Northern Sun/Southern Moon
Europe's Reinvention of Jazz

Mike Heffley
(Yale University Press; New Haven and London)

Peter Kowald
Peter Kowald                              Gerard Rouy©2006

an excerpt from:
Chapter Five: The Free World Beyond America

If one does use ["other"] ethnic material, one cannot do so as if one were doing what was originally done with it...
– Stuart Jones

Finally, there remains the longstanding fact that these musical exchanges can always involve a mutual plunder. We have to be a little careful, because we are the children of white imperialism…
– Clive Bell

Critical voices

[Joachim-Ernst] Berendt's work, both as jazz presenter and scholar, has large overlaps with both the Ethnomusicological and the Speculative-Musicological discourses.(1) The very first Jazz Days--the Berlin festival he launched in 1964, which provoked FMP's first Total Music Meeting in reaction against its perceived pandering to American stars and mainstream jazz--was called "Jazz Meets the World," with subsets such as "Jazz Meets India," "Jazz and Flamenco," "Jazz and Balinese Music" and so on. This programming sprang directly from its director's interest in other cultures and wide travels, and took hold and has grown over the decades since, both in the very concept of a "world music" genre and in those less commercial collaborations between the post-free players and traditional musicians from non-Western cultures.

Berendt: "Only one bridge increased in strength: sexuality. These both--God Eros and Lady Music--formed the 'vehicle,' the means by which the discoverers--through the subjugation and murder, the stealing and deception--discovered the way to a humane path." Those words prefaced his essay for Wolpert ("Über Weltmusik," 269) on the process of branching out of one's home to foreign lands, of initiating contacts both positive and negative with other peoples. For the West, that process has led to the first and only civilization in world history to spread itself throughout the globe, and to make war and weapons on a global scale to do so.

If Eros is indeed the humane aspect of a process otherwise characterized by War ("conquest, murder, theft and deception"), then the Eros-full music will be the most immediately effective "world" music, one suggesting the ancient custom of marriage between rival clans to assure political and social stability.

Berendt investigates jazz as a primal and Erotic syncretism by way of his own history as a world traveler and perennial student of other cultures (and of anthropology and psychology). He cites German musicologist Georg Capellen's 1906 introduction of the concept of "world music" into that discourse.(2) Capellen's points focused on fundamental similarities between Western and non-Western music systems such as widespread use of the pentatonic scale, suggesting a common ancient Urgrund. He proffered non-Western expressions as the most fertile source of future Western development, exemplified by the way Impressionist painters drew on Asian, and Cubists on African, artworks.

Berendt discusses this musical interchange in the cultural terms of "contemporary ethnomusicological, anthropological, and biological research," working the idea that a bio/cultural phenomenon waxes rather than wanes in the face of challenge (he sets this against the turn-of-the-century social-Darwinist ideals of racial-cultural purity in Germany that led to its Nazism). He refers to "anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss' study of the African Dogon tribe," which cast the Dogons who "succumbed" to the foreign influence of Islam as the weaker members.(3) He cites psychologists who found the opposite, that it was precisely the most active, strongest, most intelligent Dogons who tended to become Muslims. Those who held to ideals of a "pure" identity of cultures (their own and others) took on a debilitating (inflation of) self-consciousness and self-confidence. The whole idea of such "purity" is rooted in the idea of time's moment exalted at the expense of its flow, because it arises only when long familiarity with and internalization of what was originally "other" turns it to "self."

An exceptionally telling example of this questionable concept of purity in music is the Gregorian chant's history. With it--as we read in every history of music--began so-called Western music. But if that is so, the history began much earlier: namely in the music of the Near East, with the hymns, sequences, and responses of Egypt's Coptic church (on which the early church father, Pope Gregory I, called), and also on the music of peoples living still in the Maghreb desert--Tunisians and Algerians (who on their side played an important role in the genesis of Flamenco music). (270)

Berendt points to the overtone series as common ground not just for the world's musics as cultural expressions, but for the physical universe on the level of planets (per Johannes Kepler) and subatomic particles (per Max Planck). He cites vibraphonist Karl Berger--a German living in America, one of the more proactive thinkers and players to come out of and build on the free-jazz movement--to corroborate his vision of the musician's body as the site of such universals micro and macro: "Listen to yourself. Find all in yourself" (272).

