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Jazz al sur: La musica negra en la Argentina. By: Homzy, Andrew Publication: Notes
Date: Thursday, September 1 1994 Jazz al sur is a proud, nationalistic history of jazz in Argentina. The author, Sergio Pujol, a professor of history at Universidad Nacional de la Plata, is an active music critic for the newspaper El Dia and several magazines. The subtitle "la musica negra" draws from Pujol's theory of the Kuntu, which he claims is an African-based aesthetic imbedded in the music of all great jazz musicians, regardless of their national origin. As in all of Argentina, only a small fraction of "Portenos" (residents of Buenos Aires) is of African descent (even though African slaves were used during the nineteenth century in the La Plata area shared by Argentina and Uruguay). Thus between the World Wars Buenos Aires audiences were thrilled by the novelty of African-American artists who toured their city on a circuit passing through the entertainment capitals of Europe--particularly the "hot" cities like Paris and Berlin. Pujol credits five Americans for their especially profound effect on the Argentinean jazz scene: Sam Wooding (April 1927); Josephine Baker, "la Venus de Ebano" (July 1929); Dizzy Gillespie (July 1956); LouisArmstrong (October 1957); and Duke Ellington (September 1968). Of course many other Americans visited to play concerts and cabarets in Argentina. Pujol chronicles these artists as well, pointing out the news, styles, and exchange of ideas transmitted by touring musicians (from North America, South America, and Europe) who worked the active cruise and passenger ships docking in Argentina. Argentina experienced its own musical cross-fertilization with American ragtime and early jazz through the tango, but this is not Pujol's focus. Rather, he is concerned to establish a chronology, showing that, after the interest in folkloric music and tango had waned on the palette of public interest, jazz took over. By the end of the 1940s there were 1,000 jazz bars in Buenos Aires, but the public tired of swing bands in the early 1950s and moved to embrace South-American-style dance bands (l'orquesta tipica). A decade later the enormous popularity of rock'n'roll drove jazz further into the background of Argentina's musical culture. Pujol explains that political developments also had an effect on the place of jazz in Argentinean society. For example, the military rule established between 1976 and 1982 further marginalized jazz by imposing cultural restrictions on radio stations to play "25% para tango, 25% para folklore, 25% para 'ritmos latinoamericanos' y el resto para 'generos extranjeros'". More recently, with the return of an elected government, the story of the music's development becomes more concerned with so-called jazz-fusion and world beat musics. Most of the musicians and events in this book are centered around Buenos Aires, a multicultural city populated by Spanish, Italian, French, German, and English descendants. There is little here in the way of musical analysis or even a thorough description of musical styles beyond such generalities as "Dixieland," "bebop," or "fusion." The importance of Argentinean jazz pioneers such as the pianist Rene Cospito and the violinist Hernan Olivia is preserved in Pujol's book but will remain obscure to most jazz historians. Those who follow the traditional jazz scene may be more familiar with the groups Antigua Jazz Band and Portena Jazz Band, as they were among the best revivalist jazz bands of the 1960s, Yet Argentina did produce some masterful jazz musicians who exerted wide influence and gained worldwide recognition. Among these are Oscar Aleman, Gato Barbieri, Lalo Schifrin, and Enrique "Mono" Villegas--all of whom have been acknowledged (along with the Portena Jazz Band) with entries in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (New York: MacMillan, 1988) as well as many general histories of the music (e.g., James R. Scobie, Argentina: A City and a Nation, 2d ed. [New York: Oxford University Press, 1971]). While there is no bibliography as such, one could be culled from the footnotes collected at the end of each chapter. The chapter sections titled "Escritores sincopados" and "Jazz Magazine y otras revitas and Cortazar y otros cronopios" nicely document the work of Argentinean writers on jazz, be they critics, historians, or poets. A sixteen-page index lists only individuals and groups and suffers from more than a few omissions. Pujol's selective discography is a disappointment since it lists Argentinean artists in alphabetical order, giving in the case of 78 rpm recordings the title of the composition for each side, but in the case of LPs only the name of the album. Only the label name is provided for many entries; expected information such as recording date, place of recording, identification of side-men, and, in the case of LPs, titles of selections has not been provided. A comprehensive companion discography is needed to complete the story of jazz in Argentina (comparable in approach to, say, Jack Litchfield's The Canadian Jazz Discography 1916-1980 [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982] and J. Mitchell's Australian Discography, 2d ed. [Melbourne: Australian Jazz Quarterly, 1960]). Jazz al sur succeeds in its primary purpose to inform us of the succession of Argentinean artists who practiced and studied the art of jazz until some of them were able to make a mark on the world stage. It is recommended to all those who seek to understand the development of jazz in its global context. ANDREW HOMZY Concordia University, Montreal