As a musician, I have great respect for the virtuosity of jazz artists, most of whom are masters of their instruments. I can relate to the desire to do something novel and unconventional. But deep down in the musical recesses of my soul, jazz kills whatever is blooming there. And actually, I think that's the point.
Jazz is the anti-music.
If that's not strong enough for you, try this:
If art has any weakness, it's in the way it is ultimately a reflection of its culture and times. As our culture has become more narcissistic, art, too, has fallen in love with itself. It has become so unconventional and self-referential that only insiders can appreciate it. Art of all stripes — the fine arts, music, literature, architecture — has exchanged objective/traditional measures of beauty for the knowing winks and nods of the self-congratulating art community itself.
It's hard to know where art might go next. Unconventionality itself has now become conventional — and boring. Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain" (a urinal) has had a thousand imitators, each less interesting (and less provocative) than the last.
Likewise, jazz has become conventional in its desperate search for edginess. The earliest jazz virtuosos were looking for something new, something fresh. At first, what they were attempting seemed like the discovery of fire all over again. Now, decades later, every blaring trumpet and squealing saxophone sounds like the last. We're stuck in a musical rut.
This, of course, is the danger of a musical tradition that sees ‘rule breaking’ as an important artistic element (the tradition, of course, stretches back to Mozart, at least). It will always run the risk of becoming anti-tradition and anti-form.
Whether Charlie’s analysis of art is correct is, of course, debatable (though he does have Bloom on his side, I think!). But the deeper point about the self-destructive nature of ‘pushing the limits’ to the point where they no longer exist is, I think, exactly right.*
*It's worth pointing out (again!) that Charlie is one of the blogosphere's best-kept secrets. If you're looking for good prose to imitate, read him. He knows how to turn a phrase with the best of them.
Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.