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University of California Press
What Is This Thing Called Jazz?: African American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists / Edition 1

What Is This Thing Called Jazz?: African American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists / Edition 1

by Eric Porter
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Despite the plethora of writing about jazz, little attention has been paid to what musicians themselves wrote and said about their practice. An implicit division of labor has emerged where, for the most part, black artists invent and play music while white writers provide the commentary. Eric Porter overturns this tendency in his creative intellectual history of African American musicians. He foregrounds the often-ignored ideas of these artists, analyzing them in the context of meanings circulating around jazz, as well as in relationship to broader currents in African American thought.

Porter examines several crucial moments in the history of jazz: the formative years of the 1920s and 1930s; the emergence of bebop; the political and experimental projects of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s; and the debates surrounding Jazz at Lincoln Center under the direction of Wynton Marsalis. Louis Armstrong, Anthony Braxton, Marion Brown, Duke Ellington, W.C. Handy, Yusef Lateef, Abbey Lincoln, Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp, Wadada Leo Smith, Mary Lou Williams, and Reggie Workman also feature prominently in this book. The wealth of information Porter uncovers shows how these musicians have expressed themselves in print; actively shaped the institutional structures through which the music is created, distributed, and consumed, and how they aligned themselves with other artists and activists, and how they were influenced by forces of class and gender.

What Is This Thing Called Jazz? challenges interpretive orthodoxies by showing how much black jazz musicians have struggled against both the racism of the dominant culture and the prescriptive definitions of racial authenticity propagated by the music's supporters, both white and black.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520232969
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 01/31/2002
Series: Music of the African Diaspora , #6
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 425
Sales rank: 1,150,708
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Eric Porter is Assistant Professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

"A Marvel of Paradox"

Jazz and African American Modernity

Writing in Down Beat magazine in 1939, Duke Ellington defined his musical project in response to critical discussions that differentiated the "authentic" vernacular art of "jazz" from its commercial offshoot "swing": "Our aim has always been the development of an authentic Negro music, of which swing is only one element. We are not interested primarily in the playing of jazz or swing music, but in producing a genuine contribution from our race. Our music is always intended to be definitely and purely racial. We try to complete a cycle." Critics had recently taken Ellington to task for forsaking his "folk" roots and pursuing a watered-down, commercial music. Recognizing the impact that such viewpoints could have on his career, Ellington tried to undermine categories such as jazz or swing by defining his music as part of something larger. His expressed goal of creating an "authentic Negro music" that was "a genuine contribution from our race" also indicates that Ellington's musical project was consistent with some of the fundamental goals of the diasporic, black cultural renaissance of the early twentieth century. Like other artists and intellectuals of the period, he believed that the production and reception of black music would have an effect on the social standing of African Americans. In other words, Ellington tried to define a socially relevant black aesthetic under conditions that limited black creativity.1

Ellington was among the most prominent African American musicians in the 1930s. A familiar figure in motion pictures and radio and the subject of articles in music trade journals, the mainstream press, and black newspapers, he used his position to intervene in the nascent field of jazz criticism, which by the late 1930s was shaped by race, gender, and class relations; by modernist ideas about art, culture, and commerce; and by New Deal and Popular Front ideologies. Ellington gave his own meanings to an African American and American art form that was both an increasingly popular commodity and an object of growing debate. He described the self-consciousness of his approach at a time when many critics saw African American popular music as a product of instinct. He also passed judgment on a music industry in which commercially oriented white bands profited while most black bands remained marginal. And Ellington did so while engaging ideas of concern to white jazz critics and African American intellectuals, with a specificity rooted in his position as a musician laboring in the music industry.

Ellington's comments came at the end of two decades of public commentary about jazz by African American musicians, some of whom embraced the art form and some of whom did not. These discussions resonated with issues pertaining to the performance of this music and the state of African American society in the early twentieth century. Musicians understood that jazz had become a site for African American artistic achievement but that it was also symbolic of the restrictions that American society placed on their lives as artists and human beings. This chapter begins by sketching the social, cultural, and ideological context out of which jazz emerged in the first half of the twentieth century. It then discusses some of the reactions to this music by African American intellectuals, before launching into an analysis of what musicians themselves had to say about jazz. For James Reese Europe, W.C. Handy, Louis Armstrong, Dave Peyton, Duke Ellington, and others, jazz marked the contradictory position of black culture and black people in modern American life and anticipated numerous discussions about the music that continue today.


"A Marvel of Paradox"

"Jazz is a marvel of paradox: too fundamentally human, at least as modern humanity goes, to be typically racial, too international to be characteristically national, too much abroad in the world to have a special home. And yet jazz in spite of it all is one part American and three parts American Negro, and was originally the nobody's child of the levee and the city slum."2 Thus began Joel A. Rogers's "Jazz at Home," the only essay in Alain Locke's 1925 collection The New Negro to focus specifically on this music. This characterization, in which Rogers sought to plot jazz along the axes of geography and genotype, addressed a dilemma facing black intellectuals who were seeking to claim jazz as an African American creative force while making sense of its widespread appeal to nonblack musicians and audiences. The question of whether jazz was an African American birthright was just one of the paradoxes black intellectuals pondered. Was it folk culture, high culture, or a product of the rapidly blooming culture industry? And what was its ultimate social impact? Could it be used to highlight black contributions to American society? Or did it merely play into white stereotypes about black culture and behavior, beliefs that had been shaped by pseudoscientific racism, generations of minstrelsy, and other pernicious representations of black life?

In the second half of the nineteenth century, black and nonblack observers alike increasingly considered black musical accomplishment, both in the realm of European concert music and in the development of vernacular forms, as a means of improving the social position of African Americans. Thus the stage was set for a twentieth-century cultural politics through which black intellectuals and musicians tried to challenge social and cultural hierarchies, "vindicate" African American society, and dismantle notions of irreducible racial difference by demonstrating, in Jon Michael Spencer's words, a "two-tiered mastery" of European "form and technique" and Negro "mood and spirit."3

One early-twentieth-century example of this cultural politics was W.E.B. Du Bois's discussion of spirituals in his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois's treatment of this form of music anticipated future debates by situating music at the nexus of race and nation, by emphasizing the realm of spirit as a site of black achievement, and by simultaneously theorizing black musical culture as a gift to American society and as a vehicle for African American liberation. In the face of racist thought, social segregation, and racial violence directed toward African Americans, Du Bois challenged the exclusion of "black folk" from U.S. society and defined them as equal citizens by writing them into the center of the country's history, spiritual, and cultural life. During an age when social hierarchies were justified and perpetuated by marking black people as primarily irrational, emotional, and physical beings, Du Bois adhered to the logic of this discourse but inverted its hierarchical assumptions by validating the spiritual and the emotional over the material and rational. Similarly, he held on to the idea of a hereditary, racial community, while seeking to subvert some elements of biological essentialism. By virtue of innate racial characteristics and historical circumstance, he argued, African Americans had made a unique artistic and cultural contribution to American society. This contribution spoke of universal human values and stood in contrast and as antidote to the crass materialism of the age. While "the human spirit in this new world has expressed itself in vigor and ingenuity rather than in beauty, . . ." he wrote, "so by fateful chance the Negro folk-song . . . stands to-day not simply as the sole American music, but as the most beautiful expression of human experience born this side the seas. . . . it still remains as the singular spiritual heritage of the nation and the greatest gift of the Negro people." 4

Du Bois's discussion of spirituals is also significant because he addressed issues of authenticity and hybridity, as he lauded the music's aesthetic beauty and transformative potential. Du Bois recognized that African American folk musicians drew from multiple musical antecedents and that for decades white audiences had consumed black music and white musicians had performed it. The roots of spirituals lay in Africa, but their development in America involved African Americans' synthesis of "Negro" and "Caucasian" elements into a musical hybrid that remained "distinctively Negro." Du Bois knew that if spirituals were to be considered a "gift" to America, then, clearly, whites would consume them. Yet he differentiated between appropriate and inappropriate uses of this cultural material, the latter occurring when a white-controlled music industry transformed the meanings (or spirit) of these folk materials and disrupted their liberatory potential. Although Du Bois celebrated the impact of "Negro" songs and melodies on American popular music, he decried "debasements and imitations" such as "'minstrel' songs, many of the 'gospel' hymns, and some of the contemporary 'coon' songs,—a mass of music in which the novice may easily lose himself and never find the real Negro melodies."5 When Du Bois distinguished the authentic from the inauthentic in black musical culture, the distinction was based less on African American uses of European forms than on white appropriation and marketing of black forms. Du Bois thus anticipated another significant question in twentieth-century discussions about music: how does one come to terms with the role of black music in African American communities—the variety of functions the music performs and the array of meanings it contains—while also making sense of it in relation to its broader audience and the institutions and business interests that control its production?

