Jazz/Not Jazz: The Music and Its Boundaries

Jazz/Not Jazz: The Music and Its Boundaries

Jazz/Not Jazz: The Music and Its Boundaries

Jazz/Not Jazz: The Music and Its Boundaries

Synopsis

What is jazz? What is gained--and what is lost--when various communities close ranks around a particular definition of this quintessentially American music? Jazz/Not Jazz explores some of the musicians, concepts, places, and practices which, while deeply connected to established jazz institutions and aesthetics, have rarely appeared in traditional histories of the form. David Ake, Charles Hiroshi Garrett, and Daniel Goldmark have assembled a stellar group of writers to look beyond the canon of acknowledged jazz greats and address some of the big questions facing jazz today. More than just a history of jazz and its performers, this collections seeks out those people and pieces missing from the established narratives to explore what they can tell us about the way jazz has been defined and its history has been told.

Excerpt

In December 2009 England’s Guardian newspaper reported on a lawsuit filed that month in Spain. According to the article, a “pistol-carrying Civil Guard police force descended on the Sigüenza Jazz festival … to investigate after an angry jazz buff complained that the Larry Ochs Sax and Drumming Core group was on the wrong side of a line dividing jazz from contemporary music. The jazz purist claimed his doctor had warned it was ‘psychologically inadvisable’ for him to listen to anything that could be mistaken for mere contemporary music.” Leaving aside the supposed dangers (or definitions) of “mere contemporary music,” this admittedly unusual legal case highlights a reality of which jazz people today are acutely aware: the lines some people draw between “jazz” and “not jazz” can be at once both fiercely guarded and very difficult to discern.

Jazz has never been a monolithic genre, of course, and questions surrounding its definition, ownership, and function hardly emerged with the new millennium. Early critical reception to the music was characterized by clashes between those who heard it as “primitive”—oftentimes corresponding to a broadly racialized, sometimes explicitly racist, conception of composition and performance—and those who celebrated its innovative rhythmic schemes, timbral nuances, and sheer vitality. Commentators at midcentury questioned whether jazz was best understood as a folk expression, a commercial dance style, or an art form deserving of serious treatment alongside highbrow European compositions. Sweet . . .

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