The Public Interest

Body and soul: the musical miseducation of youth

Martha Bayles

Spring 1998

FOR my title, I borrow the name of a song written by Johnny Green and most famously recorded by Coleman Hawkins in 1939. That recording was a success on the charts, in dance halls, and on radio. It was also, in the view of most intellectuals, without lasting value. On the right, popular jazz was considered a violation of traditional musical standards committed for the basest of motives, profit, by members of two groups, blacks and Jews, who were socially if not racially inferior. On the left, such music was seen either as the shameless commercialization of a once-authentic folk music or, in the highbrow anti-Stalinist opinion of Partisan Review, as kitsch: cheap, disposable, and derivative of genuine art, which it threatened to cannibalize. Today, Hawkins’s recording of “Body and Soul” is a classic. After being kept on jukeboxes for 20 years by the listening public, it is now studied and esteemed as both beautiful in its own right and a harbinger of the maturity of America’s only original art form.

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