During the 1910s and 1920s, elite "New Negro" intellectuals and artists raised similar questions about secular musical forms that seemed at once part of the black vernacular and the mainstream of American musical culture. Deeming themselves free of the "myth" of the "old Negro" and attuned to the "new spirit . . . awake in the masses," participants in the Harlem Renaissance and others sought to define the parameters of black expression, uncover an African American cultural past, and determine how black culture could be used as a tool for social change.6 As before, intellectuals and artists negotiated entrenched social hierarchies and racist discourses. But in the wake of World War I, the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the cities of the North, and the growth of pan-Africanist and black nationalist sentiment throughout the globe, they tapped into the energies of an increasingly urbane and militant black community as well.

African Americans' discussion of culture in the 1910s and 1920s resonated with some fundamental tensions in modernist thought and some specific questions about how black culture should be understood in relation to its social and political context, its cultural antecedents, its audience, and its position in the marketplace. Should one emphasize the characteristics that distinguished African American culture from European or Euro-American forms, or did that merely play into the logic of racism and segregation? Were rural African Americans the creators of the most important expressions, or did that honor belong to urbanites working in commercial entertainment? Should expressive culture serve as propaganda, or should aesthetics be the primary concern of artists and critics? If culture was a weapon, should the focus be community building in black communities, gaining entry into the larger American society, or both? What was the impact of the market on the production of black cultural forms? Did it somehow dilute racial or folk expressions? And what should one make of the growing attention that white consumers and cultural gatekeepers were paying to black culture? Would it reproduce stereotypes, or might it actually help to bury the stereotypical images from the minstrel stage, increase employment for black artists, and improve the position of African Americans in the process?

When the discussion turned to jazz, artists and intellectuals responded to the paradoxical position of this music. Jazz was indeed a complicated phenomenon by the 1920s. In Ted Gioia's words, it came out of the "dynamic interaction, the clash and fusion—of African and European, composition and improvisation, spontaneity and deliberation, the popular and the serious, high and low."7 As the growing body of historical writing on jazz illustrates, this idiom emerged in the first few decades of the twentieth century as a result of the choices musicians made in the context of the profound transformations affecting American society as a whole and African American society in particular. Urbanization; migration; race, gender, and class relations; communications technologies; and the growth of mass culture—all had an impact on the growth of jazz and the way people received it. In addition to being music, jazz was a business enterprise and a set of institutional relationships, a focal point for political and social debate, a vehicle for individual and communal identity formation, and, eventually, an idea.8

Jazz emerged when black musicians and other African Americans became immersed in modern life at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. A series of domestic migrations brought rural African Americans to urban areas and southerners to the North. In urban areas throughout the country, musicians of different social backgrounds encountered one another in formal and informal educational networks, where they built upon existing vernacular forms and transformed them with the tools of Western music.9 By the early twentieth century, black musicians had developed a dizzying array of secular, instrumental and vocal musical styles. Ragtime piano players, brass bands, string bands, popular tunesmiths, "serious" composers, performers in minstrel and vaudeville shows, and members of large orchestras and dance bands created music that included elements of syncopation, improvisation, blues harmony and melodic figures, and a variety of tonal effects (growls, melismas, and so forth). All these elements helped to distinguish this music from other popular and concert music. Although "jazz" initially signified an approach to interpreting a musical score or playing one's instrument, by the late 1910s musicians and observers alike increasingly saw it as a style of syncopated, instrumental dance music in and of itself, which was performed by barroom piano players, small combos in nightclubs, and larger "syncopated" orchestras holding forth in dance halls, theaters, and, occasionally, the concert hall.10

As jazz became part of the American "culture industry"—that is, the commodified conglomeration of leisure practices and entertainments developing alongside the Fordist system of mass industrial production in the United States—it was soon vested with a variety of often-contradictory meanings.11 In African American urban society, this hybrid art form served as a vehicle for community building and cultural identification. The growth of black entertainment districts in urban centers and the booming markets for player pianos, sheet music, records, and then radio expanded jazz's communal function in black communities and augmented its capital as a symbol of racial solidarity. During the 1920s, one of the traditional proletarian functions of black secular music was extended to middle-class audiences, when working-class and middle-class African Americans forged a sense of collective identity as they gathered in nightclubs, theaters, and dance halls (as well as at rent parties in private homes) to reclaim their bodies as instruments of pleasure after a day's labor and affirm communal bonds in the face of a racist society.12

The marketing of cultural commodities to black consumers augmented such feelings of racial community. By the early 1920s, both white and black entrepreneurs appealed to racial pride and authenticity as they marketed sheet music and phonograph records to black consumers. This was quite evident in the advertising and popularity of "race records," a phenomenon that began in 1920 with Mamie Smith's recording of "Crazy Blues" and "It's Right Here for You" and by 1923 included instrumental dance music.13 The ability of the music to inspire racial solidarity was not lost on black nationalist political organizations. During the 1920s, the leftist African Blood Brotherhood (ABB) and Marcus Garvey's United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) sponsored jazz and blues performances as a means of galvanizing support for their causes. Yet, in spite of its ability to draw people together, jazz could also serve as a vehicle for class distinction. Urban reformers, religious-minded folk, and certain members of the African American middle class frowned upon jazz and blues in general; others appreciated the tony dance music of a Duke Ellington or Fletcher Henderson but eschewed the frenetic polyphony and blues tonalities of a small combo from New Orleans. 14

Further complicating jazz's organic function in black communities was the fact that it was only one of a variety of musical products being marketed to these communities. In newspapers with working-class and middle-class readerships, advertisements for music shops, record companies, and sheet music suggest that African American consumers maintained a diverse musical sensibility in the early 1920s. People in Harlem and Chicago increasingly listened to jazz and blues after the advent of race records, but they also still enjoyed everything from Tin Pan Alley novelties to spirituals to light classical and operatic numbers to comedic minstrel tunes to marches.15 Urban black folk at large listened to an array of popular music, reflecting an interest in their vernacular music as well as their entry into a rapidly expanding American popular culture. Jazz and blues appealed to at least some working-class and middle-class people and were viewed as symbols of black achievement, as the appeal to racial pride in record company advertisements and newspaper coverage makes clear. Yet many urban African Americans also wanted the right to participate in American culture on their own terms, which could mean listening to music outside these genres. In a context where, as William Kenney notes, the production and marketing of race records were directly related to stereotypes about black behaviors and musical tastes, musical "authenticity" also symbolized the restrictions that segregation and racism had imposed on African American life.16

Perhaps most important in making jazz a "paradox," at least in the eyes of African American intellectuals, was the impact of white consumers and white musicians on the development and reception of this music. Not only was jazz clearly a hybrid art form in terms of its musical components, but it soon inhabited a complicated position vis-à-vis its multiple audiences and practitioners. Although rooted in African American society, jazz quickly found itself at the center of American popular music and the subject of a volatile debate. Whites had long viewed African American secular music with a combination of fear and fascination, and this continued in their reactions to jazz, which they celebrated and condemned for similar reasons.

According to Lawrence Levine, jazz developed during a period when Americans were redefining their ideas about "culture." Jazz was "almost completely out of phase" with a late-nineteenth-century concept of culture that was synonymous with "refinement." The participatory qualities of the music and the exchange between performer and audience, as well as the blurring of the distinction between composer and interpreter, threatened the aura of a "highbrow" musical culture based in European concert practices. The threat was also rooted in race. Levine points out that the very ideas of "highbrow" and "lowbrow," which entered common parlance at the turn of the century, originated in nineteenth-century phrenology. Highbrow culture, then, was often coded or explicitly defined as white or Anglo-Saxon.17

Jazz received a fair amount of negative press in the late 1910s and then became the object of a moral panic during the 1920s. Some whites feared jazz because it was rooted in black culture, because it played a role in facilitating interracial contact, and because it symbolized, in racially coded terms, the intrusion of popular tastes into the national culture. Such responses to the music should be understood both in the cultural context discussed by Levine and in relation to the rapid changes in American life in the wake of World War I. Not only were African Americans becoming more visible members of American urban society, as a result of the Great Migration, but they were becoming more vocal in their political demands as well. Moreover, the success of Jews and other white ethnics in the genre made it symbolic of the influx of immigrants into WASP communities. Jazz rhythms also seemed to represent an unwelcome mechanization or speeding up of modern life, along with accompanying alienation and neuroses.18

Much of the outcry over jazz had to do with sex. The rhythmic qualities of jazz, the participatory elements of its performance, and the physical aspects of the dancing associated with it spoke of unrestrained sexual energies, which had long been projected onto black bodies by Europeans and white Americans. At a moment when many young people (and young women in particular) were throwing off the constraints of Victorian sexual mores, anxieties over white juvenile sexuality dovetailed with fears of black sexuality and, especially, of the impact black culture might have on the sexual behavior of young whites. Nevertheless, many whites embraced jazz as they sought refuge from Victorian restrictions, a manifestation of the way jazz quickly became a vehicle for challenging cultural norms.

