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Blowin’ the Blues Away

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

Travis A. Jackson
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Blowin’ the Blues Away
    Book Description:

    New York City has always been a mecca in the history of jazz, and in many ways the city's jazz scene is more important now than ever before.Blowin' the Blues Awayexamines how jazz has thrived in New York following its popular resurgence in the 1980s. Using interviews, in-person observation, and analysis of live and recorded events, ethnomusicologist Travis A. Jackson explores both the ways in which various participants in the New York City jazz scene interpret and evaluate performance, and the criteria on which those interpretations and evaluations are based. Through the notes and words of its most accomplished performers and most ardent fans, jazz appears not simply as a musical style, but as a cultural form intimately influenced by and influential upon American concepts of race, place, and spirituality.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95192-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xviii)

    • CHAPTER 1 Studying Jazz
      (pp. 3-23)

      As the second de cade of the twenty-first century begins, we are undoubtedly at a pivotal moment in the development of jazz. Major and independent record labels and a number of cultural institutions have, particularly since the early 1980s, presented jazz to varied publics in ways that promote both its essential “Americanness” and its supposed universality. They have devoted considerable resources to preserving and promulgating the music via new recordings, reissues of older ones, sponsorship of concert and lecture series, the mounting of museum exhibits, and the production of documentaries as well as syndicated radio and television programs. Popular publications...

    • CHAPTER 2 History and Memory, Pathways and Practices: The African Americanness of Jazz
      (pp. 24-48)

      There are perhaps no issues more vexed in discussions of jazz than the concepts of race and culture. Whenever one encounters them, whether those offering their opinions are musicians, critics, historians, or musicologists, what is arguably at stake is legitimation: who can rightfully lay claim to jazz and on what grounds? Is it African American music, America’s classical music, or just music (Walser 1995)? When stories about jazz, however conceived, are told, which narratives receive priority: those transmitted in historical writing, those produced by critics, or those based in memory and orally transmitted among musicians and aficionados of the music?...


    • CHAPTER 3 Jazz and Spatiality: The Development of Jazz Scenes
      (pp. 51-69)

      On many nights during my fieldwork, I would leave my apartment on 119th Street and walk to the 1/9 train station at 116th and Broadway. After descending the stairs on the downtown side, I would proceed to the far end of the station in order to get a seat in the front car. Upon arriving at 14th Street, I’d exit the station on the downtown side and walk up the stairs into the New York night. Turning 180 degrees toward 7th Avenue South, I’d orient myself by looking for St. Vincent’s Hospital and then looking right, where I could see...

    • CHAPTER 4 The New York Jazz Scene in the 1990s
      (pp. 70-106)

      Jazz in the 1990s, as in the 1920s and the 1950s, enjoyed a particularly high public profile, one that perhaps culminated with the airing of Ken Burns’sJazzon PBS in 2001. Interest injazz,however, was still centered more on the personalities of musicians and the abstract development of musical style than on the contours and effects of a temporally and spatially located scene. Building on the previous discussions of history, memory, race, culture, and practices, on one hand, and spatiality, on the other, I offer as a corrective a focus not only on the people moving through and...


    • CHAPTER 5 Toward a Blues Aesthetic
      (pp. 109-135)

      Ralph Ellison makes the above comment (1964b, 224–25) in a review of Robert Reisner’sBird: The Legend of Charlie Parker(1962). He feels that Reisner—who recounts an apocryphal tale of how Parker got the nickname “Bird” but does not explore the myriad implications of nicknames and their signification of movement from given to achieved status—has missed the opportunity to uncover something of Parker’s importance for those who gave to him and continued to use the nickname. In somewhat similar fashion, commentators on African American musics have frequently focused so narrowly on the surface features of jazz performance...

    • CHAPTER 6 Jazz Performance as Ritualized Activity
      (pp. 136-154)

      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...

    • CHAPTER 7 In the Studio and on Stage
      (pp. 155-204)

      The framings discussed in the previous chapters foreground the importance of attending to the details of a specific musical event via its nesting in successive frames—a scene, a blues aesthetic, ritual, space, time, tune, and form.¹ They emphasize, as well, relating that single event to others and noting how each event is constituted by references and responses to others displaced in time and space. Building on those ideas, I shift the focus here to the ways that the work of different actors and institutions shapes musical events in recording studios or clubs. For recordings, I will indicate whether the...

    • CHAPTER 8 Conclusion
      (pp. 205-216)

      The events analyzed in chapter 7 could be viewed exclusively in terms of the musical parameters preserved on a compact disc and capable of being transcribed into Western notation. Presenting a performance thus transcribed might privilege and perhaps encourage the analysis of the sounds in terms similar to those for Western concert music (see Seeger 1958, 186). Such analysis, although perhaps making one more aware of the rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic parameters of the musical event, would omit the kinds of interactions taking place prior to, within, and after the event that are equally constitutive of and contributory to its...

  8. Glossary
    (pp. 217-222)
  9. Appendix: Excerpt from an Interview with Steve Wilson
    (pp. 223-230)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 231-262)
  11. References
    (pp. 263-288)
  12. Index
    (pp. 289-298)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 299-299)