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Jazz, Latin Jazz, the Music Continuum and Dissipative Structures



Chris Washburne


If there is anything that we ought to have learned from the scientists, from Pythagoras and Archimedes, Ptolemy and Kepler, to Charles Darwin and Stephen Jay Gould; from archeologists such as Prof Stephen Mithen; from radio-carbon scientists such as Cheikh Anta Diop who upturned somewhat, the age-old theories of white paleontologists, and from geneticists such as Dr Lewis Thomas, it is two things: that humanity – no matter which way you look at it – is a work in progress. If we seem perfectly-formed today from the outside, on the inside, in the mind’s mind at least, something is changing. From archeologists such as Prof Mithen, we know that our brain, compared with that of the earliest of sapiens, is vastly different from what it is today – in size, scope and ability to absorb, discern, inform and facilitate. From Dr Thomas we know that we are all connected; and not simply connected, but related too. The proverbial “six degrees of separation” may, in fact, even be a few degrees closer. In his iconic book The Lives of a Cell [The Viking Press, 1974] he posits: “Man is embedded in nature.” Dr Thomas also says: “The new, hard problem will be to cope with the dawning, intensifying realization of just how interlocked we are. The old, clung-to notions most of us have held about our special lordship are being deeply undermined.”

The Archeology of the Mind

Dr Thomas opens a chapter of that book – rather presciently-entitled “Vibes” – with these words: “We leave traces of ourselves wherever we go, on whatever we touch. One of the odd discoveries made by small boys is that when two pebbles are struck sharply against each other they emit, briefly, a curious smoky odor. The phenomenon fades when the stones are immediately cleaned, vanishes when they are heated to furnace temperature, and reappears when they are simply touched by the hand again before being struck.” Stephen Mithen also graced our world with a transformative work, The Archeology of the Mind [Thames and Hudson, 1996] in which he likened the development of the mind to be analogous with the historical archeological development of the  humble chapel as it developed and emerged [with the growth of religious practice] as a cathedral  with a number of naves, doors and windows built into the [metaphorical] high ceilings through which knowledge and the discernment of life was absorbed, exchanged and ultimately disseminated so as to inform and influence action, which – in turn – led to the survival of our species. Although Dr Thomas [in the earlier quote] is referring to a particular cellular function in stones, and Prof Mithen’s research – by marrying archeology to psychology – traced the development of the human mind, if we extrapolate both these theses to life as we know it – to whole civilisations, if you like – and to the cultures that ensue a remarkable proposition presents itself.

The Eternal Developing Continuum

It is possible to discern that we are all, indeed, a part of something that feels like an eternally developing continuum.  And what applies to civilization and to culture might also be said to apply to the constituents of each [civilization or culture], and/or both – individually, separately and as a contiguous whole. As in life, I suppose, why not in music too? The subjects of civilisations and cultures and the continuum in which they exist began to appear documented after the so-called dawn of the Age of Reason or, as the era is sometimes called, the Age of Enlightenment – the intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 17th to 19th centuries. This was well into the period when most – if not all of the discovered civilisations were either colonised or deemed to living in the state of noble savagery. As our world has progressed since then, more and more is coming to light about those “colonised civilisations” and their cultures. And yet very little is being documented by the “aboriginal” people of the colonised cultures. Art is largely viewed through a colonial lens, which is why many scholarly works by so-called “native sons and daughters” such as those by Cheikh Anta Diop, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and most glaringly by Amiri Baraka, Zora Neale Hurston and Stanley Crouch – are disparaged, deemed to be flawed in thinking, largely ignored or otherwise completely forgotten. Works by many other native sons and daughters who have something to say simply do not exist. It’s as if we live – and, yes, I include myself – in the psychological Armageddon of Frantz Fanon’s prescient work Black Skins, White Masks.

What is Jazz? What is Latin Jazz?

