narrowly
circumscribed boundaries of
language or writing,
of what has been called a theory of general
serve as tropes--collectively, as models or rhetorics--by which
post-modernist theory conceptualizes
Rather than suggesting a theory which regards
music and language as different effects of similar conditions
or as isomorphic systems
graspable through some especially sufficient metadiscourse
language for consumers),
the possibility that debates over referentiality
also must pass through)
can be finally displaced by a theory
of textual nrondctinn thAt wnnli, rnarA Ar 1 nnianom anAi micin
By the term trope I,
not only refer to "turns"
language, but allude to a musical term which,
signifies any interpolation or embellishment
"of text, music, or both into a liturgical chant"
As one will recall, most scholars hold that
it was from such
tropes--the Quem quaeritis texts--that medieval drama
According to a ninth-century monk from St. Gall named
"tropes" had begun as word
sequences with which the singers in the choir would
embellish the vowel sounds of certain important words
in the service.
alleluia in the in
the Easter mass.
of this sort had b
One such word,
for example, was the
(opening processional chant)
Babulus reports that musical tropes
become so elaborate in the ninth century
that words were added to make the sequences easier to
is the rub,
tropes were amplifications of holy
texts--the liturgy and the scriptures.
They signified a
rupture in the Church'
for taken collectively,
they tended towards gl
lalia or plurality.
some might say encouraged,
(literally "misuse"), "the
the rhetorical figure of catachresis
Manifestly absurd Metaphor designed
to inspire Ironic second thoughts about the nature of the
thing characterized or the inadequacy of
surely as the Protestant Refor-
(in 1517 Luther affixed his 95 theses to the Schloss-
kirche at Wittenberg)--itself a trope writ large--they opened
we follow the practice
In "The Rhetoric of Blindness,"
de Man maintains that the
opposed to Rousseau's misinterpreters
(whether Starobinski, Raymond,
or Poulet--the unwittingly
blind--or Derrida--the wittingly aberrant),
implications and consequences" of general t
semiotic and non-sensory status of the sign"--and that,
the Essay on the Origin of Languages
(which had the original
title, Essai sur
le principle de la ml1odie), he reversed
"the prevailing hierarchy of eighteenth-century aesthetic
theory" by asserting "the priority of music over painting
within music, of melody over harmony)
in terms of a
value-system that is structural rather than substantial"
As partial evidence for this contention, de Man produces
the following passage from Rousseau's Essay.
What is impor-
tant, for our purposes,
is its restatement and extension of
an oft-repeated analogy between music and language, which,
by underscoring points I have already introduced,
illustrates the destabilization of meaning necessarily accom-
panying a theory of representation that privileges the conse-
quences of general
No sound by itself posses
allow us to identify it:
s high or
soft with respect to another sound only.
In this system of signs,
where "un son n'est rien
"the musical sign," writes de Man,
"can never be
identical with itself or with prospective repetitions of
"not being grounded in any sub-
characterized by aporia.
On the one hand, music
is condemned to exist always
as a persistently frustrated intent toward
on the other hand,
it from remaining within the moment.
this very frustration prevents
Walter Ong makes a similar observation when he states,
"Sound exists only when it is going out of existence.
not simply perishable but essentially evanescent."17
Sartre's character Roquentin writes:
For the moment,
only notes, a myriad of tiny jolt
They know no rest,
an inflexible order gives birth to them and destroys
them without even giving them time to recuperate and
exist for themselves.
they press forward,
they strike me a sharp blow in passing and are obliter-
would like to hold them back,
but I know if I
succeeded in stopping one it would remain between my
only as a raffish languishing sound.
accept their death;
I must even will it.
impressions stronger or more harsh.
I know few
But whereas Ong
(as part of his program to distinguish orality
(as part of an extended analogy)
the unique physical properties of sound, de Man
its semiotic implications to make a point about
resists a holding action, stabilization,
in quite thi
language is a diachronic system of relation-
like a language," to read,
"Language works like music,"
declares the conventional superordinate/subordinate relation-
ship between language and music problematic
(if not void),
and suggests a fundamental or, at least, an imaginable homology
between language and music.
he enlarges the
boundaries of the written word to admit mystery--a domain
tionship between the workings of music
systems can be maintained,
and language as sign
the adage "music is a language"
(with the metaphorical
language, structuring our
conception of a tenor, music)
can be reversed and pressed
into a new metaphorical
can serve as a vehicle structuring a tenor,
language can be
(to employ a highly suspect verb)
a music--the relational play of difference, a matrix of possi-
there are consequences.
admit a metaphorical reciprocity between music and language
that "music is a language
a music"--or allow that
language may be a subordinate category of a superordinate
in sffs nrt-, ArPclar0 tha t e ho rla*-i n ncin
cultural/political necessity--not substance.
a metaphysics of presence,
from an unshifting, ontological
the words we employ and the syntagms we
construct fall under a logic of
structural relativity conven-
tionally reserved for explanations of music or,
employment of the term,
For some time now
"language" for action,
Now we tend to say
. to designate not only the physical
of literal pictographi
or ideographic inscrip-
but also the totality of what makes it possible;
And thus we say "writing" for all that
gives rise to an inscription in general, whether it is
literal or not and even if what it distributes in space
is alien to the order of the voice: cinematography, chore-
, but also pictorial, musical, sculp-
One might also speak of athletic writ-
ing, and with even greater certainty of military or
political writing in view of the techniques that govern
those domains today.
this to describe not only the
system of notation secondarily connected with these
activities but the
and the content of these
before ensconcing "music"
as the new term of privi-
we must call for a deconstruction of the binary opposi-
(a project only suggested here),
that would stage the question: To what degree is the term
(as a key term in a particular system)
"broached/ruptured/held incomplete by that element
which the system must exclude in order to find
a system and yet is necessary for the functioning
("writing reined in by metaphor, metaphysics,
would need to demonstrate
the "structurally and axiologically determined rela-
assumed between language and music
the means by which one set of phenomena--the "identity
category" music--is made to differ from another set of
phenomena--the "identity category" language;20
and the historico-metaphysical effects of
such a system of difference.
More practically, such a study could ask such questions as:
1) Can we read music as an effect or continuing realiza-
(exploration and repression)
writing or recording
the possibility of
hypomnesia or "artificial
2) Can we demonstrate that
musician's guilds and griot society
to sheet music and
traditionally perceived as supporting
music were actually the conditions for the possibility
is it possible to show that
means for recording music on paper, carried beyond its
goal and made classical music possible?
can we demonstrate that recording technologies make
music impossible by undoina orevionlslv rstahlih a enn rn-
one of the founders of modern
was also one of
and dismantling a simultaneous operation?
Given "that historicity itself
is tied to the possi-
ability of writing"
is the historical
relationship between music
tion in the narrow sense of
What modes of
representation have been privileged or disallowed when
writing about music?
4) To what extent is the history of music--as one version
history of recording
technologies--a series of
ideological strategies cal-
culated to contain
the effects of new recording
technologies by forcing those effects to bolster or
disguise the vulnerable points of previous technologies.
Do the recording technology
associated with music
(from apprenticeship to digital sampling)
duplicate, or follow technological changes in other
areas of culture?
And how far can one generalize from
the compositional strategies associated with music
(writing in the broad sense of the word)
and apply them
tasks in other disciplines?
6) Music is often characterized
it "presents. on the one
denotative value (trum
are syntagms or entire
pet signals in the army)
The question is,
(denotation and connotation)
by what process do we assign
to such a system?
And should we conceive of music as a semiotic system
as an exceptional or
or as a system where overdetermi-
nation--a surfeit of meaning--is labeled lack, until
such time as cultural restrictions generate a semantic
The project outlined by these questions--an elaboration or
application of structuralist and post-structuralist thinking
applied to music--is part,
begun pro-gram: grammatology.
but only an extension,
of an already
as Eco maintains,
"the whole of musical science since the Pythagoreans has
been an attempt to describe the field of musical communication
a rigorously structured system"
could be regarded as the discordant overtones of just such an
attempt--that is, unless we read musical science as an ever-
vigilant effort to dampen the grammatological implications
its own endeavors.
as we have seen, announces
reading, summarily suppresses
imatoloav when he works an
a few year
et us quote
5. 1971. As
, The Sign
seeks to maneuver the discourse of
literature, and film--into a position from which
this goal could be actively pursued.
will immediately notice the "origin"
of my title.
pun on Charlie Parker's composition
"Drifting on a Reed,"
it points to three questions which
directed my endeavors.
what happens when
as a reed)
realm of reading
to what extent i
jazz always an
of phonograph records or
writing), and to what extent do jazz music and jazz literature
enjoy a reciprocal relationship?
Finally, and most impor-
what could it mean to employ jazz
a model for
(composition and improvisation)?
In order to engage these questions I read widely in the
jazz, and in
I noticed and, finally,
isolated four multivalent tropes which,
a set, provide
with a rhetoric
They are the images of
the satura or amalgam,
the rhapsody or
or chasse beaux.
the entry of
jazz into discourse,
But this is not all.
