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Aesthetic Theory for the Working Musician
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Robert Kraut

During my college years I played jazz and rock gigs with bands in New York City: juggling academic requirements with the demands of musicianship, musicians, club owners and audiences. It was not easy: both the music side and the academic side suffered from the divided allegiances. In those early years artistic developmental crises and unavoidable questions loomed: about correct responses to musical works, creativity, audience acceptance, artistic quality and value, self-expression, and artistic legitimacy.

I needed to know, e.g., where to draw the line between artistic innovation and fraudulence. Remarkable things were happening in jazz in the 60’s – the avant garde movement sustained by John Coltrane, Pharoah Saunders, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, and others was in full bloom – and it was not clear how much of this work should be treated with musical seriousness and how much should be denounced as musically vacuous artifacts of culturally troubled times. A musician did not know whether to jump on the bandwagon, if presented with the opportunity.

I took a Philosophy of Art course – hoping it would provide systematic exploration of the issues so urgent to me as an aspiring guitarist. It did no such thing. Nothing in Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Bell, Tolstoy, Croce, Langer, and others seemed plugged into the issues that weighed upon me (Collingwood was the sole exception). Surely these writers were skilled theorists; but despite the aura of scholarly significance, their questions seemed not to be my own. I found myself wishing they had spent time on the road with funk bands, thereby sensitizing them to aspects of the artworld that so puzzled me.

Later I found work by Danto and Walton closer to the mark; and still later I revisited some of the classic writers and found elements relevant to my earlier concerns. It became clear, e.g., that my own anguished questions about the status of avant garde music found echo everywhere, and were hardly the unique province of working players: Duchamp’s Fountain, Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning, Christo’s Running Fence, and any other shockingly new work tested the limits of extant artistic norms, thereby placing a viewer in a similar state of anxiety and uncertainty: How to engage such a work? What artistic category to place it in? How to determine what features are, or are not, relevant to its interpretation and/or evaluation? A struggling musician had no special purchase on such crises.

There were other issues. Any player seeking success needed to know whether audience rejection provided evidence of poor musicianship, or merely a lack of appropriate musical sensibility on the part of the listener. But again, any theorist could access such a question about comprehension of an artform, and about the criteria for treating a critic as reliable: active participation as a player was no prerequisite for engaging it. And there were questions about the very idea of thinking in music (rather than about music): questions concerning the phenomenology of music performance and its relation to other forms of thought. But psychologists, philosophers of mind, and even neuroscientists offered useful insights about thinking in tones and metric structures, despite their not spending evenings and weekends in the recording studio. Here too, the working player was in no privileged position with respect to the questions that demanded attention.

So perhaps the issues that taunted me were equally accessible to those with little or no experience on the bandstand; perhaps nothing in my life as a musician significantly impacted my theoretical reflections. Just so, perhaps Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria would be pretty much the same had he not been a poet; perhaps Peter Eisenman’s architectural theories are unaffected by his work as an architect; perhaps Stravinsky’s forays into theory show no marks of his work as a composer. But such claims are doubtful. Theorists theorize about the data available to them. Surely not all aesthetic theorists work with the same data – or even have access to the same data – and seek to solve the same problems. When I began reading aesthetic theory it struck me that some theorists were so removed from the realities of artworld production that they ignored information I regarded as critical; thus their theories provided no explanation of the phenomena that weighed heavily upon me.

An obvious analogy: a working mathematician – caught up in the phenomenology of discovery and proof – is unlikely to endorse those philosophies of mathematics proffered by theorists who have only a casual grasp of mathematics: working mathematicians see more, and thus demand more from a philosophical account of what they are up to. Perhaps it is not impossible for a non-mathematician to accommodate the relevant data; but it is unlikely. And similarly, a working musician – struggling in the trenches of artistic productivity – will likely confront data unavailable (or insignificant) to those on the sidelines.

This, at any rate, is the theme I wish to explore here. I do not claim that working musicians are, as a matter of analytic necessity, better suited to provide aesthetic theories about music. Many brilliant performers are woefully lacking in reflective theoretical skills; and even reflective participants in a practice frequently make errors about their own practices. Nor do I claim that adequate theorizing is essentially impossible for non-musicians; non-participants in music production are – at least in principle – surely capable of providing interesting accounts of the aesthetics of music.