Berendt's point is that since all cultures are grounded in the same human body, not in their differences, they can therefore be "pure"--enjoy an identity with integrity--and "mixed" in unification with all others simultaneously. Further: mixing, syncretic syntheses between such "purities" are the fruit of the strongest--the most actually "pure" bodies, those with a well-defined, grounded identity and integrity in their respective pools--not the weakest.

This Erotic worldview lines him up with evolutionary biologists such as E.O. Wilson, who has recently (1998) drawn similar conclusions for culture. It is dangerous thinking for those wary of essentialism and the racist-sexist agendas it can spawn; but it is unavoidable if one will centralize the body, and geographical environment, as music and culture's source. It delivers us from the equally dangerous thinking that leads to a superficial vision of melting-pot equality in nature and culture (reflected by Communism and Capitalism both, and all their peculiar mixtures of bad art with social science), rather than the thousand-flower, cross-pollinating gardens of variously empowered hybrids we glimpse here.

If Berendt's Erotic outlook is a little too sunny vis-à-vis the problems of power imbalance in such cultural exchanges, [Ekkehard] Jost's "Free Jazz and the Music of the Third World" (1971-1972) gives us more food for that thought.

So-called "national styles" are very common in the history of Occidental Art. Even though the 20th Century with its cultural internationalism promoted by the media has leveled most of the distinctions, it is still possible to detect certain national characteristics, in the field of contemporary music. ...During the Sixties, no-one would have bothered to wonder as to whether in Jazz such diverse "national" tendencies prevail. Jazz was considered the world's musical language, sedulously propagated by the Voice of America and the State Department, using the notion "world-language" in an ideologically-tinted way; that term did not only maintain the international, world-wide significance of American Culture but by the same token concealed the cultural deprivation of Afro-American musicians--and it was their "language," their musical expression, Jazz dealt with primarily. Meanwhile, sometimes at festivals, it happens that during the sets of their European colleagues black Free Jazz musicians leave the concert hall, shaking their heads--and they do so not because they think the musicians on-stage are incompetent but because they cannot identify or sympathize with their music. Jazz has lost its quality of being a generally accepted binding force as the "World's Language." (62)

Jost posits the free-jazz movement as an expression of pan-African resistance and liberation. He sees it turning to non-Western cultures more for a poetic symbolism than for a deep musical connection (e.g., Coltrane's Africa, India, or Pharoah Sanders' Japan). The musical contributions those musicians did offer--modalism, cyclical rather than linear progression, drones, non-Western rhythmic patterns, improvisational strategies--were necessarily subsumed in what remained a musical discourse uniquely African-Western. Jost suggests that improvisations on non-Western musical materials, and compositions from their concepts, were simply today's smaller world's versions of past fusions between, say, Congo Square and French Opera houses, or Southern rural blues and itinerant German and East European music teachers, or the "ragging of the classics" some piano-savvy house slaves and free blacks performed.

In other words, they comprised the long-cultivated unity between international expressions of whiteness and negritude. Jost's essay supplements those of his French colleagues in a way that corroborates and amplifies their own (uncharacteristic) nods to such interdependence and unity (e.g., Lère's vision of black resistance to white oppression as the necessary fulfillment of Western social ideals), nods that might otherwise have been subsumed in a reification of black "otherness," a reification oscillating between hagiographic fawning and effetely "civilized" snobbery. If the music is a violent force--as might be most successfully argued in the case of free jazz as practiced both by African-American inter/nationalists in the 1960s and by their German emanzipatorische counterparts--its violence might just as successfully be argued as that of opposing forces deliberately pursuing their own clash so as to join.