They also enable what I
(musicological methodology applied to the
they make possible the "serious"
jazz and disrupt such a study--and they provide us
with a model for writing;
they have already been proven
(agents of dissemination).
organize my dis-
cussion by these tropes.
In the first chapter,
touch on the broad theoretical
issues raised by an investigation of the discourse of
spell out what I mean by a "grammatological" study, and explain
Chapters Two through Five are organized by
the four tropes and form the body of my essay.
has two main parts
(with one transitional section).
first part locates a particular trope in the nonfiction liter-
jazz and analyzes how it has been employed to generate
a referential--i.e., scientific--effect.
I demonstrate that the supposedly scientific text is predicated
on a conceptualization of phenomena that is "generally poetic,
ix), and I argue
that nonfiction representations of
jazz most often work by
ideologically disenfranchised connotations of
fiers which make representation possible). T
points evident I stage an especially close, i
the very signi-
o make these
surveys of what a literary scholar would call
and since no study has taken the literature of
its sole object of study,
beginning with Chapter Two
the first part of every chapter
second part of each chapter,
is much sketchier,
in the interest of suggesting a broad range of approaches to
a wide range of materials,
choose to recommend departure
points, actually critical positions, from which one could
play out full-fledged grammatological experiments.
match the trope I located in the nonfiction literature of
jazz with exemplary literary and theoretical texts, and briefly
how the literary
jazz can be conceptualized--i.e.,
and disrupted--as the play of these highly efficacious images,
how these same tropes
the concerns of postmodern critical theory
The pairings of
texts made in the second, more experimental parts of Chapters
Two through Five are most easily represented by the following
Coming Through Slaughter
is obligatory and merely
raises the issue of composition and improvisation.
"What did I
do to be
so black and blue?" and the
Rinehart episode from Ellison
sible Man, are examined
with a view towards writing obbligati
on these texts rather
than writing a "theme" about them.
which results from this study takes its lead from Derrida
a whole, advances the "thesis" that
the concept thesis is untenable:
a hermeneutic of dissemination
could replace a hermeneutic concept of polysemy.
Satura, a word originally signifying a mixture or medley,
and the word from where we get the English word "satire,"
yet, maintains distinctions between the pure
and the amalgam.
Cage's Silence is read
a manifesto declar-
ing modern music's reinvestigation of satura
trope, and Ondaatje's docu-novel
as a model work,
repeating the image of the satura on both the syntagmatic
This section surveys fictive represen-
jazz music through a model derived from Cage and
Rhapsody works off notions of
symphony and order and
the opposition "counterfeit/genuine."
(an counterfeit coin that passed
in 18th-century Ireland),
as a genuine
(classical) musical score"
and that "to unlearn the readerly
would be the
to unlearn the tonal"
represents the ritual/political employ-
ment of noise
comes from the Old French word "nausea").
The Raw and the Cooked provides the conceptual tools for
viewing New York, New York,
a film directed by Martin Scorsese,
as a celebration and a warding off of
In its efforts to set up the possibility of a grammato-
logical reading of texts devoted to the representation of
finally, offers the reader a choice of
Certain literary or artistic texts, although sometimes
only intermittently, assume a grammatological
writing and "self-consciously"
employ a grammatological
methodology in representing jazz.
2) Certain literary or artistic texts,
represent provisional solutions to the problem of repre-
senting jazz, can be understood or conceptualized as
creative imitations, elaborated or
not of some transcendental signified named Jazz,
the cultural codes that make sense
in this culture.
The first thesis assumes that
jazz served as a model for
it finds something
effects, does not make analysis or "scholarship"
instead of analyzing j
one would use it
as an occa-
sion for making a text.
is Barthes lesson
of literary work
is to make the reader no longer a consumer,
but a producer of the text"
And it is also the
lesson of the elementary school teacher who has her students
draw or paint
in response to music.
The active reader or writer
(the two can be scarcely
assumes something elementary:
Every jazz musician knows this, knows that the best
response to someone else's composition or solo is to blow
one of your own.
Sartre knew it, and Kerouac knew it.
believed that the most adequate response he could possibly
have to listening to Sophie Tucker sing "Some of These Days"
was to write Nausea.
Kerouac, after hanging out on 52nd
listening to Monk, Bird, and Dizzy,
wrote On the
And I know it too.
citations which form this study's epigraph were
taken from George Washington Cable,
Hill and Wa
John Cage, Silence
: Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1961), p. 149.
at the beqinninq of "Cadenza"
is from Stdphane Mallarm4,
The 101 Best Jazz Albums:
A History of J
: William Morrow and Company, 1980), p.
in Hayden White, Metahistory:
Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe
s from White will be designated in the body of the text
. Said, Orientalism
ally by title.
6Roman Jakobson and B. Malinowski
The Raw and the Cooked:
in Claude L~vi-Strauss,
a Science of Mythology,
of Chicago Press,
. John and Doreen Weightman
Grain of the Voice," Image-Musi
p. 179; Eln
(New York: A.
: Hill and Wang,
in Tony Thomas, Musi
for the Mov
of Film Music," Screen,
of Femininity in Theories
Ellington, Music Is
Company, 1971), p
"Percussion," Wire, April 1988, p.
My Mistress (Garden City: Doubleda
10A pedal point consi
in the bas
continuing to sound
"a long-held note, normally
as harmonies change in the
--Don Michael Randel, Harvard Con
I associate the term with jazz bassist
but here and throughout this study,
that the reader has neither a specialized knowledge of musical
terms nor a broad acquaintance with ja
"Mystery in Literature,"
in Selected Poetry
m m m
trans. Brian Massumi
Attali subsequently cited as Noise.
14Paul de Man,
Blindness and Insight:
of Contemporary Criticism,
University of Minnesota Press,
Essays in the
15David Bevington, Medieval Drama
Mifflin, 1975), pp.
i'origine des langues,
reproduit d'aprds l'4dition A. Belin de 1817
17Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy
: The Technologi
of the Word
(London: Methuen, 1982), p.
18Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology,
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ.
Subsequently cited as OG.
"Interview: Jacques Derrida," Art
Words and Things
(New York: The Free Press,
21Umberto Eco, A Theory of Semiotics
Subsequently cited as TS.
The Rational and Social Foundations of Music,
. and ed. Don Martindale, Johannes Riedel and Gertrude
Southern Illinois Univ. P
3Gregory Ulmer, Applied Grammatology: Post(e)-Pedagogy
from Jacques Derrida to Joseph Beuys
: The Johns
JAZZOLOGY: A BIRD'S EYE VIEW
r in so
h was p
, and h
nt of r
1 dance m
, with re
s, the vu
really universal music
use as p
, and bit
pard or B
res of Th
n, a pref
11 of thi
s who thi
d who mig
s, a co
f the mo
n a stud
k that n
d that's the
tes or emi-
smuggler, something that runs and mixes in.
. jazzology, deductive science,
four o'clock in the morning.
Warming Up a Riff
off a power of
of the "authorial
longer verbal but phonic.
However much post-Saussurean theory may hold to a view
language and music
signification whose only referent is,
in Rousseau's words,
"le ndant des choses humaines," we must admit that our day-
to-day experience of language and music seems far more circum-
"If you gotta ask,
I may concede that the jazz proverb,
you'll never know,"
the meanings listed below.
could suggest any of
But in practice I know,
("What is jazz?")
retort to a socialite's
very limited set of possi-
Armstrong the Zen master.
Speculation, even the
need to ask what jazz is, precludes knowing.
Armstrong the phenomenologist.
Jazz is of the order
not the order of knowing.
There is a
radical split between language and things,
Armstrong the linguist.
Asking "What is
relational difference between the set of signs the partic-
includes and the
of signs it excludes
(i.e., everything from acoustic phenomena to styles of
The socialite who asks Armstrong to define
jazz cannot know jazz;
she is one of the "signs"
Armstrong the metaphysical poet.
Given the obscene
etymology associated with the word
question is the equivalent of Armstrong asking the social-
ite a question that carried with it the connotation,
is a knot of
The answer--coyness to the coy--
Armstrong the modernist.
Jazz cannot be inherited,
passed on to another
like a Persian rug.
"If you want
it you must obtain it by great labour.
the first place,
the historical sense
* and the
historical sense involves a perception, not only of the
pastness of the past, but of its presence." Cf. Eliot.4
Armstrong the postmodernist.
If we presume to ask the
question "What is
jazz?" we have already presumed the
validity of, and an answer to,
the recursive question,
We have already grounded our inquiry on
a preestablished notion of being,
question assumes too
statement--which cunningly, parasidically mimes the
motions of a metaphysics of presence--exemplifies a poli-
through a ruse,
and suggesting that
(as a transcen-
it is "definable"
Armstrong the home-spun philosopher.
trust material given in a short play by Woody Allen,
was once asked,
how long must a man's
"Long enough to reach the ground."
