How to make a career by writing against jazz: Anton Giulio Bragaglia's Jazz Band (1929).
Anton Giulio Bragaglia's book Jazz Band (1929) is a unique case. The author (1890-1960), a well-known Italian writer, critic, theatre director and a pioneer in photography and cinema, in his early years joined Futurism, the literary and artistic movement started and led by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Marinetti and other Futurists (Carmelich, Casavola, Fillia, Manolo, Nervetti) showed interest in African-American music and wrote about it. In the 1920s, when jazz became popular all over the world, Futurist authors were the first to promote jazz fiction. After 1927, however, Mussolini's Fascist regime made it increasingly difficult to promote international culture, including music. Fascism appreciated Bragaglia's Jazz Band, an ambivalent yet violent attack against African-American music and dance, divided between fascination and racist rejection. Thanks to Jazz Band, Bragaglia was back in favor with the Fascist regime and ultimately was appointed Director of Teatro delle Arti (1937), the first Italian public theatre.
Anton Giulio Bragaglia, dance Fascism, Futurism, jazz, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, tabarin
Marinetti was born in the city of Alexandria, Egypt. He had a black nurse: thanks to her exciting milk, he acquired the black energy of a Jazz-Band and the stamina of a boxer. Thus, he still prefers to be nicknamed 'European caffeine'.
I. In the beginning, Marinetti
Marinetti, the father of Futurism, attended high school in Paris, France and university in Genoa, Italy. His views were cosmopolitan. 'We futurists,' he said, 'prefer Loie Fuller and African-American cake-walk' (Marinetti, 1917). It is possible that Marinetti listened to the Louisiana Troupe (black singers and dancers) at the Eden Theatre, Milan, in March 1904; that he attended, in the same city, the newborn music halls in the first decade of the 20th century, or took part in the exhibitions of Nicola Moleti's orchestra at the Teatro Trianon in Corso Vittorio. For sure, in 1921 Marinetti opened a new club in Rome called Bai Tic Tac, decorated with paintings by Futurist artist Giacomo Balla. Bai Tic Tac became a must, one of the main places for jazz in its very first Italian manifestations. Yet, 10 years later, Marinetti wrote, with Bruno Corra: 'In order to help Italian musicians and comedians, let's fight against Northern humor and African-American melodies and ostinatos, those songs and dances we regarded as original 25 years ago, but in fact aren't' (1937).
The difference between Marinetti's two quotes is easy to see. His point of view on African-American music undergoes a complete reversal. His former interest and curiosity toward African-American dances and styles change into a critical attitude politically influenced by Fascism. Although Futurism claims to be an independent and sometimes anarchic movement, in 1937 Marinetti declares to be against jazz and American culture, and against German culture, too. In order to please Fascism, he in fact promotes--with some irony, though--solely 'Italian' values.
In fact, between 1917 and 1937, Futurism showed a peculiar, vivid interest in jazz, a music born in Louisiana by American musicians of diverse ethnicities, including Italian-American trumpet player 'Nick' La Rocca, whose family came from Sicily. The connection between jazz and Futurism was important on many levels, since we owe to the Futurist movement the birth of a jazz-fiction genre involving jazz, poetry and literature. Futurist jazz-fiction can be ascribed to the general phenomenon of the early European reception of jazz, together with contemporary journalism, jazz criticism and musicology(including few but important scholars such as Eric Moritz von Hornbostel, Alfred Baresel, Andre Schaeffner, Alfredo Casella and Emil Frantisek Burian).
In fact, European jazz criticism--the first and most meaningful in the world--was born in a literary milieu. Belgian Robert Goffin, the first European jazz critic to write a book, was a poet and writer (besides also being a lawyer and an amateur trumpet player). Another founder of (European) jazz criticism was Hugues Panassie, who was keen on musical facts.
