Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies

Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies

Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies

Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies

Synopsis

Jackson Pollock dancing to the music as he painted; Romare Bearden's stage and costume designs for Alvin Ailey and Dianne McIntyre; Stanley Crouch stirring his high-powered essays in a room where a drumkit stands at the center: from the perspective of the new jazz studies, jazz is not only a music to define -- it is a culture. Considering musicians and filmmakers, painters and poets, the intellectual improvisations in Uptown Conversation reevaluate, reimagine, and riff on the music that has for more than a century initiated a call and response across art forms, geographies, and cultures.

Building on Robert G. O'Meally's acclaimed Jazz Cadence of American Culture, these original essays offer new insights in jazz historiography, highlighting the political stakes in telling the story of the music and evaluating its cultural import in the United States and worldwide. Articles contemplating the music's experimental wing -- such as Salim Washington's meditation on Charles Mingus and the avant-garde or George Lipsitz's polemical juxtaposition of Ken Burns's documentary Jazz and Horace Tapscott's autobiography Songs of the Unsung -- share the stage with revisionary takes on familiar figures in the canon: Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong.

Excerpt

Our new century is witnessing the development of jazz studies as a new field in the liberal arts curriculum at the college and graduate school levels—and with implications for students at all levels. Jazz is not new at the university in the United States. For at least fifty years there have been maverick efforts as well as established classes tracing jazz's beginnings and development; and for years there have been courses teaching students to play. (One of the wondrous oddities of our current moment is that the best advice to a serious jazz player in training is not to drop out and study in New York's nightclubs but to attend one of the several conservatories where excellent jazz instruction, by accomplished jazz artists, is richly available. At Berkelee or the Manhattan School would-be Mileses and Sarahs can major in jazz.)

What is new here is the conviction that jazz is not just for players and aficionados who can count the horns and boxes of the music "from Bunk to Monk," as the expression goes; but that knowing about jazz and its cultural settings is part of what it means to be an educated woman or man in our time—this regardless of a student's own specific major or field. Certainly this does mean that citizens of the new century should know who Bunk Johnson and Thelonious Monk are, that they should be able to trace a crisscross line from early cornettists and trumpeters to brass players of our own era and from early jazz pianists and composers through Monk and beyond. Jazz experts love to chart the ingredients that jazz lovers listen for: Where is the melody? Where is the harmony? What are the colors? How to define the polyrhythmical universe in which jazz reigns, the complex rhythmical play? Where's the music's sense of momentum called swing? Where is the dancebeat orientation? Where is the individuality of sound? Does the soloist "tell the . . .

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