Highs and Lows: The Jazz Perspective

Luis Felipe Ferra

Luis Felipe Ferra, from Mexico City is studying his second master’s degree in Arts and Cultural Management at the University of Melbourne. In 2009 he concluded the Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication by Universidad Iberoamericana (UIA). Two years later he finished his master’s degree in Humanities in the Helenic Cultural Institute. That same year, along with producer Valeria Estefan, they both founded Polytropos, a boutique Cultural Film House to promote cultural contents in Mexico. Through this platform he has been able to perform as a Cultural Manager creating cultural tours, coaching musicians, designing music albums, presenting or holding lectures at universities, music festivals, public organizations and cultural institutions, writing for newspapers and magazines, producing music contents for the film and television industries, and sometimes even as an artist manager. In 2015, he received the national Mexican scholarship FONCA-CONACYT for studies abroad in the Cultural Management realm.

doi: 10.18278/aia.2.2.44

Jazz evokes nostalgic images — the tuxedos, champagne, and cigarette holders that populated clubs in the Big Band era. But those 1950s ballrooms have nothing to do with today’s niche audience in jazz clubs, and even less with the genre’s sordid origins in the brothels of New Orleans. Consequently, the subjective connotations of highbrow and lowbrow art, when applied to jazz, bring out its dynamic history.

The genre’s demand for great skill and its identification with the marginalization of early 20th century African American culture make it subject to the domains of high and low. But rather than arguing about which label is more fitting, it is better to appreciate jazz for its journey; once a non-conformist response to dominant culture,  jazz now includes in our greatest concert halls both musicians and audiences based on ability to play and enjoy respectively.

Since 2011, UNESCO has recognized 30 April as International Jazz Day; its support has only enhanced the genre’s reputation as a distinguished art form. While official support from UNESCO may sanction jazz as part of dominant cultures, which could be understood as highbrow, participation in jazz music in Latin America runs parallel to popular consumption of cultural goods. For example, Opus 102.1 FM, the only public broadcasting station in Nuevo León, one of the wealthiest states in Mexico, will be replaced by Radio Libertad. Opus 102.1 FM regularly played Mexican Jazz, but it is unclear whether Radio Libertad will continue this practice or yield to the demand of commercial trends.  Jazz has come a long way from brothels and ballrooms to both being part of popular culture while also being in competition with it.

In an ever globalizing and multicultural world, the coexistence and cross-pollination between and elite and popular cultural practices are unavoidable. But it is preferable that audiences participate in both high and low cultures. High and low complement each other to fulfil the key purpose of art: a vehicle for human reflection.