Why Jazz Happened
Why Jazz Happened
Marc Myers
University of California Press, 2012
266 pp., $34.95

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John H. McWhorter

Three Little Bops

The lost world of popular jazz.

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So there's jazz in 1962, a sprinkle to spice up a show-tune genre on its way out of the picture. One suspects it could not have been otherwise, despite Myers' vision of jazz as a hardy adapter. It isn't that jazz hasn't survived—what it is today is America's native classical music. But few would base their estimation of the work of advanced classical music composers Elliott Carter and Milton Babbitt on its having adapted to the popular tastes of its time. In the same way, our evaluation of jazz must accept that it has long gone beyond what the modern equivalents of those mainstream burghers in the background of "Three Little Bops" will ever leave their happy homes for.

John McWhorter is associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University. He is the author most recently of The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language (Oxford Univ. Press).

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