Schopenhauer’s Blues; or, On Jazz & Folk Music, from Hoedown to Hootenanny: A Happening Post

Over at JazzWax, jazz journalist Marc Meyers pulls out an old discussion, with Stan Kenton trying to explain a depressed jazz market. Marc focuses on Kenton’s suggestion that the emergence of folk helps explain the jazz recession, but finds Kenton’s explanation historically inaccurate: “I find this entire folk-as-jazz-killer thing a hoot,” Marc says.

Hoot of course is the folk mating call, suggesting hootenanny, a down-home “happening.” Yet the etymologies of both hootenanny and its precursor, the hoedown, suggest that folk and jazz have common ancestral roots in Blues People.

A flat note of interest in the Kenton comments transcribed by Marc suggests an adulteration of jazz through the commercialization processes: “The jazz we have known, explained Kenton, from 1890 to the late 1950s, has spent itself and has become absorbed by American music in general.” But, by definition, we might argue that jazz is that music which absorbs every other musical form without losing its own identity. Jazz is, at its roots, a folk music, and to suggest that folk music isn’t now or wasn’t ever popular is a self-contradictory proposition.

In any case, foraging through the OED this morning, researching the etymology of hootenanny, hoedown, and happening, I culled the following hoots, displayed below:

1963 Daily Mail 11 Sept. 8/4 Hootenanny. …is to the folk singer what a jam session is to the jazzman. 1964 Mrs. L. B. Johnson White House Diary 13 Jan. (1970) 44, I love folk music, but the name ‘Hootenanny’ rather repels me. 1967 ‘J. Munro’ Money that Money can’t Buy ix. 114   Two more cowboys appeared. …They played hoe-down music. 1969 Guardian 2 Sept. 8/2 The atmosphere was that of…a hoedown in—well, perhaps in Hibbing, Minn. 1970 Daily Tel. 29 Dec. 10 Tomorrow the 1,600 delegates will see a ‘happening’ called ‘Thank God We’re Normal’ performed by 70 boys and girls from…comprehensive schools in London.

Music is a language of feeling (as opposed to a language of thinking), though it might sound illogical to think of music as a language, since music not being a language is what gives it its universal character. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “with respect to the theme of achieving more peaceful and transcendent states of mind, Schopenhauer believes that music achieves this by embodying the abstract forms of feelings, or feelings abstracted from their particular everyday circumstances. This allows us to perceive the quintessence of emotional life — ‘sadness itself,’ ‘joy itself,’ etc. — without the contingent contents that would typically cause suffering. By expressing emotion in this detached or disinterested way, music allows us to apprehend the nature of the world without the frustration involved in daily life, and hence, in a mode of aesthetic awareness that is akin to the tranquil philosophical contemplation of the world.”

As good a definition of the blues as I’ve ever heard.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. dan hen says:

    A tangential comment : After all these years I only now get “hoedown” (not that I think of that word often; yet I have heard and seen it Ks of times) : put the hoe down / lay the work aside for awhile. Isn’t it strange how bits of knowledge one should have , or perhaps does have , elude the conscious mind for years, decades , —– and then one day like the cartoon light bulb……………..

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  2. Joe Linker says:

    Yes, and just as quickly the light bulb goes off again, on again, off again – the way it’s been for me, anyway, all these years, one moment thinking, Eureka! I’ve got it, next moment thinking, never mind, I’ve lost it. But your “put the hoe down,” is a found it moment, like break-down, take a break, as in break-dance, which tangents off your definition of hoe-down. You might start a blog, Dan, and call it, “Tangential Comment.” I’m stoked you came back to read some more of the Toads. By the way, 36 years today for me and Susan, which, of course, this morning I forgot about, talk about a break-down, but all’s well – they’ll be a hootenanny later tonight. Hello to Ada!

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