Futurism's jazz fiction was nourished by verbal, symbolic, anthropological, rhythmical and instrumental suggestions. It took 30 years before the so-called beat generation, promoted by Jack Kerouac and other writers, developed their style listening to (and being inspired by) Charlie Parker and other masters of the be-bop jazz style. As we know, the appearance of jazz in Europe was a sort of outbreak. Now, it is also a historiographical problem: the kind of music exported into the old world was not necessarily the best, or the most representative of this genre in artistic and cultural terms. The limitations were due in part to the restrictions imposed by record companies ('race records' and African-American repertoires by major companies were partially banned, not only in the USA but also in Europe). Anyway, jazz was perceived as a shock (le tumulte noir, as they called it in France). It was black, which also implied the colonial affairs of Europeans in Africa. It was a bodily art, related to dance. African-American dancers Josephine Baker and Louis Douglass really fascinated European audiences, and the more famous (but certainly less talented) Baker became so popular that she decided to become permanently 'adopted' by France. European audiences and people were impressed by other typical jazz features: improvisation and instruments (reeds, horns and especially the drums, a totally 'new thing' and an 'American' invention).
People confused jazz with drums and with the jazz combo, or jazz band. Only the famous Italian music critic Massimo Mila was able to correct such wrong perspectives, in an article published as late as 1935: 'Jazz is not a musical form, it is not a dance, and it is not an instrumental group (some excellent jazz is played by piano solo). It is rather a way of playing: in jazz, interpreters are nine times more important than authors' (Mila, 1935: 6). Jazz was vital, impetuous; it was the opposite of the mannerisms and formalisms of European cultivated music, which was at the beginning of the 20th century somehow weakening or disintegrating in its rhythmical, tonal and harmonic features, and on the contrary gaining power in symbolic and institutional terms.
Moreover, jazz was different from classical music and popular song: but both soon began to draw elements from jazz and vice versa, in a rich cross-fertilization. Futurism was attracted by jazz. In the second half of the 1920s, some important American musicians (namely Sam Wooding and Sidney Bechet) played in Italy, but jazz was also played by Italian groups, and increasingly broadcast by the new medium of radio. Founded in 1924 as a public system, Italian national radio offered jazz programs both with groups performing live in the studios or in clubs and theatres and through a selection of the Odeon, HMV and Gramophone company record catalogs.
According to futurist Giorgio Carmelich, a poet, writer and painter from Trieste, 'Innovators, if geniuses, should be first of all able to establish new aesthetic points of view. Modern aesthetics are, for me, those of Prampolini, Leger, Paladini, Picasso, and those of the houses of workers, American skyscrapers, sculptor Archipenko, cars, machines, Ridolini, Russian-Scandinavian constructivists, and the jazz-band' (Carmelich, 1924: 3).
Jazz was the talk of the town. Another futurist, musician Franco Casavola, comments:
Futurist music is based on a new relation between rhythm, melody and harmony. In melodic and rhythmic terms, this music is generated by a sort of improvisational inebriation. It is also the case with contemporary music, where interpreters work together with authors. Futurists want to identify the interpreter with the author, and bring improvisation within the orchestral ensemble. The orchestra should not be composed of single instruments, but of single, different musicians, different in terms of character, timbre and expression. Extemporariness frees music from traditional ways of expression, and must be regarded as the real art of expression. Jazz-bands seem to match these principles of ours. Jazz is based on individual melodies, and on marked, necessary rhythms: these are also the bases of Futurist music. Let's free the individual voices and melodies, let's free improvisation. Our new melodic style will reflect the rich and deep spirit of the crowd. (Casavola, 1924: 2)
And, again from the same author:
Our generation is heroic, violent, overbearing, optimist, anti-romantic, anti-sentimental, anti-gracious. Like a jazz-band. It was born out of wars and revolutions. We can't deny this: we would deny ourselves. Some of jazz's features! rhythmical ostinatos, improvisation, orchestral instrumentation, research for new sounds and timbres) may also be found in folk traditions of different countries, beginning with the Italian one... The jazz-band opens a new cycle, a new musical era... The magical formula, the alchemy that artists looked for by picking up elements from popular culture is here, is this first, rough, rudimental form. Futurists can perceive its developments and establish its first rules. (Casavola, 1926: 11)
Jazz reinforces Futurism. Marinetti's movement is directed against the 19th century, strongly in favor of modernism, artistically totalitarian, somewhat violent and appreciative of war. In Max Manolo's words: 'One day I had foreseen the birth of jazz, the son of a machine gun and of an aeolian harp' (Manolo, 1927: 2).
