Learn about Life in the 1920s

Folk Music of the Machine Age

English critic MR. NEWMAN does not long go unanswered. Paul Whiteman, the redoubtable jazz-king, leaps to the breach, and leads his cohort of arguments, tho his banner is one of dubiety. "What is jazz?" asks Mr. Whiteman, also in the New York Times. "After twelve years of jazz I don't know, and I don't believe Mr. Newman knows, even tho his experience and knowledge of music far transcend mine."


Mr. Whiteman may doubt his foundations, but he is not shaken in his faith. He gets as near rock bottom as he can go in saying, "I sincerely believe that jazz is the folk music of the machine age." And that is no joke:

"There was every reason why this music sprang into being about 1915. The acceleration of the pace of living in this country, the accumulation of social forces under pressure (and long before the war, too), mechanical inventions, methods of rapid communication, all had increased tremendously in the past 100 years— notably in the past quarter century. In this country especially the rhythm of machinery, the overrapid expansion of a great country endowed with tremendous natural energies and wealth have brought about a pace and scale of living unparalleled in history. Is it any wonder that the popular music of this land should reflect these modes of living? Every other art reflects them."

Then Mr. Whiteman invokes a bit of music history:

"Smooth Jazz"
Number 1 Hits -
Click on Image to
Buy at Amazon.com

"In 1588 the sarabande swept through Spain. Reformers, the musicians and the clergy were shocked. Father Mariano, writing in 1609, accused the sarabande of having done more harm throughout Europe than the bubonic plague, which devastated Europe in the Middle Ages. Later came gigues, minuets and a dozen other dance forms, which excited the same old outcry. Yet these dances were taken up, developed and employed in concertos and sonatas; as scherzos and minuets in symphonies. Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Beethoven—the list of composers who utilized these dance forms, all of them excoriated at one time or another, is endless. Look what the Strausses have done with the waltz, once the bane of intelligent people. Give us a chance, Mr. Newman.

'"Strauss is Strauss and we are we,' remarks Mr. Newman, as a clinching argument against the inalienable right of jazz composers to subject other men's music to jazz treatment—a practise which is even now a dead issue. But the gulf between a great composer and my humble self is no greater than the one that existed between the first experimenters with dance forms 300 years ago, who helped in a very modest way to pave the path for the Haydns and Mozarts to come. There are hundreds of jazz experimenters to-day whose fleeting fame will die with them. But is it inconceivable that a few of their experiments and perhaps one or two of their discoveries may be incorporated in the work of a great composer not yet on the scene?

"'Strauss is Strauss and we are we.' But who is to say that this composer may experiment with a classic and that one may not? And can Mr. Newman tell me just what a classic is? In Saginaw it may be the 'Poet and Peasant' overture; in Carngeie Hall the Brahms third symphony."

Mr. Whiteman has a final word:

The Best Jazz Album
of all time!
Click on Image to
Buy on Amazon.com

"To sum up. I don't know whether jazz is the foundation of a new school of music or whether it represents the growth of new manners and new forms of instrumentation; new rhythms and colors. But whatever it is, considering the nature of its origin and the character of its development, its immense and continuous popular appeal, the amount of interest and debate it has aroused, I certainly believe it to be a genuine musical force, a trend, an influence; perhaps a form that is bound ultimately to affect, in one respect or another, the music of the future. If the latter qualification be too broad, then certainly, at least, the music of American composers.

"Even if jazz remains chained to the dance form one has only to look at the development of the minuet, the sarabande, and the waltz. They contained material that was musically valuable. The fox trot, jazz waltz or tango may conceivably be developed in valuable ways by future composers.

"Whatever jazz is, it is not dead. It is not even 'dead from the neck up.' It may seem so at times, but that is simply because it is only a lusty, bawling infant whose mental development has hardly begun."

Original article Debunking Jazz by Ernest Newman >>>>