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Uptown Conversation

Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies

Robert G. O’meally
Brent Hayes Edwards
Farah Jasmine Griffin
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 544
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  • Book Info
    Uptown Conversation
    Book Description:

    Jackson Pollock dancing to the music as he painted; Romare Bearden's stage and costume designs for Alvin Ailey and Dianne McIntyre; Stanley Crouch stirring his high-powered essays in a room where a drumkit stands at the center: from the perspective of the new jazz studies, jazz is not only a music to define -- it is a culture. Considering musicians and filmmakers, painters and poets, the intellectual improvisations in Uptown Conversation reevaluate, reimagine, and riff on the music that has for more than a century initiated a call and response across art forms, geographies, and cultures.

    Building on Robert G. O'Meally's acclaimed Jazz Cadence of American Culture, these original essays offer new insights in jazz historiography, highlighting the political stakes in telling the story of the music and evaluating its cultural import in the United States and worldwide. Articles contemplating the music's experimental wing -- such as Salim Washington's meditation on Charles Mingus and the avant-garde or George Lipsitz's polemical juxtaposition of Ken Burns's documentary Jazz and Horace Tapscott's autobiography Songs of the Unsung -- share the stage with revisionary takes on familiar figures in the canon: Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50836-0
    Subjects: Music, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introductory Notes
    (pp. 1-6)

    Our new century is witnessing the development of jazz studies as a new field in the liberal arts curriculum at the college and graduate school levels—and with implications for students at all levels. Jazz is not new at the university in the United States. For at least fifty years there have been maverick efforts as well as established classes tracing jazz’s beginnings and development; and for years there have been courses teaching students to play. (One of the wondrous oddities of our current moment is that the best advice to a serious jazz player in training is not to...

  5. Part 1

    • Songs of the Unsung: The Darby Hicks History of Jazz
      (pp. 9-26)

      New members of Harlan Leonard’s Territory jazz band in the 1940s began to hear about Darby Hicks as soon as they were hired. None of them recognized his name, but evidently the musicians in their new band knew him well. “Oh yes, I heard about you, “ a band veteran would say upon being introduced to the new recruit, “Darby Hicks told me that you can’t play a lick.” If a musician failed to hit a high note or adjust to a key change, someone would always say, “Darby Hicks would have nailed that.” Even worse, Darby Hicks seemed to...

    • “All the Things You Could Be by Now”: Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus and the Limits of Avant-Garde Jazz
      (pp. 27-49)

      The entire history of jazz, with its rapid advancements of styles and genres, could be understood as an avant-garde movement. As historians attempt to frame jazz as the quintessential American music, it has become a symbol of United States culture and is beginning to gain some of the intellectual prestige and institutional support previously reserved for the European art music tradition. As the more celebrated cultural and educational institutions of the country help jazz gain the reputation of a respectable, bourgeois art, its official face accepts an increasingly restrictive view of what is “real jazz” and what is not. This...

    • Experimental Music in Black and White: The AACM in New York, 1970–1985
      (pp. 50-101)

      Since its founding on the virtually all-black South Side of Chicago in 1965, the African American musicians’ collective known as the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) has played an unusually prominent role in the development of American experimental music. The composite output of AACM members explores a wide range of methodologies, processes, and media; AACM musicians have developed new ideas about timbre, sound, collectivity, extended technique and instrumentation, performance practice, intermedia, the relationship of improvisation to composition, form, scores, computer music technologies, invented acoustic instruments, installations, and kinetic sculptures.¹

      In a 1973 article two early AACM members,...

    • When Malindy Sings: A Meditation on Black Women’s Vocality
      (pp. 102-125)

      Picture the following:

      1. Marian Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939.

      2. Whitney Houston singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl in 1992 during the Gulf War.

      3. Aretha Franklin singing “The Star Spangled Banner” at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.

      4. Santita Jackson singing “The Star Spangled Banner” at inaugural events for William Jefferson Clinton, January 20, 1997.

      5. The anonymous black woman who sang at the first public memorial for the victims of the Oklahoma bombing.

      6. Jessye Norman singing at an event at New York University Law School’s Tishman Auditorium in support of Clinton before his impeachment, December 14, 1998....

    • Hipsters, Bluebloods, Rebels, and Hooligans: The Cultural Politics of the Newport Jazz Festival, 1954–1960
      (pp. 126-149)

      At the Newport Jazz Festival on the fourth of July weekend in 1960, thousands of white youths described by Life magazine as “more interested in cold beer than in hot jazz” spilled from the jazz concerts into Newport’s downtown, attacking policemen, kicking in store windows, and manhandling the town’s residents and visitors. Press reports noted that many of the drunken rioters screamed racial epithets while rampaging through town. State police used billy clubs and tear gas to stem the riot, then called on the marines for help in restoring order. When the air cleared, over two hundred of the marauders...