Mongolian voices

Peter Kowald's words to [Bert] Noglik (1981: 442-43) show how long his own sense of the global wedded to the local has held his imagination:

There are in almost all parts of the world musicians who have come to improvisation through the new jazz we play. They bring something from their own native idioms, but musical and regional differences begin to melt together in the music. I'm not talking about some forced fusion of jazz and folk musics, but rather a common future built from the ground floor of similar essential experiences with improvisation. I am also convinced that in our time the biggest problem is no longer one of isolation, but--and this goes for other arts and culture in general, as well as music--losing ourselves in some sort of global, international scene.

His words to me sixteen years later about his group Global Village (after Marshall McLuhan) and his work with Tuvan singer Sainkho Namtchlyak speak to his way around this problem.

"Sainkho is one of the best examples from that group of this co-creative concept," he tells me. "There are different people from Japan too, and from Greece, and from anywhere, in the theory that people grow up in their tradition. But Sainkho is an interesting example because you can see it so obviously in her life. Her grandparents were still nomads. Both of her parents were already teachers, so she grew up with the music there in Mongolia. In her twenties, she was still singing Tuvan folk songs, going on tour with four other women. Eventually she went to Moscow, met new people and left the folk song. But now when she improvises with us--she's now part of the family, okay? She left the folk song, but she brought all the stuff she learned in it, except for that local form--all the throat singing, the shamanistic breathing--to our improvised music."

Kowald wrote on her FMP debut CD's liner notes (Lost Rivers, 1991):

In the cultural history of the Occident (from Heraklitos to Fluxus, the exceptions prove the tendency), the image of floating and letting go is rather unpopular; instead, there is an attitude of taking apart, cutting into pieces, separating, analyzing, specializing [this describes my distinction between the Holy and Religion--M.H.]. I consider it good and right that there is room in us for waiving feeling and willing thinking. I find it essential that there is proper (and not properly at all) floating between these two.

"Sainkho plays with Butch Morris on this record we did [When the Sun is Out you Don't See the Stars, FMP 1990]," he tells me. "The first night they played together she did her stuff and Butch did his, and it works. I love the record, I think it's my best so far. It's a collective record, which I've always loved as a process. I didn't organize the music--I organized it a little more than everybody else for that record, but basically it was a collective thing and I still love that collective improvisation. And it's wonderful, because Butch and Sainkho met for the first time in that studio, and then she does her overtone things, and Butch does his kind of Rex Stewart trumpet, this traditional black trumpet music. This is wonderful to me, this is really wonderful. That's how I believe it works. It's a method that could be something of a model, of how people can come from different cultures, different areas, with different characters, with all of that, and they bring what they bring, and it's okay--just throw it together with the other stuff, and it works. After just a little bit of figuring out how it works together, then it does."

The birth of a scene took place in Siberia, through Kowald's collaboration with Namtchlyak. "She took me to Tuva; I did two trans-Siberian tours with her by train. We went up to the Japanese sea....She was married to an Austrian then, who played the bass clarinet and saxophone with us; there was a percussionist for one tour . . . and so I played in her home town, and all her uncles and family came, all the throat singers came. As I hear now, it must have been a legendary concert, because now there are Tuva singers who play Tuva rock, and Tuva improvised music, and Sainkho gets their records and tells me, 'Yes, this one was at our concert.' Because this concert kind of did something to the whole community of musicians there. There are not so many."

Siberian drummer Sergey Belichinko is one of several of them, interviewed in Feigin [Russian Jazz, New Identity, 1985], who formed a quartet called Homo Liber and made a record by the same name to share their music with the West. About that music, Belichinko said,

I live in Siberia where European and Asian musical cultures, which are very different, have intermingled. For instance, I listen to the music of Touvinians--marvelous improvised music. The Touvinians are Buddhists and their music is full of echoes of China and India. I listen to Central Asian music, particularly Uzbek. It seems to me that Siberia has in concentrated form some essence of a pre-European past, thousands of years old, untouched by professionalism. A sort of musical matrix. (115)

In fact, this connection with Mongolian shamanism resonates with some other currents in African-American culture that have fed into jazz along with the African and European ones, currents worthy of our particular focus's attention.

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