Some questions require answers that make common sense
To this list,
so common nowadays).
but will not, add more interpretations:
an Afro-American, feminist, Marxist,
or Lacanian reading,
would work well.
could even declare that
like his recording of, say,
Head Blues," has the potential to mean anything
(which is to
say, everything and,
because it can be read
in an infinite number of contexts.
But why heap on more
Everyone pretty well knows what the state-
Outside of a few institutional sites
or the media,
iudaes. ministers and priests, and news commentators--make
And explicating an off-the-cuff
remark such as Armstrong's
is frequently appropriated), as though it were a
line of lyric poetry,
is likely to strike us as, at best,
pedantic, at worst,
Why is this the
I suspect two reasons.
the labor of expo-
sition imbues the phrase with value, and this value teases out
ideologically assigned values,
the values our culture thinks
that the phrase merits
isn't a line from Pope or Keat
for crying out loud, not Schoenberg!").
this is exactly what is happening when a
for instance Gary Giddins declares,
decades of prize-giving,
the Pulitzer Committee has never
On the one hand,
calls attention to the institutional
On the other hand, because it does not evoke peals of laughter
over the absurdity of
its implied suggestion,
it can be made with a straight face,
calls attention to the rising status,
that is, because
(like this study)
to the institutionali-
Two, exposition violates a tacit interdic-
tion forbidding speculation, undercuts the assurance that
exactly what they seem to be
(by merely assuming
the need for explanation), and,
opposes the very
interpretation of the phrase would demand
just what he said!
The music speaks for
My point could be taken as trite,
paid to the omnipotent work of ideolog
yet another homage
ry, a restatement of
the claim that any sign of any sort is always made to mean
less than it could mean.
But it is not--that is,
and not a homage.
do assume that meaning is socially pro-
duced and constrained,
The meanings I
find in a
sign derive from the ideology
within which the sign and I
: by finding these
and in relation to my
in relation to the ideology
But instead of emphasizing the constraints ideology places upon
potential meanings--or how
ideology delimits both orders of signification
or, more specifically, what I
even think about a phrase such a
can say or
my chosen example--I
rather trace the means by which ideology--writing as a poli-
(appropriates and validates)
tropes to conceptualize representations of "objective" struc-
tures in this culture.
I am less inter-
ested in demonstrating how the dominant ideology has contained
potential meanings of
s needs to be shown),
exposing the rhetoric of
jazz "as the signifying aspect of
ideology," than in naming favored images--"signifiers of
has chosen to represent
jazz to itself
But more than this,
--always threaten the hegemony of
the system that generates
because in their multiplicity they reveal
s not the first
but pretends to be so; under this illusion,
is ultimately no more than the last of the connotations
(the one which seems both to
establish and to close the
the superior myth by which the text pretends
to return to the nature of language,
to language as
In subsuming denotation under connotation or
out the connotations of the tropes a culture employs to concep-
tualize a given system, one will,
ideology, for if ideology or "society," as Durkheim states,
. be seen as that total genus beyond which nothing
else exists," then it has no bounds, no beyond
getting outside it is less than desirable,
if not positively dangerous.8
as Barthes writes,
the way into the polysemy of the classic
then reintroducing the plurality which was
always ineffectually because it cannot be sent
for the sake of
insures the substitution of a model of production
(available, once again, because they
is tantamount to forsaking "the path of the
(the "study of the natur
tures of a given cultural
for "the path of the subject"
are enabling imag
the tropes which bring jazz
es. They successfully enunci-
ate jazz--differentiate it from other music and imbue it
with meaning for our culture.
But they also have connotations
which would disrupt discourse, difference,
Writing out of these tropes
(employing them as thesauri)
not an attempt to "arrange all
the meanings of a
in a circle around the hearth of denotation"
but an attempt to employ the discourse of
a compositional/improvisational model for opening up,
ing, and disseminating.
would be no music if language had not preceded it
and if music did not continue to depend on it.
The analogy with language,
in discussing their work,
often used by improvising musicians
s useful to illustrate the building
up of a common pool of material--a vocabulary--which takes
when a group of musicians improve
Who can tell
you what love is?
proceed any farther
I should make it clear that
jazz has two types of meaning for me, arising from two orders
it has specifically musical, non-referential
After years of listening to Louis Armstrong, Charlie
Parker, Ornette Coleman, and other jazz musicians,
and enjoy their music because I have learned the musical
language they "speak."
I have learned to make intramusical
can translate within the realm of music.
ically, because I have learned a group of "musical" signs
(including codes of
selection and combination: e.g., a para-
digmatic code given the title of "blue" note, a syntagmati
code designated the I-VI-II-V chord changes to Gershwin's "I
or a musical
grammar called "tonality"),
nize certain acoustical patterns as jazz, other patterns as
not-jazz. These signs--which produce what could be termed
musical meaning (perhaps a different order of meaning than
that produced by referential
for musicology and ethnomusic
culture," to use Alan P. Merr
signs)--form the object of study
ology ("the study of music in
The nature of the purely musical sign raises serious
problems for study,
In the Overture to The Raw and
the Cooked, Levi
states that music cannot be
object of linguistic discourse,
when its peculiar quality is
to express what can be said in no other way."'1
we may admit the arbitrariness of all signs, bu
t examples of
or "hard bop,"
or oxymorons such
language with the contradictory attributes of being at once
intelligible and untranslatable"
So then, L&vi-Strauss would agree with Louis Armstrong.
Jazz makes sense, and it cannot be translated.
in American Jazz Music,
often said that
jazz cannot be notated.
and, strictly speaking, of course, neither can any other
music. Any music is played with a "translation" of the
written note values according to tradition for that
particular kind of music and the instincts of the
Itself a type of notation,
it would seem,
the only completely accurate statement
one can make about
jazz or any other type of music.
are in the midst of a double bind.
performance--implies a stable text which
has some type of prior existence and which is not
knowable as already known
(hard-wired into our brains).
Given the critical positions of Armstrong, Levi-Strauss,
we observe that naming sounds, designating types
or styles of music,
constitutes an impossible translation,
an employment of catachresis.
Mapping jazz onto linguistic
discourse, moving from music, a potentially analogical
to words, a digital code,
not only does
Translation or mapping captures only that
which is common to both
jazz and linguistic discourse.
in the following statement made by Winthrop Sargeant.
Hot and Hybrid
Anyone who has attempted to transcribe folk music .
in terms of our musical notation has observed that the
symbols traditionally used by us in writing music are
very imperfectly suited to such purposes.
somewhat similar to that of
recording in printed
s the precise sound values of a dialect only remotely
related to the language for which the system of writing
The task of
more difficult than the comparison would indicate,
since music involves a far more complex group of
distinctions in the realm of
The distinction here indicate
sound than language does.
d ["between music itself and
the usually somewhat inaccurate representation of music
is achieved in
symbols written or printed on paper"]
is not only valuable to our discussion in that it points
to the untrustworthiness and inaccuracy of notation as
a conveyance for
it is also important as indicating
of attitude toward the art of music
s of music are often colored by notational
and the musically illiterate
s of music are not
is an important passage, because it represents a set of
problems which must concern any ethnomusicology;
states the pitfalls of ethnocentrism.
It repeats points
raised by any number of texts--e.g.,
and Swift--written when Western thinkers began to come
to terms with what were actually the implications of explor-
ation and colonization, echoes contemporary concerns in anthro-
(it was written in 1946), and anticipates issues that
animate orality/literacy discussions
in the humanity
it also manifests all
the marks of
(and to which all music supposedly strives).
with the difficult
task of extricating his logic from the
very system it would oppose, Sargeant relies on that which is
untenable to deny that on which he relies.
to Music to maintain the distinction between "music itself"
and representations of music and,
opposes a logic of
could actually account for
the possibility of his argument
point is, given full rein the logic of notation,
has called iterability, would destabilize both the concept
Music and the concept notation.
in order to function
--in order to keep the concepts of notation and translation
from becoming problematic,
implicating all music and,
collapsing the distinction between notated and unnotatable
music--Sargeant's argument must stop the logic of
Sargeant's argument is a jazz version of the tune harped
on by numerous philosophers from Plato to Rousseau to L~vi-
Strauss, and my argument, although much too sketchy,
be read as a
jazz version--a fleeting quotation in the middle
of a solo--to a tune played by Derrida in Of Grammatology
The noblest department of Western concert music
the art of composition. This art of composite
concerned directly with the creation of music
on is not
Actually improvisation--the art of creating
music directly with vocal
or instrumental means--is far
than is the complex, difficult
and specialized art of planning compositions on paper.
If we may alter the familiar opening to Genesis to suit
yet another connotation:
"In the beginning was improve
Thus, Sargeant's affinity for jazz is easily explained.
the music of the West,
is one of,
if not the closest
music to Music.
