Defining Jazz

Horace Parlan’s right hand was partially crippled by polio in his childhood.

Yesterday, at a jazz research seminar at the University of Salford, the discussion focused on Alex Lubet’s recent book Music, Disability and Society (Temple University Press, 2010).

Towards the end of chapter 2–Let”s Face the Music and Dance”–Lubet writes that the possibilities for jazz musicians with disabilities to pursue successful careers is due to “…jazz performance practice, whose essence is the embrace of difference…” (p.65).

Lubet attributes this openness to the interpretive latitudes of jazz performance (“its emphasis on highly original interpretation,” p.54) and a very specific kind of virtuosity, which values a musician’s unique and idiosyncratic approach to her or his instrument (the distinctive sound she or he achieves), making it possible for musicians with physical impairments to participate at the highest levels.

This seems to me to be a workable definition of jazz for a project such as Rhythm Changes, which aims to understand the relationship between jazz and cultural identity.

What do you think?

One thought to “Defining Jazz”

  1. Yes, interesting. And in the book Lubet contrasts this positive, inclusive view of jazz for people with disabilities with the situation in western classical music. Indeed he describes the classical orchestra as a ‘sonic Sparta’ (in Sparta children with disabilities were viewed as weak and deficient, and could be left out in the mountains to die)…

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