Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call out to Jazz and Africa

By Ingrid Monson | Go to book overview

8
Aesthetic Agency, Self-Determination,
and the Spiritual Quest

THE MUSICIANS OF jazz in the 1950s and 1960s engaged just as intensively in music itself as they did in the political debates that raged around them. If the comfortable narratives of jazz heroism, triumph, and celebration have sometimes flattened the political and social struggles that musicians faced in pursuing their craft, so too have the jazz pedagogy books of the last three decades flattened the intense interplay between musical theory and practice that is one of the hallmarks of this golden age of modern jazz.

Today's students who are enrolled in the jazz programs of places such as the Berklee College of Music, the New England Conservatory, the University of North Texas, the New School, the Manhattan School of Music, Eastman, and—the latecomer to it all—the Juilliard School have at their disposal dozens of jazz theory texts that codify in various ways the musical thinking and improvisational practice of this intensely creative period. Musicians of the 1950s and 1960s had no standard curriculum to follow in achieving proficiency in improvisation but rather had to develop their own modes of theorizing and practicing that included, among other things, studying harmony, listening to the advice and guidance of other musicians, participating in jam sessions, learning solos from recordings, practicing melodic licks, and, for some, reading “how to” columns in publications such as Down Beat.

The commitment to an intellectual engagement with the materials of music, that is, to theorizing improvisation, seems to have been a central

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