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November 24, 2006



I've long had a pet theory that the way to get great art is to deprive a great artist of something. Generally giving them everything they ask for is asking for trouble, or at best banality. Mozart may be the exception to this, since the only thing he was deprived of was a long life, but he'd started early to offset that (thinking around it, it's possible that he was deprived of a normal childhood).

Beethoven on the other hand had a toughish upbringing, a war. a rather unbalanced subsequent mental state and ultimately deafness to cope with, and it's hard to argue that his music would be as great and moving without those trials. Comfort breeds philistinism, see prime-time ITV for details.

Ask yourself how Gordon Brown would go about composing a symphony. I have a suspicion a management consultancy would be involved, plus a large amount of cash, and the result would be delivered in stages over several years, would be unplayable and then knighthoods would be handed out. Hell, that ain't the blues, as the old Heineken advert said.


Chris, if you're talking about black American music of the first half of the twentieth century, you need to be very clear about what was actually produced during that period, and what was simply recorded and/or brought to a white audience during that period. Furthermore, when we think about this, it seems pretty obvious that in fact, what caused there to be such a flowering of creativity and art was that there had been a massive increase in the empowerment of black Americans; you are precisely describing the creative output of the first generation of black Americans to be born outside slavery.


"the American south": she was from Baltimore. Better, I think, to cite Bessie and Jelly and Louis and Sidney......


"it seems pretty obvious that in fact...": what a splendidly robust way to say "none of us have the least idea why....". I like the explanation that the cheap selling off of instruments from the regimental bands of the Civil War, plus the availability of cheap, mass-produced pianos, is the secret. Who knows?

james higham

The Scandinavian nations in the last 50 years have come much closer to Brown’s ideal of empowerment...

Yes and there's that great line in the Third Man from Orson Welles about the Swiss having 500 years of peace and producing ... the cuckoo clock.

Mark EJ

You are exactly right Chris. And the Swedish/US example is not the end of it. How about East Germany pre and post unification. Or South Africa pre and post apartheid.

Maybe therefore the solution is to identify creative geniuses (or is that genii?) at a young age, corale them into boot camps with only absynthe, syphillis and brutal guards for company and let them produce their best work for lesser mortals' consumption.

On reflection, does London currently serve a similar function?

Igor Belanov

Am I being intellectually snobby, or does anyone else think that modern consumer capitalism actually reduces the chances of 'genius' getting realised and publicized?


"you are precisely describing the creative output of the first generation of black Americans to be born outside slavery."

No, he's describing the creative output that was first *recorded* - a point you yourself make and then seem to immediately forget. Emancipation? Technology, surely?

dave heasman

"No, he's describing the creative output that was first *recorded*"

Buddy Bolden wasn't recorded. Freddie Keppard was only recorded in decline.

The segregated blacks in NO (see above etc) made different music to that of the relatively free creoles - Morton, Piron etc, but Morton certainly did meet and learn from black piano players before 1917*, and Johnny Dodds did learn from Piron too.

*1917 - the closure by the US Navy of Storyville, the whorehouse district which provided good money to refined (i.e. creole) musicians.


Shuggy: although a lot of it was only recorded then rather than being created, I think it is still broadly fair to say that the first half of C20 was an exceptionally creative period for black Americans.

Chris Williams


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