Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies

By Robert G. O'Meally; Brent Hayes Edwards et al. | Go to book overview

SALIM WASHINGTON


"All the Things You Could Be by Now":
Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus
and the Limits of Avant-Garde Jazz

The entire history of jazz, with its rapid advancements of styles and genres, could be understood as an avant-garde movement. As historians attempt to frame jazz as the quintessential American music, it has become a symbol of United States culture and is beginning to gain some of the intellectual prestige and institutional support previously reserved for the European art music tradition. As the more celebrated cultural and educational institutions of the country help jazz gain the reputation of a respectable, bourgeois art, its official face accepts an increasingly restrictive view of what is "real jazz" and what is not. This is not only a matter of personnel and repertoire but also of aesthetic criteria and social/political orientation. The emerging canon of jazz history frames jazz as an American music rather than as an African American music.1 No widely accepted jazz history text denies that the music is an African American creation, or that most of its innovators have been black. In many dominant narratives, however, certain black social and aesthetic practices are routinely marginalized, if not rendered invisible. One way that these important emphases tend to be lost or misrepresented is by severing the avantgarde character from the mainstream of the music. Rather than explain avantgarde aesthetics as a primary principle of the music, jazz writers and critics have often chosen to isolate the avant-garde as a style practiced by a fringe element of the jazz community.2

With the normative influence of repertoire bands like the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, recording canons such as the Smithsonian jazz compilations, and "official" histories such as Ken Burns's film documentary Jazz, there is a diminution of the perceived connection between jazz's canonical performances and recordings

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