Rhetorically and symbolically,
art of the improviser not the composer--still
of the purity of an originary Music because it
shares a vestige
"directly" without the mediation of a composer; compared to
jazz has sustained fewer translations.
is primitive music in the best
of the word.
precisely Socrates' argument for dialectics over writing in
Plato's Phaedrus, and it is Rousseau's argument for music in
his Essay on the Origin of Languages.
One might even note
that my rhetoric, although it opposes this tendency,
dicted by my grammar,
for when I
write or seek to theorize
I assume the very notion I
jazz can be distinguished from its repre-
is not restricted to the written
on--to the real, musical item.
Many ethnomusicologists and musicians would readily agree
In an interview conducted in 1983, he reiterated the ancient,
metaphysical argument against notation (representing music
and carried the
jazz version of
position to its inevitable--Socratic--conclusion.
Here is a
portion of his statement.
Let me also broach the issue of Con Ed and
what it has wrought on the musical landscape. It's now
ten years since your major anti-electric music proclama-
Today there ar
And I think it'
think my argument is more persuasive today.
a lot more "interesting" things happening
music than their
were ten years ago.
probably more dangerous than it was then.
MUSICIAN: What do you mean, dangerous?
I mean it
is a kind of poison.
takes your connection from the soil away is a poison.
I think that for a long, long time it wi
fun, and then at a point electronic music
11 be a lot of
c will either
go away or
it will be all that we have.
then the poison has don
able to listen to acoustic
music after they've heard
I know this is true for me;
very difficult, difficult thing to get used to.
Why an image of sickness and death?
JARRETT: Because it's something people are doing to
What do you become desensitized to?
feel first of all,
there doesn't need to be
in the end,
thing to the spirit that animates
painting is not the most important
it's what the
painter does to paint
have to take ourselves
So I don't understand why we
far away from basic, close
that are already far enough away in
s. I know ultimately that it's a
poison that either can get worse or get better and if
it gets better we're lucky.14
Although I am tempted to devote much more space to discussing
Sargeant and Jarrett's restatements of
literature, presence over writing--has,
as I have noted,
already been redressed, most notably,
in the work of Derrida
and de Man.
the assertions of Sargeant
and Jarrett are particularly interesting and deserve further
They approach the problem of "writing"--i.e.,
translation, and representation--from outside philo-
sophical discourse, and,
metaphysics of presence
they echo the rhetoric of the
which, for two thousand
has dominated Western ways of thinking.
versions of continuing but ancient philosophical debates,
they readily demonstrate that the discussions animating contem-
theory, far from being abstruse and hidebound,
reflect and speak to issues which concern culture as a whole.
Jarrett's argument is especially noteworthy.
glaring example of telephobia
It is a
(the fear of being separated
from "basic, close, organic substances that are already far
And, because it is advanced against an elec-
(electronic music is a copy of acoustic music,
which is itself a copy of "spirit"),
it is particularly timely,
indicative of a larger issue producing similar arguments
used in polemics against all forms of "secondary orality":
television and the computer.
A generalization or exten-
sion of Sargeant's rather specific complaint,
it is powerful
translations--problematic mappings from one "language" to
in updating and practically paraphrasing
condemnation of writing,
it suggests that we
and ultimately reject L6vi-Strauss's thesis that
ability and untranslatability are sui
generis features of the
language called music, precisely because this claim ha
been made for speech and other "languages."
protagonist of Tarkovsky's film Nostalghia, puts it,
is untranslatable like the whole of art."
it could be maintained,
seem to "express
what can be said in no other way."
untranslatability are general attribut
semiotic mapping is both an impossibility and a precondition
whether one is translating from painting to
from English to Chinese, or from the
thoughts in my brain to the typed words on this paper.
Two questions must be engaged.
uniqueness of music essential to L4
The Raw and the Cooked? And, given
Why is establishing the
, the untranslatability of
(not to mention all languages),
how does intelligibility
I shall answer the first and a related question--Why
must structuralism reject serialism?--in a later chapter,
but for now, notice Levi-Strauss's response to the question
According to L vi-Strauss, music and mythology are natural
automatically intelligible, because they are expressions
of the a priori
conditions that make communication possible.
They are originary
Everyone understands them
(for they constitute the condition
s for understanding);
one can translate them.
Or stated differently,
[individual or corporate]
is left to commune with itself
and no longer has to come to terms with objects,
it is in a
sense reduced to imitating itself as object"
product of such
self-reflexive objectification is music
we understand music and mythology because these isomorphic,
original languages mimic--actually model--the structures of
the human mind.
This is why Levi-Strauss can declare,
has its being in me, and I listen to myself through it"
Demonstrate the logical operations that govern music
and mythology, and you reveal the pattern of basic and univer-
sal laws that govern human beings.
however, another--my preferred--way of account-
ing for the intelligibility of music, and although this way
accepts the impossibility of translation, it also asserts
the necessity of
not seek to ground itself
It declares that
intelligibility is an effect produced by mapping one system
Stated more forcefully,
that intelligibility is a by-product of
imagining or creating
institutionally sanctioned maps create the effect of
If a music is to gain signifi-
chance in a culture,
it must be turned into some kind of text
thereby, acquire referential meaning.
So then, as I
jazz has referential
denotative and connotative values,
it acquires these values when it enters
onto or translated into)
pairing "cultural" signs (ling
reference, and symbolic codes)
luistic and nonlinguistic semic,
with "musical" signs, our
culture represents--enunciates--jazz to itself.
am acquainted with the "cultural" signs which signify jazz
(and which jazz signifies)
wrongly is not the issue)
(whether rightly or
that I understand jazz.
the effect of believing that I know what
jazz means results
not so much from the ability to read musical signs
be called the ability to play or listen), but from an acquired
competence in deciphering the culturally assigned and politic-
ally privileged signs that govern the presentation of
the metascientific discourse of ethnomusicology,
styles of clothes worn by beboppers,
or the argot of
signs or codes,
which mark sites of
but to what
They are always
(in the broad
and in my study,
except in the section on Martin
film New York,
(writing in the narrow
Thriving on a Riff
In December 1965,
with my personal life and fortunes at low
went to Rome.
One day I
visited many churches.
was overawed to observe that in each one there were urns
containing the remain
of saints and soldiers.
that persons of such opposite beliefs each in his own way
attempting to influen
the same pla
our world--could end up in exactly
. tout, au monde,
existe pour aboutir a un livre.
As one with a background in literary
jazz as a text--actually
a textual ensemble, an
imaginary bibliography of preferred and
regard my own knowledge of
composed by records
I have heard,
movies I have
I have been told,
books I have read,
concerts I have attended,
and musicians with whom I have spoken.
Along with Jameson,
tend to assume that
we never really confront a text
in all its
Probably, Jameson is correct
Our readings of texts do
But what do we make of this
notion of a "fresh"
Just because we never really experi-
in its pristine form "as a thing-in-itself"--isolated
from "sedimented layers of previous interpretations"--does
not insure that it could be heard in a hypothetical pre-lapsar-
utopian, or millennial state.
such a state,
Never having been in
we should be willing to imagine
jazz must be especially good there
(since it is fresh,
does not have to pass through layers of sediment), fear
that there is no jazz there
[like mythology], provides a basis for language,
it is meaningless without language),
or be satisfied to observe
in this culture,
in our experience,
music, drifts on a read--on socially produced texts that
it as a music with specific meanings.
then, are we to make of the texts which name--
present, model, and situate--jazz,
that bring it into dis-
How should we approach the recordings, clothes,
for performance, and especially,
at least for my purposes,
the books and films that position
this culture's experience of
how can we speak of these types of representations or of
jazz without assuming an impossible position outside text-
African drumming"--has his protagonist, N., offer one possible
solution to our dilemma.17
writes to the Angel of Dust,
After awaking from a dream,
the recipient of his correspon-
I awoke to the even mor
radical realization that it's
not enough that a composer skillfully cover hi
that he eras
the echo of "imposition" composition can't
help but be haunted by.
In a certain sense,
to do so only makes matter
The question I
What can one do to outmaneuver
the inertia both of what one knows and of what one feels
or presumes to feel?
There must be some way,
vinced, to invest in the ever so slight suggestion of
"compost" I continue to get from the word compose.
N.--a founding member of a musical collective known as the
Mystic Horn Society, an aggregation patterned after Sun Ra's
Arkestra or the Art Ensemble of Chicago--hints at a grammato-
logical approach to compositional inertia (i.e., a provisional
solution to the problem of how to unclench one's teeth--trigger
Although he declares,
don't claim to have
come up with a solution yet," he does admit that he has prob-
ably assumed John Coltrane's stated goal
(quoted in the liner
notes to Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard Again!)
is "trying to work out a kind of writing that will allow for
more plasticity, more viability, more room for
in the statement of the melody itself." His a
position--has the extravagance and elegance of
as a postmodern inventio it is, according to
s study with an
be haunted by" or skillfully covering writing's tracks to
past texts, a grammatological mode of writing--like jazz
music--feeds "off the decay of
In stating this I am,
feeding off the theory
the work of Derrida and a group of theorists broadly referred
to as textualists,
traditional studies continue to
feed off a theory
old as, and most readily identified with, Aristotle
I feel no more incumbency to actually restate
than a traditional scholar would feel
to restate Aristotle'
Both have already been done.
commentary on Derrida
My study is not a
in an oblique sort of way).
is hard to use the word anymore
something of a deconstruction of the musico-
logical literature of
then, a suggested application
of grammatological theory to three books and a film which
represent jazz: an experiment in
an allegory or model
decompositiono, an emblem,
of a new kind of writing.
