The Jazz Problem?

Another note in the research annals of our forthcoming comic on the history of musical borrowing.  For those who read about today’s wars over hip hop sampling and digital remix and think it a new battle fuelled by technological change, here’s an image that shows how old the fights are — even if one doesn’t trace them as far back as Plato.

We got this from our brilliant colleague, the composer Professor Anthony Kelley. It is from Etude magazine and it contains a fascinating set of opinions of “prominent men and musicians” (and one female composer, Mrs. H.H.A. Beach) about “The Jazz Problem.”

What was The Jazz Problem?  Well, opinions differed.  Some saw it as a straightforward process of racial contamination of American music

“Jazz is to real music what the caricature is to the portrait…If jazz originated in the dance rhythms of the negro, it was at least interesting as the self-expression of a primitive race. When jazz was adopted by the “highly civilized” white race, it tended to degenerate it towards primitivity.”

That’s Frank Damrosch, Director of the Institute of Musical Art,  and a vocal proponent of musical racial purity. He had more to say on the subject — making it clear that part of the problem was the fact that jazz both distorted and borrowed in ways he found offensive.

“When a savage distorts his features and paints his face so as to produce startling effects, we smile at his childishness; but when a civilized man imitates him, not as a joke but in all seriousness, we turn away in disgust. Attempts have been made to “elevate” jazz by stealing phrases from the classic composers and vulgarizing them by the rhythms and devices used in jazz. This is not only an outrage on beautiful music, but also a confession of poverty, of inability to compose music of any value on the part of the jazz writers.”

The unselfconscious racism is remarkable.  For her part, Mrs. Beach was clear that the whole thing would lead to… er..  dancing

“[T]aken however in association with some of the modern dancing and the sentiment of the verses on which many of the “jazz” songs are founded, it would be difficult to find a combination more vulgar or debasing.”

John Philip Sousa, interestingly was much more sanguine

“There is no reason, with its exhilarating rhythm, its melodic ingenuities, why it should not become one of the accepted forms of composition.”

And many of the participants seem to agree that jazz was best in the hands of musicians who happened to be, well, white..  musicians like the aptly named Paul Whiteman.  But there were also moments when they acknowledged that this vital strand of American music had come from a culture that had been subjected to some forcible cultural remix itself.

“Good syncopation is legitimate and probably enjoyed to the limit by many people who are slow to admit the fact.  It has been evolved naturally from negro songs and dance tunes and is the characteristic American music if we have such a thing.”  [emphasis added]

Jazz did in fact  reach across racial lines — arousing hysteria in the process — as we say in our forthcoming comic.  But the reaction ran both ways.    Again and again as we have done our research, we have seen the borrowing question arise on at least two levels.  First, what practices of borrowing inside a particular tune are legitimate — philosophically, aesthetically, as a matter of religious doctrine, morally, and finally legally.  Second, what strands of musical tradition can be borrowed, remixed, and inserted into a different musical culture?  Which ones must be resisted as other, alien, debased, dangerous?  Culturally, the Anxiety of Influence runs deeper than we know.

Sunday, August 9th, 2009 comic, Music, Uncategorized

2 Comments to The Jazz Problem?

  1. Just to add a funny to this great post … In 1994 I was talking with a very well known Jazz vocalist and he said something that has really stuck in my mind.

    He told me that “Jazz is so powerful that it even brings the rhythm out of white men”.

    He was so right, we all originate from Africa and this prime-evil music is in our DNA and, as a result, it stirs deep in all of us.

    I think that all the other arguments over who ‘owns’ Jazz is just the bigots using something that we all love to split us up … We should all stand together in Jazz 😉

  2. Colin Hall on October 5th, 2010
  3. […] “Jazz Day,” April 30 enshrines a beautiful irony: music once considered cacophonous and “savage” is recognized at an international level as “…a force for positive social transformation […]

  4. While We’re At It, Let’s Have Several National Jazz Days | Aesthetic, Not Anesthetic on May 2nd, 2012

From the Blog

  • Theft: A History of Music — Free Comic

    title

    read more

  • (When) Is Copyright Reform Possible?

    I am posting here a draft of a chapter for Ruth Okediji’s forthcoming book on the possibilities of international intellectual property reform.  In my case, the article recounts the lessons I learned from being part of the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property in the UK.

    “In the five months we have had to compile the Review, we have sought never to lose sight of David Cameron’s “exam question”. Could it be true that laws designed more than three centuries ago with the express purpose of creating economic incentives for innovation by protecting creators’ rights are today obstructing innovation and economic growth? The short answer is: yes. We have found that the UK’s intellectual property framework, especially with regard to copyright, is falling behind what is needed. Copyright, once the exclusive concern of authors and their publishers, is today preventing medical researchers studying data and text in pursuit of new treatments. Copying has become basic to numerous industrial processes, as well as to a burgeoning service economy based upon the internet. The UK cannot afford to let a legal framework designed around artists impede vigorous participation in these emerging business sectors.” Ian Hargreaves, Foreword: Hargreaves Review (2011)

    Read the chapter.