Even if the majority of cultural gatekeepers condemned or were ambivalent about jazz in the 1920s, some whites, whether they simply liked the music or were influenced by Freudian ideas about repressed libidos or a liberal egalitarianism, embraced African American music as they rejected the constraints of Victorian culture and challenged an elitist Anglo-Saxonism. Many of the most enthusiastic responses to jazz and blues were colored by a primitivist belief that black people possessed a vital quality that was missing from rational, "civilized" European American culture and society. Still other observers saw in jazz, and in African American vernacular music in general, the potential for a homegrown American musical expression that might challenge the supposed superiority of European music. Whatever their reasons, white fans bought race records, flocked to black Broadway productions such as Shuffle Along, and explored black entertainment districts in various urban areas for a taste of "authentic" expression. Jazz also became the basis of a white youth subculture, in which fans and musicians alike rebelled against the banality of their Babbittish, middle-class backgrounds or against the provincialism of their immigrant parents by developing an affinity for black music and musicians. 19

The popularity of jazz with white audiences validated the work of African American musicians and aestheticians and eventually called into question the distance between elite and popular culture. Yet this visibility was a mixed blessing. White audiences often insisted that black music conform to their primitivist and stereotypical demands, as the common references to plantation life and African jungles in nightclub names, costumes, staging, and composition titles make clear. The culture industry played a contradictory role by sometimes making jazz visible as a black cultural form, while at other moments erasing black contributions to the genre. The music industry, in particular, did a much better job producing music performed by white musicians. In the 1920s, race records aside, many white fans probably knew jazz only through the work of white musicians. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB), for example, a white ensemble from New Orleans, made the first jazz recordings in 1917 and soon inspired an array of imitators, many of whom emphasized the humorous potential of the new music in novelty tunes. Among the biggest acts in the early 1920s were Ted Lewis, Paul Whiteman, Eddie Cantor, and Sophie Tucker.20 Some white musicians took it upon themselves to distance jazz from its African American origins as a means of popularizing the music or securing more prestige for it. Bandleader Paul Whiteman, for example, the self-professed "King of Jazz," attempted to make jazz more respectable by constraining its syncopated rhythms and tonal embellishments and fusing it with popular song and classical music. He presented what was billed as the first jazz concert at Aeolian Hall in New York on February 12, 1924. He traced the development of jazz from the ODJB's "Livery Stable Blues" through George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" (he actually ended the concert with a version of "Pomp and Circumstance") in an attempt to demonstrate the music's development from its humble roots to its concert hall possibilities. Whiteman paid scant attention to the role of African Americans in the development of jazz, describing the music in a press release for the concert as an art form "which sprang into existence about ten years ago from nowhere in particular."21


Jazz and New Negroes

In the late 1910s and 1920s, African American intellectuals tried to make sense of the liberating power of jazz, its role in black communities, and its position as a commodity in a broader American society. Although references to jazz and blues abound in Harlem Renaissance fiction and visual art, critical commentary on the music is relatively sparse. Some have argued that the dearth of celebratory, critical writings on jazz and blues reflects the elite class and educational backgrounds of New Negro intellectuals, as well their inability to speak to the African American working class. 22 Thinkers such as Du Bois and Alain Locke, at least in the 1920s, turned more of their attention to spirituals and especially to the "elevation" of this music to the concert stage. Even those who did write about jazz and blues often maintained a belief in a "two-tiered mastery," viewing jazz and blues as stepping stones to more sophisticated expressions.

Although the highbrow cultural tastes of many of the leading lights in the African American community must be recognized—even Marcus Garvey was said to prefer classical music—this dearth of writing and the ambivalent attitudes about jazz were at least in part a product of the paradoxical position of this music in American society. Some black intellectuals embraced an early-century modernist aesthetic sensibility, which, influenced by Boasian cultural relativism, diminished the distance between "fine art" and "folk art" but positioned both as superior to mass-produced culture.23 Thus the disdain for jazz was sometimes less a rejection of working-class culture per se than of the music's status as a commodity. Additionally, as discussed earlier, the culture industry tended to erase the accomplishments of black musicians or to reproduce racist stereotypes when marketing their work. In other words, jazz was simply difficult to celebrate as an important African American cultural expression for much of the 1920s because of its status as a popular music. Not only was it seen as less artistically "authentic" than spirituals, but it was also clear that whites controlled the music industry, were highly visible as practitioners, and as an audience demanded that black artists conform to their expectations. Similar tensions are evident in those writers who celebrated jazz and other commercial forms of music. And it is their work that raised a number of important questions regarding the paradoxical position of jazz in African American and American society as well as some of the contradictions inherent in a cultural politics that sought to promote a commodified black expression in order to prove African American worth in a society structured by racism.

Author, composer, diplomat, and field secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), James Weldon Johnson devoted much of his energy during the 1910s and 1920s to promoting black culture. Like Du Bois, he attempted to subvert racist thinking and social exclusion by placing black people and black folk art at the center of American life and culture. In the preface to his 1922 collection The Book of Negro American Poetry, Johnson argued that racist ideology could be challenged through intellectual and artistic work: "The status of the Negro in the United States is more a question of national mental attitude toward the race than of actual conditions. And nothing will do more to change that mental attitude and raise his status than a demonstration of intellectual parity by the Negro through the production of literature and art." African Americans could succeed in this enterprise because they possessed, in his words, "the emotional endowment, the originality and artistic conception, and, what is more important, the power of creating that which has universal appeal and influence."24

Johnson's primary concern was the cultivation of African American poetry, but he believed music already displayed this "power of creating." Johnson did not mention the term "jazz" in his preface, but he did discuss spirituals, dancing, ragtime, and the blues as African American achievements. Adhering to the logic of primitivism, he described ragtime as a black contribution to American life that "jes' grew" out of "natural musical instinct and talent" and "the Negro's extraordinary sense of rhythm." The latest wave of "jes' grew" music was the blues: an expression of a national spirit, an object with "universal appeal," and a product of African Americans' "remarkable racial gift of adaptability" and of the "transfusive quality" of their art.25

Johnson's analysis of African American music took into account its status as a product of the culture industry. On the one hand, its popularization might extend its impact and become a vehicle for legitimation. Ragtime's popularity proved that it "possesses the vital spark, the power to appeal universally, without which any artistic production, no matter how approved its form may be, is dead." On the other hand, Johnson realized the market could constrain black cultural production as well as enable it. He mentioned with some derision that whites had profited from misrepresentations of black folk music, and he was also aware that the culture industry placed black artists in an uncomfortable "artistic niche" by catering to white stereotypes. "When [the African American] is thought of artistically," he argued, "it is as a happy-go-lucky, singing, shuffling, banjo-picking being or as a more or less pathetic figure." Hoping to move away from the "specter of minstrelsy," Johnson looked forward to the creation of "higher forms" that maintained the "power" of the vernacular while demonstrating a mastery of classical music. 26

Johnson's discomfort with the representations of blackness in popular culture may have been a product of his elitism, but it also reflected a fundamental conundrum facing black aestheticians during the mid-1920s. Even as they celebrated a racially defined art, they were aware of the constraints of race as a socially determined identity expressed through culture. One might celebrate black cultural distinctiveness as a means of subverting segregation or biologically based ideas of black inferiority, but one still faced a situation in which the idea of distinct black characteristics (whether biological or cultural) was central to the logic of early-century racist propaganda directed against African Americans. When the culture industry's role in the production and appropriation of black music was added to this picture, it raised additional questions regarding white audience expectations, the perpetuation of stereotypes, and control over the representations of this art.27

Later in the decade, New Negro intellectuals discussed jazz as a distinct genre in ways that demonstrated divergent assessments of the intersection among music, identity, and cultural politics. In the preface to his 1925 The Book of American Negro Spirituals, for example, Johnson spoke briefly about jazz, noting its rhythmic basis and how its growing popularity in the mid-1920s was evidence of the centrality of black rhythmic sensibilities to the national musical culture. Johnson saw in the dance rhythms of jazz a mark of black distinctiveness and, in its growing popularity with a white audience, the power to legitimate black culture. But his ironic use of the noun "swing" in quotation marks, when describing a white audience's difficulties with the rhythmic aspects of black music (they cannot get the "'swing' of it"), may well have signified, as Brent Edwards suggests, that Johnson saw some "danger" in the appropriation of the genre and the transformation of "swing" from an African American cultural practice to a fixed object of white fascination.28

While Johnson viewed black achievement in music as a means of proving black worth in American society, Langston Hughes, a member of a younger generation of writers, employed music as a vehicle for distinguishing black culture from the national body. Hughes celebrated jazz and blues in his early poetry and used the music to evoke the pleasure and hardships of black working-class life. In his 1926 essay "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," Hughes discussed the music's function in black communities and figured it as an articulation of black working-class consciousness. "Jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America; the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul—the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile."29

Not only did Hughes's essay speak to the way jazz had come to symbolize the bonds of community, but it also demonstrated how African American and nonblack intellectuals employed the blues and jazz to mark the boundaries of racial authenticity in art and letters. In a well-known passage, Hughes castigated his colleague Countee Cullen (although he did not name him specifically) for refusing the label "Negro poet." And he ridiculed an African American clubwoman who preferred a concert of Andalusian songs to a Mamie Smith performance. Hughes feared that the impulse to assimilation—"the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization"—was "the mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art in America." Working-class black people were not afraid of blues or jazz, he argued, and they could serve as a model for black artists and intellectuals. "Let the blare of Negro jazz bands and the bellowing voice of Bessie Smith singing Blues penetrate the closed ears of the colored near-intellectuals until they listen and perhaps understand. . . .We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame."30

Intellectuals also engaged the role of music in the creation of individualized racial identities. In her 1928 essay "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," Zora Neale Hurston said that one of the moments when she felt most "colored" was when she attended a jazz performance in the company of a white friend. Employing the primitivist language that marked some of her early assessments of black art and culture, Hurston described her physical reaction to a jazz band's rhythmic and harmonic execution. "The orchestra grows rambunctious, rears on its hind legs and attacks the tonal veil with primitive fury, rending it, clawing it until it breaks through to the jungle beyond. I follow those heathen—follow them exultingly. I dance wildly inside myself." After she "creep[s] back slowly to the veneer we call civilization with the last tone," she encounters her white friend, who "has only heard what I felt. . . . He is so pale with his whiteness then and I am so colored."31 Whether Hurston intended her language, which so neatly conforms to racist interpretations of black culture, to be ironic or not is unclear.32 In any case, her description of jazz as a catalyst for the creation of racial consciousness that distanced her from white society marks her recognition that this music functioned as a constituent of racial identity at the level of emotional reaction.