    • Mainstreaming Monk: The Ellington Album
      (pp. 150-165)

      Duke Ellington’s name comes up often in discussions of Thelonious Monk. The links between the two musicians seem so close as to be self-evident and irrefutable. Both excelled as composers in a musical tradition known for its emphasis on improvisation. Both were distinctive pianists who displayed stylistic affinities—a percussive attack, a penchant for dissonance, a shared interest in Harlem stride. Both belonged to a select group of exceptional figures in jazz—Jelly Roll Morton, John Lewis, and Charles Mingus also come to mind—who put their individual stamp on the ensembles that performed their works. Both created unique worlds...

    • The Man
      (pp. 166-186)

      Beyond anything else he might have been, Miles Davis was the sound of his trumpet. It was a sound that was deeply personal to him, and almost mystical in its source and power to project himself through his music. Amiri Baraka once said to poets, “You have to start and finish there … your own voice … how you sound.”² Miles, similarly, could tell horn players that sound was everything: “Believe your sound.”

      “Voice” is a poet’s metaphor, of course, an analogy between the speaking voice and the writing voice, conveying the sense that the poet is not only what...

  6. Part 2

    • The Real Ambassadors
      (pp. 189-203)

      In 1955 Felix Belair, Stockholm correspondent for the New York Times proclaimed that “America’s secret weapon is a blue note in a minor key” and named Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong as “its most effective ambassador.” Belair had been in Geneva covering the decidedly unsuccessful East-West conference of November 1955 when Armstrong passed through Switzerland on the triumphant tour that would be commemorated in the album “Ambassador Satch.” “What many thoughtful Europeans cannot understand,” argued Belair, “is why the United States Government, with all the money it spends for so-called propaganda to promote democracy, does not use more of it to subsidize...

    • Artistic Othering in Black Diaspora Musics: Preliminary Thoughts on Time, Culture, and Politics
      (pp. 204-223)

      In May of 1995 the jazz vocalist Jimmy Scott concluded an engagement at Tavern on the Green in New York City. Scott was backed by a trio, the Jazz Expressions. Their final set included his usual offering of blues-inflected jazz standards, ranging from impossibly slow ballads to mid-tempo swing grooves. All were performed in his distinctive style in which phrasing, shaped and punctuated by gesticulating hands, literally dramatizes the lyric. Scott’s bandstand persona, reinforced by his choice of material, was suffused with a sense of pain and loss. It seemed that everything he did onstage was purposeful. Scott’s singing, gestures,...

    • Notes on Jazz in Senegal
      (pp. 224-248)

      The study of jazz in the African diaspora has tended to focus on the retention of Africanisms in African American music¹ and the versioning of Africa in jazz.² The reverse influence of how U.S. jazz affects music and culture in West Africa³ has been less well documented. Since World War II Senegalese musicians and fans have borrowed, internalized, and incorporated jazz into their popular music and culture as a way of figuring Senegalese modern identities. As former French colonial subjects, Senegalese modern identities are intertwined in complex historical and contemporary situations exacerbated by globalization processes that increasingly link Senegalese to...

    • Revisiting Romare Bearden’s Art of Improvisation
      (pp. 249-255)

      As a child who loved to draw, I was fortunate to have Romare Bearden as my uncle. My Aunt Nanette would invite a few of my cousins and me to come from Staten Island and spend weekends at their loft in Manhattan. “Romie,” as family and friends called him, was always there making art, cutting, painting, putting pieces over pieces. Jazz records often played in the background, and he often told stories of growing up surrounded by music. The music seemed to make him happy, putting him in the mood to create.

      It wasn’t until I grew up and became...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • Louis Armstrong, Bricolage, and the Aesthetics of Swing
      (pp. 256-277)

      Louis Armstrong kept thousands of photographs in his home in Corona, Queens. Some were publicity photos taken by studio professionals; many were taken by fans, media photographers, and friends. Consequently, he appears in a majority of them, smiling back at the camera. The vast panoply of images spilled into various quarters of the home itself, becoming part of his living environment. Armstrong had one of these photographs—a studio portrait in expressionistic key lighting from a 1935 Vanity Fair spot—reproduced as a painting and displayed prominently as a formal portrait in his living room. Other images he cut up,...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • Checking Our Balances: Louis Armstrong, Ralph Ellison, and Betty Boop
      (pp. 278-296)

      The key figure in the creation of the instrumental jazz solo, of the quality of inevitable-seeming momentum that the world calls swing, and of the relaxed, playful impulse to reinvent a song that is called jazz singing, Louis Armstrong is one of the inventors of jazz, a true revolutionary in art.¹ Harder to evaluate with certainty are Armstrong’s cultural politics, the varied offerings and takings of his image and music, his significances as an American icon. Here I refer to “Ambassador Satch,” the tireless worker for the State Department and the one who stood up to Dwight Eisenhower at Little...