And so it is that all of this occurs to me as we debate the meaning of the word and the expression of what is “Jazz” and what is not. Similarly, we also debate what “Latin Jazz” is and what it is not. Not that I am either for or against one or the other in each case. However, it would seem to me that with the domination of Western-style capitalist neo-liberal democracies, we – in the west, at any rate – live in an era of neo-colonialism and the ensuing hegemony is uncharacteristically borderless, seemingly consuming everyone – both East and West. I’m afraid that it is this body-politic that has led some to want Jazz to be rebranded as Black American Music. To that extent it was poetic justice after all, that the percussionist Warren Smith was right when he released a recording entitled Cats are Stealing My Shit [Mapleshade Records, 1998]. There is a loud voice of political protest here and it comes as Mr Smith stands proxy for every Black American artist – perhaps even Black American sportsman, whose artistic thunder has been “stolen” and profited from by the white old colonial and neo-colonial Western capitalist. Not just in terms of white people copying the art of the black man, but also profiting from it. Mr Baraka [as LeRoi Jones] also once wrote a brilliantly disturbing essay entitled “Jazz and The White Critic” [Maher Publishing, 1963] which deals with the Black/White conundrum relating to Jazz. I’ve also heard it said that there is a Kafkaesque ailment [still somewhat untreated] that causes white people to long to be black. This may be a subject for another debate altogether. But its merits is a major debate not entirely divorced from jazz as it also involves hip-hop and rap and other forms of spoken word, but perhaps this is not the right forum for that debate.

Latin Jazz: The Other Jazz

Professor Christopher Washburne is doing none of the above in his book Latin Jazz – The Other Jazz [Oxford University Press, 2020]. But his thesis that the development of both Jazz and Latin Jazz may be linked to a common source [one that has rarely ever been in doubt] may be a rather too narrow one, even if you view that its source is a culture shared by peoples enslaved, then freed across the southern part of the American continent including the Caribbean. Source material to prove this – rather well-established – thesis is rich and varied. Prof Washburne’s intention is not to affirm or deny the veracity of the source. In fact, if anything he does extraordinary work in technically linking the sources, with vivid examples of how the osmotic process came to be and how it has since been fed for years and developed thus far. He has done this with clarity, using exquisite examples that may have escaped even the most discerning eye this far. One of these is provoked by the example of how the song “El Manisero” [“The Peanut Vendor”] as performed by Don Azpiazú, started a slew of Latin-tinged music among Jazz big bands. Another recalls of an extraordinary recording by Tito Puente and Buddy Morrow and their Orchestras entitled Revolving Bandstand [RCA, 1960]. Listening to the recording which is slightly less than half an hour it is remarkable to note that of the ten songs on the album only one has been composed by a person of Latin or South American origin and that is the song “Bahia” [No Baxia do Sapateiro] which was composed by the Brasilian, Ary Barroso. The rest of the nine charts are what we have now come to call “standards” and include “Autumn Leaves”, “Blue Moon” and “So in Love”.

As Prof Washburne notes: “Morrow’s band was featured on the swing parts, Puente’s band performed the Latin parts, at times they played together. The bands were so well matched that it is difficult to hear the transitions between the groups. Puente said that during the few live performances of the project they would occasionally switch roles.” The term “swing parts” is used here to denote a rhythmic [musical] element de rigueur in “jazz” while I am assuming that “Latin parts” refers to playing in clave. Puente then goes on to disparage Morrow’s band a bit although he admits to enjoying the experience: “It was fun because my band sounded just as good as Morrow’s playing the swing parts, but his band could not play Latin that well.” This was 1960. It was not the case, however, with Dizzy Gillespie’s 1947 experience writing “Manteca” with Chano Pozo and Gil Fuller. It was somewhat different. In a well-publicised interview Dizzy talked of how Pozo [a rumbero who “wrote” music in his head] began singing him the opening bass line melody while he proceeded to write down the notes that Pozo had just sung to him. Clearly it was a case of Dizzy understanding Pozo’s rhythmic conception well enough to translate it into a melodic and harmonic one in the realm of Jazz. The connection that the two musicians made – seems to me – was made because of an African rhythmic connection almost devoid of a Spanish or French or Portuguese one. It was a connection somewhere in between the rhythmic imperatives of swing and bop, and clave where both Jazz and Afro-Cuban music exists. The same may be said of the music of that pathbreaking album on which Dizzy Gillespie and Bird got together with Machito to play that and many other charts too featured on The Original Mambo Kings – 1948-1954 [Verve, 1954] as well as on Erroll Garner’s Mambo Moves Garner [Verve, 1961] to name just two recordings. And you may call that “Latin Jazz”.

