Race, Ethnicity, & Culture
Smith explores the act of naming jazz compositions. He takes Thelonious Monk's "Let's Call This," which is elliptical and open to multiple meanings, as a starting point. Smith believes the song title is an example of African-American transgressiveness, through the creation of an aloof, sometimes deliberately ironic aesthetic. The author explores the music, and the titles, of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Anthony Braxton in this regard. He also bases his argument on the poetry of Nathaniel Mackey, who "sees language as history.
Monson counters the romantic notion of Monk as an apolitical aesthete or isolated genius by pointing to his support of and explicit opinions on civil rights at the peak of the movement in the early 1960s. She focuses on Monk's participation in a series of concerts benefiting leading Civil Rights organizations, such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Lewis notes that race has been "e-raced" in studies of free jazz in Europe and America, which he finds surprising given the music's emancipatory thrust. He investigates a recurrent ambivalence about the African-American contribution to free jazz, at once taking experimental cues from it, yet denying that it is capable of evolving or progressing itself. After uncovering coded assumptions about race, ethnicity, and class behind this ambivalence, Lewis explores the possibilities for artists to transcend, transgress, and perhaps even erase boundaries.
Nicholls argues that the way artistic projects are represented depends at least in part upon the willingness of critics to look beyond musical sounds alone and take notice of issues of identity and social positioning-their own and that of the artists they evaluate. To illustrate this point, she discusses the varying reception of John Coltrane, whose stature gave him a platform to resist and redress the negative judgments his experimental work received.
Since their emergence from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in the 1960s, the members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago have created a distinctive multidisciplinary performance practice centered on collective improvisation. In this article, Steinbeck conceptualizes Art Ensemble improvisations as networks of group interactions, and he analyzes an excerpt from a 1972 Art Ensemble concert recording using a phenomenological perspective informed by his conversations with the group about the performance and by my own experience as an improvised-music practitioner.
Pickering examines Stratton's popular blackface routine in late 19th century Britain. He argues that Victorian society defined itself as modern and civilized vis-à-vis a stereotyped racial "other"-yet also cynically suppressed awareness of the brutal colonial oppression attending its growing empire. Stratton made "visible for his British audiences what was otherwise evaded or concealed ‘inside themselves'."
Bassist Tatsu Aoki produces Chicago's Asian American Jazz Festival. His work often draws on taiko, a form of folkloric Japanese drumming, as well as experimental jazz. Wong views Aoki's activity as a process of constructing a dynamic, transnational Asian American identity. She argues that Aoki takes his status as a "Shin Issei" (a recent Japanese immigrant) as a starting point, but aims to "become" American on his own terms-an aspiration of the contemporary Asian American community at large.
Dessen focuses on a group of San Francisco Bay Area musicians known as the Asian American Creative Music Movement. Inspired by the musical innovation and explicit political engagement of African-American experimental jazz, these musicians drew on their own ethnic traditions to make a statement about their contemporary situation. Their very success, however, compelled them to resist their cooptation by the media and music industry into an ethnic "ornament" on conventional jazz.
Kelly argues that Thelonious Monk's popular success, along with the emergence of free jazz in the 1960s, changed the terms of critical reception for the previously misunderstood composer and pianist. Conservative critics, and some liberal ones, suddenly embraced Monk as a foil against the free jazz rebellion, while defenders of the avant-garde often sought to claim Monk as one of their own-though these younger musicians sometimes challenged Monk's musical conceptions.
Just after World War II, American composers and jazz performers were interested in indeterminacy and improvisation. Yet the composers tended to deny the influence or importance of jazz in a tacit move to keep their music "pure" of associations with racial protest then emanating from the jazz sphere. Lewis identifies John Cage and Charlie Parker as representatives of "Eurological" and "Afrological" approaches, respectively, whose differences turn on their attitude toward the expression of race, ethnicity, class, and political ideology in music.