The Epistemology of the Jazz Bro

(a polemic)

This is a polemic. It is a consciously and conspicuously contentious conversation crafted from the components of combative language, colorful metaphor and courted controversy. It is intended to kick sandcastles, ruffle feathers, slaughter sacred animals, and above all things incite debate on the topic of jazz as a consumptive choice in a late capitalist information on demand culture that is predicated on performative displays of identity.

More specifically this is a polemic on the topic of a certain specimen of middle of the road pseudo intellectual white male who claims an affinity for jazz but is really just name dropping Miles Davis.

Or Charlie Parker.

Or Thelonious Monk.

Or John Coltrane.

Who are apparently the only jazz musicians who exist.

This polemic is about the epistemology of the jazz bro. It is a theory on the knowledge of knowledge. How you know what you know what you know and what that knowing means.

Hey, Motherfucker, I can see right through your fedora. Flannel-shirt beard guy, you’re not a lumberjack — you work in an office, Skinnyjeans.

Calm down.

There, there.

I get it.

It’s okay.

I know what you’re doing even if you don’t.

You are communicating individual aspiration as well as group identification through fashion. You think that this is how cool avant-garde culture creators dress and and you want me to take you seriously as one of them — aspiration — so you are dressing how you think they dress — group identification. It’s okay. Everyone does it. We all wear uniforms that show how we want to be perceived as well as what we are loyal to. We all do it. From punkers with their crazy hair and tattoos trying to show how rebellious they are to suit-tie-guy trying to make a statement about power, authority, and responsibility.

So I get it.

It’s okay.

You are looking to claim and express an identity in a neoliberal culture designed expressly to strip you of any vestiges of authentic individuality and fill in this void of self with accessible consumer options.

One of these options happens to be jazz.

Man, if I had a dollar for every time some middle of the pack pseudo-intellectual tried to sell me on his status as a member of the intellectual cultural elite by name dropping Miles Davis and then going on and on and how great Bitches Brew is I’d have at least a hundred dollars — truth be told, I don’t get out much — polemicists make lousy party guests. People do the same thing with The Pixie’s Doolittle or any random hardcore punk album to prove their indie credibility. With jazz the credibility sought is intellectual. It is the same thing as lit-bros who talk about Faulkner or Kafka and I would actually wager that there is a Venn overlap of William Faulkner, intellectual posturing, Miles Davis, and jazz.

This is performance. It is not indicative of taste. It is communication through the display of demographically astute consumptive consumerism.

Which is perfectly normal.

But is deserving of critical analysis.

That jazz is chosen as a cultural marker betrays the inherent reactionary tendencies common to middle of the road middling intellectuals. By citing jazz in an attempt to claim status as a member of the intelligentsia they are communicating not intellectualism but rather are expressing the limits of their intellectual development. They are identifying and defining the edge of their experiential knowledge in the same way that a preschooler will tell you about the color blue or what shapes they played with today. But this is reactionary knowledge — it is backwards looking in its invocation. If one has an actual interest in musical dissonance and unconventional arrangements then there are a plethora of noise-artists operating today who deserve attention and recognition. I know they are out there but I can’t name drop them because every time I have encountered their well-intentioned musical caterwauling I close the YouTube window or leave the venue — politely, always politely, after a song or two, which can unfortunately go on for so so long (once I was at a noise show and my boy was like “This is so bad I’d rather watch Ozzy bite the head off a bat.” and I was like “Bro, I’d rather be the fucking bat.” but I at least stayed till their set was over.). I do the same thing with Miles Davis. It is just a matter of having consistent tastes. Which might or might not matter depending largely on whether or not you take the view that aesthetics are ethics which is oddly enough the view taken and promoted by most historically noted western intellectuals from Aristotle on.

Sticking with laudations of jazz centered around Davis, Coltrane, Monk, and Parker is the inverse equivalent of saying “You’ve probably never heard of this.” In this case the names are dropped on the assumption that you have heard of them, understand the cultural credibility those names possess, and will now apply that cultural credibility to the one who is dropping them. A particular side-effect of this search for credibility is that it serves primarily to reinforce the neoliberal bulwark of cultural catechism — that credibility is acquired through a combination of mass notoriety and economic market share — winning in the market. According to this species of pseudo-intellectual jazz is Coltrane, Davis, Monk, and Parker — that’s all it is and that’s all there is to know.

Deep dives are impossible.

It is a shallow pool.

The created system is a shallow system.

There is also a more repellent racial undertone to jazz name-dropping in that it allows white pseudo-intellectuals to engage with black culture. But this cultural engagement is past-tense. It is a the equivalent of musical respectability politics in that it calls back to a time in America where everyone knew their place and artist-performers showed up at gigs wearing suits and ties, a time, that with work from everyone, ends a little more each every day going forward. This white appropriation of jazz status has been going on since Kerouac and Ginsberg. There’s probably some Venn overlap with that too.

And now for the cynical part.

I don’t know shit-all about jazz other than the handful of name-drop victims I’ve already mentioned, Django Reinhardt whose ability to play the guitar confuses me as I always thought you only needed three chords played very fast to make quality music, and Sun Ra whose music bores me, but who’s personality fascinates me — he was a cult leading space alien. And with my limited knowledge on this topic my theory of knowledge of knowledge has certain fractures and gaps — which I am more than willing to fill in at some other point, so long as it doesn’t involve trying to appreciate The Birth of the Cool.

This isn’t even about jazz.

It’s about how we know what we know and what we do with what we know.

It is about intellectual posturing.

Which exactly what I am doing right this minute.

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