Just for the Record
[T]he disc is scratched and is wearing out, perhaps the singer
might say that it is one, maybe the institutionally privileged,
means by which this culture provides
jazz with a speaking
Unlike its object of study,
is susceptible to the type of theoretical scrutiny and
speculation most frequently reserved for so-called "literary"
or "artistic" texts,
first and foremost a verbal
to paraphrase White, combines "data," theoret-
ical concepts for "explaining" these data, and a linguistic
structure to, presumably,
present an icon of the music under
If we grant that music is the purview
we must allow that the products of musi-
cology--since they are written and not musical--fall within
the realm of
Or stated even more forcefully,
musicology may possess a specialized language or metadiscourse
sufficient for the study of music,
possesses no discourse capable of self-reflexively analyzing
its own, exclusively,
s that discipline which has developed a metadis-
course sufficient for the study of musicological discourse.
this study does not attempt to examine jazz
music, nor does it directly examine musicological
it concerns itself with representations
It shifts the object of study to the
written or filmed representation of
jazz and attends to matters
As far as
I have been able to ascertain,
the first book-length study to privilege the signifiers of
jazz over the signified,
rize how I, and,
It seeks, above all,
have managed to
understand one of the most interesting art forms of this
chose to survey the language of musicological studies
jazz for five reasons.
First, since the language of musi-
cology occupies a privileged position in university music
departments, an investigation of that language constitutes
an institutional imperative to any study that would investigate
jazz in imaginative literature or the
jazz in the cultural reference.
although, generally speaking, musicological literature describ-
ing classical music has become increasingly self-conscious
s basis in language, musicological literature describing
jazz has shown little interest in scrutinizing--philosophizing
or theorizing--its own rhetoric.
This work needed to be
Third, a survey of musicology provides an occasion
for commenting on issue
associated with the theoretical
problem of referentiality and with what has been called a
theory of general
textuality, because it foregrounds that
large set of problems which inevitably arises when one seeks
to represent music--"a semiotic system without a semantic
formed the soundtrack to the Modern Age and pointed towards
rock and roll--more than the music of
Cage and Boulez--forms the soundtrack to postmodernism and
points to something else
A survey of
musicological responses to
jazz provides a convenient departure
point for discussing institutional responses to questions
that concerned modernism.
Fifth and more to-the-point,
what the French call an amateur de musique; surveying musico-
logical literature devoted to jazz gave me a scholarly excuse
to read what I enjoy reading anyway, and, of course,
me a way of, at least obliquely,
writing about something I
In order to draw up the list of books that guided this
I surrendered both to the scholar's urge to systema-
tization and to the jazz lover's urge to spontaneity.
to start my work,
classified and evalu-
ated a selection of texts chosen from three bibliographies:
"Ragtime and Jazz,"
in American Popular
Music: A Reference Guide; Kennington and Read
s The Liter-
nature of Jazz; and Harrison's chapter on
in The New
Blues and Jazz.20
s study is in no way
intended to be encyclopedic in scope. I hav
of the books listed in these bibliographies.
reading widely but selectively
,e not read all
I attempted to gain a general
dashes of t
To keep th
a steel s
rest lightly on this needle,
the pricks would show him
the amplitude of the signal coming over the line.
back to this experien
Edison reasoned that if the
could prick hi
s finger it could just a
prick a paper tape and indent
it with a record of the
the phonograph was invented.
On July 18,
jotted in his notebook:
Just tried experiment with diaphragm having an embossing
point and held against paraffin paper moving rapidly.
The speaking vibrations are indented nicely, and there's
no doubt that I
shall be abl
to store up and reproduce
automatically at any future time the human voice
In subsequent experiments, Edison improved his invention--for
he substituted tin foil for paraffin wax--but
remained the same.
he handed John Kruesi,
a sketch of the phonograph.
"one of his most trusted mechanics,"
Thirty hours later, according
accounts, Kruesi was finished.
"Mary had a little lamb"
into the instrument's mouthpiece
and made the first phonograph recording.
relate this account for a couple of reasons.
it provides a
rationale for digressive tenden-
of the phonograph,
digression precipitated the invention
one of my
lapses from systematic reading
in the field of
jazz turned up Joseph Kerman's Contemplating
This exemplary work
introduced me to the study of
ethnomusicology and criticism.
It functioned for me much as
Terence Hawkes's Structuralism and Semiotics, Catherine Bel-
Critical Practice, or similar introductory surveys of
literary theory might function for a student of music inter-
ested in critical
Although it did not discuss any
books or articles specifically on jazz,
it oriented my thoughts
vis a vis contemporary musicology.
But I also repeated the story of Edison's invention of
the phonograph for another reason.
Because the history of
is coextensive with the invention and development of the
(including associated inventions such as the micro-
phone and tape record
motifs which we shall
ter in this study.
the phonograph was perceived and situated as,
"an invention, an industry, and a musical instru-
like the products of the Edison's Kinetograph or Kinetoscope,
must be received as imbricating science, economics, and aesthe-
If cinema would be impossible without
the technology which brought it into existence,
a much more problematic
because it could have conceivably
developed without electronic modeling systems
dependent technologies for recording and reproducing sound),
the early phonograph,
does not store up its reproductions).
As Miles Davis quipped,
when speaking of a fellow trumpet player's campaign to preserve
don't know about him, man
I know he doesn't talk like that when we're alone toge-
'preserve that'--the way they're
going we'll have blacks back on the plantation.
it already is preserved.
"I just tell people it
bell-bottom pants anymore
I drive a Ferrari."22
Isn't that what records are
: I can't wear
don't drive an Edsel.
as virtually everyone who studies this type of music
observes, jazz is also antithetical to "artificial" recording
technologies. Martin Williams notes that "phonograph records
are in a
a contradiction of the meaning of the music."
Gunther Schuller states,
. is a one-time thing,
ding of an improvised
in many instances the
only available and therefore
that was never meant to be definitive."
'definitive' version of something
But probably the
most famous testament to the jazz musician's antipathy to
recording is the brief anecdote told about Freddie Keppard
and the Original Creole Band.
"Early in 1916
before the Original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded the first
"At the Darktown Strutters' Ball,
" for Columbia]
the Victor Phonograph Company approached the Original Creoles
with an offer to record.
Keppard thought it over, and said:
which could record and play back,
is a response to, and a reaction against,
technology of electronic sound reproduction and,
makes a good test
for studying how electronic modeling
systems--actually new means of writing--inevitably get bound
up in philosophical,
ultimately, political ramifications
issues of power, most often discussed in terms of class,
race and gender).
In the following pages I shall return to,
expand and focus,
But for now,
enough to noti
that the questions raised by the electronic
jazz--a music created, as
Anthony Davis put it,
"in the moment"--present a particularly
contemporary version of the ancient opposition
between mneme and hypomnesis and, consequently,
the orality/literacy discussions which have concerned theor-
ists such as Parry, Lord, Havelock, Foley, Ong, McLuhan,
Goody, and Derrida for the last twenty-five years or so.24
Out of the Tropics
She told me things she knew,
like when the white man came to
Africa he acted friendly at first and tried to show the tribes
his superiority in magic--but our people'
medicine was as
his and mor
it came to tropical fever
he could write,
The white man had one magi
he could writ
we didn't have-
down ideas and this amazed
One critic described Early Jazz:
Its Roots and Musical
Development as "among the two or three finest contributions
to jazz literature."26
is not why I employ the
Preface to Volume I
of Gunther Schuller's, as yet uncompleted,
"comprehensive history of
as the departure point
for my survey and analysis of musicological literature devoted
My reasons are guided primarily by personal-profes-
the concerns of my thesis.
whatever its other putative merits,
serves my purposes because it provides a history of writing
jazz as well as a register of the author'
s that history.
As a succinct, diachroni
it affords a useful
of the rhetorical
I shall cite
it almost in its entirety.
But in addition to this, Schuller's
Preface also presents--in its first paragraph--what could be
called a synchronic
In this passage Schuller,
who was formerly Presi-
dent of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston,
Artistic Director at the Berkshire Music Center at Tangle-
wood, and the French horn player on Miles Davis
The Birth of the Cool,
accuses the majority of
jazz of some very specific mistakes.
so are simple, a rhetorical
..... i w
allows him to write)
and after him
(whose future--if his
book is taken as definitive--will be fixed or even foreclosed).
