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What Is This Thing Called Jazz?

African American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists

Eric Porter



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California Uni Pr Trade
31 January 2002
Despite the plethora of writing about jazz, little attention has been paid to what musicians themselves wrote and said about their practice. An implicit division of labor has emerged where, for the most part, black artists invent and play music while white writers provide the commentary. Eric Porter overturns this tendency in his creative intellectual history of African American musicians. He foregrounds the often-ignored ideas of these artists, analyzing them in the context of meanings circulating around jazz, as well as in relationship to broader currents in African American thought. Porter examines several crucial moments in the history of jazz: the formative years of the 1920s and 1930s; the emergence of bebop; the political and experimental projects of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s; and the debates surrounding Jazz at Lincoln Center under the direction of Wynton Marsalis. Louis Armstrong, Anthony Braxton, Marion Brown, Duke Ellington, W.C. Handy, Yusef Lateef, Abbey Lincoln, Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp, Wadada Leo Smith, Mary Lou Williams, and Reggie Workman also feature prominently in this book. The wealth of information Porter uncovers shows how these musicians have expressed themselves in print; actively shaped the institutional structures through which the music is created, distributed, and consumed, and how they aligned themselves with other artists and activists, and how they were influenced by forces of class and gender. What Is This Thing Called Jazz? challenges interpretive orthodoxies by showing how much black jazz musicians have struggled against both the racism of the dominant culture and the prescriptive definitions of racial authenticity propagated by the music's supporters, both white and black.
Imprint:   California Uni Pr Trade
Country of Publication:   United States
Volume:   v. 6
Dimensions:   Height: 229mm,  Width: 152mm,  Spine: 30mm
Weight:   590g
ISBN:   9780520232969
ISBN 10:   0520232968
Series:   Music of the African Diaspora
Pages:   425
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active
Acknowledgments Introduction 1 A Marvel of Paradox : Jazz and African American Modernity 2 Dizzy Atmosphere : The Challenge of Bebop 3 Passions of a Man : The Poetics and Politics of Charles Mingus 4 Straight Ahead : Abbey Lincoln and the Challenge of Jazz Singing 5 Practicing Creative Music : The Black Arts Imperative in the Jazz Community 6 Writing Creative Music : Theorizing the Art and Politics of Improvisation 7 The Majesty of the Blues : Wynton Marsalis's Jazz Canon Epilogue Notes Acknowledgments of Permissions Index

Eric Porter is Assistant Professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Reviews for What Is This Thing Called Jazz?: African American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists

Among the many books on the history of jazz, most document the interpretations of white critics....But now, Eric Porter's brilliant book seeks to trace the ways in which black jazz musicians have made verbal sense of their accomplishments, demonstrating the profound self-awareness of the artists themselves as they engaged in discourse about their enterprise. - Susan McClary, author of Conventional Wisdom: The Content of Musical Form

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