As Hughes and Hurston sought to locate specifically black meanings and functions in jazz, they were not oblivious to the prescriptive aspects of race or the range of issues that arose when one chose to celebrate jazz. Hughes recognized the primitivistic restrictions of the "present vogue in things Negro," but he claimed that any harm was mitigated by the increased respect for vernacular culture generated within black communities as a result of attention by outsiders. Still, even as he demanded that jazz and blues be taken on their own terms, Hughes, like Johnson, saw them as building blocks for future developments unencumbered by the restrictions placed on black artistry. "Our folk music," he wrote, "having achieved world-wide fame, offers itself to the genius of the great individual American composer who is to come."33 And Hurston, despite her primitivistic language, explored racelessness as well as blackness in her essay. Although her consumption of jazz marked her blackness, at other moments she had "no race." Ultimately, she demanded the right to assume several identities ("colored," "feminine," "American," and so on) and saw universal links between human beings, who were like so many different colored paper bags holding similar collections of colored glass. Several years later, in her essay "Characteristics of Negro Expression," Hurston balanced commentary about the distinctiveness of African American cultural expressions with an acknowledgment of the hybridity of black music and its immersion in American popular culture. Putting a hopeful spin on this exchange, she wrote: "In so many words, Paul Whiteman is giving an imitation of a Negro orchestra making use of white-invented musical instruments in a Negro way. Thus has arisen a new art in the civilized world, and thus has our so-called civilization come. The exchange and re-exchange of ideas between groups."34

When Joel Rogers described jazz as a "marvel of paradox" in Alain Locke's 1925 The New Negro, he sought to define both its specifically African American elements and its place in a larger culture and society that had yet to fulfill its democratic promise. Rogers struggled to reconcile a belief in the transformative potential of black artistic accomplishment with the reality that jazz had become part of the broader fabric of American popular culture. He situated jazz as a product of specifically racial and cosmopolitan pasts, presents, and futures. Jazz was "atavistically African" but also related to folk music from throughout the globe. But jazz was not merely folk music; it was a thoroughly modern expression. "Jazz time," Rogers argued, "is faster and more complex than African music. . . . It is a thing of the jungles—modern man-made jungles." And, as a modern expression, it was both an African American and an American art form. Jazz was "thoroughly American Negro," he argued, and as such represented the movement of African Americans into modern urban life. However, "once achieved, it is common property, and jazz has absorbed the national spirit, that tremendous spirit of go, the nervousness, lack of conventionality and boisterous good-nature characteristic of the American, white or black, as compared with the more rigid formal natures of the English-man or German."35

But even if jazz had become "common property," Rogers was still invested in showing that African Americans had proprietary claims on the art form. He saw some validation in the appropriation of the art form by Paul Whiteman, and he was even more enthusiastic about the attention that European concert musicians were paying to the music. But Rogers also emphasized that black musicians such as W.C. Handy and the mythical Jasbo Brown played a central role in consolidating the idiom, and he stressed the importance of "Negro rhythm" and a cultural predilection for spontaneity to the success of the genre. Performers such as Ethel Waters, Florence Mills, Abbie Mitchell, Eubie Blake, Bill Robinson, Buddy Gilmore, and the blues singers Clara, Mamie, and Bessie Smith were "inimitable artists, with an inventive, improvising skill that defies imitation," and it would be left to bandleaders such as Will Marion Cook, Noble Sissle, and Eubie Blake to take jazz into the future.36

Although he displayed a somewhat elitist view toward the working class, Rogers recognized that jazz played a socially and emotionally affirming role in African American communities, with the potential for transforming American society as a whole; it was a "balm for modern ennui," he wrote, "and has become a safety valve for modern machine-ridden and convention-bound society." Yet in white society's interest in the music he saw both a means for jazz to fulfill America's democratic potential and the risk that black contributions might be erased. As of the mid-1920s, the biggest names in jazz were white Americans. Rogers believed that "cheap imitations" were pervasive and that important black pioneers such as Cook had been superseded by white orchestras because of "the difficulties of financial backing." So, like Johnson, he looked forward to an expression that might better validate black artistry and transcend the controversy surrounding the music. "Where at present it vulgarizes," he wrote, "with more wholesome growth in the future, it may on the contrary truly democratize. At all events, jazz is rejuvenation, a recharging of the batteries of civilization with primitive new vigor. It has come to stay, and they are wise, who instead of protesting against it, try to lift and divert it into nobler channels."37

Taken as a whole, the discussions of jazz and blues by African American intellectuals in the early and mid-1920s raised a number of vexing questions about the characteristics and ultimate importance of African American musical expression. Seeking to embrace music as a reflection of black spirit, experience, emotion, biology, or all of these elements, African American intellectuals addressed the appropriation, popularization, and primitivization of the art form. Making sense of jazz often involved a struggle, for various political and ideological reasons, to elevate the music as a black expression in spite of, or in response to, its precarious place in American life. These debates about music were also a pointed commentary about the liberating and constraining aspects of racial thinking in a segregated, racist society. By recognizing the complex place of jazz in American culture and sometimes portraying it as a symbol of African American achievement and a potential vehicle for personal or collective liberation, New Negro discussions about jazz opened up the discursive terrain for subsequent interpretations of the idiom.


African American Musicians and the Challenge of Jazz

As secular black music was institutionalized, commodified, and consumed by African American and nonblack audiences, professional African American musicians began to analyze their changing legacy. Many musicians were undoubtedly more concerned with sonic developments than with the broader social or ideological implications of their music. Moreover, there were relatively few public venues in which early practitioners could articulate their ideas. Yet others, recognizing the changes happening in black music, the entertainment industry, and the world around them, sought to express their views in public forums.

Most of the African American musicians who managed to find a voice in the early discourse about jazz were, by virtue of training, education, or class background, relatively privileged individuals whose aesthetic sensibilities were similar to those of New Negro intellectuals. Like their counterparts, these musicians often envisioned vindication in the concert hall. As musicologist Samuel Floyd notes, the "spirit" of the "Negro Renaissance" in Harlem was anticipated by the efforts of early-twentieth-century black composers such as Scott Joplin, Will Marion Cook, and Harry Burleigh to develop vernacular black art into extended musical forms.38 Yet musicians' insightful commentary about this "marvel of paradox" was distinguished by their concerns over their treatment as laborers in the music industry. Musicians also paid more attention to the creative process that lay behind the music, which further distinguished them from both white commentators and New Negro aestheticians.

One of the earliest public comments about jazz by an African American musician was an interview given by James Reese Europe shortly before his death in 1919. Europe had founded the Clef Club in 1910 as a musicians' association and "clearing house" for employment. He had also been instrumental in the drive to integrate American Federation of Musicians (AFM) Local 310 in New York. Musically, Europe had recorded ragtime numbers with small bands and was a major figure in the symphonic jazz movement of the 1910s. Some critics have suggested that the Carnegie Hall performances of the Clef Club Symphony Orchestra between 1912 and 1915 were the first jazz concerts. Europe had also made a name for himself by teaming up with the dance team of Vernon and Irene Castle, beginning in 1914, and through his position as leader of the U.S. Army's 369th Infantry band, which took jazz overseas during World War I and returned to a hero's welcome in Harlem in 1918.39

Europe described the origins of the term "jazz" as a "corruption" of "Razz's Band," a mysterious, rhythmically inclined group of improvisers who purportedly gained prominence in New Orleans before moving to New York.40 Europe's reference to corruption suggests a point of origin for musicians' long-held suspicions about the ability of the term "jazz" to describe the music it supposedly signifies. Yet, as Gerald Early notes, Europe also saw jazz as a site of racial accomplishment: one that was at home in respectable venues. Europe found some characteristics of "jazz" distinctly "racial." "The negro loves anything that is peculiar in music," he said, "and this 'jazzing' appeals to him strongly." "Jazzing," among other things, involved the tonal effects produced on brass and wind instruments by using mutes and manipulating breath and embouchure. It also described a "Negro" approach to interpreting musical scores, in which musicians accentuated certain notes. "It is natural for us to do this; it is, indeed, a racial musical characteristic. I have to call a daily rehearsal of my band to prevent the musicians from adding to their music more than I wish them to. . . . I have to be continually on the lookout to cut out the results of my musicians' originality."41