Still, the connection between actual participation and effective theorizing demands attention. Interfaces between theory and practice – artistic, linguistic, athletic, or any other normatively constrained institutional behavior – are tremendously complex. It would, e.g., admittedly be unreasonable to insist that only competent speakers of English are qualified to provide a holistically adequate semantic theory for that language. But it cannot be denied that competent speakers have something that outside observers often lack: viz., a thorough knowledge of the relevant inferential connections sustained within the language. Insofar as a goal of an adequate linguistic theory is to illuminate such connections, one might expect a competent speaker to do a better job than a non-speaker, ceteris paribus, when it comes to formulating an adequate semantic theory.

Clive Bell tells us that “the starting-point for all systems of aesthetics must be the personal experience of a peculiar emotion.”[1] He is wrong about the “emotion” part; but his observation serves as a valuable reminder that “systems of aesthetics” are ultimately grounded in one’s personal experience. My own efforts in aesthetic theory rest upon attempts to make sense of music as I experience it. These experiences frequently put me out of phase with others in the field. I do not, for example, experience music as expressing emotion; this puts me at loggerheads with theorists who regard the emotional expressiveness of music as so patently obvious as not even to require argument. For them it is a datum to be theorized about; for me, in contrast, the existence of emotional-expressive properties in music is a semantic phenomenon that must, like other semantic phenomena, be established and not assumed. I am hardly alone in denying the emotional expressiveness of music: Stravinsky, Hanslick, and others stand against the tide of musical expressionism. But such anti-expressionism is idiosyncratic, and tends to generate a peculiar incommensurability at otherwise pleasant gatherings.

Similarly, I experience music – at least, when performing – as a linguistic phenomenon. Playing feels like talking; collaborative improvisation feels like conversation. This, for me, is a starting point: a datum to be theorized about, not the conclusion of an argument. Music presents itself to me as a linguistic phenomenon; I am thus led to theorize about the relation(s) between art and language, and to seek theories that address the syntax, semantics, and pragmatics of musical genres. But once again I am put at loggerheads with aesthetic theorists – this time those who dispute the applicability of linguistic models to music production and comprehension. In what follows I explore this issue at greater length.

There is, among working musicians, a conspicuous uniformity in perspective regarding this matter; it is worth noting how it diverges from the stated views of those who spend more time theorizing than playing. Here are some examples.

Pat Martino ranks among the outstanding jazz guitarists of the last few decades: a gifted player with a keen grasp of mainstream jazz. He offers a trenchant observation about music education and language:

I find that certain students have trouble perceiving music only because of the language. If they were shown that music is a language, like any other language, they’d realize it’s only couched in different symbols. Then possibly they would understand that they knew things already, inherently.[2]


Martino’s view that “music is a language, like any other language” is widespread among jazz musicians. Here, for example, is a description of guitarist Jim Hall:

“His concept of time is a model to emulate,” says drummer Joey Baron. “Jim plays but a few notes, leaving space for conversations with me.” According to Jim, “listening is still the key.”[3]


Such “conversational” imagery dominates the genre: from the “inside,” jazz performance feels like dialogue. A particularly vivid description is provided by drummer Max Roach:

After you initiate the solo, one phrase determines what the next is going to be. From the first note that you hear, you are responding to what you’ve just played: you just said this on your instrument, and now that’s a constant. What follows from that?…It’s like language: you’re talking, you’re speaking, you’re responding to yourself.[4]


Note that no arguments are involved here: Martino’s claims – and related remarks throughout the jazz world – are based upon immediate acquaintance with a range of performance and composition experiences.

Victor Wooten – an influential jazz and funk bassist – offers his students the following advice:

I think that we can all agree on the fact that music is a language….When I get confused while trying to answer a musical question, I immediately think back to the fact that music is a language….The next step is to then turn the music question into an English language question. If I can do that, the answer is usually obvious.[5]


Wayne Krantz, a brilliantly innovative guitarist extending traditional harmonic and rhythmic boundaries, offers a reflection upon his stylistic approach:

I call myself a jazz musician still because I improvise, and I associate improvisation with jazz. But the language of jazz, the vocabulary of it, I find myself less and less drawn to…I kind of rely on the spirit of what created that language to determine what I play.[6]


The “music as language” paradigm is ubiquitous among working jazz players; it is an artifact of participation in the genre. Yet theorist Saam Trivedi offers the following dismissal:

I am continually puzzled by the insistence of many that seeing art as involving communication involves seeing it as some sort of language, a view which I deny. Taking music, for example, even if music is language-like in involving meaning, understanding, conventions, rules, communication…there are significant differences between music and language concerning truth, reference, predication, description, syntax, translatability, and so on, as pointed out by many.[7]


