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New Left Review I/11, September-October 1961

N. J. Keen

Living Jazz

Dear Sir,

Whilst the intention of the article “Living Jazz” is commendable, and whilst the subject of the interview is in sympathy with this intention, I feel that Bruce Turner does less than justice to modern jazz. He accepts (or infers acceptance of) the white jazz musicians only in an attempt to prove that the negro has no greater influence on jazz than the white man. What is worse, he rejects Clifford Brown, Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Julian Adderly and John Coltrane as “gimmick-producers”: on rational and emotional grounds I find this view untenable. Modern jazz became a gimmick to Bruce Turner at that point in its history where Bruce ceased to be interested: (I quote) “I am a sort of throwback. I am only prepared to be influenced by, and to like, things up to a certain time in history”. In conversation with Bruce some time ago he informed me that he thought that Duke Ellington ceased to be creative after 1941; yet to be influenced by, and to like, things up to a certain evidence of one’s ears suggests that Ellington has been, and still is, one of the most continuous influences in jazz. From the middle ’20’s Ellington has been exploring new tonal and melodic possibilities with rare genius. Naturally he has been influenced by European musical forms: he lives in a European society where these pressures must influence his intellectual attitude to composition. Basically Bruce’s attitude is one of musical self-esteem, as revealed when he says “I thank Humph and, to a lesser extent, Wally for helping me to get the right start” (my emphasis). What a shame that Humph and Wally didn’t give Clifford Brown the “right start” . . . . . !

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N. J. Keen, ‘Living Jazz’, NLR I/11: £3

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