  • Apple Updates — A Comic

    sampleEver been utterly frustrated, made furious, by an Apple upgrade that made things worse?  This post is for you.  (With apologies to Randall Munroe.)

    read more

  • Open Coursebook in Intellectual Property

    Cover of Intellectual Property: Law & the Information Society and link to purchase at Amazon.comDuke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain is announcing the publication of Intellectual Property: Law & the Information Society—Cases and Materials by James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins. This book, the first in a series of Duke Open Coursebooks, is available for free download under a Creative Commons license. If you do not want to use the entire casebook you can view and download the individual chapters (in a variety of formats) here. It can also be purchased in a glossy paperback print edition for $29.99, $130 cheaper than other intellectual property casebooks.

    read more

  • So you’ve invented fantasy football, now what?

    We are posting excerpts from our new coursebook Intellectual Property: Law and the Information Society which will be published in two weeks is out now! It will be is of course  freely downloadable, and sold in paper for about $135 less than other casebooks.  (And yes, it will include  discussions  of whether one should ever use the term “intellectual property.” )  The book is full of practice examples..  This is one from Chapter One, on the theories behind intellectual property: “What if you came up with the idea of Fantasy Football?”  No legal knowledge necessary.  Why don’t you test your argumentative abilities…?

    read more

  • Free/Low Cost Intellectual Property Statutory Supplement

    Today, we are proud to announce the publication of our 2014 Intellectual Property  Statutory Supplement as a freely downloadable Open Course Book. Statutes Cover  It offers the full text of the Federal Trademark, Copyright and Patent statutes (including edits detailing the changes made by the America Invents Act.)  It also has a number of important international treaties and a  chart which compares the various types of Federal intellectual property rights — their constitutional basis, subject matter, length, exceptions and so on.You can see it here in print, or download it for free, here

    read more

  • Persnickety Snit

    This is the fourth in a series of postings of material drawn from our forthcoming, Creative Commons licensed, open coursebook on Intellectual Property.  It is about lawyers and language. 

    read more

  • Macaulay on Copyright

    Macaulay’s 1841 speech to the House of Commons on copyright law is often cited and not much read.  In fact, the phrase “cite unseen” gains a new meaning.  That is a shame, because it is masterful.  (And funny.) One fascinating moment?  When Macaulay warns that copyright maximalism will lead to a future of rampant illegality, as all happily violate a law that is presumed to have lost all moral legitimacy.

    At present the holder of copyright has the public feeling on his side. Those who invade copyright are regarded as knaves who take the bread out of the mouths of deserving men. Everybody is well pleased to see them restrained by the law, and compelled to refund their ill-gotten gains. No tradesman of good repute will have anything to do with such disgraceful transactions. Pass this law: and that feeling is at an end. Men very different from the present race of piratical booksellers will soon infringe this intolerable monopoly. Great masses of capital will be constantly employed in the violation of the law. Every art will be employed to evade legal pursuit; and the whole nation will be in the plot…  Remember too that, when once it ceases to be considered as wrong and discreditable to invade literary property, no person can say where the invasion will stop. The public seldom makes nice distinctions. The wholesome copyright which now exists will share in the disgrace and danger of the new copyright which you are about to create.

    The legal change he thought would do that?  Extending copyright to the absurd length of life plus 50 years.  (It is now life plus 70).  Ah, Thomas, if only you could have been there for the Sonny Bono Term Extension debates.

    read more

  • Mark Twain on the Need for Perpetual Copyright

    This is the second in a series of postings of material drawn from our forthcoming, Creative Commons licensed, open coursebook on Intellectual Property.  The first was Victor Hugo: Guardian of the Public Domain The book will be released in late August.

    In 1906, Samuel Clemens (who we remember better by his pen name Mark Twain) addressed Congress on the reform of the Copyright Act.  Delicious.

    read more

  • Victor Hugo: Guardian of the Public Domain

    Jennifer Jenkins and I are frantically working to put together a new open casebook on Intellectual Property Law.  (It will be available, in beta version, this Fall under a CC license, and freely downloadable in multiple formats of course.  Plus it should sell in paper form for about $130 less than the competing casebooks. The accompanying statutory supplement will be 1/5  the price of most statutory supplements — also freely downloadable.)  More about that later.  While assembling the materials for a casebook, one gets to revisit the archives, reread the great writers.  Today I was revisiting Victor Hugo.  Hugo was a fabulous — inspiring, passionate — proponent of the rights of authors, and the connection of those rights to free expression and free ideas.

    read more

  • “We Need To Start Seeing Other Futures..”