Although rooted in a biological racial essentialism, Europe's rhetoric sought to legitimate his and others' music to those who doubted the legitimacy of black vernacular art. Europe's Carnegie Hall concerts had featured his own work as well as that of black composers such as Will Marion Cook, Harry T. Burleigh, and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. But the validity of such explorations of folk forms had been challenged by white and black commentators alike who thought that black musical accomplishment might be better proved through mastering the work of European composers. In 1914, Europe responded to such criticisms by arguing that his particular expressions of racial feeling were worthy artistic endeavors. He justified both the instrumentation of his symphony—which included mandolins and banjos—as well as the compositions themselves as "the product of our souls."42

In the 1919 interview, Europe conceded that this expression of "soul" needed policing by attentive bandleaders, but he still described jazz as a way of expressing both racial feeling and artistic originality. After discussing the warm reception his group received in France—an early description of that country as a more sympathetic home for jazz and black jazz musicians—Europe said he had returned home "more firmly convinced than ever that negroes should write negro music. We have our own racial feeling and if we try to copy whites we will make bad copies." Composers such as Cook, Burleigh, and Coleridge-Taylor were "truly themselves in the music which expresses their race."43 While Europe approached jazz more as a group of techniques than as a genre in itself, he demonstrated how musicians were beginning to look at jazz as a musical practice, a symbol of racial pride, and a vehicle for expressing individual artistry and social legitimacy.

Some of the most interesting commentary about jazz in the 1920s is found in W.C. Handy's 1926 Blues: An Anthology. Handy, the son of a minister, at various times made a living as a bandleader, educator, composer, and music publisher. For the previous two decades, he had sought to synthesize vernacular black music with established popular and concert forms as a means of appealing to both black and white audiences. Handy recognized that both the popular music industry and the concert music world practiced discrimination and perpetuated racial stereotypes. He saw that many talented musicians were forced into minstrelsy because they were denied opportunities in concert music.44 Yet Handy also recognized that the expectations of diverse audiences facilitated the emergence of hybrid black musics, created the opportunity to make a living, and presented a way out of the web of minstrel representations.

Handy's recollection, in his 1941 autobiography, Father of the Blues, of how and why he integrated the blues into his repertoire is a fascinating account of how an African American artist was motivated by racial pride, validated by white definitions of black authenticity, and educated about the financial gains to be made by promoting an identifiably black expression. Handy said he heard the blues performed in the town of Tutwilex, Mississippi, in 1903, by a singer accompanying himself on slide guitar. He was initially resistant to this music, but he incorporated it into his compositions after an incident at a performance for a white audience in Cleveland, Mississippi. That evening, Handy's restrained dance music received a tepid response from the audience, who subsequently requested that a local band entertain them. Handy was surprised to see a string trio (guitar, mandolin, and bass) take the stage and play an earthy, rough music that he doubted would appeal to "anybody besides small town rounders." He was astonished when the group was showered with silver dollars tossed onto the stage, at which point he experienced a musical awakening.

Then I saw the beauty of primitive music. They had the stuff the people wanted. It touched the spot. Their music contained the essence. Folks would pay money for it. . . . That night a composer was born, an American composer. These country black boys at Cleveland had taught me something that could not possibly have been gained from books, something that would, however, cause books to be written. Art, in the highbrow sense, was not in my mind. My idea of what constitutes music was changed by the sight of that silver money cascading around the splay feet of a Mississippi string band.45

Thus, during the same year that Du Bois's Souls of Black Folk was published, Handy embraced black folk music, which suggested to him, as a working bandleader and songwriter, the possibility of greater riches and the creation of a defiantly "American" art rooted in African American culture.

Handy quickly made the blues integral to his compositions and performances. He wrote arrangements of local folk songs and created popular original compositions such as "Memphis Blues" and "St. Louis Blues." Although his decision to embrace the blues was inspired by the expectations of a white audience, his African American public also influenced him. Handy incorporated a bit of "tango" rhythm into "St. Louis Blues" after his black audiences at Dixie Park in Memphis "convinced [him] that there was something racial in their response to this rhythm." His use of flatted thirds and sevenths (suggesting the microtonal variations and slurs that characterize blues singing and playing), his incorporation of "Negro phraseology and dialect" in song lyrics, and his creation of compositions that left room for vocal improvisation were all devices intended to replicate black folk expression and reach a black audience.46

After moving to New York in 1917, Handy ran a briefly successful sheet music business—an enterprise inspired by growth in the music publishing business and his ire at having been cheated out of the royalties to "Memphis Blues." He also explored the possibility of extending the blues into more elaborate musical forms. A January 1919 article on Handy in ABB founder Cyril Brigg's magazine The Crusader described Handy's attempt to make the blues a concert music: "Mr. Handy intends making use of the tercentenary [of the African presence in British North America], to show that these BLUES can be woven into beautiful symphonies and a truly higher art." This issue also featured an advertisement for sheet music for "Afro-American Hymn," a Handy composition meant to trace African American experience from 1619 to 1919: "To those who are interested in such songs as the above which reflect our progress and outline our aspirations we especially recommend this Afro-American Hymn, which was written and set to beautiful music by W.C. Handy, and is especially adapted to the needs of Negro schools, choirs and singing societies." During the 1920s, Handy continued to invoke racial pride and artistic respectability, as he marketed sheet music for popular blues songs.47

Blues: An Anthology is a collection of lyrics and music for blues songs, with a lengthy introduction by Abbe Niles, a white Wall Street lawyer and music aficionado. This book project came together after Niles approached Handy for a series of interviews in 1925. Handy recalled that they "worked up so much material that I concluded to assemble and edit an anthology embracing not only my own work but examples of the folk songs that preceded and influenced it and the later compositions of both Negroes and whites representing the blues influence." Niles's emphasis on Handy's central role in the development and popularization of the idiom suggests that this version of blues history came in large part from the musician's own memory. (Handy would later provide a similar version of events in his autobiography.) The anthology, which allowed Handy, in his words, "to keep the record straight" about black popular music, is an early example of a white writer serving as amanuensis for a black musician.48

The volume describes the development of the idiom and its position in American society. The introduction notes the origins of the blues among marginalized African Americans in the South. With its simple harmonic structure (based primarily on the tonic, subdominant, and dominant chords) and three-line lyric over the typical twelve-bar chorus, the blues form facilitated melodic, lyrical, and rhythmic improvisation and thus became a "vehicle for expressing the individual's mood of the moment." The "possibilities" of this music were appreciated by none other than W.C. Handy, who is credited with bringing this folk form to the wider public through his compositions and publishing company.49 The collection of songs begins with fourteen Handy arrangements of "traditional" work songs, spirituals, dance numbers, and country blues songs. "Friendless Blues," with words by Mercedes Gilbert and music by Handy, marks the transition to "the modern Negroid development of the blues." As one might expect, Handy is prominently represented in this section, through compositions such as "Loveless Love," "St. Louis Blues," and "Aunt Hagar's Children." The last section presents the "white viewpoint," with pieces penned by songwriters such as Irving Berlin, Anne Caldwell, Jerome Kern, and George and Ira Gershwin. The collection concludes with George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" and "Concerto in F."

The anthology suggests that Handy wanted people to understand his work and the development of the blues as a self-conscious enterprise involving artifice as well as instinct. Although Handy and Niles presented the blues as an organic folk expression in its origins, Handy appears to have realized that the primitivist attention to black music as folk expression generally denied the intent and autonomy of the artist.50 In contrast to Johnson's assessment of the creative impetus behind the blues, Niles describes Handy as "a colored musician with creative as well as analytical powers." This suggests a difference between the act of expressing one's mood through performance and the more reflective acts of composition and musical archaeology. Just as Handy did later in his autobiography, Niles tells the story of the composer's use of flatted thirds and sevenths (blue notes) and the habañera rhythm (for example, in "St. Louis Blues") as self-conscious efforts to represent a racial idiom.51

Blues: An Anthology also interprets the relationship of blues to the burgeoning jazz idiom in a way that highlights Handy's contributions while seeking to understand the development of jazz as a product of both racial expression and self-conscious artistic exploration. Handy and Niles define the improvised vocal or instrumental passages during the musical "breaks" in blues songs as "jazz." Although the origins of jazz lie in folk blues, the book argues that it took Handy to make jazz into "a very powerful racial impulse." The improvisational statements of the folk blues as an individual expression spoke strongly of "the common human instinct to fill in the gap," but the "racial impulse" was not fully realized until musicians could engage in the "competitive artistic effort" of "a single voice trying to distinguish itself among the rest." According to the story told by Handy and Niles, Handy had first noticed this impulse in African American church vocal music, and he claimed that it reemerged in his own band's performances of "Mr. Crump," the musical antecedent to "Memphis Blues":

But with the first performances by a capable Negro orchestra of "Mr. Crump," something new and unheard-of took place; at a certain point in the third and final air, one musician went wild. He deviated from his score and put in some licks on his own account; he licentiously patted his feet. Up to then this, like every other dance orchestra, had played as best it could what was set before it in black and white; this fellow, indeed, had made himself subject to fine on two counts. But discipline, this time, sat an uneasy saddle, fell, and when encores came, one musician and another would put in his call before the fascinating "break," to fill it, if he could, more ingeniously than his colleagues; to assert his individuality,—just as had his forebears at the baptisin's.52

Jazz, then, was based on an improvisational spirit: a "racial impulse" that had a distant connection to folk blues and church music, but which received its fullest expression when individual musicians asserted their own voices by riffing off of Handy's composition. Jazz marked the culmination of two movements: black musicians extending the folk forms of their musical past through the use of composition, while simultaneously escaping the confines of the written score by reaching into the vernacular.

