Modernism, Race, and Aesthetics


in Freedom Sounds

Published in print December 2007 | ISBN: 9780195128253
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780199864492 | DOI:
                   Modernism, Race, and Aesthetics

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This chapter offers a framework for moving beyond the familiar standoff between blackness and colorblindness through a particular version of social constructionism. The aesthetic contest between the styles of so-called cool jazz and hard bop serve as historical examples. It argues that the musical landscape of modern jazz in the mid-20th century can be viewed as a palette consisting of five broad aesthetic streams: (1) the aesthetics of African American vernacular musics as expressed in jazz, blues, gospel, and R&B; (2) the aesthetics of American popular song as descended from Tin Pan Alley and musical theater; (3) the aesthetics of modern classical music; (4) the aesthetics of Africa and its diaspora; and (5) the aesthetics of other non-Western musics, most notably in this time period, India. The crux of the argument is that individual jazz musicians drew from one or more of these aesthetic perspectives, and often combined them in novel ways to produce an alternative aesthetics of modernism at once more populist than its European art music counterpart, yet committed to articulating its elite position relative to the more commercial genres of R&B and rock and roll. The ultimate victory of hard bop styles in defining the aesthetic center of this canonic period in jazz represents a blackening of modernist aesthetics, which would ultimately serve as a standard against which any player of jazz would be evaluated. Following the usage of Baker, Ramsey, and Werner, this aesthetic is referred to as Afro-modernism.

Keywords: jazz musicians; jazz music; social constructionism; Afro-modernism; hard bop

Chapter.  15846 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: American Music

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