Musical Literacy and Jazz Musicians in the 1910s and 1920s


Chevan documents the musical literacy of early jazz musicians in order to debunk romantic notions of "primitivism" in jazz. Even as jazz first emerged as a distinct musical form, its leading musicians had to read music as well as improvise.  Reading music was essential to understand the variety of styles they absorbed and incorporated and to function in any professional situation they found themselves in. Chevan takes an ethnographic approach to his research, drawing on musicians' oral histories to show that neither black nor white jazz musicians of the early 20th century were inspired primitives incapable of adapting to written forms.

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Buddy Bolden, Bunk Johnson, early jazz, ethnography, ethnomusicology, primitivism, sightreading