Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies

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

KEVIN GAINES


Artistic Othering in Black Diaspora Musics:
Preliminary Thoughts on Time,
Culture, and Politics

In May of 1995 the jazz vocalist Jimmy Scott concluded an engagement at Tavern on the Green in New York City. Scott was backed by a trio, the Jazz Expressions. Their final set included his usual offering of blues-inflected jazz standards, ranging from impossibly slow ballads to mid-tempo swing grooves. All were performed in his distinctive style in which phrasing, shaped and punctuated by gesticulating hands, literally dramatizes the lyric. Scott's bandstand persona, reinforced by his choice of material, was suffused with a sense of pain and loss. It seemed that everything he did onstage was purposeful. Scott's singing, gestures, and song selection all contributed to a sense of communion between artist and audience. As we will see, Nathaniel Mackey's notion of the "artistic act of othering" draws attention to this intertwining as it plays out in musical performance.

But back to Jimmy Scott. Midway through the set Scott made a point of introducing the backup musicians, all of whom were a generation or two younger than him, as leaders in their own right, thus highlighting the communal act of world making through music. Scott told the audience of their offstage activities as music teachers, or, in the case of the pianist, as the director of the Harlem Boys Choir. This brought the usually perfunctory applause for backing musicians to a warmer level of appreciation. Scott's praise of his fellow musicians went unappreciated by the management, which apparently preferred music to public acknowledgment of the musicians' contributions to the community. From the stage Scott alluded to labor/management tensions, negotiating the situation with playful yet assertive statements of mock-respect: "If the boss will permit…."

Still signifying at several levels, both at the expense of "the boss" and on be-

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