Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Pondering the Creative Dialogue of Jazz

In the article entitled “The Play of Meaning and the Meaning of Play in Jazz,” music educator David Borgo utilizes John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and Sonny Rollins’ “Freedom Suite,” as well as various reinterpretations of both pieces, in order to examine the negotiation process that takes place when canonical musical models and events are reimagined and recreated dialectically in new and diverse contexts. In the words of the author, “this type of music, or better ‘musicking’, encourages different cross-domain mappings and different ways of engaging with musical sound and meaning, while at the same time not completely dispensing with those mappings that are already established” (182). Within the vibrant contextual spaces created through what Borgo refers to as blending (a process of composition, completion, and eventual elaboration), humans are able enhance their own developmental frameworks while taking part in a double-voiced dialogue between the original musical model and its reincarnation(s).

Although the obvious focus of this analysis of double-voiced dialogue is the improvisation-rich world of jazz, it could, perhaps, just as easily lend itself to an analysis of any genre of artistic expression or creative conversation, including (but of course not limited to) composition and rhetoric. Borgo’s exploration is based on analysis of the developmental frameworks within which humans organize and categorize musical experiences – as well as other forms of artistic expression and rhetoric – into set models, structures, and genres, and of the cross-domain mapping that occurs when those experiences are recreated and reimagined through improvisation and context-based interpretations. This model for human development, creation, collaboration, and improvisation works well within the world of composition and rhetoric, a conceptual space in which existing canonical thought as well as text is constantly being reworked and reinterpreted.

In jazz, as in composition and rhetoric, the cannon functions as a “discourse of power,” and it is Borgo’s stance that reinterpretation of given canonical works and musical experiences within various socio-political and cultural contexts allows for the creation of something “bigger” than the original work. This process of referencing the existing models, structures, and genres in order to augment, extend, and even alter their meaning is referred to as “signifying.” Within rhetoric, the act of signifying functions as a mediating strategy in which double meaning, or double-voicedness, is created through revision and reworking of canonical discourse.

Borgo argues that, when a specific musical event is reimagined in a new context, it fosters the creation of a “nuanced picture of the ways in which new meanings and understandings can arise from the blended input of several conceptual frames” (185). Having listened closely to “A Love Supreme” (both Coltrane’s original performance and several reimaginings of it), I find myself agreeing. The original piece offers itself as a canonical musical experience, one obviously created in a specific social, cultural, political, emotional, and musical context, and it is obvious that a given listener’s encounter with the work is going to be context-based as well. It is the more modern reinterpretations of the piece, however, that are the most interesting: they interact with and model the original – essentially channeling Coltrane – while also, through reinvention and augmentation, creating their own rich contextual and musical realities. It is within this vibrant and tension-fraught environment that a double-voiced dialogue between the original and the reinterpretation is able to occur, and true creative invention is able to take place.