This characterization of the "origins" of jazz speaks to a synthetic ethos held by Handy and other black composers working in the early twentieth century. Like his colleagues inside and outside music, Handy adhered to a vision of "two-tiered mastery" as a means of promoting African American musical genius. This formulation also reflects an orientation that was firmly established in the jazz community by the 1920s. As historian Burton Peretti notes, the collision of African American and European American musical cultures created within black musicians' circles a sense of collective artistic endeavor and an embrace of art as individual expression, much like that of European Romantic artists and writers. Early jazz players were focused on developing their individual voice and innovative approaches to their music.53 Giving voice to this self-conscious ethos of creativity also challenged, albeit incompletely, primitivist assumptions about innate, untutored black musicality.

Handy's and Niles's balancing of self-conscious artifice and "racial impulse" was also a response to the workings of the marketplace. They recognized both the benefits and the dangers of the popularization of jazz. Whether they embraced or denied the black roots of jazz, white bands reaped most of the profits from its performance. And the popularization of jazz and blues, the spate of novelty songs sold under the rubric of these labels, and the controversies that accompanied the genres made the position of African American musicians precarious. The response of Handy and Niles to this dilemma was to reclaim black music, while remaining indebted to those white musicians who might validate it without competing with black musicians. They praised Gershwin for taking jazz into the symphony hall and for demonstrating how the blues could have "an influence still of undiminished vitality and suggestiveness" while escaping the potentially "monotonous" effect that jazz as commodified dance music imposed on its listeners. Although critical of the "white man's impression of the musical Negro" (suggesting a continuing legacy of minstrelsy in jazz), they saw both Handy and Gershwin working against "imitation" in their distinct (black versus white) cultural universes. By sticking to his "native language," each composer had succeeded in making the blues (and jazz) into an important artistic statement. 54


Gender and Jazz

If Handy and Niles created their blues canon in response to the racial discourse and economic relationships that structured the music world, their celebration of this music also reflected the masculinist ethos in American musical culture. In other words, Handy's subsequent embrace of the title "father of the blues" symbolized not only a claim as originator but also a certain patriarchal authority as a "race man." The anthology's introduction briefly mentions Ma Rainey and various blueswomen with the surname Smith—including Bessie Smith, who is described as "the Empress, who makes up her own words before the unforgiving jaws of the recording machine." Handy's collection also contains songs that speak of women's losses in love relationships. Yet this text features only a few songs composed by women and largely ignores songs that resonate with the feminist messages and explicit sexual imagery that characterized much of the repertoire of the "classic" blues singers. Blues: An Anthology thus speaks to the convergence between gender relations in the music world and gendered ideas about art and culture. These connections are critical for understanding the development of the intellectual history of jazz (both within the musicians' community and without), in which manhood was often a crucial element in a discussion of aesthetics, culture, race, economics, national identity, and other issues.

As Hazel Carby and Angela Davis have shown, the song lyrics of Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and other singers were a running commentary on issues of interest to working-class African Americans (especially women) during this period. Blues songs spoke of migration and urbanization, natural disasters, work, crime, racial and economic exploitation, freedom, and other relevant issues. Women's blues of the 1920s also critiqued patriarchal gender relations, male violence, and the restrictions of the domestic sphere. Blueswomen told of leaving violent, unfaithful, or inadequate male lovers; boasted of their own sexual prowess and conquests; and affirmed lesbian relationships as healthy alternatives to the confines of heterosexuality. As Carby notes, these representations were "a struggle that [was] directed against the objectification of female sexuality within a patriarchal order but which also tried to reclaim women's bodies as the sexual and sensuous subjects of women's song."55

Sexual innuendo is evident in some of Handy's song lyrics. For example, "St. Louis Blues," a song Bessie Smith recorded, features a reference to the ubiquitous "jelly roll." Looking back on the 1920s, however, Handy was rather prudish about popular blues records and saw them as a threat to the respectability of the blues as he envisioned them. In Handy's mind, their sexual imagery spoke more to a base white audience than to respectable black folk. In his autobiography he remembered: "A flock of low-down dirty blues appeared on records, not witty double entendre but just plain smut. These got a play in college fraternities, speakeasies and rowdy spots. Their appeal was largely to whites, though they were labeled 'race records.'"56

Hazel Carby's and Kevin Gaines's work on black intellectual life in the early twentieth century demonstrates that the racial uplift and black nationalist ideologies of the day were saturated with masculinism; indeed, the very idea of black intellectualism was frequently coded as male.57 As a "race man," Handy's strategy for racial and musical uplift seemed invested in controlling a "feminine" sphere of popular music while presenting himself as an intellectual and extolling the folk and concert dimensions of black musical expression. Thus his blues vision provides a starting point for exploring the ways that jazz was seen as a masculine expression, which has been critical to the meanings associated with the music for its entire history.

The origins of this ethos might be traced to pan-cultural, deep-seated beliefs about genius and the human body. Men have generally been viewed as purveyors of intellect and creativity, stemming from the assumption that women, by virtue of their reproductive capacities, are closer to "nature" while men are more attuned to "culture."58 In African, European, and American societies, such beliefs were manifested in prejudices about women's artistic capabilities. In addition, men were thought to possess physical qualities that made them better suited for the music business. Members of the American jazz community believed that women did not have the strength to excel on horns and drums or in certain styles (stride, for instance) on the often-feminized piano. They believed, too, that success in music depended on the ability to negotiate continued absence from home and family responsibilities and the means to survive dangerous performance spaces without damage to one's body or reputation. And since working as a jazz musician, as Linda Dahl argues, "came to represent both symbolic and concrete proof" of African American manhood, black women received heavy pressure not to compete for these jobs. From the beginning, then, bands, musicians' organizations and unions, and the jazz education system were generally organized along the lines of patriarchal authority and "male fraternity."59

This masculinist ethos within the musicians' community was also a product of the contradictory class politics of black music and the hybrid world musicians inhabited. It derived from the music's unsteady location at the margins of high art, folk expression, and commodified mass culture as well as from the collision between working-class and bourgeois orientations and African American and European American musical cultures. The masculinist sense of jazz artistry was established in part during the first decades of the twentieth century, as musicians shared entertainment spaces with people involved in the underground economies of drug dealing, pimping and prostitution, and gambling. Musicians encountered prostitutes, dancers, and other women whose vocations made them "commodified sex objects" in an economy in which black men sought to reclaim their own sense of masculinity by partaking of the "sporting life." A handful of musicians participated in this economy themselves. Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton, for example, claimed to have worked as a pimp in the 1910s and 1920s; and a few others boasted of having done the same in the post-World War II era, to supplement the meager income provided by performing. Whether one was a participant or an observer, the "sporting life" affirmed male power and devalued female creativity by placing women in roles associated with sex.60

The "sporting life," as Patrick Hill demonstrates in a study of Chicago during the Great Migration, provided more than mere material rewards. Directly participating in this hypermasculine culture, or even developing an affinity with it, offered access to alternative, expressive capital that challenged American society's denial of the status and rights of manhood to African American men. In a world where most working-class black men had few opportunities to safely challenge existing social relations, verbal performances (urban toasts, the dozens, and so forth), sexual play, and "spectacular" sartorial display composed a "masculinist politics of style" that articulated a new urban identity, demanded respect, and critiqued race relations while affirming a gendered hierarchy. The valorization of "bravado" and "brilliance" that was part of this subculture fed into the improvisational ethos in jazz and ultimately helped to validate black male genius in a society that denied it.61

Even the more innocuous, heterosocial world of dating contributed to the development of the masculinist ethos in the jazz community. As many male musicians have testified, an important impetus for becoming a professional musician was to meet women. In his autobiography, Duke Ellington recalled the attention he received from female admirers at one of his first public performances: "From then on, I was invited to many parties, where I learned that when you were playing piano there was always a pretty girl standing down at the bass clef end of the piano."62 Although jazz musicians and other popular performers might have been shunned by some of the more conservative members of the community, the life of a well-dressed musician who was an object of female desire was appealing to young musicians, whose other option was often menial labor. The better one's musical reputation, the more appealing one was to a female audience, and the more surely one could derive a heightened sense of one's own heterosexual masculinity.

