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” . . . . . !
From Bruce’s statement, one would assume that the initiative in the development of jazz in the middle ’50’s passed to Humph and Wally; yet at this time Humph was displaying a marked servility to the music of the current Buck Clayton groups in the United States.
With regard to the perennial dispute about the superiority of negro jazz musicians, the facts must be faced: the negro is a more fluent improviser, and his lack of self-conciousness—whether in dress, speech or music—puts him in a very advantageous position with regard to jazz. If the white musician is well acquainted with the social and musical background of the negro, he may be able to produce a Europeanised version of the negro music; this music might even be exciting to some ears, but it is no substitute for the genuine article.
N. J. KEEN