Malcolm Budd provides a similar dismissal: “Now it is in fact clear that music lacks the essential features of language.”[8] In similar spirit, Stephen Davies tells us

Where music fails so many necessary conditions for something’s being a language, there is no explanatory value to be gained from talk of music as an impoverished language, or as a syntactic system, or as possessing a vocabulary of terms and phrases….The differences between music and natural languages suggest that extreme caution should be used in applying such concepts to music, for they carry misleading associations when transferred from the familiar to the new context.[9]


The problem is that such dismissals ignore key psychological realities of artistic practice: from the “inside” jazz performance feels like dialogue. The image of performance-as-conversation dominates the genre – both among musicians and knowledgeable critics. The linguistic model of performance is so central to regions of the artworld that it is a datum to be explained, not a theory to be criticized.

And musicians aren’t the only ones who lapse into this “linguistic” ways of talking about music. Psychologist P.N. Johnson-Laird, writing on the computational mechanisms underlying jazz performance, offers the following:

If you are not an improvising musician, then the best analogy to improvisation is your spontaneous speech. If you ask yourself how you are able to speak a sequence of English sentences that make sense, then you will find that you are consciously aware of only the tip of the process. That is why the discipline of psycholinguistics exists: psychologists need to answer this question too.[10]


Jazz improvisation is said to be “analogous” to spontaneous speech. It is not clear how far the analogy can be pushed: whether it can be generalized to other modes of music production, for example, or perhaps even to other artistic media.

Work in other areas prompts similar speculation. Aniruddh Patel, a neuroscientist concerned with relationships between music and speech, uses neuroimaging data to locate convergence points between syntactic processing in language and music. Here is a clear statement by Patel describing some of his work:

Two new empirical studies address the relationship between music and language. The first focuses on melody and uses research in phonetics to investigate the long-held notion that instrumental music reflects speech patterns in a composer’s native language. The second focuses on syntax and addresses the relationship between musical and linguistic syntactic processing via the study of aphasia, an approach that has been explored very little. The results of these two studies add to a growing body of evidence linking music and language with regard to structural patterns and brain processing.[11]


Such results hardly confirm the bold hypothesis that “music is language” (Patel makes no such claims), but they surely encourage continued speculation along such lines.

Why does it matter? What is to be gained from the “jazz as language” hypothesis? Jazz is jazz; language is language. Doubtless there are points of similarity and points of divergence; why not leave it at that?

We cannot leave it at that because the goal of aesthetic theory is to accommodate as much artworld data as possible: this includes the customary ways artworld practitioners think and talk about their own practices and products. There is an overwhelming conviction among working jazz players that music is a linguistic form: such conviction rests primarily upon the phenomenology of music production. Playing music feels strikingly similar to speaking; ensemble performance feels strikingly similar to conversation; such phenomenological similarities demand explanation. Construing music as language is one possible explanation. It is an explanation I find plausible. Thus my work as a musician impacts my aesthetic theorizing, in part, by foregrounding this issue as urgently worthy of attention.[12]






1. Clive Bell, Art (New York: Capricorn Books, 1958): 16-17.

2. Quoted in Julie Coryell and Laura Friedman, Jazz-Rock Fusion (Milwaukee: Hal Leonard, 1978): 171.

3. Cited in Europe Jazz Network Musicians: Jim Hall (E_J_N_-JIM HALL.mht).

4. Quoted in Paul Berliner, Thinking in Jazz (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994): 192.

5. Victor Lemonte Wooten, The Official Website (at ); Lesson #3: “Music As A Language.”

6. Transcribed from a film by Frank Casssenti recorded for French TV broadcast; not commercially released. Posted on YouTube as “Wayne Krantz, Keith Carlock, Tim Lefebvre – Marciac 1999 part 1.”

7. Saam Trivedi, “Artist-Audience Communication: Tolstoy Reclaimed,” Journal of Aesthetic Education Vol. 38, No. 2 (Summer 2004): fn.12.

8. Malcolm Budd, Music and the Emotions (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985): 23.

9. Stephen Davies, Musical Meaning and Expression (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1994): 24.

10. P.N. Johnson-Laird, “How Jazz Musicians Improvise,” Music Perception 19 (Spring 2002): 415-42.

11. Aniruddh D. Patel, “The Relationship of Music to the Melody of Speech and to Syntactic Processing Disorders in Aphasia,” Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1060 (2005): 1-12.