Some Futurists, especially musicians, held the view that jazz recalled Luigi Russolo's Intonarumori (acoustic noise generators that allowed the performer to create and control the dynamics and pitch of several types of sound). Futurist music rejects tradition and introduces experimental sounds inspired by machinery. Yet Futurists liked jazz: they appreciated its modernity, its urban dimension, its machine-like qualities, its rhythmic features, conciseness and instrumental speed. Furthermore, the freedom of jazz reminded them of the Futurist theory of so-called 'free-words' (parole in liberta) or 'word autonomy,' where meter is rejected and the word becomes the main unit of concern.
Obviously, jazz improvisation differs from the 'word autonomy' of Futurism. The former is based on stanzas and verses on which to improvise melodically, while the latter, as we have observed, breaks the traditional meter. The free words of Futurism (see for instance Aldo Palazzeschi's poem E lasciatemi divertire in L'incendiario, 1913) may instead recall scat singing, the vocal use of non-morphemic syllables to imitate instruments (scat singing was first recorded by Louis Armstrong in his Heebies Jeebies, OKeh 1926). Yet several poets who belonged to the Futurist movement often quoted terms such as 'jazz' and 'jazz-band' (Jablonsky, 1923; Mari, 1925; Miletti, 1934).
'Jazz-band' is also the title of two Italian magazines. One, printed in Venice from 1926, was dedicated to Italian music with Augusto Febeo as director. The other, published since 1927 and directed by Antonio Fasano, dealt with literature and fashion. Jazz was fashionable, too: newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines referred more and more to the new African-American music. And some Futurists did the same. Two texts by Fillia (Luigi Colombo) and Marinetti, which cannot be translated due to their complex metaphorical expressions, in their essence are both in favor of jazz--Fillia's in emotional terms, Marinetti's through its dynamic, sometimes satirical, almost violent style. Here is Fillia:
sensazioni moderne del Jazz-Band: quest'one-step barcollante, tutti nervi e tenerezza, ottimista e nostalgico, e come noi. Il peso del passato ci opprime e stanca la nostra elasticita: lo spirito inquieto vorrebbe trascinarci piU avanti per vivere ... soltanto gl'insensibili osano negare l'arte del Jazz-Band-ma noi ne assorbiamo il contenuto emotivo che realizza modernamente il sogno caldo della nostra felicita. (Fillia, 1926: 8)
Scoppia nella sala lo schiamazzante jazz-band dei suonatori negri, rovesciati all'indietro dalla furia dei suoni aspri, bevuti, soffiati come ruggiti, grugniti, martellamenti di piedi impazziti! Mostruose guance nere ingoiano saxofoni d'argento. Si immensificano risate di coccodrilli nel fango schizzante dei rumori. Diavoleria di colossali virilita impennate e sonore che ostentano caricaturalmente i loro volumi a mantice roboante. (1927: 24)
Between the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, however, the Futurists changed their point of view not only on jazz, but in general on foreign culture: they partly adhered to Mussolini's proclamations, inspired by his autarchic and nationalistic views. Rather than changing their personal taste, the members of Futurism sympathized more and more with Fascism, even if in an ambiguous and problematic way. In 1925, Marinetti moved from Milan to Rome. In 1920, he had broken with Mussolini, but in 1923-1924 he reconciled with him, gaining substantial professional advantages. He was appointed a member of the newborn Italian Academy at la Farnesina, and went on--at the expense of the Italian State--to tour around the world. In addition, he enjoyed political autonomy. As Claudia Salaris writes:
In the 1920s, Marinetti is in Rome. He works with Bragaglia's theatre (where II cabaret epilettico and Bianca e Rosso are performed in 1921 and 1923); he is on tour in 1921 with Teatro della Sorpresa and in 1924 with Nuovo Teatro Futurista. In 1925, he moves with his wife Benedetta to his new Roman house, in Piazza Adriana 30, right across from Castel Sant'Angelo. The power of the Fascist regime is growing, and Marinetti veers closer to it, though slowly, and not without contradictions. What follows is a rather clear example: on March 1, 1925 the newspaper L'Impero organizes a lunch at Cabaret del Diavolo, Hotel Elite, in honor of Marinetti. Paolo Orano, Luigi Freddi, Carli, Dessy, Folgore, Prampolini take part in it, while Mussolini, Bottai, Ciano e Giurati adhere, but do not show up. But some newspapers and a sector of the political scene protest: they don't see why Marinetti, who is a rather independent personality, should be celebrated. (Salaris, 1994: 212)
A sort of debate, or rather struggle, between national and international values arises here: Italy is also a colonial country, after its controversial African conquests. The following excerpt from Max Manolo's already quoted article, 'Difesa del jazz-band' (1927), in which jazz is somehow related to Africa and to Italy's foreign politics, reiterates the contradiction: The exoticism, of which jazz is unjustly accused, reawakens in our wandering, colonist, exploring, farming and sailing race, the longing for faraway lands to conquer.'
