Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

The Philosophy of Jazz

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Norman Lewis, Jazz Band (1948)

What is the philosophy of jazz?

In a sort of order of strength of the foundational questions philosophers of jazz often research and pursue we have:

  • What is jazz? Can it be defined?  Does it have a musical essence? Are there necessary and sufficient conditions for a musical performance to be jazz? How does one determine if free jazz, or jazz-rock fusion is jazz?  Was the movement to free jazz inevitable?
  • Could Martians who know nothing about music on planet Earth play jazz? Why or why not?
  • What is improvisation? Why is improvisation important to jazz?  Can improvisation be taught?  Are improvised (spontaneously composed) works inherently inferior aesthetically to pre-composed ones?
  • What is a musical work? Does jazz have musical works?  Can an improvised jazz performance be a musical work?
  • What does the ideal jazz musician need to know? Why?
  • How does the brain and mind work when playing and improvising jazz? What happens in a groove state or a flow state as it occurs during a jazz performance?
  • Improvisers spontaneously compose creating fresh melodies over the continuously repeating cycle of chord changes in a song. Why should this be admired as aesthetically valuable activity?  Why is this good?
  • Can mistakes occur during a jazz improvisation? Which ones are not mistakes?  How are mistakes possible?  What kind of mistakes can occur during a jazz performance?
  • Does playing jazz make a musician more spiritual? How has jazz contributed to freedom and creativity in the world?
  • Does jazz have emergent properties?

And we have barely scratched the surface.

So writes David C. Ring (Orange Coast College), editor of the website Philosophy of Jazz and co-organizer of the Jazz and Philosophy Intermodal Conference, would like to invite readers to pursue these topics and questions (and enjoy some jazz jam sessions!) at the conference, May 5-7, 2017. Details below the fold.


Romare Bearden, Jamming at the Savoy (1979)

The inaugural Jazz and Philosophy Intermodal Conference 2017 is being held at the fabulous restored railway hotel in Winslow, AZ at La Posada Hotel & Gardens on May 5-7. You can travel by Amtrak to La Posada’s back door from anywhere in the United States.

The Jazz and Philosophy Intermodal conference dedicates itself to supporting, promoting, and contributing to scholarly investigations of philosophical issues relating to jazz. To better understand the field of philosophy of jazz, you can visit this website: this website. The conference website itself is here.

Because the conference is intermodal, it combines scholarly investigation with jazz jam sessions Friday and Saturday nights, featuring professional jazz musicians, including several of the conference’s speakers and organizers.

Early bird registration for the conference is at a reduced price of $75 and can be done here via Paypal. We are also offering a student registration rate of $10, available here.

Besides the cool hotel rooms each named after a favorite celebrity who stayed in that very room, La Posada Hotel & Gardens boasts an association with the Turquoise Room, one of the best restaurants in the United States hosted by a 2011 James Beard nominated chef, John Sharpe. It also has a martini bar.

Top image: Exhibition image, From the Margins: Lee Krasner and Norman Lewis, 1945–1952. September 12, 2014 – February 1, 2015.
Bottom image: Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art

One Comment

  1. Very interesting stuff to read.

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