    • Paris Blues: Ellington, Armstrong, and Saying It with Music
      (pp. 297-311)

      With overlapping careers that dominated jazz throughout its most turbulent years, Duke Ellington (1899–1974) and Louis Armstrong (1901–1971) had surprisingly little interaction. They spent the most time together when they stayed in the same hotel in Paris during the shooting of the film Paris Blues (released in 1961) and then a few months later when they followed up on conversations begun in Paris and recorded together back home. Specifically, Armstrong and Ellington worked together in Paris during the last weeks of 1960 and the first week of 1961.¹ Their recording session took place at the RCA studios in...

    • “How You Sound??”: Amiri Baraka Writes Free Jazz
      (pp. 312-325)

      This essay is taken from a work in process on the contemporary black avant-garde writers Amiri Baraka and Ishmael Reed and their developing conceptions about race and ethnicity, racial politics, racial art, racial poetics and racial aesthetics.¹ This selection comes from a chapter on jazz, dealing with the highly individual ways in which these two authors utilize, emulate, and translate this African American expressive form into another: African American literature. They draw on the jazz tradition to expand, modernize, and vitalize the black literary tradition. I will restrict my discussion to Amiri Baraka’s relationship to free jazz, a 1960s experimental...

    • The Literary Ellington
      (pp. 326-356)

      One of the main assumptions in thinking about African American creative expression is that music—more than literature, dance, theater, or the visual arts—has been the paradigmatic mode of black artistic production and the standard and pinnacle not just of black culture but of American culture as a whole. The most eloquent version of this common claim may be the opening of James Baldwin’s 1951 essay “Many Thousands Gone”: “It is only in his music, which Americans are able to admire because a protective sentimentality limits their understanding of it, that the Negro in America has been able to...

    • “Always New and Centuries Old”: Jazz, Poetry, and Tradition as Creative Adaptation
      (pp. 357-373)

      Writers concerned with African American literatures and musics have returned over and over to questions about the nature and meaning of “tradition.” Kimberly Benston, Houston Baker, and Henry Louis Gates as well as musicians and music critics like Wynton Marsalis, Keith Jarrett, Albert Murray, and Kevin Whitehead have confronted that concern with different strategies and divergent aims.¹ In some cases tradition, like ritual,² has been associated with the timeless and unchanging, viewed either as an Eden to which one must return or a wasteland from which one must escape. In other cases it has been celebrated as a productive and...

    • A Space We’re All Immigrants From: Othering and Communitas in Nathaniel Mackey’s Bedouin Hornbook
      (pp. 374-392)

      Readers of Nathaniel Mackey’s Bedouin Hornbook might be surprised to find that the Deconstructive Woodwind Chorus (soon to become the East Bay Dread Ensemble and later the Mystic Horn Society) chooses to spend their formative moments as a band engaged in a series of discussions, “some of them quite heated,” on the subject of duende. As Edward Hirsch observes, Federico Garc쟠Lorca understood duende to be evocative of “the obscure power and penetrating inspiration of art” in the presence of death.¹ Lorca saw duende as both spirit and thought, rising “through the body … cours[ing] through the blood and break[ing] through...

    • Exploding the Narrative in Jazz Improvisation
      (pp. 393-403)

      Tell a story. This oft-repeated directive for an improvised solo has become a clich矯f jazz musicology. Its validity is unarguable, having been restated in various forms by countless artists from Charlie Parker to Cecil Taylor. But we seem to lack the analytical tools to describe in detail how, under what circumstances, or indeed whether this wordless spinning of yarns even could happen, let alone what the content might be. In the constellations of jazz lore, the storytelling imperative seems to hang there, fixed in the firmament, along with “If you have to ask, you’ll never know” and other hip tautologies.


    • Beneath the Underground: Exploring New Currents in “Jazz”
      (pp. 404-416)

      About thirty years ago a California radio host asked the legendary jazz pianist/composer Thelonious Monk what he thought about the violin in jazz. “Well, I like all instruments, played right.” Yeah, it was a dumb question. But what if we could ask Monk what he thought about turntables and digital samplers in jazz? The question is a bit more complicated since recording and playback devices are rarely thought of as “instruments.” In fact, virtually every movement to “electrify” jazz has had to face massive resistance, beginning with the jazz purists who dismissed Miles Davis’s experiments in the 1970s (i.e., Bitches...

  7. Contributors
    (pp. 417-420)
  8. Index
    (pp. 421-428)