Since few African-American musicians performed in Italy, and few original jazz records were being imported, no books on jazz appeared in Italy through the 1920s, while some important ones appeared in Germany, Great Britain, France and Czechoslovakia. Yet the Italian press--newspapers and magazine--was flooded with 'jazz quotes.' The first Italian book on jazz, at least in its title, was Anton Giulio Bragaglia's Jazz-Band, published in 1929. By coincidence, or maybe not, Bragaglia was a Futurist.
2. Cabaret epilettico
Upon reading the contents page (there are chapters called 'Black rhythms,' 'Dances of the Fascist Age,' 'The Dancer in the Twentieth Century,' 'Charleston,' 'Dancemania,' 'The Critical Moment of Dance,' and so on), it would be easy to conclude that Bragaglia was a visionary theoretician of dance. At first, the book's connection with jazz is not clear. Bragaglia was in fact the son of Maria Visconti and Francesco Bragaglia, since 1909 the head of Cines (one of the main cinema production firms active in Rome). His brother Carlo Ludovico was a well-known filmmaker, whereas Anton Giulio was active as a journalist, writer, photographer, and theatre and film director. He was also interested in archeology, together with Giacomo Boni and Rodolfo Lanciani. Always an experimentalist, in 1911 he wrote Fotodinamismo futurista, an essay praised by Marinetti, who invited him to join the movement. His early films Thais, Perfido incanto, and II mio cadavere, with scenography by Enrico Prampolini, are inspired by Futurism (in 1931 he directed Vele ammainate and in 1950 his last two films, La Floridiana e Cosenza Tirrenica). In 1915, he was the editor of the magazine La ruota. From 1916 to 1922, he directed an ambitious bi-monthly dedicated to literature, theatre, arts and music called Cronache d'attualita. In 1918, he established Casa d'Arte Bragaglia, dedicated to visual arts, and in 1922 the Teatro degli Indipendenti. Structured as a cultural association, Teatro degli Indipendenti consisted of five large rooms, three for art exhibitions, one for the theatre (with 200 seats and room for 100 standing) and one for the restaurant. The theatre introduced the Roman audience to the relevant works of Italian, European and international playwrights including Italo Svevo, Luigi Pirandello, Anton Chekhov, George Bernard Shaw, Jules Laforgue, Guillaume Apollinaire, Franz Wedekind, Eugene O'Neill and of course Marinetti.
At Teatro degli Indipendenti, Bragaglia and Marinetti opened their Cabaret epilettico, with American, tango-like tunes by Franco Casavola. Bragaglia and Casavola also wrote, together with Sebastiano Arturo Luciani, a music manifesto called Le sintesi visive della musica. Bragaglia also staged and went on tour with Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera ('a jazz comedy'). In the meantime, he also wrote several books on the Italian mask Pulcinella, Commedia dell'Arte, and the popular theatre traditions of Rome.
It is not entirely clear why Bragaglia showed an interest in jazz, or at any rate in the music that back then was misnamed as jazz-band (meaning jazz as a musical genre).The Italian literature on jazz, including the Futurist one, often insisted on the connection between jazz and dance. Although the later image of jazz (especially modern and contemporary) tends to portray jazz as solely instrumental music, the emphasis on dance was not inaccurate since African-American music, like European ethnic music, was strictly related to dance. Jazz and dance have a common feature and foundation, rhythm, but are also linked in symbolic and ritual terms. Those features find a sort of new foundation in the American musical stage performance. If we look at the history of jazz in Europe (which still needs to be written), we may notice that American jazz does not arrive in Europe as a concert genre, but rather as an element of black-and-white New York musical comedies and stage shows mostly based on dance elements, theatrical plots and scenography. In fact, we remember Josephine Baker more than we remember Sidney Bechet (a founding father of New Orleans jazz, together with Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton). Still, both were part of the original cast of Black Revue (Revue Negre), which had tremendous success in Paris and in other parts of Europe in the mid-1920s, including Italy. We all remember Sam Wooding's orchestra's very long European tour (1925-1927; in 1926 in Milan's Eden Theatre), a pivotal moment in the development of jazz in Europe, but we tend to forget that Wooding's band was just a part of the Chocolate Kiddies revue. Lew Leslie's Black Birds, a major theatrical hit of the 1926 London season, recalls to mind the dancers Florence Mills and Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson (Fred Astaire's stylistic tap dancing master) rather than singer Adelaide Hall.
