Jazz and Drug Use Term Paper

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Jazz and Drug Use

The music industry has often been associated with drug use, but most people think of rock and roll or rap when they consider musicians who use drugs. It may surprise these people to know that jazz music also has its share of drug use, and that this link has been ongoing since well before the 1960s (Aldridge, 28). This is important to consider, since there are many people who love playing or listening to music. It would not be accurate to assume they all have ties to drug culture, but there is a certain level of drug use seen in the music business. Jazz musicians are no exception, and there are several reasons why their drug use has been almost glorified throughout various periods of history. How people are portrayed and assumed to be is often very different from how they really are, but the portrayal is often what people remember. That was part of the issue surrounding jazz musicians and drug culture (Myers). Efforts were made to combat this, but they achieved only limited success.

Addressed here will be several facets of the issue surrounding jazz musicians and drug use, including the Playboy panel created to talk about the connection, how Hollywood has changed the perception of jazz musicians, and whether drugs do indeed have an effect on musical ability, as some studies have appeared to show (Fachner, 14). These are the three most important issues faced by jazz musicians when it comes to the culture of drug use and how it ties into the music they create. Without a good understanding of those particular issues, it can be difficult for a person to be aware of the truth behind jazz music and how hard the musicians work, as well as the actual extent of drug use in that genre.

The Playboy Panel

A panel of musicians was assembled in 1960 in order to discuss drug issues and addiction in the jazz community (Myers). It consisted of leading individuals in the field of addiction, as well as leading musicians who were in the jazz genre, such as "Cannonball Adderley, Nat Adderley, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Kenton, Duke Ellington, Billy Taylor, Shelly Manne, Jimmy Giuffre and Nat Hentoff" (Myer). This was done for the November issue of Playboy magazine, but the results are applicable no matter where they information was headed once it was compiled. The key was not which magazine was using or asking for the information, but rather the information itself -- which indicated that drugs had become a prevalent part of jazz culture by that time in history. As a result of that, there was a public perception of jazz that was not generally a good one. That was especially true when coming off the 1950s and the issues faced during that tumultuous decade (Myers). Since the 1950s were so different from the 1960s, there was also a lot of confusion related to how the culture was changing and the negativity that it seemed to produce.

Looking back on the issue of jazz music and drugs from a historical perspective, though, the urgency of the topic seems a bit unrealistic and unnecessary. Seven years after the panel was assembled and questioned about its views, drugs had become a completely integrated part of music culture from the standpoint of rock and roll (Myers). Youth culture became tied to music and drug use, and numerous concertgoers were stoned when they attended events. Album covers were psychedelic and rock stars overdosed frequently (Myers). In that sense, worrying about how people might perceive jazz music because of drug use seemed silly, but at the time the panel was assembled it was not known that drug culture and music were going to be so closely tied together in the future. Hindsight is always 20/20, and that was shown to be true with the panel and its discussion on jazz music and drugs. In 1960, drug use and jazz music were basically synonymous with one another.

Hollywood's Portrayal

Part of the reason this took place was that Hollywood was glamorizing drug use in jazz musicians and portraying them as psychotics who were scatterbrained and who were corrupting a number of people with their drug-related influences (Myers). It was assumed that the musicians were assembled and the panel was created by Playboy so that the magazine could show that jazz musicians were not really the way the media portrayed them (Myers). However, there was quite a bit to the Hollywood portrayal, which made it very difficult to negate what was shown to people in the big screen and in their homes (Myers).
With that in mind Hollywood continued to portray jazz musicians as drug addicts who were damaging society and harming young minds (Myers). That is not to say that there were no likeable musicians portrayed during that time, however.

The drug culture of jazz music was glamorized so much that people actually seemed to accept the drug use as part of the value of being musical, and began to see it almost as a good thing for those who were creative or artistic (Myers). Naturally, Hollywood still glorifies drug use to some extent, although it is no longer limited to jazz musicians or any particular musical genre. Additionally, people often fail to realize that the information provided by Hollywood is often not accurate when it comes to real life. They take it more seriously than that, and it can cause people to misunderstand the reality of particular groups of people. That was often the case with jazz musicians during the 1950s and '60s (Myers).

Drugs Making Better Musicians

While it may seem counterintuitive, especially in the face of the illegality of many drugs, studies have shown that some musicians are helped by the drugs they use (Fachner, 10; Aldridge, 55). That is not to say that hard drugs are a good choice, but research has shown that marijuana does have an effect on how well a jazz musician can perceive and hold a rhythm (Fachner, 14). There is also an artistic and creative side to people that can come out more strongly through the use of marijuana. This does not mean that drug use is advocated, however, but only that there may be real reasons why jazz musicians and others who perform in various genres use drugs (Myers). The altered perception they receive from the drugs they use can affect them in positive ways when it comes to artistic merit and creative expression. These drugs can help them open their minds to new ideas and experiences, which can help them in writing both music and lyrics (Fachner, 12).

Hollywood has glorified this use of drugs and changed it far too much from what it actually is, but there are other ways to see the issue that avoid that type of glorification and provide a more realistic outlook when it comes to the perceived benefits of drug use. Since marijuana use can provide jazz musicians with assistance in writing and playing their music, it seems as though it will remain a big part of the culture into the indefinite future (Fachner, 12). Some states are legalizing the drug, although it is still illegal at the federal level. As marijuana use becomes more accepted, however, there will be less of a Hollywood stigma around jazz musicians, and fewer of them will need to be worried about how they are perceived by their fans or by people who might like jazz music but are uncomfortable with the culture they believe surrounds it (Fachner, 13).


Jazz music and drug use clearly go together in more ways than one. Even though Hollywood tried to make it appear as though the majority of jazz musicians were actually crazy and drugged-out, that stigma did not hold true. People began to see that true musicians would not act that way, because they knew it would actually be harmful to their craft. Because they did not want to end up struggling to get their music heard, and because they wanted to provide something to their fans that was highly valuable, most jazz musicians limited their drug use so they would be capable of writing and playing their songs. In other words, while there is still a culture of drug use in jazz music, it is tempered. Some would believe it is necessary, and that the music would not be the same without the drugs that were used during its creation in many cases. That could be true to an extent, but it is also important to remember that drug use can be extremely harmful to the body and mind. That is true mostly in the long-term, when jazz musicians work in the genre for many years and continue to use drugs during their years in the business.

Those who are interested in working as jazz musicians must understand that drugs are not a requirement for jazz culture or for any type of music, overall. While many people in….....

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