Teaching a Jazz Musician to Play in Clave

Puente is not the only musician of Latin origin to disparage Jazz musicians. Cachao also famously spoke once of how “difficult” it was to teach a jazz musician to play in clave. Prof Washburne also devotes some part of Chapter 1 detailing at some length the “difficulty” [my word] that was experienced when Wynton Marsalis and Arturo O’Farrill attempted to re-create this [Puente-Morrow] experiment and had to “hire O’Farrill as an assistant conductor and ‘Latin music coach’ for his [Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra] LCJO.” The writer notes: “Marsalis unilaterally decided to change plans and perform one of Puente’s most famous originals ‘Picadillo,’ solely with his own band instead of having Puente’s band featured on that number. During the concert the Puente veterans sat idly onstage watching as Marsalis’ band struggled to execute the sharp rhythmic breaks that had made Puente famous among dancers.” Again, while this serves to show that not every jazz musician can switch to clave seamlessly, it does not preclude that [in this case] Marsalis’ band is incapable of inciting people to dance. The writer is not suggesting that Marsalis’ music is not “danceable”, but, by bringing up the difficulty in playing in clave together with mention of what “made Puente famous with dancers” the insinuation is there for all to read. Despite the quote from Mr Puente regarding his experience with Mr Morrow, I still believe that Prof Washburne is much too clever and learned to make such an assumption. Still the quote is regrettable.

Did Jazz Really Begin in New Orleans?

It is, in fact, clear from the very outset that it is not Prof Washburne’s intention to stir up strife between one side and the other. On the contrary the writer states that at the very outset his is a learned discourse in the “otherness” of each of the two musical idioms. By definition this also suggests a “separateness” of the two forms of music. This is not only a very attractive proposition but also comes with considerable historical fact – and therefore truth – attached to it. Wearing both the researcher’s and the musician’s hats together also puts Prof Washburne in an unique position to both “separate” and “unite”, or to put it another way, to plot points of convergence even as the two types of music often pursued disparate paths. It’s also more than likely that historically, we’ve been led by the nose by Jelly Roll Morton who, as Prof Washburne has noted, “proclaimed”: “If you can’t manage to put tinges of Spanish in your tunes, you will never be able to get the right seasoning, I call it, for jazz.” The fact that the pianist was one of the most notable citizens of New Orleans also accounts for the folklore that suggests that “jazz” began in New Orleans. [Jelly Roll also claimed to have “invented” what he called “jass”]. Prof Washburne – working from the substantive research of Ned Sublette – correctly points out that the unique French/Spanish/African/Creole culture of colonial New Orleans from the early 18th century would suggest that it was one of the hubs for Latin Jazz if anything.  But did Jazz really begin in New Orleans? Or was it but one junction in the American cultural train? Jazz or African American Music or Black American Music had its roots in the Blues, which came from plantation shouts, call-and-response patterns of vocalisations from enslaved Africans in plantations and other colonial farms and – as Amiri Baraka correctly points out – that, more than anything or any one person or movement is the proverbial tap root of jazz. So, if anything Jazz may be said to have sprung spontaneously from various locations where Africans were enslaved by European settlers.

Blues and Jazz yes… But Latin Jazz… Really?