12. These issues are explored in greater detail in my Artworld Metaphysics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
Robert Kraut The Ohio State University Robert Kraut The Ohio State University During my college years I played jazz and rock gigs with bands in New York City: juggling academic requirements with the demands of musicianship, musicians, club owners and audiences. It was not easy: both the music side and the academic side suffered from the divided allegiances. In those early years artistic developmental crises and unavoidable questions loomed: about correct responses to musical works, creativity, audience acceptance, artistic quality and value, self-expression, and artistic legitimacy.

I needed to know, e.g., where to draw the line between artistic innovation and fraudulence. Remarkable things were happening in jazz in the 60’s – the avant garde movement sustained by John Coltrane, Pharoah Saunders, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, and others was in full bloom – and it was not clear how much of this work should be treated with musical seriousness and how much should be denounced as musically vacuous artifacts of culturally troubled times. A musician did not know whether to jump on the bandwagon, if presented with the opportunity.

I took a Philosophy of Art course – hoping it would provide systematic exploration of the issues so urgent to me as an aspiring guitarist. It did no such thing. Nothing in Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Bell, Tolstoy, Croce, Langer, and others seemed plugged into the issues that weighed upon me (Collingwood was the sole exception). Surely these writers were skilled theorists; but despite the aura of scholarly significance, their questions seemed not to be my own. I found myself wishing they had spent time on the road with funk bands, thereby sensitizing them to aspects of the artworld that so puzzled me.

Later I found work by Danto and Walton closer to the mark; and still later I revisited some of the classic writers and found elements relevant to my earlier concerns. It became clear, e.g., that my own anguished questions about the status of avant garde music found echo everywhere, and were hardly the unique province of working players: Duchamp’s Fountain, Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning, Christo’s Running Fence, and any other shockingly new work tested the limits of extant artistic norms, thereby placing a viewer in a similar state of anxiety and uncertainty: How to engage such a work? What artistic category to place it in? How to determine what features are, or are not, relevant to its interpretation and/or evaluation? A struggling musician had no special purchase on such crises.

There were other issues. Any player seeking success needed to know whether audience rejection provided evidence of poor musicianship, or merely a lack of appropriate musical sensibility on the part of the listener. But again, any theorist could access such a question about comprehension of an artform, and about the criteria for treating a critic as reliable: active participation as a player was no prerequisite for engaging it. And there were questions about the very idea of thinking in music (rather than about music): questions concerning the phenomenology of music performance and its relation to other forms of thought. But psychologists, philosophers of mind, and even neuroscientists offered useful insights about thinking in tones and metric structures, despite their not spending evenings and weekends in the recording studio. Here too, the working player was in no privileged position with respect to the questions that demanded attention.

So perhaps the issues that taunted me were equally accessible to those with little or no experience on the bandstand; perhaps nothing in my life as a musician significantly impacted my theoretical reflections. Just so, perhaps Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria would be pretty much the same had he not been a poet; perhaps Peter Eisenman’s architectural theories are unaffected by his work as an architect; perhaps Stravinsky’s forays into theory show no marks of his work as a composer. But such claims are doubtful. Theorists theorize about the data available to them. Surely not all aesthetic theorists work with the same data – or even have access to the same data – and seek to solve the same problems. When I began reading aesthetic theory it struck me that some theorists were so removed from the realities of artworld production that they ignored information I regarded as critical; thus their theories provided no explanation of the phenomena that weighed heavily upon me.

An obvious analogy: a working mathematician – caught up in the phenomenology of discovery and proof – is unlikely to endorse those philosophies of mathematics proffered by theorists who have only a casual grasp of mathematics: working mathematicians see more, and thus demand more from a philosophical account of what they are up to. Perhaps it is not impossible for a non-mathematician to accommodate the relevant data; but it is unlikely. And similarly, a working musician – struggling in the trenches of artistic productivity – will likely confront data unavailable (or insignificant) to those on the sidelines.

This, at any rate, is the theme I wish to explore here. I do not claim that working musicians are, as a matter of analytic necessity, better suited to provide aesthetic theories about music. Many brilliant performers are woefully lacking in reflective theoretical skills; and even reflective participants in a practice frequently make errors about their own practices. Nor do I claim that adequate theorizing is essentially impossible for non-musicians; non-participants in music production are – at least in principle – surely capable of providing interesting accounts of the aesthetics of music.

