Come in and Hear the Truth: Jazz and Race on 52nd Street

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Overview

Between the mid-1930s and the late ’40s, the center of the jazz world was a two-block stretch of 52nd Street in Manhattan. Dozens of crowded basement clubs between Fifth and Seventh avenues played host to legends such as Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker, as well as to innumerable professional musicians whose names aren’t quite so well known. Together, these musicians and their audiences defied the traditional border between serious art and commercial entertainment—and between the races, as 52nd Street was home to some of the first nightclubs in New York to allow racially integrated bands and audiences. Patrick Burke argues that the jazz played on 52nd Street complicated simplistic distinctions between musical styles such as Dixieland, swing, and bebop. And since these styles were defined along racial lines, the music was itself a powerful challenge to racist ideology.

Come In and Hear the Truth uses a range of materials, from classic photographs to original interviews with musicians, to bring the street’s vibrant history to life and to shed new light on the interracial contacts and collaborations it generated.

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Editorial Reviews

All About Jazz
Burke's book is a critical reexamination of 52nd Street's history with particular focus on racial relations, the social ethos of 'bachelor' culture, the development and popularity of jazz genres and the aesthetic tension between jazz viewed as a 'high' art form of spontaneous individual expression versus jazz as standardized popular (read: 'low') entertainment. . . . More than a historical retread, Burke's treatment of the aforementioned themes makes for stimulating and informative reading.

— Tom Greenland

Journal of American History
Burke's aim in this thoughtful study . . . is to probe beneath the surface of race to explore its instability as a concept that inflected jazz, performance, and reception in a variety of ways. . . . Burke's excellent analysis provides scholars interested in the intersection of race and culture a model for distinguishing one from the other.

— Susan Curtis

Guthrie P. Ramsey

“Much has been written about Harlem and Greenwich Village as important cultural spaces for jazz. Patrick Burke takes the conversation on a ride to Midtown—52nd Street. Burke begins at ‘the tangled intersection of ideas about race, gender, labor, and musical practice,’ showing how ‘The Street’ from the thirties became the epicenter of planet jazz for nearly twenty years. This fantastic study provides an unflinching look at America’s fascination with race and money and how it shaped musical styles, social identities, and the cultural industry. Take the ride!”--Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr., author of Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop

Jeffrey Magee

“Burke’s social history of New York jazz in a pivotal twenty-year period is at once original, complex, and accessible. He creates a vivid portrait of what it must have been like to live and work in the midst of 52nd Street’s rich musical milieu. An excellent book that marks an important new step in jazz historiography.”

Dan Morgenstern

“By far the most thorough and perceptive study of a fascinating and significant chapter in the history of jazz (and social mores), Come In and Hear the Truth is also a very good read: free of academic jargon and highly recommended.”

All About Jazz - Tom Greenland

"Burke's book is a critical reexamination of 52nd Street's history with particular focus on racial relations, the social ethos of 'bachelor' culture, the development and popularity of jazz genres and the aesthetic tension between jazz viewed as a 'high' art form of spontaneous individual expression versus jazz as standardized popular (read: 'low') entertainment. . . . More than a historical retread, Burke's treatment of the aforementioned themes makes for stimulating and informative reading."

Journal of American History - Susan Curtis

"Burke's aim in this thoughtful study . . . is to probe beneath the surface of race to explore its instability as a concept that inflected jazz, performance, and reception in a variety of ways. . . . Burke's excellent analysis provides scholars interested in the intersection of race and culture a model for distinguishing one from the other."

Library Journal

On the long, zigzagging road jazz has followed from its inception, a short, two-block portion of 52nd Street in New York City was one of its major thoroughfares from the mid-1930s to the end of the 1940s in such clubs as the Onyx, Kelly's Stables, and Hickory House. The street became a haven for the mixing of ideas and styles and, perhaps just as important, for the commingling of audiences and musicians black and white, male and female. Burke (music, Washington Univ. in St. Louis) invites readers to learn more of the tensions and sharing among this mixture. Stereotypes and attitudes were often pushed aside by the interests of all involved, including businessmen who owned the venues and the media. This soup of New Orleans, Dixieland revival, swing and big bands, and small group bebop jazz and the respect, often given grudgingly, musicians had for each other's music, plus the friction of race and gender, provide a wonderful glimpse into the world of jazz during a time of great change in the United States. Highly recommended for jazz studies collections.
—William G. Kenz

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226080710
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 328
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Patrick Burke is assistant professor of music at Washington University in St. Louis.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments Introduction Chapter One: First for the Musicians, Then for the World: The Birth of Swing Street Chapter Two: Let’s Have a Jubilee: 52nd Street Goes Commercial Chapter Three: Here Comes the Man with the Jive: Stuff Smith Chapter Four: A Little Law and Order in My Music: The John Kirby Sextet and Maxine Sullivan Chapter Five: Swingin’ Down That Lane: 52nd Street at the Height of the Swing Era Chapter Six: Making It into the Big Time: Count Basie, Joe Marsala, and “Mixed” Bands Chapter Seven: This Conglomeration of Colors: Bebop Comes to Swing Street Chapter Eight: Apples and Oranges: 52nd Street and the Jazz War Conclusion: Long May It Be Remembered Appendix: Chronology of 52nd Street Clubs Notes

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