Blues, as Amiri Baraka [LeRoi Jones] rightly pointed out, comes from an unique place. This is a place where its pioneers and propagators, and innovators were considered one fifth human. Think about that for a moment: One Fifth Human – a people whose genealogy we all share. The Blues – and Jazz that followed – comes from a place where enslavement begat freedom of the spirit; and pain begat triumph. It comes from a place where men and women were once shackled, and virtually eternal slaves – many of whom were lynched for even looking at a white woman – who used their song to lift up their sinking spirits. No white man could know what it is to suffer that fate. It is the rhythm of that life that begat classic blues and finally jazz. No white man could ever create that sound; a sound so rooted in the depths of those emotions of despair and triumph. Charlie Patton and Son House, and others were black men and could never have been white men. White men created a hybrid – borrowed from the blues and melded with jigs and other European barroom dances and it came to be called bluegrass. No date and time of a song or songs and who played them first can alter that, although a timeline could conceivably be made to look like the lines run parallel. Blues could be learned once men like Alan Lomax documented it; that music could be studied, its harmonic and rhythmic patterns could be analysed and replicated; and they were indeed. In a later life, it might appear that Jelly Roll’s boast that he put some Spanish tinge into his music to spice it up and call it “jass” or “jazz” perhaps let some kind of genie out of the bottle.

At this point let’s go back to New Orleans and remember William Ludwig for a moment… He gathered a battery of drums, which at the time was a collection of strangely disparate-sounding bedfellows. This he did after he saw Warren “Baby” Dodds use swinging hands and feet to create a percussive, mesmerising rhythm. That drum-set – the first invention of a black rhythmist – created that rippling sound so unique that we still know it as the New Orleans Groove, which informs the drumming of everyone from Roy Haynes to Herlin Riley today. “The Peanut Vendor” may have been “a thing” and “a very big thing” at that, first played by Don Aspiazú and his Havana Casino Orchestra, and it may have also been played – with infinitely less success – by Louis Armstrong – a New Orleanian “rumbero”, and Duke Ellington – a patrician Washingtonian. But “The Peanut Vendor” – no matter who played it may still be an anomaly for more reasons than one. We cannot [also] ignore the fact that landó and joropo and rumba and the comparsa and the other street events that created a glorious noise made in the inimitable voice of Afro-Caribbean peoples in Cuba, Lima and Caracas existed long before all of this snide musical expropriation of Antonio Machín’s masterpiece came to be. These have remained pristine and unadulterated to this day – even as more jazz and other improvising performers learn to meld it in with their music more efficiently and more effectively. All of this may be as anecdotal as it is historical fact – to be respected – and yet to be read and understood as much as a series of cautionary tales. 

Jazz and Latin Jazz are Rooted in the Same Fecund Soil of Music

There is a new word for doing what Prof Washburne has just done by writing this book [and other books like it], despite the fact that he isn’t black or Latin, but a white musician and performer who holds a doctorate in his specialised field and is a noted pedagogue. The word is “appropriation”. It’s not my word, but seems to have been adopted by many who have rightly or wrongly been prevented from telling their stories. I should not begrudge Prof Washburne for writing this book and having it published, but one cannot deny that it comes – as many other scholarly books do – from a “white” academic perspective. It is also true that are some aboriginal [for want of a more inclusive word] who are incapable of using their art – in poetry, prose and drama; music and dance – to tell their stories. Still I have no quarrel with someone like Prof Washburne. His is a remarkable and well-researched book, written with utmost clarity to tell his story of Latin jazz. He also writes with utmost verity and his book is essential literature to add to the great library of music and be a just cause for celebration. He presents facts in an orderly manner from chapter to chapter and makes a strong case for his thesis which is that Jazz and Latin Jazz are rooted in the same fecund soil of music. He makes a clear case for it all from the roots of colonial New Orleans and – as he says – “the politics of naming an intercultural music” through the “Second Birth of Latin Jazz: Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington do the Rumba” to his own theory of “othering” of Latin Jazz and this music that we have come to know and love in our time that is the 21st century. To that extent it makes essential reading for scholars and everyone who is interested in digging… and digging deep.