Still, the connection between actual participation and effective theorizing demands attention. Interfaces between theory and practice – artistic, linguistic, athletic, or any other normatively constrained institutional behavior – are tremendously complex. It would, e.g., admittedly be unreasonable to insist that only competent speakers of English are qualified to provide a holistically adequate semantic theory for that language. But it cannot be denied that competent speakers have something that outside observers often lack: viz., a thorough knowledge of the relevant inferential connections sustained within the language. Insofar as a goal of an adequate linguistic theory is to illuminate such connections, one might expect a competent speaker to do a better job than a non-speaker, ceteris paribus, when it comes to formulating an adequate semantic theory.

Clive Bell tells us that “the starting-point for all systems of aesthetics must be the personal experience of a peculiar emotion.”[1] He is wrong about the “emotion” part; but his observation serves as a valuable reminder that “systems of aesthetics” are ultimately grounded in one’s personal experience. My own efforts in aesthetic theory rest upon attempts to make sense of music as I experience it. These experiences frequently put me out of phase with others in the field. I do not, for example, experience music as expressing emotion; this puts me at loggerheads with theorists who regard the emotional expressiveness of music as so patently obvious as not even to require argument. For them it is a datum to be theorized about; for me, in contrast, the existence of emotional-expressive properties in music is a semantic phenomenon that must, like other semantic phenomena, be established and not assumed. I am hardly alone in denying the emotional expressiveness of music: Stravinsky, Hanslick, and others stand against the tide of musical expressionism. But such anti-expressionism is idiosyncratic, and tends to generate a peculiar incommensurability at otherwise pleasant gatherings.

Similarly, I experience music – at least, when performing – as a linguistic phenomenon. Playing feels like talking; collaborative improvisation feels like conversation. This, for me, is a starting point: a datum to be theorized about, not the conclusion of an argument. Music presents itself to me as a linguistic phenomenon; I am thus led to theorize about the relation(s) between art and language, and to seek theories that address the syntax, semantics, and pragmatics of musical genres. But once again I am put at loggerheads with aesthetic theorists – this time those who dispute the applicability of linguistic models to music production and comprehension. In what follows I explore this issue at greater length.

There is, among working musicians, a conspicuous uniformity in perspective regarding this matter; it is worth noting how it diverges from the stated views of those who spend more time theorizing than playing. Here are some examples.

Pat Martino ranks among the outstanding jazz guitarists of the last few decades: a gifted player with a keen grasp of mainstream jazz. He offers a trenchant observation about music education and language:

I find that certain students have trouble perceiving music only because of the language. If they were shown that music is a language, like any other language, they’d realize it’s only couched in different symbols. Then possibly they would understand that they knew things already, inherently.[2]


Martino’s view that “music is a language, like any other language” is widespread among jazz musicians. Here, for example, is a description of guitarist Jim Hall:

“His concept of time is a model to emulate,” says drummer Joey Baron. “Jim plays but a few notes, leaving space for conversations with me.” According to Jim, “listening is still the key.”[3]


Such “conversational” imagery dominates the genre: from the “inside,” jazz performance feels like dialogue. A particularly vivid description is provided by drummer Max Roach:

After you initiate the solo, one phrase determines what the next is going to be. From the first note that you hear, you are responding to what you’ve just played: you just said this on your instrument, and now that’s a constant. What follows from that?…It’s like language: you’re talking, you’re speaking, you’re responding to yourself.[4]


Note that no arguments are involved here: Martino’s claims – and related remarks throughout the jazz world – are based upon immediate acquaintance with a range of performance and composition experiences.

Victor Wooten – an influential jazz and funk bassist – offers his students the following advice:

I think that we can all agree on the fact that music is a language….When I get confused while trying to answer a musical question, I immediately think back to the fact that music is a language….The next step is to then turn the music question into an English language question. If I can do that, the answer is usually obvious.[5]


Wayne Krantz, a brilliantly innovative guitarist extending traditional harmonic and rhythmic boundaries, offers a reflection upon his stylistic approach:

I call myself a jazz musician still because I improvise, and I associate improvisation with jazz. But the language of jazz, the vocabulary of it, I find myself less and less drawn to…I kind of rely on the spirit of what created that language to determine what I play.[6]


The “music as language” paradigm is ubiquitous among working jazz players; it is an artifact of participation in the genre. Yet theorist Saam Trivedi offers the following dismissal:

I am continually puzzled by the insistence of many that seeing art as involving communication involves seeing it as some sort of language, a view which I deny. Taking music, for example, even if music is language-like in involving meaning, understanding, conventions, rules, communication…there are significant differences between music and language concerning truth, reference, predication, description, syntax, translatability, and so on, as pointed out by many.[7]


