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.
"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
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.