Jazz Birthday: Buck Clayton (1911) and Comments on Plato

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Buck Clayton’s place in jazz is well-described here, here, and here. He was a trumpter of boundless melodic invention. “All the Cats Join In“, “Sentimental Journey“, and “Robbins’ Nest“.Today is also the birthday of alto saxophonist Charlie Mariano (1923), whom I saw play so very adeptly with Herb Pomeroy’s band, and of Sam Jones (1924), the resonant bassist.

Jazz birthdays is drawing to a close. With the help of google, anyone can easily find the jazz birthdays. By typing in the name of an artist, one can easily find some of their work on youtube, biographies and evaluations of their work. I’ve drawn connections between jazz and freedom, jazz and business, jazz and entrepreneurship, jazz and the war on drugs, jazz and creativity, jazz as a language, and jazz and love. I’ve provided a few details of jazz as a spontaneous order and its market development. I’ve suggested that many jazz musicians felt intrigued and attracted by music and gravitated toward the intensive development of their talents. This love and the pleasure of playing came before economics set in. Otherwise they may never have made the necessary investment in time.

In researching Buck Clayton, I discovered that he had gone to China in 1934. Further research, simply by following footnotes and links, led me to learned books with theories of how jazz and music in general mingled or were consciously used by members of the state and/or by various political movements as means of furthering their agendas. My reaction is that jazz cannot be harnessed to political ends. The U.S. government has tried this and so have other governments. There are national awards for arts that are run by government organizations but they fit uncomfortably with the aggressions of governments.

Although I have emphasized music and freedom and music and the market, the other side of the coin is music and the state. The question of music and the state comes up, and I haven’t gone into it. I hadn’t thought much about it, but it’s there. If we go back to Plato, we will find a mixture of views on music. Plato has written ““Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination
and life to everything.” As in many things, I see causality running in two directions, not one. Music is an expression of the soul, the mind, the imagination and life. At the same time, this expression elicits feelings, ideas, imagination, life and further expression.

In “The Republic”, Plato writes of his ideal state, society and culture. Music has a place in it. He would have “banished” certain harmonies. He would have banned flute-makers and flute-players. He would have done away with certain rhythms: “for we ought not to seek out complex systems of metre, and a variety of feet, but rather to discover what rhythms are the expressions of a courageous and harmonious life…” Plato was not bashful about the state imposing ideas of the good or the beautiful on others.

Plato thought that music could be revolutionary. He feared disrupting the established order. He writes “The overseers must be watchful against its insensible corruption.  They must throughout be watchful against innovations in music and gymnastics counter to the established order, and to the best of their power guard against them, fearing when anyone says that that song is most regarded among men “which hovers newest on the singer’s lips” [Odyssey  i. 351], lest it be supposed that the poet means not new songs but a new way of song and is commending this.  But we must not praise that sort of thing nor conceive it to be the poet’s meaning.  For a change to a new type of music is something to beware of as a hazard of all our fortunes.  For the modes of music are never disturbed without unsettling of the most fundamental political and social conventions.”

In “The Laws” he paints a dire picture of how an “unmusical license” in music sets in and leads by degrees to a complete overturning of all society! Plato feared liberty very greatly. He is the soil of Hobbes. Truly, boundless or uncivilized freedom is intolerable. The question is how to achieve bounded (non-aggressive) freedom without going to the other extreme of boundless state-led aggression. Plato sees freedom in music as a great danger spot:

“But, as things are with us, music has given occasion to a general conceit of universal knowledge and contempt for law, and liberty has followed in their train.  Fear was cast out by confidence in supposed knowledge, and the loss of it gave birth to impudence.  For to be unconcerned for the judgment of one’s betters in the assurance which comes of a reckless excess of liberty is nothing in the world but reprehensible impudence.

“So the next stage of the journey toward liberty will be refusal to submit to magistrates, and on this will follow emancipation from the authority and correction of parents and elders; then, as the goal of the race is approached, comes the effort to escape obedience to the law, and, when that goal is all but reached, contempt for oaths, for the plighted word, and all religion.  The spectacle of the Titanic nature of which our old legends speak is reenacted; man returns to the old condition of a hell of unending misery.”

He imagines a descent into a Hobbesian jungle stemming from innovation in music.

Plato has a static view of the world and society, a fear of innovation and a fear of social disruption. He would place music in a straitjacket.

Plato’s world was circumscribed. He did not know of the great variety of musics throughout the world, played and sung in many lands, by many peoples. He could not form a theory of music that took this widespread development of varied musical forms into account. If he had, he would have seen that music is basically non-aggressive in nature. How human beings attempt to use music is another matter. Anything can be turned to good use or evil use.

The case studies of jazz and jazz musicians strongly support the idea that jazz musicians are expressing themselves through their music. This expression has no politics, but it does happen as a free and non-aggressive choice and it does express freedom of creation so that it is consistent with the libertarian essential of voluntary action and grows out of that essential being practiced.

Plato’s ideal state suppresses certain forms of music and musical creation. The libertarian ideal does not.

6:21 am on November 12, 2012