Atelier 14, article 3

©   Mike Zwerin :
(International Herald Tribune, April 14, 2001)

                                   Global Jazz: Everything Is Fusing With Everything 

                                  PARIS Jazz is in the process of becoming the musica franca, the
                                  one language spoken everywhere, a glue in the global village, the
                                  musical common denominator; like English. It will not necessarily
                                  remain "America's only native art form" forever.

                                  The music is changing and being changed by the music of the
                                  world around it. Maintaining cultural exclusivity is difficult with
                                  today's fast-moving information technology, where everybody
                                  everywhere is able to hear everything right now. As someone once
                                  said in another context: "The future is not what it was."

                                  The momentum is there, the race is on, a new reality is being
                                  talked about in many places - all over the place. The marriage of
                                  jazz and the ethnic musics of the world can be seen through many

                                  Burhan Ocal, the bill-topping Turkish percussionist, revels in what
                                  is still seen by many to be political incorrectness. "I am not
                                  classical, or folk, or rock or jazz," he is proud to say. "I am just
                                  following my instincts." Jamaaladeen Tacuma, the former Ornette
                                  Coleman bassist, has teamed up with Mr. Ocal to make an album
                                  called "Groove alla Turca," a title to be taken literally. It features
                                  shuffle beats, funk, odd-metered rock and bebop trumpet mixed
                                  with Turkish vocal techniques, a specialty of Mr. Ocal's. The
                                  music fits Mr. Ocal's on-stage outlaw charisma - a sort of cross
                                  between an Anatolian rocker and a Swiss gangsta (he has been
                                  living in Zurich). Mr. Tacuma puts it mildly: "Many varieties of
                                  ethnic music are in the process of making themselves known to

                                  Thanks to jazz, musicians from Brooklyn to Cape Town and
                                  Shanghai, no longer divided by their own individual ethnicities, are
                                  able to communicate with one another. More and more
                                  non-Americans are studying it. Close to 50 percent of the students
                                  at the largest and most prestigious jazz conservatory, the Berklee
                                  College of Modern Music in Boston, were born on foreign shores.
                                  There are now university-level jazz programs in Istanbul; Porto,
                                  Portugal; Lexington, Kentucky, and Paris. And there are jazz
                                  schools in Hanoi and Trondheim, Norway. The International
                                  Association of Jazz Educators conducts larger and more culturally
                                  inclusive conventions each year.

                                  The Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava has recorded excerpts from the
                                  opera "Carmen." Okay Temiz, another veteran Turkish
                                  percussionist and Mr. Ocal's mentor, has formed a band he calls
                                  "The Black Sea Jazz Orchestra." The guitarist Nguyen Le
                                  combines jazz with the traditional music of his native Vietnam.

                                  The Russian saxophonist Vladimir Chekasin, who can run chord
                                  changes worthy of Cannonball Adderley, played with Vyacheslav
                                  Ganelin, the most popular jazz band in the former Soviet Union in
                                  the 1980s. Mr. Chekasin now says, "I still do everything the same
                                  - but different."

                                  In the future, a filmmaker like Ken Burns will no longer be able to
                                  justify the subtitle "The Story of America's Music" for a
                                  documentary called "Jazz." Not that its history will become, in the
                                  American sense of the word, "history" - meaning forgotten.

                                  With African ancestry and some European elements added, the
                                  music has remained African-American from Jelly Roll Morton
                                  through the Marsalis brothers. That foundation will remain while
                                  the superstructure moves and evolves. So be it.

                                  As a strictly "American art form," jazz is beginning to grow fat.
                                  Other continents and colors are insisting on a say. There are many
                                  more good people playing it now in many more places, but fewer
                                  great ones. Direction is lacking. The fight defending the image of
                                  jazz as the smartest branch of popular music around is getting

                                  There is competition, and a brain drain. Talented, motivated young
                                  instrumentalists also learn to play Brazilian, African and Indian
                                  music, among others. Conventional jazz formats - play the line,
                                  solo, take the line out - are getting seriously tired.

                                  Americans now learn how to play in the odd meters common to
                                  the music of the rest of the world (even a waltz used to be
                                  "foreign"), while the rest of the world learns altered chords and
                                  Miles Davis lines like "Donna Lee."

                                  So, although more people are learning how to play it, it sounds
                                  different. The record producer Manfred Eicher describes it as
                                  "music from the edge, from the Far East or the Far North, for
                                  instance." His company, ECM Records, has been releasing music
                                  from the edges of jazz for many years: "Then the edge moves to
                                  the center, where there are people with good antennas, and it
                                  becomes a new central fact."

                                  The success of the process is not so obvious to Rafi Zabor, author
                                  of "The Bear Comes Home," the PEN/Faulkner prize-winning jazz
                                  novel. He asks: "Who knows if the worldwide fluidity of
                                  communication will create amazing new opportunities or simply
                                  dissipate the essences already preserved in different forms?"