All Civilisations Exist in a Continuum

And yet I am led by this book to these other debates [and many other debates like it] about culture and art – and the effect that one has on the other, sometimes with exponential effect – to the work of Alejo Carpentier y Valmont, for instance. And I am also drawn to another thesis altogether and it is this: [I believe] that all civilisations exist in a continuum propagated by humanity in a state of eternal transformation, no matter where we humans seem to spring up. This has been borne out by the manner in which fossils have been discovered in geological strata, sitting one on top of the other, the one below, older than the one on top, all of them a continuous evolution of what lies beneath until you get to the living specimens on the surface of it all. There is also the fact that our planet was clearly all water at one time and all civilisations – from the first Black African Civilisation credited to Cheikh Anta Diop and other [later] Egyptologists; to the swarthy-red-skinned Greeks and the Romans, Indians and Chinese civilisations. It is inevitable that all life began on a planet that was once all water. This water was produced – if you go back as far in time as your mind will allow – by the energy produced by the collision of an atom of oxygen and two atoms of hydrogen. This ensuing water covered the planet which eventually began to be teeming with life, which is why we all have gods of the sea. There is also the fact that at some point the energy produced by the hydrogen and oxygen molecules that came together to create water were also attracted to each other with such a force and with so much energy that other species were created. Water – that is, the fluid state of matter – is also a powerful metaphor for something that is eternally dynamic; always living and in dynamic motion – a continuum.

Igor Stravinsky wasn’t joking either. I have listened to him say that he thinks that God himself was thinking about and listening to a thunderous drum and profound music when he set this continuum in motion at the moment of Creation.

The Second Birth of Latin Jazz

One can almost discern the thunderous celebratory noise of the drum and the hiss of cymbals and the chaotic dusty shards that ensue evoke a shattering calm and repose as the nascent earth shivers into balance… Since then it may all be a matter of how melody and harmony and rhythm has formed and reformed through the ages. In the European system words like monophonic, polyphonic, Baroque, Renaissance, Romantic, Old Viennese and New Viennese schools, minimalist and so on ad infinitum… If you look at it all it was, at the end of the day, all a matter of human emotion and stemming from human endeavor, artistically expressed  in the preferred style of the day – with due attention being paid to the form and function. In the case of classical music – you might say, that was the pop music of the day and it evolved and changed over centuries being codified as time progressed. The same might be said of all of the styles of music we find in which human emotion and endeavor is artistically expressed today. Jazz, as we know it, adapted colonial European forms and motifs as did Latin Jazz. Each form or expression or style of music may be different from the other, but both seem to exist together yet as separate ”others” – and you can go back as far as you like to colonial Portugal, France or Spain. Besides, styles such as those that have incorporated swing, or come to be called Bebop; the Third Stream, a label that was first used to describe the influence of Western Classical music in Jazz and which John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet incorporated so successfully for a quarter of a century, and which Prof Washburne refers to – I think, unfortunately, with a somewhat cynical tone – in his chapter 3, “The Second Birth of Latin Jazz” [page 65].

Every movement in music has its merits. The Third Stream certainly did and it paved the way for George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, which defined the theory, involving the shifting tonal gravity of jazz harmony; as close to being something immutable in jazz, and proved to be irresistible for Miles Davis’ and John Coltrane’s ‘modality’ and also influenced almost everyone from Bill Evans, Mr Davis and ‘Trane, who based arguably his most famous piece, “Giant Steps,” on Mr Russell’s theory, and which paved the way for everything else that came after that era. For his part, Prof Washburne contributes a great deal to understanding what happened analogously in the development in Latin music. His chapter dedicated to this development with technical analysis and accompanying explanations is brilliantly conceived and written. The discourse will mean much in understanding how son, danzón, and other [particularly Cuban] dance forms that had their origins in the habanera, danza and seguido, affected tresillo, cinquillo and clave rhythmic patterns [a pan-Caribbean rhythmic phenomenon], which – in turn – found their way into early syncopated jazz rhythms from ragtime and have continued to inform jazz even today.

