Blowin' the Blues Away: Performance and Meaning on the New York Jazz Scene

By Travis A. Jackson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Jazz Performance as
Ritualized Activity

The scene and a blues aesthetic are two related means of framing musical events as jazz and as performance. Although the scene—space and place through time—constitutes both a setting for and snapshot of jazz performance, the criteria of a blues aesthetic provide participants a way to negotiate the resultant spatio-temporal formation. Other forms of music or performance might be framed or understood via their positioning in other scenes and/or via the normative and evaluative criteria of other aesthetics. Within a jazz scene and working within a blues aesthetic, the emphasis placed by musicians on “taking it to another level,” their many mentions of spirituality, and participants’ church-derived responses to jazz performance together suggest a view of jazz musical events as ritualized performances.

To describe these events as ritualized is different from describing them as ritual, a category of activity anthropologists and scholars of comparative religion and literature have long seen as important in structuring human experience (e.g., Van Gennep 1960; Kluckhohn 1942.; Eliade 1959; Turner 1969; Asad 1983; Comaroff 1985; Smith 1987; CombsSchilling 1989; Seremetakis 1991; Bell 1992).1 In addition to being used to explain society and religion, insights from the study of ritual have figured in other scholars’ work on African-derived musics, including jazz (Marks 1974; Burnim 1985, 1988; Leonard 1987; Small 1987a; Salamone 1988). In each case the meanings of the term ritual have been subject to debate with a limited set of views tending to dominate, both

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