In order to accomplish this task,
to mix my metaphors,
attempts to situate his own work within a critical field,
and at the end of a historical/intellectual
the process of
identifying his work with, and distinguishing
it from, a critical
attributes a extraordinary, albeit negative,
group of writings.
unity to a diverse
is no dearth of books on
of them have attempted to deal with the music
anything more than general descriptive or impressionistic
The majority of books have concentrated on the
and over the years a body of writing
has accumulated which is little more than an amalgam of
well-meaning amateur criticism and fascinated opinion.
That this was allowed to pass for scholarship and serious
analysis is attributable not only to the humble, socially
"unacceptable" origin of
held notion that a music
often musically illiterate
jazz, but also to the widely
improvised by self-taught,
e musicians did not warrant
genuine musicological r
many "serious" composer
Despite the fact that
s and performers had indicated
their high regard for jazz as early as the 1920s,
academic credentials of
jazz were hardly sufficient to
produce a serious interest
in the analysis of
niques and actual musical content.
For reasons I shall soon produce,
remarkable as it
this passage i
is altogether unexceptional.
s as eminently
fold your finger
The bibliography following the
in The New Grove
Gospel, Blues and Jazz lists 109 books under the headings
it does produce could be likened to collective improvisation,
analogous to descriptions of early, New Orleans-
without subordinating one instrumental
voice to another, all group members played at the same time).
Since the word
started to appear
in print sometime between
1913 and 1915--or,
to give the reader several
of reference, since Jelly Roll Morton claimed he invented
(1902), Paul Whiteman debuted Gershwin's Rhapsody in
(February 12, 1924), and Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five
made their seminal recordings
(1928)--the literature that
brings jazz music into language has agreed on very
In describing it one constantly runs the risk of writing
useless generalities or engaging in endless specificity.
Schuller's opening paragraph avoids these dangers,
it envisions a set of texts that
(whose definition, although problema
be knowable, even self evident).
share an object of
tic, is assumed to
it supposes that
jazz--the object of study--can be observed by "itself," unen-
cumbered by past representations.
from a narrative position where it can purportedly measure
the value of a representation against a thorough knowledge
of the thing represented:
assumptions we have already discussed
and to which we shall return.
But more importantly,
a lecacv of lack.
to--jazz scholarship by assigning images of paucity to past
texts and by filling in this poverty with a tacit promise of
it turns out,
in slightly disguised form,
privileged tropes that all who represent jazz in writing--
whether in fiction or nonfiction--use to conceptualize this
Sometimes they are given a negative valence
the writings of Adorno
; sometimes they are given a positive
twist or turn
(as in the body of Early Jazz).
In the following
I shall introduce these enabling images--four tropes
which provide a means of "writing" jazz.
This will lead me
to an examination of Schuller's project, or, better, his
which, by means of a generalization,
read as the dream of the science of jazzology:
analysis"--"genuine musicological research"--seeks to rise
(supplement or cast out)
the merely rhetorical--the
of "general descriptive or impressionistic"
Without a doubt, my comments could be misconstrued
an attack on musicology, and its stepchild,
would be a mistake.
a literary theorist
In fact, my comments should be taken
s attempt to understand how musicology
succeeds--how it comes to count as
truth--not how it inevitably
words; all have failed."28
it may seem,
contradiction and failure have never been barriers to writing
Far from it.
As structuralism has
contradiction motivates composition,
poststructuralism is fond of pointing out,
conditions which would undo writing
of establishing a stable context)
make it possibi
the mobility of the sign, allows writing).
Hence, although I make no claims of being disinterested,
I did not choose the Preface to Early Jazz because I featured
that it would make an easy whipping boy.
it exemplifies contradictions that animate
nonfiction discourse on jazz
of scholarship that books on
chose it because
(enable and defeat)
and because it evidences a level
jazz have consistently striven
but seldom attained.
2Jacques Derrida, Dissemination,
. of Chicago, 1981), p.
La Nouvelle Hbloi
se, Pldiade edition, Oeuvres
in B&I, p.
'T. S. Eliot,
Selected Prose of T
"Tradition and the Individual Talent,"
Eliot, ed. Frank Kermode
tion in the
s, Rhythm-a-ning: Jazz Tradition and Innova-
(New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1985), p. 20.
Introduction to Communication Studies
8Quoted in Fredri
The Political Unconscious:
a Socially Symbolic Act,
The Naked Man,
: Harper and Row,
647; Derek Bailey,
Its Nature and Practice in Music
Publishing Co., 1980), p.
in John Corbett,
Around Improvisation," Subjects/Objects
in Nat Hentoff,
: Dial P
1961), p. 250
. Merriam, cited in Joseph Kerman, Contemplating
Challenges to Musicology
(Cambridge: Harvard Univ.
cited as CM.
The Raw and the Cooked, p.
12Wilder Hobson, American Jazz Music (New York:
1939), p. 29.
13Winthrop Sargeant, Jazz: A Histor
Hot and Hybrid
(New York, McGraw-Hi
, originally Jazz:
46), pp. 29, 31-32,
and in brackets, p
"Keith Jarrett," Musician, Nov. 1983,
Hofstadter, G del, Escher, Bach: an Eternal
: Vintage Book
& Sounds, RCA Bluebird, LM/LSC
-2982, 1987; Mallarimi,
" in Selected Poetry and Prose,
17Nathaniel Mackey, Bedouin Hornbook
"The Obiect of P
1983), pp. 101-36; Donald Kennington and Danny L.
Literature of Jazz: A Critical Guide,
ican Library Association, 1980);
Paul Oliver, Max Harrison,
and William Bolcom,
The New Grove: Gospel,
with Spirituals and Ragtime
(New York: W
Blues and Jazz
Norton & Company,
The Fabulous Phonograph 1877-1977, 2nd
: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1977), p
invention of the phonograph,
c following account of Edison
including the citation from
is taken from Phono, pp
"Miles Davis Is a Living Legend and You're
" Musician, May 1987, p
The Jazz Tradition
Gunther Schuller, Early Jazz
Its Roots and Musical Development
: Oxford Univ.
"New Orleans Music,"
Charles Edward Smith
William Russell and Stephen W. Smith,
Jazzmen, ed. Frederic Ramsey, Jr. and
(New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company,
Williams subsequently cited as JT,
EJ, Jazzmen in the text by title.
24Data are available should one wish to trace the dissem-
result of the
technology associated with the invention of the phonograph
("an invention, an industry, and a musical
first, Stephen W.
in Jazzmen, pp.
Explorations in Phonography
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1987); Peter Gammond and Raymond
The Music Goes Round and Round: A Cool Look at the
(New York: Quartet Books, 1980); and H.
The Phonograph and Our Musical Lif
ceedings of a Centennial Conference,
7-10 December 1977
Institute for Studies in American Music, Department of
of Performing Arts Brooklyn College of The
City University of New York, 1980)
Mingus, Beneath the Underdog
6Kennington and Read,
Although they fail to
identify this critic,
the book jacket of EJ,
others, whose blurbs are recorded on
have also Draised it.
27Alan P. Merriam and Fradley H.
quently cited as
This article is subse-
Its authors record:
the oldest referen
to the word jazz seems to be that
advanced by Chapman who
is reported to have
"turned up a poster
some 100 year
with the word Jazz
Other than this, we hav
Austin's statement that
"the term 'jazz'
in its relation to music dates from about
Clay Smith notes:
was born and christened in the low dance halls
of our far west of three decades ago,
it about 1900.
' which would place
The Book of Jazz: From Then Till Now
Dell Publishing Co., 1957), p
A poem by Dylan
as ends in
ana grace I
in the language of musi-
cology agr ments.
A collective term introduced into the French musical
vocabulary of the 17th century and "finally adopted into all
European music," agrements refers to a group of
abbreviations" for signifying musical
music of the West,
the codification of agr ment
In the art
systematization and ultimate standardization of
("the practice .
. of embellishing musical
works through additions to or variations of their essential
rhythm, melody, or harmony").
Although their correct interpre-
"constitutes a considerable problem in performing
the 17th and 18th century,"
and although the term
itself may seem to suggest "the existence of unadorned compo-
sitions representing the pure intentions of their composers,"
the musical figures that agr6ments represent were indispensable
features of many musical works,
and 18th centuries."
"particularly in the 17th
They are divided into the following
(also double appoggiatura);
and "Agr4ments," HCDM).
Other than noting that "the majority of books have concen-
treated on the legendary of
jazz," that is, on a matter suppos-
to real issues, Schuller does not elaborate
needs to be done.
with, someone could systematize the pre-musicological discourse
theorize the connotative values it assigns to the
As of yet,
no one has produced the semic
codes that structure representations
although the literature treating jazz can
claim no equivalent of Barthes's A Lover's Discourse or Mythol-
ogies, no meta-musicological
text schematizing codes of musico-
logical and ethnomusicological discourse, we could initiate
such a study by observing that jazz--like its written repre-
sentation--is consistently apprehended as a more or
spontaneous process whereby one elaborates or palimpsestically
"plays over" that which is conceived as already composed.
