Jazz Corner: Freedom & Democracy
Just as democracy affords the citizens to freely choose their leader and thus their future, jazz allows the musicians involved in its creation the opportunity, scope and freedom to create the music they choose.
The Americans are all agog withÂ anticipation of the future of their nationÂ with the Presidential elections aroundÂ the corner. They must be wonderingÂ where either candidate will take them. AnÂ exuberant, radical Donald Trump, an unknownÂ political entity, might take the country veering off to the rightÂ while the first-time woman Presidential candidate, HillaryÂ Clinton is offering the voters a novel choice into the unknown.Â That is the beauty and the value of democracy and freedom.Â “A people always get the politicians they deserve,” except in thisÂ case they have the right to choose their leader.
In many ways, I feel that the greatest symbol of the freedomÂ and democracy in the US, even beyond their political system,Â is jazz music. Just as democracy affords the citizens to freelyÂ choose their leader and thus their future, jazz allows theÂ musicians involved in its creation the opportunity, scope andÂ freedom to create the music they choose. Jazz is the ultimateÂ freedom! In a (Western) classical performance, the music isÂ composed, rehearsed and performed exactly as ”˜required’ by theÂ script. At another level, in popular music, it is the songwriter/Â lyricist who have pre-ordained how the song is to be rendered.Â But in jazz, the performer is the master. He has the freedom toÂ take a melody/composition into directions and realms of his ownÂ choice, often into areas where his mood and inspiration of theÂ moment take him. In a typical performance””live or studio””Â the chosen piece is represented in the beginning as the ”˜head’Â and is usually followed by individual solos by the musicians inÂ the band. The scale and length of the improvised solos too areÂ not pre-set. Thus any rendition of a particular song is uniqueÂ and unlikely to be ever repeated in the same way twice. ThatÂ unique ”˜fingerprint’ quality of each version is what excites mostÂ jazz aficionados.
Isn’t it supremely ironical then that this completely ”˜free’ andÂ democratic music has come from the reprehensible slave tradeÂ in the US? The history of jazz tells us that the blues, the motherÂ lode from which jazz (and rock&roll) has emerged, is the vocalÂ music the slave community indulged in to communicate withÂ each other while they worked in the cotton fields. The bluesÂ actually are a means of ridding oneself of the suffering (blues),Â thus finding an expression of freedom and spiritual liberation.Â Now, the blues may be the exclusive creation of theÂ AfricanÂ American, and jazz may be also uniquely from the land ofÂ theÂ free; however, I feel that jazz and the blues are essentially IndianÂ and have somehow been reincarnated in the USA.
In a jazz performance, one starts with a known starting pointÂ and there is obviously a conclusion. In between there isÂ improvisation. Now, is this any different from traffic in India?Â We always know our starting point and we know where we needÂ to get to. In between there is 100 percent improvisation. Why,Â even a few horn solos are thrown in as are drum rolls by way ofÂ motorcycles with faulty silencers and auto rickshaws! We haveÂ been like this longer than the entire history of the US. Our ”˜streetÂ jazz’ has existed for a very, very long time. We are also the world’sÂ largest democracy. Now I hope the Americans choose well inÂ November.