                                  Anouar Brahem, the Tunisian lute virtuoso, has been teaming up
                                  with two British jazzmen, Dave Holland and John Surman.
                                  Listeners in Mr. Brahem's own country do not know what to
                                  make of his syncopated, 20th century neo-African chamber music.
                                  Many Tunisians feel that he is not respecting tradition enough,
                                  while he is sure he is extending it.

                                  "The Arabic lute tradition had remained basically unchanged for
                                  centuries," Mr. Brahem says. "Other elements of our culture have
                                  been changing very quickly, like everywhere else. People have
                                  been forced to adapt to many new things. They want to hold on to
                                  some part of their identity. In the past, traditional music has been
                                  at least one thing they thought they could count on."

                                  The future of the music is growing out more than up. It may or may
                                  not be getting better, but it is getting everywhere. Growth is
                                  horizontal more than vertical. There appear to be no more
                                  Coltranes on the horizon - no giants with the required combination
                                  of humility, strength and intelligence to lead a movement are

                                  On the other hand you can now go to just about any city in the
                                  developed world and hear a world-class rhythm section. (Thirty
                                  years ago there was only one outside the United States, in Paris,
                                  and it had an American drummer.)

                                  Carlos Nunez is from Galicia, a region in the northwest corner of
                                  Spain. Galicia has an ancient Celtic culture like Scotland, Ireland
                                  and Brittany. Mr. Nunez plays bagpipes that are cousins to the
                                  pipes in those countries. He puts Galician music together with the
                                  blues, flamenco, Arabic, Gypsy and Jewish music from southern

                                  His albums sell platinum, 100,000 copies in Spain. Mr. Nunez
                                  may be closer to rock than to jazz - one critic wrote that he "plays
                                  the pipes like an electric guitar"- but the term "world music" is
                                  expanding to become a widely defined reality as well as an
                                  oversimplified marketing tool.

                                  "I love it when music is old and modern at the same time," Mr.
                                  Nunez says.

                                  "Isn't it strange how all music is connected somewhere along the

                                  The founder and owner of the independent California-based
                                  record company Water Lilly Acoustics, Kavichandran Alexander
                                  has produced collaborations between Third World musicians and
                                  such extended-definition jazz names as Bela Fleck and Jon

                                  Putting two new edges together, Mr. Alexander, who is of Tamil
                                  origin, produced what he described as "the first recording - ever -
                                  of Indian and Chinese classical musicians playing together." He
                                  also produced one with Iranian and Indian classical musicians
                                  together for the first time. Creating this sort of new reality, he says,
                                  "has more meaning to me than winning a Grammy."

                                  New boundaries are being crossed and erased. Some ethnic
                                  fusions go back to Bela Bartok. There is currently a klezmer
                                  revival. Jewish immigrants brought this 400-year-old
                                  Eastern-European traditional music to America, along with the
                                  Yiddish language. Klezmer was born in Odessa, which has been
                                  called "the Russian New Orleans." Improvisation plays a central
                                  role with klezmer (as it does with jazz, of course). For a time you
                                  could dance to both. Benny Goodman was a working klezmer
                                  musician before he came to be called "The King of Swing."

                                  Everything is fusing with everything. At the same time, it is
                                  important to remember that all branches of what we call Western
                                  popular music can be traced back at some time or another to
                                  Africa - from tango to rock'n'roll to flamenco.

                                  The complexity at the moment is such that Africa is importing
                                  African-based music, reprocessing it and re-exporting it.

                                  Roots become branches, and the branches grow into new roots.

                                  Randy Weston, the well known American jazz pianist and
                                  composer, says: "What I like about Africa is its variety. Africa
                                  does not start south of the Sahara. There is as much African spirit
                                  in Ghana as in Morocco."

                                  Mr. Weston has played with the Moroccan master musicians of
                                  Jajouka, and with Gnawas from the southern Sahara. He was
                                  invited to a Sufi festival in Egypt, and then he went to Aswan to
                                  "spend some time with the Nubians."

                                  An enthusiastic supporter of Africa, he relates to it as though it is
                                  all one big hometown: "African music is an enormous tree. It is our
                                  past as well as our future. African music is more present in our
                                  lives than ever. Blues, samba, calypso, reggae, salsa, jazz - Africa
                                  is everywhere."

                                  Music plays an essential social role in West African village life. By
                                  the age of 7, Richard Bona was playing weddings, funerals and
                                  feasts in his native village in Cameroon on a self-made guitar.

                                  When he was 14, he heard that a Frenchman in the nearby town
                                  of Douala wanted to start a jazz club. Although he knew next to
                                  nothing about jazz, Mr. Bona, a fast learner, was recommended.
                                  He learned enough listening full-time to the Frenchman's large LP
                                  collection to open in three weeks.

                                  Later he moved to Paris and, playing bass-guitar, toured with an
                                  international assortment of veteran players like the American
                                  Brecker Brothers, Sadao Watanabe from Japan and the
                                  Austrian-born Joe Zawinul. Eventually, Mr. Bona moved to New

                                  Occasionally, he tours Cameroon.

                                  Jazz is everywhere.