    Today is the second day of “Copyright Week!” Talk about a lede. That sentence has all the inherent excitement of “Periodontal Health Awareness Week” or “‘Hug Your Proctologist! No, After He’s Washed His Hands’ Week.” And that’s a shame. Copyright Week is a week devoted to our relationship with our own culture. Hint: things aren’t going well. The relationship is on the rocks.

    read more

  • Discussion: “The Foolish War Against Song-Lyric Websites”

    Professor Alex Sayf Cummings, author of a fascinating book called Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the 20th Century (recommended as a  thought-provoking read)  has an interesting  post up about attempts to shut down music lyric sites such as Rapgenius.com.

    read more

  • The Top Ten List of a Conference Planner

    Academics (and others) arrange conferences.  Perfectly normal people are invited to those conferences to speak.  Most of them are just as charming as can be… but then there are the special ones.  This Top 10 List of the special people one has to respond to is devoted to all conference planners everywhere.  Hold your heads up high.  After this, purgatory should be a snap.

    read more

  • (EM)I Has A Dream

    EM(I) Has A DreamAugust 28th, 2013 is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The copyright in the speech is administered by EMI, with the consent of the King family. Thus the speech may not be freely played on video or reproduced and costlessly distributed across the nation — even today. Its transient appearance depends on the copyright owner’s momentary sufferance, not public right. It may disappear from your video library tomorrow. It has even been licensed to advertise commercial products, including cars and mobile phone plans.

    read more

  • The Prosecution of Aaron: A Response to Orin Kerr

    Aaron Swartz committed suicide last week.  He was 26, a genius and my friend.  Not a really good friend, but someone I had worked with off and on for 11 years, liked a lot, had laughed with frequently, occasionally shaken my head over and deeply admired.

    read more

  • The Hargreaves Review

    An Intellectual Property System for the Internet Age

    James Boyle

    In November 2010, the Prime Minister commissioned a review of the Britain’s intellectual property laws and their effect on economic growth, quoting the founders of Google that “they could never have started their company in Britain” because of a lack of flexibility in British copyright..  Mr. Cameron wanted to see if we could have UK intellectual property laws “fit for the Internet age.”   Today the Review will be published. Its conclusion?  “Could it be true that laws designed more than three centuries ago with the express purpose of creating economic incentives for innovation by protecting creators’ rights are today obstructing innovation and economic growth?  The short answer is: yes.” Those words are from Professor Ian Hargreaves, head of the Review.   (Full disclosure: I was on the Review’s panel of expert advisors.)

    read more

  • Keith Aoki — A Remembrance Book

    A slideshow and downloadable book remembering Keith in words and pictures.  You can order a glossy, high quality copy of the book itself here from Createspace or here from Amazon.  We tried to make it as beautiful as something Keith would create.  We failed. But we came close; have a look at how striking it is… all because of Keith’s art.

    read more

  • Now THAT is how you teach a class

    read more

  • RIP, Keith Aoki

    Our friend, colleague, co-author and brilliant artist and scholar Keith Aoki died yesterday in his house in Sacramento.  He was 55 years old.

    read more

  • The Future of the Constitution?

    The Brookings Institution has organized a volume on “The Future of the Constitution” edited by Jeff Rosen and Benjamin Wittes and featuring articles by me, Larry Lessig, Jonathan Zittrain, Tim Wu and many others.  How will our constitutional tradition deal with the challenges posed by new technologies?  The topics range from possible personhood claims by artificial intelligences, to the future of free speech and the Net, to neuroscience and criminal punishment.  The essays are freely available online. Details after the jump.

    read more

  • Presumed Guilty

    My new FT column is up. Shakespeare, copyright, Scott Turow and a shadowy group of law professors..  What could be more fun? Ungated version after the jump. 

    read more

  • Waiting for ‘Waiting for Godot’

    What Could Have Been Entering the Public Domain on January 1, 2011?

    read more

  • Fantasy & Reality in Intellectual Property Policy

    My new column for the FT is up.  It deals with the incredible weakness of the data on which our intellectual property policy proceeds.   Ungated version after the jump

    read more

  • CBC Radio Interview on the History of Copyright

    Nora Young and the folk at CBC’s Spark have done it again, with a really nicely presented episode that includes a feature on copyright.  Nora interviews me about the history of copyright…  in 5 minutes.

  • EFF Pioneer Award Video

    Is here. I appear at 3:25 or so.

  • Follow thepublicdomain on Twitter.