Thus it is regrettable that as Prof Washburne points out, Mr Schuller seems to have ignored the contribution that Latin musicians made to the early development of Jazz when programming his course material. If anything, Mr Schuller’s work was pioneering and paved the way for other institutions to adopt or change their music faculties to include Jazz programmes, and the more inclusive environment in music in general, resulted in better, more well-rounded and inclusive music faculties to be adapted or adopted since Jazz education was first founded at the New England Conservatory. There are, of course, notable exceptions to that Kafkaesque anomaly I referred to earlier in this essay. It is also a fact that some of the finest ever interpreters of Jazz, Latin Jazz – Black music – have, in fact been white. This phenomenon is as old as the music itself. Bix Beiderbecke, Steve Lacy, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Don Thompson, Cameron Brown, Sheila Jordan, Joe Zawinul, Jaco Pastorius, Frank Carlberg, David Helbock and Bill Laswell make up a very shortlist.

Jazz and Latin Jazz are Two Parts of the Same Music Tree

Pride of place goes to Bengt Berger [the great Swedish drummer and masterful percussionist] who spent years mastering West African drumming after spending one and a half years in Ghana with his family, studying Ewe-drumming in Accra and the Volta region, Brong-Ahafu-drumming in the small village of Ammasu and Lo-Birifor, xylophone music with Kakraba Lobi in Accra and the north of Ghana while his wife was doing her fieldwork in social anthropology. His Ko-Gyil xylophone teacher was the great Kakraba Lobi, whose teaching was behind a lot of his later work with the celebrated Bitter Funeral Beer [ECM, 1979], with one-time mentor Don Cherry. He also fronted a  band that has the same name. Mr Berger is also a master of Carnatic music and seems to spend at least half of every year in India where he performs percussion with other Carnatic musicians, in honour of whom he founded Beche’s Brew and Beche’s Indian Brew. There is also Adam Rudolph, a significant percussion colourist who founded the Mandingo Griot Society with the great Hamid Drake and continues to play with Mr Drake today. And then there is Jane Bunnett, whose forays into Cuba preceded Ry Cooder’s by several years, and who is now making waves with Maqueque, her all-woman Cuban-Canadian ensemble, which continues to blur the boundaries of music. This growing contribution from these musicians of considerable stature – no matter what their colour or cultural background – is analogous with Prof Washburne’s thesis that Jazz and Latin Jazz are two parts of the same music tree. It is, after all, ultimately a matter of a single continuum.

There is another theory that suggests itself and it comes from scientists. It also comes from the alarming rate at which natural resources such as fossil fuels are being depleted, and the rate of speed at which we seem to be arriving at the impending of destruction of all the gifts that the planet continues to give us. Physicists from Newton to Einstein and Hawking have posited compelling theories as to what makes us – as physical bodies – tick in physical states of matter. Add geneticists such as Dr Lewis Thomas in the mix and we begin to get, I suspect, a somewhat cyclical pattern of existence. Add philosophers and cultural historians in the mix and we get “otherness”. Meanwhile if you consider the path breaking and somewhat mind-bending work of the nuclear physicist and philosopher Fritjof Capra, who published his worldview in an iconic book, The Tao of Physics [Shambala Publications, 1976] we arrive at a path where science and spirituality intersects. Prof Capra, upon doing experiments in which he mapped the movement of sub-atomic particles when the atom was fissured found that the wave-form that resulted was identical to; remarkably congruent to the wave form produced by the dancing Nataraja. It’s a seemingly never-ending process of theory and discovery and of discovery and belief leading to truth.