Thus, if the conflation of jazz (as a musical genre) and jazz-band (as a combo) is wrong, the identification between jazz and dance is correct. Europe's contact with jazz was driven by the new dances. Cake-walk, black-bottom, foxtrot, one-step, Charleston, all became well-known around Europe and in Italy, from Venice to St. Petersburg, from Berlin to Brussels, and in the 1920s they were danced besides (or instead of) waltzes, polkas, mazurkas and quadrilles. The new American dances also influenced the repertoire and style of the first Italian jazz groups, with their mixture of American and European elements. During the Fascist regime, new clubs and spaces for music opened in all major Italian cities. Following the French, they were called tabarins (the first one, named 'Bai Tabarin' opened in Paris in 1904), cafe-chantants, hotel halls. Mirador (a dancer, drummer and impresario from Milan, a key figure in the early days of jazz in Italy) performed at the Excelsior, in Rome's via Veneto. Of course, the income of clubs and show rooms was based on (more or less alcoholic) drinks and food. If in a theatre professional dancers are on stage, in a club it is the audience that does the dancing, and sometimes interacts with music groups. And all dances were based on jazz, or 'syncopated' rhythms.
3. Jazz and political opportunism
Anton Giulio Bragaglia's Teatro degli Indipendenti shut down in 1927 because of a Fascist decree against tabarins. Thanks to Marinetti's intervention, it was promptly re-opened, but it was obvious that Fascism had turned against international culture and Italian intellectuals who did not follow the party line. Anton Giulio Bragaglia's Jazz-Band was published in 1929. It is difficult to describe. It is not a novel, though some pages are narrative; it is not a critical essay, since it does not offer a systematic or analytic perspective. Rather, it is, somehow, an autobiographical text and, in its essence, a pamphlet on the up-to-date cultural events and fashions, written in a style that sometimes recalls Futurism. It came out just a few months before and after two books on dance by Bragaglia, one of his favorite topics: Scultura vivente (1928), which deals with popular dances and dance in its theatrical and scenic implications, and Evoluzione del mimo (1930).
Jazz-Band also deals with choreographic themes. A chapter of the book is dedicated to German dancer Valeska Gert (who in later years would have a role in Federico Fellini's film Giulietta degli spiriti). Other parts of the book discuss Russian dancer Jia Ruskaja. Bragaglia also writes about Loie Fuller, Rudolf Valentino, Gabriele D'Annunzio, the art of mime, Futurism and choreography, and of course about Marinetti, who gets a few quotes. But the main topic of his pamphlet, especially in the first part, is jazz. In a style that is neither consequential nor always clear (the whole book also looks somehow wasteful), he addresses jazz in its choreographic implications. As far as jazz itself is concerned, however, Bragaglia says one thing and at the same time the opposite. His redundant prose differs from Marinetti's synthesis, yet he resembles Marinetti when he writes,
I ritmi del jazz snodano le cerniere di stoffa del nostro adorabile pupazzo senza nervi e ne battono gli scatti a tempo. A ogni ritmo egli scuote e spezza il colpo; il caro fantoccio par che crolli; ma al tempo stesso si riallaccia con se stesso e si ricompone.Ma bravo. Rieccolo scardinarsi e rieccolo ricucirsi a tempo di musica sul ritmo del jazz, graziosissimo terremotino da camera, terremotino ad uso dei pupazzi scollati che abbian l'anima di caucciU nelle giunture. (1929: 13)
Or, 'Musica ammattita e gambe storte, suoni fischianti, arrugginiti, urli di sirene e crepitare di motori, rauchi e assordanti--cui corrisponde la frenesia di un gestire corbellone e sminchionato, avventuroso e truffaldino' (1929: 21). And again, T metalli scorrenti dalle bocche del jazz-band corazzano la panna al caffe di questo organismo. L'umorismo dei saxofoni lubrifica le cerniere delle sue corazze' (1929: 15).