(which even in its conception is already a represen-
is always assigned a name.
this chapter and, especially,
in the section on Ellison's
the obbligato figure.
in his reexamination of Sartre, links
it with vari-
"changes made in a tune through the addition of orna-
ments which nevertheless allow the basi
to be maintained."2
melody and movement
It could also be referred to as the figure
of ornamentation or
(a "term used by early English
musicians for any musical orn4
ament, whether written out i
But most frequently,
the process of making jazz)
is called "improvisation,"
a term that,
in addition to denoting
a spontaneous or extemporized composition,
suggests a previ-
ously established text
(e.g., a musical phrase,
changes to a
song, a rhythm or riff,
case of "fre
jazz" the concept, actually the prescription,
that is recalled when extended or recomposed in
in her study of
strategies of the Futurists (a
and having deep affinities for,
movement coterminous with,
the Jazz Age), calls it "an
art that depends not on revision in the interests of making
the parts cohere in a unified formal structure, but on a
prior readiness, a performative stance that leaves room for
accident and surprise"
Her comments summarize a
statement by Gerald L.
Bruns that can be easily applied to a
is to begin without second thought,
under the rules there i
no turning back.
isation is the performance of a composition at the moment
One preserves such a moment by
refusing to revise its results.
that proceeds independently of reflection;
. it is discourse
it does not
stop to check on itself.
In a word, im
(in Shklovsky's phrase,
of an object
s deliberate but undelib-
izes: both an "original"
it transfers "the usual perception
into the sphere of a new perception")
and the very
An especially vivid illustration of
this final point
found in William Zinsser's biography of Willie Ruff and Dwike
jazz musicians to go to China
In it, according to the author
s own account,
"You have a
story that is essentially,
black men in China,
a totally oral trad
one of whom is explaining jazz,
lition based on improvising,
to the oldest
literate and literal society in the world."
Zinsser, after describing improvisation, "t
he lifeblood of
jazz," "something created during the process of delivery,"
to a group of faculty and students at The Shanghai Conservatory
of Music, Ruff
(playing French horn)
joined his partner's
piano in an improvisation on a
simple blues theme.
the audience was nonplussed.
They had never heard
language did not even have
a word for improvisation.
Following the performance there
was a call for questions.
An old professor
"When you created
' just now," he said,
"did you have a form for it,
or a logical plan?"
started tapping my foot," Ruff replied,
his foot to reconstruct th
"And then I
to play the first thought that came into my mind with
And Mitchell heard it
And he answered.
"But how can you ever play it again?" the old professor
"We never can," Ruff replied.
"That is beyond our imagination,
" the professor said
here play a pi
a hundred times,
it exactly right.
one gives turns on the narrative position one takes up
to take up).
On the one hand,
on which the Chinese base the creation and performance of
just been contested, but,
at least at the close
of the narrative,
they, and especially their makers, seem
On the other hand,
the presuppositions of
jazz have also been contested; the value of
has been attacked.
Ruff does not answer
his answer is not given).
In any event,
we are left
with two observations.
improvisation has meaning
only within certain contexts.
It is a sign operative in
textual effect of
To be abrupt,
Zinsser is wrong.
Jazz is not "a totally oral
for in such an imaginary zone,
improvisation would have abso-
lutely no meaning.
would simply be Music.
(draw a large "X"
over this pronoun)
z puts it this way:
is necessary to deny all
invention that takes place in the
framework of writing.
improvisation is not
improvisation can be
a reflection of Western ideology.
The old professor,
to press a little on his comment,
gruent with what has been repeatedly called "a throw-away
"I distrust spontaneity,
directly dependent on habits and stereotypes."6
of mass culture--as "a veneer of
on the standardized form of popular song.
each musical element, even the simplest
"itself," and the mor
the less possibility their
among the details
In hit music,
highly organized the
is of substitution
underlying the piece is abstract,
of the specific course of the music
plicated in popular music never function
. For the com-
s as "itself"
as a disguise or embellishment behind which
the scheme can always
jazz the amateur
is capable of
replacing complicated rhythmical
or harmonic formulas by the schematic ones which they
represent and which they still suggest,
turous they appear.
The ear deals with the difficulties
of hit music by achieving slight substitutions derived
from the knowledge of the patterns.
faced with the complicated, actually hears only the
simple which it represents and perceives, the complicated
only as a parodistic distortion of the simple. (p. 22)
Adorno disparages the emphasis
fans place on "the music
improvisational features," maintaining that such features--
"mere frills"--mask "the fundamental characteristic of popular
According to him,
that which normally
passes for improvisation is "the more or less feeble rehashing
of basic formulas";
when it does occur
"in oppositional groups which perhaps even today still indulge
in such things out of sheer pleasure,"
is impoverished by
its dependence on popular song form (i.e., a "standard")
the chord progression of the twelve-bar blues, b
musical structures are products of mass culture,
automobiles mass produced by Ford.
Although it can be dismissed as wrongheaded
jazz seems to have stalled somewhere around the time of his
on popular music or,
if one prefers a
somewhere around the time of Benny Goodman's 1938 Carnegie Hall
Concert), declared a facile,
reduction ad absurdum argument
equally applicable to the "serious" music he lauded, or typi-
itself an embellishment of the single note, anti-
mass culture theme he harped on all
of his life, Adorno
jazz does employ a favored trope of
his argument hones in on and attacks,
the music itself
(although that is probably intended), but
supporters and detractors alike enlist to conceptu-
alize or give voice to the mu
the following passage from a
For example, notice how
jazz appreciation textbook works
off exactly the same image Adorno employs:
Early jazz musicians often began improvising simply by
embellishing the melodies of pop tunes.
became as good as and more important to
a performance than the tunes themselves.
In some per-
that remained was the original tune's
spirit and chord progressions.
What is today called
improvising was referred to by early jazz musicians as
messinn' around," embellishing,
Convention dictates that,
"jassing," "jazzing up."9
if we would have our discourse
speech or writing about
we must speak of embel-
: images that have come to stand
Returning to Adorno's argument, we may observe that it
will be taken
truth--as a blow against
a blow against mass culture--precisely to the extent
a blow against a trope organizing our conception
to the extent that it discredits--negates
or problematizes--the verbal construct improvisation by con-
vincing the reader that "real improvisation"
or that it is,
in fact, mere embellishment).
The point is,
the target of Adorno's virulence may be jazz or mass culture,
but his rhetorical strategy involves an attack on a privileged
metaphor which he rightly assumes this culture will identify
with the object of his scorn.
For his argument to function,
he must create the effect of attacking
either a referent or signified)
by invoking--actually accepting
then, contesting or devaluing--an image identified with
jazz: one which he,
the ever-ready iconoclast,
will be taken
an icon of
we would do well to ask a question.
What must a written p
look like before it will be accepted
as dealing with what Schuller refers to as "music itself"?
Or stated differently,
in order to make the claim hold--that
one writes about
stripped of all
menta--how must one write?
Before this question can be ade-
S -- r
one must speculate on another aues-
highly schematic and ultimately incomplete,
and elaborate what we have already seen.
For a given acoustic pattern to be taken
has to be perceived
an individual performance--a musical
equivalent of parole--deriving from and contributing to a
fundamental structure--a musical equivalent of langue.
the fundamental structure which allows and determines
a particular performance is,
to adopt and paraphrase Saussure,
both a social product of the ability to make sounds
voices and musical
and a group of necessary
improvisation), collectively labeled jazz,
that have been adopted by a social body to permit individuals
to exercise that ability.10
sounds may arise
objects--animate and inanimate--vibrate in air
and receive vibrations); music,
is a social product.11 But bot
according to most theorists,
:h designations, sound and
imply a social context where the opposition
sound/silence and music/noise are maintained.
counts as sound, music,
or jazz, and as Attali
conventions which dictate the production, distribution, and
reception of music are ideologically motivated.
defining or merely recognizing, a group of
music is not a neutral
or innocent act;
it is a gesture of
distributed that music
This is why Adorno can
"To dislike a song is no longer an expression of
subjective taste but rather a rebellion against the wisdom
of a public utility"
In listening, as
in watching a movie or reading a book,
one is situated by
the two questions I asked above--"What must a
written piece look like before it will be accepted as dealing
with music itself?"
and "What features must patterns of sound
manifest before they will be counted as jazz?"--are inextric-
The study of
is part of the
political system that determines what will be construed--
included and excluded--as
When one listens to
jazz or writes about
it--recognizing one pattern of sound as
"jazz," excluding another--deeming one text as representing
music itself, excluding, another--one necessarily takes part
in a system of determinations that constrain the production
and perception of
jazz in this episteme.
jazz match up with our perception of
"the music itself"
--for good reason.
