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THEIncorporatingVOX, THE RADIO CRITIC and BROADCAST REVIEW
COMPTON MACKENZIE and CHRISTOPHER STONE
Telephone Gerrard 2136. 2137
Telegrams Parmaxto. Rath. London
As I sit down to write this editorial I have just read in the Radio Times an extremely interesting correspondence between Dr. Percy A. Scholes and Mr. Leonard Hibbs, the editor of Swing Music. Dr. Scholes wanted a definition of the term " Swing Music" for the new edition of the Radio Times A1usic Handbook, but when Mr. Hibbs was asked to provide one this is all he could manage :
" Swing Music is (I) mainly improvised music of American negro origin conforming to the highest critical standards of jazz enthusiasts.
(2.) "Music in which the executants express themselves in such a way as to excite in the listener a corresponding feel of rhythm.
(3.) "African Rhythmic Instinct plus Christian hymn-tunes plus the. sunburnt temperament which knows no medium between melancholy, sorrow and intense momentary happiness; these things, fused together in the white-hot atmosphere of essential excitement, produce Swing Music.
(4.) "Music without artifice; sincere, spontaneous, stark-naked self-expression." The first paragraph gets us nowhere, because even if we are prepared to believe that jazz enthusiasts possess enough mental devclopment to enjoy and employ critical standards we must know what those critical standards are before they can play any part in the definition of a special kind of music. Paragraph 2 gets us nowhere, because any dance music whatsoever must excite in the listener an appropriate rhythmic response or i t cannot be called dance music. Paragraph 3 gets us nowhere, because in spite of a deliciously naIve and almost virginally unsophisticated attempt to tell us what produces Swing music we are still left in ignorance of what it is when produced. Paragraph 4 gets us nowhere, because the definition ,here provided for Swing music would serve as usefully for a baby breaking wind or a tom-eat's serenade.
In justice to Mr. Hibbs i t must be admitted that he himself is evidently suspicious of the adequacy of his definition. He points out to Dr. Scholes that "many of the best executants of Swing are almost completely musically illiterate," and one cannot help fancying that in this fact Mr. Hibbs perceives an excuse for the illiteracy of its l i terary exponents. Here is one of his profounder thoughts: " the inspired
hot solo can be a lovely and perfectly balanced fragment." No doubt, and so can a hot pancake or a hot omelette. To the first letter of Mr. Hibbs, Dr. Scholes sent a · reply which ought to have stimulated Mr. Hibbs into making a lucid authoritative statement on the nature of Swing music. All i t did, however, was to lead Dr. Scholes (and those who sympathise with his curiosity) into the depths of the virgin forest of Mr. Hibbs's mental equipment and leave him to find his way out. "Swing music is jazz," he declares, " but i t is only the best jazz." I hear an echo from the tea party of the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. "It was the best butter!" "My friends and I would welcome a wider appreciation of this music," Mr. Hibbs proclaims wistfully, and then continues more boldly, " but we hope that we shall be strong enough to assist the public a little when they have to decide who are and who are not Swing musicians." But how is the public going to be helped by young men who do not know what Swing music is to recognize a Swing musician ?
Presently in this correspondence we leave ~sthetics behind and reach ethics. "I do most sincerely believe that it is a good thing in this constipated age utterly to relax the mind; to enjoy with the body and with the emotion." The ,use of the epithet" constipated" surprises me. I should have thought that the characteristic of this age of ours was an acute diarrhcea of which jazz was one of the minor symptoms. However, Mr. Hibbs is convinced that jazz, whether sweet or hot or swing or rhythm, is one way of returning to nature, something between hiking and nudism set to music. Actually it is what Dr. Scholes asserts i t to be, " a result of a sickness of humanity." I t is akin to the wriggling of a child with an overcharged tummy. In so far as jazz expresses what we may hope is a passing phase in humanity's development it probably has a carminative value, but to ask us to accord it as much serious ~sthetic consideration as we accord to the music of a Beethoven or a Bach is merely being silly, and Mr. Leonard Hibbs does a grave injustice to contemporary youth when he tries to identify i t with such silliness. I t is this anxiety to obtain GCsthetic recognition that is so pathetic, because its critical votaries are all incapable of expressing themselves with the pen. They know what they like and they know why they like it, but their whats and their whys remain