What is Traditional Music???

In the jazz world, and elsewhere, I hear people talking about "The Tradition" a lot. But when we break it down, I'm not so sure everyone who uses the term has a clear picture of what counts as traditional and what does not. In jazz, there is even a tradition of breaking tradition. When "the greats" were creating the style of playing and improvising known as bebop, they were revolutionary. Many established and respected players of that era hated the music. Why? Because it was new. Because it broke the rules of the style they had codified and popularized.

These days I hear a lot of people complaining about lack of tradition in modern jazz to which I say, which tradition? The one that excludes anything past 1970? To me, someone like John Zorn is one of the most traditional players/composers because he has consumed and internalized so many different traditions: Klezmer, Bebop, Hardcore, and 20th century classical to name a few. People talk about "getting into the tradition" as if there is just one. What about the tradition of polka? How about traditional Dubstep? or Scandinavian black metal? Aren't these "valid" as well?

There is a certain sickness that takes hold of so called traditionalists who, at some point, decide that music from their preferred style is intrinsically "better" simply for fitting into the middle of an artificial category created for it. I'm sure this happens in all genres, I just happen to be most familiar with this in the jazz world. I'm sure there are just as many hundreds of people saying, "Now, this is real Baroque," as there are people saying, "Now, this is a real post punk band!" as if it makes the music better. It may mean that the music is more Baroqueish or Post-Punky but it's not "better" or "worse". Quotations around better and worse because what does that mean? It's much more meaningful to ask, "did you feel something when you listened to that music?" rather than, "How authentic was that?"

If we can start to analyze music based on the way it effects us personally, then we can begin to create music that is more in touch with our own feelings. And isn't that the whole point of making creative music? I'm currently working on a song about finding an unidentified french-fry under my coffee table and the existential turmoil that ensues. I can trace elements of the song to surf-rock, metal, comedic bands like Mr. Bungle and Frank Zappa, reggae, Ben Folds Five and probably some other stuff if I really think about it. Lately a couple different people have called me a genius and I must admit, it makes me very uncomfortable. I am not a genius. Far from it in fact. I just don't buy into the merit of successfully executing a single style.

Let's put more stock into knowing our own roots and trusting our personal instincts and feelings.

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