25. August 2007 · 5 comments · Categories: Ramble

Opera? Musical Theatre? Jazz?

Yeah, I know, these are labels and can kind of be tossed around. Or tossed out.

But because of my lack of intelligence when it comes to jazz (I really know next to nothing) I can’t answer Nat’s question, when she asked in response to my jazz opera post: “Wasn’t Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess a jazz opera?”

I’ve always thought jazz needed improvisation. Or at least the feel of such. And yet I know there are these pieces that are “jazz” which, I suppose, are all “prepared improvisation” … or are they? And if one utilizes aspects of jazz do we then call the work jazz, or just “uses jazz idioms”? Is Stravinsky jazz sometimes?

I’m not asking this sarcastically. I think some people think I’m being sarcastic when I’m not. (I know, it’s hard to tell since I bounce back and forth!) Of course I also think some folks are angry at me, or putting me down, when, perhaps, they really aren’t. It’s hard to communicate with tone of voice in print.

So … all you wise ones … fill me in!

Yikes! Gotta get ready to teach ….


  1. Yay! I’m logged in again. Who knows why I couldn’t before…

    Gunther Schuller supposedly “fused” classical music and jazz. He has a WW5 that is jazzy sounding, but no more so than other contemporary composers. Hmmm. Labling music can be problematic.

  2. This is actually from Dan … poor guy lost his password … heh …:

    What is jazz? Who is to say?

    There is jazz – as you point out, improvisation is an integral part of it. In fact, without improv most jazz musicians would be very uncomfortable labeling music as jazz.

    (The style is also significant. Improv alone doesn’t make it jazz. )

    Then there is “influenced by jazz” – your Stravinsky example is a great one. Stravinsky and a bunch of other twentieth-century composers were affected by jazz, though what they wrote was not itself jazz.

    Then there is the category of “jazz precursors” – Scott Joplin’s music is probably in this category. I wouldn’t say that he wrote jazz, but his ideas were part of the stream that eventually led to jazz.

    Then there is the ” it sure isn’t classical and it is sort of lively so it must be jazz” category – a la Gershwin. Gershwin was really not a “jazz composer” at all – more of a popular song composer.

    So, it isn’t simple and even people who are really into these genres will argue about where the boundaries are.

  3. Gunther’s thing was called Third Stream, and that was the name of the department I matriculated to at NEC back in the aerly seventies. It was run by Gunther pal Ran Blake who is a wonderful man of incredible talents, but I only stayed a year in his course as I found the concept of “Third Stream” to be much less inclusive in practice then in theory.

    Patty, I love Dan’s jazz round-up, it really gets it for me. Perhaps an additional description could grow out of the fact that once jazz coalesced somewhere in the early 20th century, it followed a pretty recognizable historical stream. That is, each new persons work was rooted in the previous work (more or less deeply). By the 1930’s, when jazz was almost twinned with popular music (perhaps only separated by race) until rock & roll took off in the late 50’s, jazz was rich in idiom and culture which further defined the genre. because of this Benny Goodman is still argued about, along with many others that most of us would label “jazz” on first hearing. Thank god the listening is more fun then the categorizing.

  4. true, true. I guess Gershwin brought the Jazz element onto the concert stage with his Rhapsody in blue and his P&B..

    so… having jazz harmonies in a piece might not necessarily classify it as jazz?

    i ask too much =P

  5. I don’t think you ask too much, Nat! Not at all.

    My thoughts? Bringing in elements of a musical style doesn’t make turn the work into, say, jazz or rock or bluegrass or baroque (I won’t go on!). You know what I mean?

    At the same time, when DOES a work become that style? I’m guessing it can happen.