Malcolm Budd provides a similar dismissal: “Now it is in fact clear that music lacks the essential features of language.”[8] In similar spirit, Stephen Davies tells us

Where music fails so many necessary conditions for something’s being a language, there is no explanatory value to be gained from talk of music as an impoverished language, or as a syntactic system, or as possessing a vocabulary of terms and phrases….The differences between music and natural languages suggest that extreme caution should be used in applying such concepts to music, for they carry misleading associations when transferred from the familiar to the new context.[9]


The problem is that such dismissals ignore key psychological realities of artistic practice: from the “inside” jazz performance feels like dialogue. The image of performance-as-conversation dominates the genre – both among musicians and knowledgeable critics. The linguistic model of performance is so central to regions of the artworld that it is a datum to be explained, not a theory to be criticized.

And musicians aren’t the only ones who lapse into this “linguistic” ways of talking about music. Psychologist P.N. Johnson-Laird, writing on the computational mechanisms underlying jazz performance, offers the following:

If you are not an improvising musician, then the best analogy to improvisation is your spontaneous speech. If you ask yourself how you are able to speak a sequence of English sentences that make sense, then you will find that you are consciously aware of only the tip of the process. That is why the discipline of psycholinguistics exists: psychologists need to answer this question too.[10]


Jazz improvisation is said to be “analogous” to spontaneous speech. It is not clear how far the analogy can be pushed: whether it can be generalized to other modes of music production, for example, or perhaps even to other artistic media.

Work in other areas prompts similar speculation. Aniruddh Patel, a neuroscientist concerned with relationships between music and speech, uses neuroimaging data to locate convergence points between syntactic processing in language and music. Here is a clear statement by Patel describing some of his work:

Two new empirical studies address the relationship between music and language. The first focuses on melody and uses research in phonetics to investigate the long-held notion that instrumental music reflects speech patterns in a composer’s native language. The second focuses on syntax and addresses the relationship between musical and linguistic syntactic processing via the study of aphasia, an approach that has been explored very little. The results of these two studies add to a growing body of evidence linking music and language with regard to structural patterns and brain processing.[11]


Such results hardly confirm the bold hypothesis that “music is language” (Patel makes no such claims), but they surely encourage continued speculation along such lines.

Why does it matter? What is to be gained from the “jazz as language” hypothesis? Jazz is jazz; language is language. Doubtless there are points of similarity and points of divergence; why not leave it at that?

We cannot leave it at that because the goal of aesthetic theory is to accommodate as much artworld data as possible: this includes the customary ways artworld practitioners think and talk about their own practices and products. There is an overwhelming conviction among working jazz players that music is a linguistic form: such conviction rests primarily upon the phenomenology of music production. Playing music feels strikingly similar to speaking; ensemble performance feels strikingly similar to conversation; such phenomenological similarities demand explanation. Construing music as language is one possible explanation. It is an explanation I find plausible. Thus my work as a musician impacts my aesthetic theorizing, in part, by foregrounding this issue as urgently worthy of attention.[12]






1. Clive Bell, Art (New York: Capricorn Books, 1958): 16-17.

2. Quoted in Julie Coryell and Laura Friedman, Jazz-Rock Fusion (Milwaukee: Hal Leonard, 1978): 171.

3. Cited in Europe Jazz Network Musicians: Jim Hall (E_J_N_-JIM HALL.mht).

4. Quoted in Paul Berliner, Thinking in Jazz (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994): 192.

5. Victor Lemonte Wooten, The Official Website (at ); Lesson #3: “Music As A Language.”

6. Transcribed from a film by Frank Casssenti recorded for French TV broadcast; not commercially released. Posted on YouTube as “Wayne Krantz, Keith Carlock, Tim Lefebvre – Marciac 1999 part 1.”

7. Saam Trivedi, “Artist-Audience Communication: Tolstoy Reclaimed,” Journal of Aesthetic Education Vol. 38, No. 2 (Summer 2004): fn.12.

8. Malcolm Budd, Music and the Emotions (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985): 23.

9. Stephen Davies, Musical Meaning and Expression (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1994): 24.

10. P.N. Johnson-Laird, “How Jazz Musicians Improvise,” Music Perception 19 (Spring 2002): 415-42.

11. Aniruddh D. Patel, “The Relationship of Music to the Melody of Speech and to Syntactic Processing Disorders in Aphasia,” Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1060 (2005): 1-12.

12. These issues are explored in greater detail in my Artworld Metaphysics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).



2012 © Robert Kraut

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