Before saying what hot jazz is, we should first say what it is not. hot jazz is not dance music. it is not cacophony. it is not snobbery. it is not folklore. Thus, it is not any of what people suppose it to be and in the name of which denounce it. To me it seems permissible to make the distinction between two kinds of musical creation. an arrested creation, a continuous creation. There is “arrested” creation when a composer finishes a given work that is to remain immutable within the established course. The composer’s work then begins to live according to his will and his will only. The performer or the orchestra that plays it does not interpret it but reconstructs it the way its author thought of it. We are in the presence of a single creation, frozen in time at the moment that the composer finishes his work, and respected from that moment on. in contrast, let us imagine a given musical theme. The theme itself already constitutes a first creation. Then an artist arrives who, instead of faithfully keeping it as is, distorts, folds, multiplies, and improvises on it in such a way that he fuses his own active personality to that of the composer. here we have a continuous creation. Continuous because the score, which is an order, sees itself replaced by the freedom to improvise, that is to say the freedom to create as often as the different sensitivities, originalities, in a word, different temperaments require it. hot jazz is actually a direct assault that engages your senses and pulls them into an exquisite and furious embrace with the sound. it is a shortcut. We are left with the memory of an irresistible aggression after listening to louis armstrong’s “Tiger rag,” whose final chorus consists of a single plaintive note, alternately repeated by the brass and the saxophones in a swelling rage.
Un Effort, no. 54 (May 1935); translated by Marjolijn de Jager