To the extent that jazz intersected with the "sporting life" and the amusements of working-class (or middle-class) young people, its existence stood in opposition to the uplift strategies and Victorian morality of middle-class clubwomen and other female reformers. These women kept a wary eye on the vices of the tenderloin and the underregulated interactions between young men and women in dance halls and nightclubs. When Langston Hughes criticized the clubwoman's preference for Andalusian song, he demonstrated how jazz's function and status as a popular expression was often created in contradistinction to notions of African American female respectability.63

The masculinist ethos in the jazz community was also influenced by gendered ideas about creativity and genius that were entrenched in Western musical cultures. As Susan McClary argues, music in the West has long reflected gender relations and has been a site where "various models of gender organization . . . are asserted, adopted, contested, and negotiated." Classical music in particular reflected strong cultural biases about the male's supposed superiority in the realm of intellect and creativity. Moreover, as a result of musicians and music aficionados having been branded as "effeminate" because of music's association with the body and sensuous pleasure, "male musicians have retaliated in a number of ways: by defining music as the most ideal (that is, the least physical) of the arts; by insisting emphatically on its 'rational' dimension; by laying claim to such presumably masculine virtues as objectivity, universality, and transcendence; by prohibiting actual female participation altogether."64 Ironically, the creation of a masculine artistic ethos often involved the embrace of supposed feminine attributes. During the Romantic period, musical and literary genius was attained by incorporating "'feminine' imagination with masculine reason." In classical music, certain compositional elements used to portray female subjects or femininity (such as "excessive ornamentation and chromaticism") have also been seen as indicative of genius. As musical and literary high culture developed in nineteenth-century Europe and America in the wake of Romanticism, these elements were figured as male in contrast to a more "feminine" mass culture.65

Jazz musicians drew upon this Romantic ethos with its masculine implications as they developed an aesthetic sensibility that favored originality, creativity, and emotional expression. McClary stresses that the gendered meanings in music are not timeless, yet it is clear that Romantic ideals continue to influence our understanding of music and musicians' ideas about themselves.66 Although only a handful of early-twentieth-century African American musicians had anything approaching full access to musical high culture, the ideological framework set in place during the early nineteenth century permeated institutional and informal musical discourse and education and affected the way some jazz musicians understood the arts of improvisation and composition.

Moreover, the emergence of Romanticism as a set of aesthetic principles was rooted in economic relationships of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Threatened by the ascendant power of the scientist and the capitalist, Romantic poets embraced masculine metaphor and competition while seeking to craft a "pure vision" that allowed them some influence in a world increasingly dominated by market relations and technological innovation.67 Similarly, African American musicians in the early twentieth century—who were entrenched in the economics of the music industry, the technologies of the mass media, and their attendant discourse—embraced artistic ideals such as originality, spontaneity, and emotional expression as a way of generating self-respect. These ideals also provided financial reward if those who held the purse strings in the culture industry recognized the artistry of these musicians. The cultivation of originality and the embrace of art as an expression of one's emotional core provided a means to power in a system that exploited black musicians and erased black genius. Black musicians knew they were producing a commodity. Unlike some of their white peers in classical music, they did not have the luxury of rejecting a mass audience. Yet the artistic ethos of Romanticism, including the ideal of not "selling out," existed side by side with the desire to gain remuneration and respectability through popularity.

When Handy and Niles gave short shrift to the legacy of female blues performers, they articulated a Romantic ethos that esteemed male artistry. They presented the movement of the blues from its folk roots to jazz's entry into the concert hall, but they conveniently elided women's blues. Classic blues songs appear to have been threatening to Handy's vision because they smacked of sexuality and popular entertainment and thus were difficult to reconcile with his project of making the blues a legitimate art. The importance of the blues instead lay in the reconstitution of a "racial impulse" through Handy's compositional skills and the instrumental virtuosity of his band. Ultimately, racial genius, as presented in the anthology, was also male genius; it was attained through written music and instrumental innovation and stood in juxtaposition to the feminized world of popular blues songs.

Scholars have noted the irony of the recorded legacy of the masculine world of instrumental jazz developing out of women's blues music in the early 1920s. Record companies at first had little interest in recording instrumental jazz until its practitioners established their reputations by accompanying female blues singers.68 But since then, the jazz world has been a male-dominated sphere of activity. Beginning in the early years of the twentieth century, there developed a homosocial jazz community, whose ethos of male camaraderie provided refuge from the outside world, a model for behavior on the bandstand, and an ethos for artistic growth in a friendly yet competitive atmosphere. The jazz world mirrored gender inequalities in the broader society, the labor force, and the arts in general. This community was in part forged out of subaltern aesthetic and professional responses to dominant structures of race and class as well as the incorporation of dominant, gendered aesthetic ideals into its members' artistic visions. Both of these moves were rooted in the economic relationships in which musicians found themselves. This is not to say that the early jazz community was uniformly misogynist—although sometimes individuals were—or that women were always excluded from musical circles. Male musicians often spoke warmly of their female colleagues; and women instrumentalists, singers, and, occasionally, bandleaders challenged prejudice and made their own mark on the genre. But such interventions did not fundamentally alter an ethos predicated on the marginalization of women in musicians' circles and the cultivation of the idea that one's artistry was linked to one's manhood.


The Trouble with Jazz

The second half of the 1920s witnessed transformations in jazz music, the music industry, and perceptions of jazz as an art form. New recording technologies facilitated changes in the music. The shift in 1924 from acoustical recording (where large horns funneled sound vibrations to a cutting stylus) to electrical recording with microphones allowed engineers to increase the range of recorded frequencies. Lower tones could now be reproduced more effectively, allowing bassists and drummers to take a more prominent role on records. And because they did not have to play so loudly, musicians could moderate their tones and explore greater musical dynamics.69 Improved technologies helped to showcase the talents of African American artists who transformed the genre. Sidney Bechet and especially Louis Armstrong began to change the conception of the jazz solo in the mid-1920s. As evident on his Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings beginning in 1925, Armstrong developed a large tone and a variety of complex rhythmic ideas as he shifted the focus of small group performance away from collective improvisation toward swinging solo improvisations. Jazz groups began to develop more rhythmically sophisticated ensemble playing as well. Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington developed big band arrangements with intricate, call-and-response passages between brass and reed sections, the showcasing of individual soloists, and an effusive rhythmic propulsion that appealed to dancers.70

New technologies and the innovations by these and other artists highlighted African Americans' role in the development of jazz as an art form and raised the level of professionalism in their community. Phonographs and radios spread musical innovations and served as educational devices for young musicians. The effect of these media was to increase the level of knowledge about jazz and its possibilities as an art form, while encouraging standardization in the genre. Moreover, the rise of big bands increased the number of literate musicians and accelerated the reliance on written scores, as musicians came to see reading as a necessary step to full employment and bandleaders viewed musical literacy as a vehicle for creative growth.71

Despite these developments, jazz still presented restrictions to professional African American musicians. Some became jazz players because it was clear that segregation and racism would limit their aspirations in art music. Those working in the jazz business—often under the employ of gangsters—found the wages low, the conditions difficult, and unions of little help. Moreover, musicians faced a fickle and contradictory marketplace. Black musicians knew that white musicians usually gained greater respect and remuneration from jazz performance. To the extent that African American jazz remained visible in American society, black musicians often had to negotiate the primitivist demands of white patrons, who flocked in increasing numbers to places like New York's Cotton Club and Savoy Ballroom (which opened in 1922 and 1926, respectively).

Chicago-based bandleader, union delegate, and newspaperman Dave Peyton displayed a good deal of ambivalence about jazz. In his weekly column for the Chicago Defender, which ran from 1925 to 1929, Peyton provided news of the local and national African American musicians' community, promoted codes of professional behavior, and chastised those musicians who did not adhere to his standards. Peyton has been seen as emblematic of an "assimilationist" or "middle-class" perspective on music. He celebrated the virtues of classical music, often denigrated jazz as a "low" form of music, and worried that jazz players were musical ignoramuses whose lack of professionalism threatened the status and livelihoods of more respectable artists and their ability to "uplift" their communities.72

But Peyton was sometimes willing to take jazz seriously when it could be viewed as a symbol of African American innovation and achievement. Although he generally looked down at the collectively improvised "gut-bucket" music of New Orleans, he regularly praised Louis Armstrong, who was at the time developing a unique solo style. In one column, Peyton wrote that the trumpeter was in a "class by himself," celebrating that Armstrong so impressed white musicians that they followed him to nightclubs to try to figure out his "weird jazz figures."73 Peyton was even fonder of the urbane, arranged big band music and the skills its musicians displayed. In a 1928 column, he presented a brief history of jazz, noting its roots in ragtime and New Orleans communal music making. Although he frowned on the collectively improvised music of New Orleans, he believed that "this crude style of jazz playing has developed into the world-famous artistic jazz music. . . .The beautiful melodies garnished with difficult eccentric figures and propelled by artful rhythms, hold grip on the world today, replacing the mushy, discordant jazz music."74

