Telling Performances: Jazz History Remembered and Remade by the Women in the Band

By Tucker, Sherrie | The Oral History Review, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Telling Performances: Jazz History Remembered and Remade by the Women in the Band


Tucker, Sherrie, The Oral History Review


Scholars and writers in the burgeoning field of jazz studies are critically reevaluating some of the timeworn patterns of how mainstream jazz histories have been written. According to writers, such as those anthologized in Jazz Among the Discourses (1995), jazz scholarship is too "devoted to exalting favored artists"; too invested in "campaigns for superiority of genres"; jazz history is too neatly constructed into a misleading "coherent whole" of "styles or periods, each with a conveniently distinctive label and time period"; and, finally, the jazz historical record is too reliant on the very small portion of music which gets made into jazz records.(1)

As someone who does research on all-woman bands, I am heartened by these critiques. The conventional standards for what counts as jazz history make it very difficult to construct historical narratives which include all-woman bands. I would also like to suggest that scholars seeking more complex historical frameworks should take a listen to oral histories of women jazz musicians. The kind of listening I am advocating would not be limited to merely skimming jazzwomen's stories for data to add to the existing historical record, nor would it be geared solely to create separate women-in-jazz histories. Rather, I believe that through serious study of jazzwomen's oral histories, scholars might learn new narrative strategies for imagining and telling jazz histories in which women and men are both present. Because women who played instruments other than piano were seldom the "favored artists" of the "superior genres," and because they were hardly ever recorded, they have had little access to the deceptive "coherence" of mainstream histories. Therefore, they are uniquely positioned to suggest new frameworks for telling and interpreting jazz history.

Listening to narratives of women instrumentalists might also help jazz scholars to engage more rigorous gender analysis than has been customary. Women musicians do not tend to construct separate "women's jazz" histories when they talk about their careers, nor do they simply "add themselves in" to dominant historical frameworks. Yet historians aiming to include women seem to be stuck at the crossroads of these two narrative options. Instead, women musicians tend to construct narratives in which they dramatize themselves, at various stages of their careers, negotiating gendered identities (often in creative ways) as jazz musicians. Indeed, these "telling performances"--the narrations themselves--may prove a rich site for learning about the function of oral history-telling in female artists' construction and maintenance of identities as jazz musicians in a discourse which has historically denied them a place.

Engaged listening to oral histories of women jazz musicians might help historians to re-frame jazz history so that it is possible to see "gender," not only as a mode of social organization, but in Joan Scott's terms, as a "field on which power is articulated."(2) This would involve not only looking at what women did and what men did, but looking at what kinds of masculinities and femininities were performed in specific historical contexts and how they were valued; asking, for instance, which masculinities and femininities were deemed marketable on a national scale and which were relegated to local scenes only. Jazz scholars would do well to critically examine the kinds of gender constructions which have dominated jazz journalism, recording, marketing, and historiography and to ask questions such as: Who is served by the popular construction of the modernist jazz hero as personifying a kind of black masculinity defined (usually by white male writers) as isolated, self-destructive, and childlike?(3) Or by the quintessential jazzwoman as "girl singer," so often constructed as a bubble-head, rather than a knowledgeable professional? Or by the figure of the jazz/blues singer as the embodiment of stereotypes about black femininity, over-sexed and under-loved, the musician who is assumed to have no musical knowledge, but is thought to express, naturally, through her pain, an extra-earthy feminine wisdom which may do the singer no good, but which nurtures and entertains listeners? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Telling Performances: Jazz History Remembered and Remade by the Women in the Band
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.