In the opening chapter, Bragaglia describes the environment of the new clubs and show rooms born in the 1920s, where jazz is played while people drink wine and spirits (or take drugs: is this the author's intuition of what would occur in later years, or does he refer to himself, in autobiographical terms?). In these clubs, male dandies move around tables, skillfully flirting with girls. A young guy named 'Scettico Blu' ('Blue Skeptic') is the main character of the first chapter. Here's how he acts with women, making himself available and at the same time aloof:
Sebbene a tutto provato e stanco di tutto, egli ancora frequenta le donne, avendo la sola cura di non darsene l'aria: soprattutto per non far sospettare che'egli possa prenderle sul serio' ... Tra le beffe del destino c'e il sorriso per me, la stretta di mano malinconica, ma solidale, e la frase prammatica 'Addio, vissutissimo.' Quindi, il primo giro di danza. Oh, i miei ricordi! (1929: 8-9)
Ostensibly, Jazz-band reads as a condemnation of jazz, jazz dances, and all those contemporary fashions and 'strange' new things coming from the United States. Bragaglia plays the racial card to boast the superiority of Italian culture and values. He criticizes jazz both as the music played by instrumental groups and as a dance, and suggests relying on national expressions and traditions instead:
Per noi, per il nostro passato come per ogni rivoluzionario avvenire, e negato un valore attuale positivo per la orchestrina deforme e disgustosa di cui trattiamo. Viceversa e da considerare (e percio questo scritto) l'aspetto ammonitore di tale influenze esotiche, gabbate per i prodotti della civilta d'America, in senso affatto negativo. Occorre che si contrapponga, finalmente, con originale iniziativa italiana, da parte di artisti veri e forniti di un fine senso storico oltreche di gusto modernamente nostrano, una serie di creazioni autentiche, non veramente esumatrici, per la danza. (1929: 30)
Conversely, Bragaglia has also positive things to say about jazz. His reflections on the music are sometimes sharp. Such ambiguity (jazz is at the same time refused and accepted, even enthusiastically) is typical of the European literature of the 1920s. Bragaglia appreciates the instrumentation, and the emotional and rhythmic implications of African-American music:
Cio che si presenta ancor piu originalmente e certo la variata messe dei nuovi ritmi che il jazz introduce ovunque. Dall'apprezzamento strettamente musicale relativo alla bizzarra orchestrazione, si passa a complicazioni graziose e buffe, quando si riflette sugli aspetti plastici della pantomima e danza modernamente sincopate, e significativamente spezzate, singhiozzanti, sconvolte e indiavolate. Pazzie ritmiche, prodezze d'irresistibile astruseria, sono state introdotte, ed imposte quasi, ai pubblici d'Europa. E non bastano le stupefacenti figurazioni piu o meno animalesche, piu o meno morbosamente epilettoidi, il jazz-band ci ha regalato scossoni sentimentali e antiromantici, d'una crudezza sessuale assoluta. Quelle crudezze che appartengono ad ogni reazione. (1929: 19)
Bragaglia comments on the current debate about national and international cultural values. He is obviously in favor of international cultures, but at the same time suggests being careful with them:
Il costume come l'arte nostrana si affinano e si elevano mediante la lotta internazionale, mentre da un assurdo isolamento, niente di positivo potrebbe realizzarsi. Dette queste pacifiche verita, come potremmo negare l'intelligente studio delle moderne affermazioni di vita e di pensiero fiorenti fuori d'Italia, purche se ne sappia cogliere l'ammaestramento a nostre migliorie, definendo bene, coi caratteri dell'esotico, quelli dello spirito nazionale? ... Appunto per il carattere educativo e nazionalista di propaganda, si badi alla importazione delle forme artistiche straniere, cercando di controbilanciarne l'espansione, perche non prendano il sopravvento, soffocandoci in casa nostra. Evidente nostro danno morale nonche economico (1929: 36-37).
