Cultural Exchange between France and America

A few weeks ago, I attended the last of the Francophone World Workshops. The speaker talked about the influence of American jazz on French music. I decided to wait to write about it until now because I knew my Understanding Music class would be covering jazz over the last couple weeks of class, and I thought it might be good to have that background before I wrote about it.

The speaker had some very interesting points about the relationship between America and France, and about the way people viewed African-Americans at the time. He talked about  how the French originally admired jazz as an art that expresses the most ancient of human expression. They believed it was music developed from the ancient caveman days in Africa, and saw it as a view of the very beginnings of our humanity. This ideal likely stemmed from the artistic movement of fauvism, where artists strove to express the inner beast of humanity, and to compare the modern day to the days of ancient times, in order to question how much, if any, humanity has progressed. It is interesting that the French culture embraced the “savage” culture while Americans tended to look down on it as a lesser art.

Another interesting thing the speaker talked about is how the French eventually started claiming that jazz was actually a French style, or at least that it had roots in France.Sure, it might have had it’s roots in African-American culture, but the French claimed that it was also influenced by them. I was having trouble understanding this part of the lecture, but I remember he said that since the French had so many colonies in Africa, they were influencing the Africans before they ever came to America. Also, jazz has it’s roots in Louisiana, which is known for its French history. And during the war when African Americans were fighting for America, their battle songs and marches being written were being influenced by music of the French countryside. So all in all, the French claim that jazz was French all along.