Matthew W. Butterfield

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online June 2011 | | DOI:

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Jazz emerged as a distinct musical art form in early-20th-century America. Though jazz is thought to have originated primarily in New Orleans, important jazz traditions have also been associated with other American cities—most notably Chicago, Kansas City, New York, and Los Angeles. Generally regarded as one of the highest achievements of African American expressive culture, jazz has nevertheless drawn musicians from virtually every race, ethnicity, and nationality in the world. Indeed, though the core of the tradition is unquestionably American, important jazz scenes featuring non-American musicians have emerged internationally, especially during the second half of the 20th century in Europe, East Asia, and South Africa. The scholarly literature is quite vast and draws from a variety of fields, including historical musicology, ethnomusicology, and music theory. Academic scholarship on jazz arrived relatively late in the music’s history. It was preceded by a strong tradition of journalistic criticism, with early jazz histories and biographies written by avid fans rather than trained music scholars. Defining jazz has been central to delineating the disciplinary purview of jazz scholarship, but this has never been easy. As a body of more or less “popular” music disseminated in recorded form, the music has undergone rapid development over the course of its history, and each transformation in style has prompted debate among jazz musicians, critics, and fans as to whether or not the new style was in fact jazz. Such debates have often revolved around the role of improvisation and its relative emphasis in any given style, the degree to which each new form of the music could be understood to “swing”—i.e., to exhibit a valued rhythmic quality thought to be essential to good jazz—and the extent to which each new style manifested certain core African or African American musical concepts and principles. The latter consideration has prompted many scholars to eschew parochial considerations of style altogether and situate jazz not as a distinctive form of music in its own right but as one expression among many within the very broad category of “black music.” This article treats literature on the core of the jazz tradition, leaving questions of disciplinary purview aside for scholars working through these issues.

Article.  15898 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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