After Django: Making Jazz in Postwar France

By Feustle, Maristella | Notes, September 2016 | Go to article overview

After Django: Making Jazz in Postwar France


Feustle, Maristella, Notes


JAZZ AND GROOVE After Django: Making Jazz in Postwar France. By Tom Perchard. (Jazz Perspectives.) Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015. [viii, 297 p. ISBN 9780472072422 (hardcover), $80; ISBN 9780472052424 (paperback), $39.95; ISBN 9780472120758 (e-book), $39.95.] Music examples, illustrations, bibliographic references, index.

After Django offers a much-needed English-language study of an area that historical (American) narratives on jazz generally only treat in passing. The second half of the title is a more accurate indicator of the book's subject; aside from brief attention in the third chapter, Django Reinhardt's career primarily figures as a point of reference for a general time period, with no particular emphasis on the genre of jazz that arose from his work. Perchard effectively articulates the gap in scholarship that this book is intended to bridge, but the narrative is uneven, juxtaposing straightfor- ward, easily-readable sections with complex passages and run-on sentences that require two or three rereadings to make sense of them. Continuity is sometimes lacking between chapters: one chapter can feel as if it were in a different book from another. Perchard tends to build to a conclusion, laying out several threads and pulling them together rather than stating an argument and supporting it-a rhetorical approach that may lend itself more to a talk given in person than to the printed page. The consistent use of contractions (especially "it's"), dangling participles, and colloquialisms ("churchly," "composerly") also gives a feeling of spoken discourse, but the alternation between written and spoken conventions interrupts the flow of the text at times. Perchard's command of relevant literature is laudable, though readers without some background in critical theory and Marxism may find the extensive discourses based on them bewildering; those matters are presented with the assumption that the reader is conversant with them.

The text is organized into four major subject areas: Hugues Panassié and the history of jazz criticism in France; André Hodeir and Thelonious Monk; Miles Davis and French film music that employed jazz; and saxophonist Barney Wilen, with two chapters of summation and discussion at the end. One deliberate omission with which readers may take issue is Perchard's decision not to address women in jazz in France, except for glossing over the subject in the introduction with statements such as "women players were kept back by the macho culture of jazz performance" (p. 15). One might argue that his stated scope of discussion duplicates the prejudices of prior eras, implying simply that no women measured up to being "identified and celebrated as leaders of the various French jazz schools" (p. 16).

While the desire to provide thorough background information is admirable, the book feels as though it begins in the third chapter, with the first given to preliminaries, and the second devoted to a lengthy and problematic discussion of Hugues Panassié. One of the text's observations is, indeed, that absolute objectivity is humanly impossible; however, Perchard's own bias is, in places, scarcely nuanced. One such moment arrives in his characterization of the basis for Panassié's worldview as "right-wing Catholicism." This reviewer (a Catholic) must ask: What, precisely, constituted the "right wing" of the global Catholic Church in the early twentieth century? Or did Perchard mean instead that a self-identifying Catholic such as Panassié had views that were informed by contemporary political currents in Europe? So much rests on the characterization of Panassié as "right wing"-not a monolithic term, but relative to time, place, and ideology-that it bears more detailed definition than a nebulous sense of general conservatism. The "Catholic" influences Perchard cites as the reasons for the spiritual component to Panassié's embarrassing, primitivist views were quite local, and quite French (Léon Bloy, Jacques Maritain, Charles Pegúy), along with the decidedly un-Catholic René Guénon. …

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