Nataraja [Lord of the Dance] – A depiction of the Hindu god Shiva as the divine dancer

All of this locks into the whole concept of a continuum no matter whether it is cyclical, elliptical or – to use the metaphor of Jazz and Latin Jazz existing as distinct others and yet together – as parallel lines, which we were once told would meet at infinity. It is also a place, according to the cognitive scientist, Douglas Hofstadter who wrote Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid [Basic Books, 1979] a book about creative thinking, where as he showed, the science of mathematics unites in a magical union with the astounding mystique of art – that thing of beauty that we also know as the Fibonacci Sequence. However, all that may be about to change. Ilya Prigogine, a Russian-born Belgian scientist, for decades explored his empirical concept of “dissipative structures,” which he had come up with in 1969 [published as Thermodynamic Theory of Structure, Stability and Fluctuations by John Wiley & Sons, 1971] and which won him the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1977. Prigogine’s concept refers to the structures that, in one form or another, seem to appear spontaneously within open energy systems that benefit from continuous energy flow. [Thermodynamique de l’Évolution, 31-32; and Isabelle Stengers, Structure Dissipative, Encyclopaedia Universalis, searchable at]

The stars are dissipative structures; they transform gravitational energy through nuclear reactions and dissipate in the form of radiation. A cyclone is another form of dissipative energy structure, unfolding thanks to the temperature differences between the equator and the poles. Evidently living beings, even more so human societies, are dissipative energy structures. In 2001, American astrophysicist Eric Chaisson noted that if a human being had comparable mass, he or she would dissipate ten thousand times more energy than a star like the sun. [François Roddier, Thermodynamique de l’Évolution, op. cit., p 50] Dissipative structures self organise in a way that maximises the flow of energy travelling through them, wrote French astrophysicist François Roddier in 2012. Roddier added that these structures also maximise the speed at which the energy dissipates as it passes through them. The empirical observation, sometimes called the “law of maximum entropy production,” has been studied for a generation by physicists, chemists, biologists and cyberneticists [Rod Swenson, for example]. Some researchers are no longer reluctant to consider it an authentic third law of thermodynamics: The energy is preserved [1], it dissipates [2], and, finally, it allows the emergence of dissipative structures which, in order to continue to exist, minimize their own entropy by maximising the energy dissipation around them [3]. Roddier formulated the assumption that what is called “evolution” was in fact a physical process during which dissipative structures acquired the ability to increasingly maximise the entropy around them; the instrument that allows humans to achieve this is information, which those structures would organise in order to store it in ever growing quantities. Prof Prigogine [and Fritjof Capra separately] discovered this was – as if by magic – embodied in the dynamic motion of the statue of the dancing Nataraja, a brilliantly inspired [and inspirational] symbol of the entropic life [the Greek root of the word translates to “a turning towards transformation” — with that transformation being chaos] of a dissipative structure.

Our Best Bet at Survival May be to Live in the Moment

I am attracted to Professor Ilya Prigogine’s ideas that dissipative structures could be extrapolated to include human beings too – and here’s why: we may have been conceived by God in his image and likeness, but were certainly formed by the likes of the stars in the heavens – dissipative structures all – in and with explosive energy. Once that is spent we simply cease to exist. This suggests that our best bet at survival may be to live in the moment. It’s what music – no matter whether it is played, interpreted and/or improvised and no matter what style it is played in – also seems to suggest. And so [without any malice whatsoever towards Prof Washburne’s book or his thesis] the subject of music deserves – no, it demands – a much wider empirical discussion and while Jazz [even Latin Jazz] is a perfect point to vault off in order to untangle us all from the boundaries of “genre” and “style” – even if we define these within the well-oiled age-old musical concepts of melody, harmony and rhythm. It has to do with the “mathemagic” of music or what Bach discovered when he applied math to the magic of his art. It is what leads me to think of music as existing in a boundless musical continuum. I think that Bach had begun to grasp this as did Bird, Monk and Coltrane. This is why they will all exist in the continuum long after their music is characterised as “baroque” and “contrapuntal”, “bebop” and “avant-garde”. And this is because they arrived at a place where they simply ceased to exist as keyboardists or pianists, or saxophonists but their conceptual thinking put them in an altogether rarefied realm.

