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  • French Music and Jazz in Conversation: From Debussy to Brubeck by Deborah Mawer
  • Keith E. Clifton
French Music and Jazz in Conversation: From Debussy to Brubeck. By Deborah Mawer. (Music Since 1900.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. [xv, 304 p. ISBN 978-1-107-03753-3 (hardback). $102.00; 978-1-316-63387-8 (paperback). $31.99]

In an influential 1936 essay, German philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote that "In Parisian nightclubs, one can hear Debussy and Ravel in between the rumbas and Charlestons" ("On Jazz" in Essays on Music, trans. Susan H. Gillespie [Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002], 483). His comment reflects the ongoing relationship between popular and concert music, highbrow and lowbrow, that has existed since the emergence of jazz, blues, and related styles around 1900. Numerous modern composers have turned to jazz for inspiration, including Hindemith (Piano Suite, "1922"), Stravinsky (Ragtime and Piano-Rag-Music), Copland (Piano Concerto), and Gershwin (Concerto in F and Rhapsody in Blue). The list goes on. But there has not been a more sympathetic locale for a merger between concert music and jazz than France, with Paris becoming a global center after World War I, thanks in part to progressive attitudes that eclipsed that of the American South, where the art form was born.

As Deborah Mawer argues in her compact and insightful new book, American music arrived on the French scene at exactly the right time, as composers including Debussy, Ravel, and Les Six were looking to break from the rigidity of atonality and twelve-tone serialism and establish a musical language free of Austro-German domination. This turn to "every-day music", to use Jean Cocteau's familiar phrase, transformed the French musical landscape and paved the way for neoclassicism. Organised into three large sections spanning the period 1900–1965, French Music and Jazz surveys the impact [End Page 391] of jazz on the French and how Gallic traits inspired its American practitioners.

Part I considers the genre in its infancy (then known variously as rag, ragtime, or cakewalk) before the moniker "jazz" was attached. Mawer reminds us that more information exists regarding ragtime than blues, mostly because of a larger quantity of documentary evidence and extant sheet music. The arrival of bandmaster John Philip Sousa at the 1900 Paris Exposition introduced European audiences, including Debussy, to American popular styles, engendering diverse reactions ranging from overt enthusiasm to racially-charged accusations of "savage music" (p. 20). Although the first printed jazz scores appeared around 1915 (starting with Morton's 'Jelly Roll' Blues) and the first blues sheet music five years later, Satie and Debussy had already appropriated American idioms in works including La Diva de l'Empire and "Golliwogg's Cake-Walk" from Children's Corner. By 1917, Satie's ballet Parade included a nodding reference to Irving Berlin's song That Mysterious Rag. The first significant examples of classical/jazz fusion, however, emerged after 1920, including Milhaud's La Création du monde, Ravel's Piano Concerto in G, Duke Ellington's Mood Indigo, and, as Mawer argues, Kind of Blue, a collaboration between Bill Evans and Miles Davis that is the best-selling jazz album in history.

It should come as no surprise that early jazz was received more enthusiastically in Europe than the United States, although I wish the author had probed the topic more deeply. Starting around 1925, books, journals, and other publications began to discuss these new genres and composers incorporated jazzy idioms with varying degrees of synthesis and authenticity. For Milhaud, who described his discovery of Harlem club music as revelatory, jazz-inspired melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic gestures became second nature, honed through direct experience with the music and its practitioners. Ravel's approach was more distant, as he owned few jazz records and studied the music largely through printed scores. Despite an admonition for Americans to "Take Jazz Seriously!" (p. 139), he used the genre broadly defined mostly for local color, as seen in the opera L'enfant et les sortilèges and the "Blues" movement from the Violin Sonata. In Mawer's apt words, he created a unique hybrid style both "Gallicized and 'Ravelized'" (p. 160).

Later, she examines Cr...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2471-156X
Print ISSN
0015-6191
Pages
pp. 391-393
Launched on MUSE
2017-12-22
Open Access
No
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