Voltaire's "Candide" says things about jazz, too.
Today I went to a riotously funny matinee titled "Evil Seen Beautifully! or, Voltaire's Candide," a dramatic production of Eli Siegel's great lecture of 1951, at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City. What a wild book Candide is! And how valuable Mr. Siegel's critical comments on it. And how wonderful the acting was today, by Anne Fielding, Bennet Cooperman, Timothy Lynch, Carrie Wilson, Derek Mali, Carol McCluer, and there was live musical accompaniment by Barbara Allen on flute and Edward Green on harpsichord.
So what does all this have to do with jazz? At one point in the novel, Candide comes to the mythological land of El Dorado, where the streets are literally paved with gold, precious stones are as common as ordinary rocks, and the people--who are all beautiful--drive around in carriages drawn by great red sheep, animals faster than the swiftest horse. Still, Candide longs to be back in Europe, with its wars and earthquakes and more, to be with his sweetheart, Cunigund. Mr. Siegel explained that what Voltaire was getting at is that the oneness of smoothness and roughness--which Europe with the loved Cunigund stands for--is more beautiful, more desirable than just smoothness--which El Dorado stands for. Well isn't that true about jazz as well? For example, like so many people, one of the reasons I love Louis Armstrong is that he is rough and smooth. One hears that most clearly in his voice, but those opposites are together beautifully in his trumpet playing as well. And the two together--! It is always amazing to hear Armstrong go from playing to singing or singing to playing. The sounds are so different, yet they are both unmistakably Louis!
And as we think of Candide and jazz, let's not forget that both have (that is when jazz is true to itself) a wildness that is yet well managed.