When you Hear Music, After it’s Over, it’s Gone, in the Air

Of the musicians playing today, some of the most important names that come to mind come from those that make up The musicians of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music in Chicago – Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell, Famoudou Don Moye and others. Perhaps the greatest of these musicians is most certainly Anthony Braxton, who not only envisions his art as part of this continuum, but he is also a musician who has deepened the stellar universe of music considerably. [His music comes closest to assuming the form of the kind of dissipative structures in which Ilya Prigogine believes all matter exists. It is no wonder that they are all titled with finite alpha-numeric codes and if you listen to them and are able to decode them you will derive the greatest pleasure in discovering that his works are exquisite and exemplary pieces – microcosms of the entire universe of the music continuum. But in their form – that is with beginnings and climactic ends, they resemble perfectly beautiful dissipative structures containing everything that we learned from monophony to polyphony, counterpoint, swing, bebop and the interstellar music of the so-called avant-garde that began with John Coltrane. Besides it turns out that Mr Braxton and his music – in their dissipative structures – seem to call to mind not only Prof Prigogine’s brilliant theory, but they also echo something eerily similar to what Eric Dolphy also sensed in the ephemeral nature of music, something he shared in the concrete form when he said: “When you hear music, after it’s over, it’s gone, in the air. You can never capture it again.” The dissipative structure of music is very real indeed…

Dr Chris Washburne

About Christopher Washburn

Chris Washburne is one of those rare musicians whose musical activities cross many styles and cultural borders. From early in his career he refused to be pigeon-holed as just being a jazz or classical player, but instead has continually pursued a diverse path. Chris is currently freelancing as a studio musician and performing trombone, bass trombone, tuba, didjeridu and percussion with various classical, jazz, rock and Latin groups in New York City. He also tours extensively with various groups and has concertized throughout the North America, Europe, Asian, Africa, South America, Central America and the Caribbean.

Chris received his Bachelors of Music in classical trombone performance from the University of Wisconsin where he studied with William Richardson, Richard Davis and Les Thimmeg. In 1988, he completed a Masters degree from the New England Conservatory in Third Stream Studies where he studied with John Swallow, Ran Blake and Bob Moses. He was the winner of the 1988 New England Conservatory Graduation Concerto Competition. He spent two months living in Zambia in 1985, studying the traditional music of that region, and in 1993, received a Mellon Fellowship to travel to and explore the rich musical traditions of Cuba.

In 1999 he completed his Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology at Columbia University. He is currently Associate Professor of Music and Found Director of the Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance Program at Columbia University in New York. He has published numerous articles on jazz, Latin jazz, and salsa. He is author of the book Sounding Salsa: Performing Latin Music in New York (2008), editor of the book Bad Music (2004) and author of the book Latin Jazz: The Other Jazz (2020).

He has performed with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Justin Timberlake, Celia Cruz, Ruben Blades, Marc Anthony, Celine Dion, Anthony Braxton, Manhattan Chamber Orchestra, the Bang On A Can All-stars, David Byrne, Bjork, Muhal Richard Abrams, Gloria Estefan, They Might Be Giants, Chico O’Farrill, Don Richols, John Cale, Grady Tate, Baba Olatunje, Leslie Uggams, the Smithereens, Ray Barretto, Roscoe Mitchell, Jackie Byard, Danilo Caymmi, Arturo Sandoval, Paquito D’Rivera, Dinosaur Annex directed under Gunther Schuller, Walter Thompson, the SEM Ensemble, Freddie Cole, Lawrence “Butch” Morris, among many others.

He leads his own highly acclaimed groups SYOTOS and NYNDK and is a member of FFEAR (Forum for Electro-Acoustic Research).

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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