In this section I have argued that jazz is always repre-
as a set of "unwritten"
agrements which are disseminated
(by word of mouth)
(by means of
radio and recordingss. and that the aoal of musicologv is to
agrdments and opposing,
what Perlman and Greenblatt call,
"commonly-held assumption among people whose acquaintance with
jazz is casual
that the music is made up out of
invented out of thin air."12
I have argued
that, although my
language inevitably continues to treat
jazz music is less a locatabi
thing than a oscil-
lasting set of auditory signs, and,
jazz may be regarded as
where certain privileged signs are set over and against other
is best conceptualized as a
textual practice--a figure of debate or contestation--raised,
most notably, by the
In their essay "Miles Davis Meets Noam Chomsky," Perlman
and Greenblatt explain the jazz solo through an analogy that
likens improvisation to "linguistic performance."
which recalls Parry, Lord, and Havelock's explana-
tions of Homer's mnemonics, summarizes my discussion of a
major enabling trope of
the convention of conceptualizing jazz as spontaneous ornamen-
It underscores the necessity of mapping music onto
language (mapping one semiotic
the effect of intelligibility)
system onto another generates
and the explanatory power
that results from such a mapping,
enabling trone, one translates iazz into lancuaae.
course, on the correct
scale- and chord-tones)
that give a
jazz solo its dis-
in the same way that speaking English
implies the use of the available word stock of the lan-
including bona fide loan words and recognizable
The basic lexicon of
z licks is not
large--there are perhaps two or three dozen that most
players rely on--but,
lick can be played over
any chord, beginning with any
repeated indefinitely up and down the entire range of
the number of
ities becomes enormous.
This passage also makes a couple of final points.
us that a reliance upon formulas--agrments (whether in
music or writing)
does not necessarily exclude complexity.
But more than that,
s argument for the
(no one is writing articles arguing
for the value of composition or the complexity of classical
it the image which brings
the site of
jazz into discourse is,
ideological contestation and struggle.
ornamentation, and ad-
libbing--terms in a series of binary oppositions--are thinkable
only in a paradigm (or
lished a concept "text.
through a construct)
In our culture
they mark that which i
that which is artfully
that has estab-
(perhaps in our
s auxiliary and ephemeral,
tacked on to the real
the original text.
these terms are
already in place--they are pregnant with meaning--when
in history, or synchronically,
already situated when it arrived.
Or as the Horacio Oliveira,
the narrator of Hopscotch, puts it:
s singing, Coleman Hawkins
they illusions, or something
the illusion of
illusions, a dizzy chain going backwards,
looking at himself
in the water on that first
Jazz linked up with what Nietzsche called "a mobile army of
metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms"; which is to say,
those who represented it enlisted already available signifiers
of connotation which they,
in turn, mobilized for their own
the opponents of
jazz declared that
it equaled embellishment,
ornamentation, and ad-libbing
= agreements) ,
the ultimate elevation of style over
if accepted as a legitimate way of
upside down (or
it would turn the values of the music world
be a sure indication that the entire world
had already capitulated to the madness which jazz only repre-
To make sure that their arguments were taken as
these critics invested rhetorically in the already
established negative connotations of the signifiers of
On the other hand,
those sympathetic to
z devised two
lines of approach.
they interpreted j
modern, avant garde,
(or they read it
and used it to
the very opposition
which the foes of
iazz hooed to maintain.
They reversed the
primitive over the civilized
= agreements) .
But what if supporters of
were unwilling to wield this
as a weapon in the fight against oppression
if their financial
not sufficient to allow them to estrange themselves from
positions of power, or what if
such an estrangement would
Then they still had another option.
They could maintain that
jazz might have originated
ornamentation, and ad-libbing, but that good or
jazz could never be reduced to a series of agr6ments
if one listened closely enough,
was good music by any
(which meant it was good by standards argued for by
the opponents of
The important issue,
then, was not whether jazz would be
represented by means of a metaphor which I,
out of convenience,
labeled the figure of agr ments.
As we have seen,
(and, synchronically, arises)
It was situated in the midst of a paradigm--a system
of representations--that distinguished unadorned things from
(one can imagine that the embellishment
would have little or no meaning to a West African griot of
eighteenth century or to a Greek of Homer's day).
ohors were auicklv naturalized and normalized because. in
of the tropes that brought
as true or authoritative (
jazz into discourse would be taken
something that obviously changed
in time and from place to place).
no particular side won.
think for two
as Gramsci notes, hegemony is a "moving
To establish a particular interpretation of
a trope as authoritative, a group had to win,
sustain a reading,
in order to accomplish this it had to
suppress aberrant readings actually made possible by its own
These aberrant readings,
byproducts of hegem-
ony, not of opposition
(for that is another matter), con-
stantly returned to destabilize meaning.
Second, and most
jazz lost its popular appeal
(although it has not
ceased trying to win it back).
The battle continued, but
its front changed.
Should one seek to deconstruct the binary opposition
"composition/improvisation," which is to say,
if one decided
to demonstrate that the terms "composition" and "improvisation"
Derrida might say, always already untenable--both
terms made constructs by an impossible operation where one
seeks to contain the oooosed term.
in the sense of stoooina
cuts to the hear
of the issue of
perhaps only to the rind)
jazz cannot be
reduced to this figure
(even critics will admit that an
improvisation is more than a series of obbligati),
one of the basi
tropes from which
jazz derived and
The HCDM defines it thus:
an instrument (v
usually with referen
or part that must not
be omitted; the opposite is ad libitum.
through misunderstanding or carelessness,
the term has
come to mean a mere accompanying part that may be omitted
As a result,
one must decide in each
individual case whether obbligato means "obbligato" or
"ad libitum"; usually it means the former
and the latter in more recent pieces. (m
in early music
Clearly, at least from the HCDM's point of view, someone or
something, either "through misunderstanding or carelessness"
(How was thi
Were these the only choices?),
has behaved improperly towards what we could call the obbligato
And that mysterious someone or something's
around" or "jazzing up" made the obbligato as obbli-
gato "come to mean" something else.
Let us name the product
s illicit relationship,
the result of this unfortunate
scandal, obbligato as ad libitum, and let us raise a series
of questions which will not be answered, at least not directly
through the means of declaration.
By what process does one differentiate the obligatory from
improvised obbligato displace a melody,
more than a subordinate voice? When dc
'es an obbligato--by
Schuller 's definition,
"an embellishment of a melody"
380)--become the sine qua non?
When does the arbitrary become
The obligatory arbitrary?
Should we designate
the obbligato as ad libitum as a product--perhaps an
obbligato as obbligato?
moves the obbligato as obbligato to become a simulacrum of
itself, obbligato as ad libitum?
How can one distinguish an
obbligato from its double?
If "one must decide in each
individual case whether obbligato means
libitum,'" then how was the generic, albeit liberal,
'usually it means
Why has obbligato as
obbligato been opposed to, and privileged over
even in my nomenclature), obbligato as ad libitum?
What does Music have against obbligato as ad libitum?
the paraerotic phrase,
"come to mean," which
links obbligato as obbligato to obbligato as ad libitum cannot
help but prompt an association with jazz,
commonly known, once functioned
for jazz, as is
a euphemism for copulation.
Merriam and Garner,
in their well documented but
on the word jazz,
"a possible line of research"
"may be connected with the
' In the North,
it is commonly used
it could be easily maintained that I am taking things
adolescents say, even going "all
way"), that this kind of free association can be done with
any word. But that is precisely the issue here: How far can
What can and cannot be said about,
Susan Stewart observes
of ornament is the problem of defining boundary
one might say,
the obbligato figure--which signifi
mise en question of ornamentation--dares us to explore the
limits of what Julia Kristeva and others following her have
since we are tracing the
following the explicit model of
, we are obliged to take up this dare.
turn to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.
Obbligato Played with a Borrowed Horn:
Ellison's "Invisible Man" and Derrida
the question one faces in writing about
this: where to begin?
actually "a tissue of
--on Philippe Sollers's
names this problem
question is what can be said of Ralph Ellison's Invisible
Several conditions would keep me from saying anything,
keep me skirting the issue.
In order to point them out,
repeatedly appropriate text from Derrida's Dissemination
is my borrowed horn),
even though thi
cian might say,
this "copping of
up in the very problem I am examining.
if the reader
he or she could read my comments as obbligati
between lines Derrida has written.
First, and most obviously, What can be said when the
cannot, except as a kind of
joke or as
a gesture calculated to keep up pretenses, declare,
Ellison said thus and
create him afresh,
his text unless,
He cannot authorize my reading
and order cannot be brought to
I affect a discernment "between
the imitator and the imitated"
Only then can I
manufacture a thesis: maintain that Ellison works off
trope of the obbligato, or that he raises but does not resolve
the problem of
ial construction in his novel.
But what about the text?
Couldn't I say something like,
admits the possibility,
even the inevitability.
that in thi
s culture the black man