To be sure, Bragaglia is against jazz and 'negro music.' His wordings are sometimes aggressive and offensive, for example, when he compares jazz and its dance styles with animals and their sounds, or describes it in terms of a sexual degeneration. He even quotes Charles Darwin on the relationship between apes and men and describes 'black' culture in negative terms, like a nightmare or something even more dangerous than 'yellow' (Asian) culture:
Il Black Bottom non e che un Charleston addomesticato o moderato, accomodante. Timidamente, or son tre anni, comincio a spuntare il gusto di questi grotteschi, e la curiosita a vedersi buffi, ridicoli, deformi. Poco alla volta s'e vinta anche la ripugnanza di sentirsi goffi, brutti. Mah! Pur di fare qualche cosa di nuovo! ... Ecco il vero segreto della fortuna del Charleston. (1929: 83) Fantasie nere, orgie alcoliche, tripudio di forze elementari, scatenate esibizioni dei sensi! Immaginiamo, dunque ... (1929: 72) Il jazz gorgoglia e sbuffa e fa il verso a mille bestie diverse, assecondando l'imbestialimento universale? Gracida, sibila, fa l'uovo, nitrisce, scalpita, muggisce, che e una bellezza. Allo stesso modo i ballerini moderni ripetono le mosse, il passo, l'andatura di certe bestie. Che bravura! Il ballo dell'orso, una volta, si diceva per significare la negazione assoluta della danza: adesso, colla dominante estetica gestiale, e una gran trovata e una rara abilita burlarsi dell'arte e del gusto classicamente fissato nella tradizione occidentale (1929: 91-92). E nel music-hall, nel caffe concerto, nel teatro d'attrazione o variete, nei circhi e nelle rappresentazioni d'ogni sorta, la negreria va respinta in nome del buon senso per lo meno. Le solite Black-Follies, ci ammorbano le sale da spettacoli, ci avviliscono nell'atmosfera isteroepilettoide che vengono a costituire, con i modi selvaggi prevalenti ... La stessa strumentazione del jazz rende piU colorate le fantasie negre, ma questo appunto ce ne allontana, dopo un primo momento di curiosita, che non giustifica un piU profondo interesse. (1929: 32) Il grottesco e perfetto. Ma grottesco ben lontano dall'arte. Inutile descriverlo, bastera ricorrere una volta per tutte al prefato Darwin; la dove spiega e dimostra i mezzi d'espressione presso le specie animali. L'emissione di suoni--tipo jazz, o arca di Noe--e tra i principali. (1929: 92) L'incubo negro ci assilla piu del pericolo giallo, ormai. Si domanda dove ci portera la lotta delle razze! Il nostro colore corre un grave rischio; la pelle dell'europeo si tingera per mostruose sovrapposizioni di stirpi, e non c'e fantasia di romanzatore, si dice, che possa immaginare le cupe tragedie che sorgeranno per questioni di colore! (1929: 65)
At the very least, Bragaglia's negative attitude towards jazz and black culture appears ambiguous: it may only be explained in the context of his relations with the Fascist regime, and his concern for the economic crisis of the late 1920s. He was an open-minded intellectual with several interests, a theatre director with many relevant international friends and connections, and he had been able to satirize Marinetti and Mussolini through the pages of his small magazine, Index rerum virorumque prohibitorum. The survival of his theatre, however, depended on political approval. His Teatro degli Indipendenti was at risk of being shut down at any time, and he would lose his autonomy. In fact, Teatro degli Indipendenti closed down definitively in 1931.
But the Fascist regime appreciated Jazz-Band. Thanks to that book and a renewed connection with Benito Mussolini, in 1932 Bragaglia was appointed to the Public Council for Shows. In 1937, he became President of the Confederation of Stage Artists and Director of the prestigious new Teatro delle Arti, a new public theatre open to a wide spectrum of styles and genres appealing to a general audience, and where Bragaglia (now named 'il corago sublime') and others directed several Italian and international works. By writing against jazz, the author of a book called Jazz-Band made a career. A unique example; only a Futurist could have pulled this off.
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sector.
Bragaglia AG (1928) Scultura vivente. Milan: L'eroica.
Bragaglia AG (1929) Jazz-band. Milan: Corbaccio.
Bragaglia AG (1930) Evoluzione del mimo. Milan: Ceschina.
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Universities of Padova and Genova, Italia
Luca Cerchiari, Universita di Padova, Dipartimento di studi linguistici e letterari, Piazzetta Gianfranco Folena, I, 35137 Padova, Italia.
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2015|
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