Peyton vacillated in his assessments of whether jazz was just a passing fad or an art form that was now entrenched in American society. His sometimes schizophrenic attitude toward jazz was in part a product of his concerns about the employment opportunities available to African American musicians and the artistic limitations the music industry placed on these performers. Peyton recognized that African American musicians, regardless of their contribution to the field, were vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the market and the competition for resources. In one column, he decried bandleader Noble Sissle's retirement from the stage because jazz had been "usurped" by white musicians. In another, he noted that members of Chicago's white musicians' local were actively trying to keep black players out of certain venues. He also asserted that black musicians had been pigeonholed into playing certain popular forms. Peyton wrote: "In the past the big recording companies have confined our musicians to one style of recording. This style of recording they consider our orchestras are perfected in. They confine us to low jazz and blues. They have an idea that our orchestras cannot play real music for recordings, but they never were so wrong."75 Typically, his advice to musicians was to remain versatile in both jazz and classical music as a means of keeping their options open. In a 1928 column, he praised the piano playing of James P. Johnson, Lillian Armstrong, Fats Waller, Clarence Williams, Earl Hines, and Eubie Blake and implied that their music exceeded that of classically oriented performers. Yet Peyton still thought the "jazz craze" was on the wane, so he counseled musicians to "save their money" and "use their leisure time in studying real music."76

Another musician Peyton discussed in his column was Duke Ellington, the Washington, D.C., native who moved to New York in 1923, made a name for himself locally, and then became nationally and internationally famous after obtaining his long-running engagement at Harlem's Cotton Club. This gig lasted from late 1927 until 1931 and was broadcast live at times by NBC. During the same period, Ellington recorded with increasing frequency, releasing 180 sides between December 1927 and February 1931.77 Ellington developed a distinctive sound that he applied to a variety of musical expressions, including dance tunes, popular songs, production numbers, "mood" pieces, and instrumental jazz compositions. Using his band as an "instrument," Ellington's intricate horn arrangements showcased a range of instrumental voices and tonal effects and provided a framework for the improvisational skills of his band members.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Ellington received growing attention from the press, where he occupied a contradictory position. In a series of articles in Phonograph Monthly, music critic R.D. Darrell characterized Ellington's recordings as serious artistic accomplishments on a par with classical music. Praising Ellington's 1931 Victor recordings of "Limehouse Blues" and "Echoes of the Jungle," he wrote: "The elaborate texture and diabolically ingenious arrangements will astound even the student of such modern orchestrators as Ravel and Strawinski." Others merely viewed Ellington as the purveyor of "jungle jazz," a label that signified both Ellington's unique explorations of the tonal qualities of jazz and the primitivistic expectations of white audiences. Some early accounts of his Cotton Club performances spent as much time celebrating the venue's light-skinned chorines as they did his music.78 Yet such consideration, despite its unevenness, gave Ellington the opportunity to express his aesthetic vision and to strategically challenge the restrictions black musicians faced in the music industry.

During these years, Ellington maintained a coherent aesthetic politics consistent with the goals of the Harlem Renaissance. Ellington had developed this perspective in Washington, D.C., where as Mark Tucker notes, his "dignified manner and cultivated persona, his social consciousness, his use of vernacular sources as the basis for original compositions, and his deep pride in the Afro-American heritage" were rooted. Ellington was influenced by a community interest in black history and by local professional black musicians such as Henry Lee Grant, who viewed popular music as a serious enterprise. In New York, Ellington encountered or drew from the work of Will Marion Cook, James Reese Europe, and Ford Dabney, all of whom championed black musical traditions and drew upon vernacular idioms for original compositions. Ellington adopted their public personae, which commanded respect out of dignity and decorum; and, like them, he rejected generic labels, while believing strongly in the ability of music to express a "racial" feeling.79

In an interview with Janet Mabie of the Christian Science Monitor, Ellington articulated, in Tucker's words, "two concerns that would stay with him for a lifetime: his aversion to the word 'jazz' and his commitment to the ideals of 'Negro music.'" When asked about jazz, Ellington said the term confused him. He described his music instead as a project of recuperation and uplift: "I am just getting a chance to work out some of my own ideas of Negro music. I stick to that. We as a race have a good deal to pay our way with in a white world. The tragedy is that so few records have been kept of the Negro music of the past. It has to be pieced together so slowly. But it pleases me to have a chance to work at it." Ellington's New Negro musical vision depended upon access to multiple forms of musical knowledge. Speaking of the necessity of his early training, Ellington said: "I had a kind of harmony inside me, which is part of my race, but I needed the kind of harmony which has no race at all but is universal." These comments suggest not so much a capitulation to "white" or European standards as a desire to have all possible musical tools at his disposal while developing an African American form. And, as Graham Lock notes, such commentary rejected the narrow prescription of "jungle jazz," when that term had come to signify audience expectations more than Ellington's own aesthetic vision.80

Ellington also sought to understand his music as a "popular" art. In another interview from 1930, he expressed the belief that his music could break down the divisions between high and low culture, folk and popular expression, and American and European music. In this vision, the music's legitimacy would be determined by its mass appeal: "You have only to watch a dance floor full of dancing couples to realize that music is the most vital thing in swaying the emotions of a multitude." Ellington identified a new kind of American music that had popular appeal and black folk artistry at its center:

I am not playing jazz. I am trying to play the natural feelings of a people. I believe that music, popular music of the day, is the real reflector of the nation's feelings. Some of the music which has been written will always be beautiful and immortal. Beethoven, Wagner and Bach are geniuses; no one can rob their work of the merit that is due it, but these men have not portrayed the people who are about us today, and the interpretation of these people is our future music. . . .The Negro is the blues. Blues is the rage in popular music. And popular music is the good music of tomorrow! 81

New Negro intellectuals crafted such a vision as they sought to prove black worth in American society. Ellington appears to have adhered to this vision for reasons of racial uplift and as a means of validating his role and the roles of other professional black musicians in American society.

Ellington expanded upon the themes of racial contribution and popular appeal in a 1931 essay he contributed to Rhythm, a British magazine directed to dance band musicians. Noting that rhythm was fundamental to the success of dance music and to human existence itself, Ellington still recognized that an emphasis on a dance-friendly beat could create a monotonous sound. Many bands were stagnating because of the "soulless nature of this continual churning out of four-in-a-bar rhythm." The way out of this predicament was artistic originality. His band refused to use "printed orchestrations," instead relying on his own arrangements, which left room for his players to contribute to the rhythmic conception of the piece.82

Like Handy, Ellington defined his originality as a racial expression that stood in opposition to the standardization the music industry encouraged in dance bands:

The numbers I write are never, I think you will agree, of the 'corn-fed' type. Always I try to be original in my harmonies and rhythms. I am not trying to suggest that my tunes are superior to those of other writers. Because I think that the music of my race is something which is going to live, something which posterity will honour in a higher sense than merely that of the music of the ballroom to-day, I put my best musical thoughts forward into my tunes, and not hackneyed harmonies and rhythms which are almost too banal to publish.

Ellington was not trying to chart a vision in which legitimacy was based on his music's distance from the forces of the market. He clearly realized that as a dance band leader he had "to consider the financial side" of music and appeal to a mass audience. Yet he wanted to move outside the thirty-two-bar popular songs done with a "strict tempo." He celebrated the work of black concert hall performers such as Paul Robeson, Roland Hayes, and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor; and, like James Weldon Johnson and others, he looked forward to the day when "from the welter of Negro dance musicians now before the public will come something lasting and noble."83

Ellington's similarity to New Negro thinkers is also evident in his view of black musical culture as a means of exploring the past. He defined African American dance music as a product of the history of black people in America. The music's origins lay in the transplanting of Africans to American soil and their experiences of slavery. Music provided a way of articulating "what we could not say openly" and was a "timeless" means of expressing black personality. Yet this sonic expression was thoroughly modern as well, expressing the optimism of urban black America and the cultural renaissance it produced: "In Harlem we have what is practically our own city; we have our own newspapers and social services, and although not segregated, we have almost achieved our own civilisation. The history of my people is one of great achievements over fearful odds; it is a history of a people hindered, handicapped and sorely oppressed, and what is being done by Countee Cullen and others in literature is overdue in our music."84

Ellington described his own desire to create an extended composition that would move outside the limitations of dance music (while maintaining a connection to his audience) and thematically explore African American experience. He said he was in the process of writing a composition consisting of four or five movements that would be an "authentic record of my race written by a member of it." As Graham Lock points out, Ellington may well have been influenced by concert representations of black life and history by W.C. Handy, James P. Johnson, William Grant Still, and others. The extended composition he described in this essay was most likely his Symphony in Black (1934), a four-part, nine-minute composition that used elements from earlier pieces while exploring the themes of labor, romance, religion, and urban life. Part One, "The Laborers," maintains a slow blues feeling and employs the hammer-fall punctuation of a work song. Part Two, "A Triangle," depicts a romantic love triangle through an up-tempo dance number and the vocal blues lament of a spurned lover. The third part, "A Hymn of Sorrow," explores the sonorities of a mournful spiritual. The work concludes with "Harlem Rhythm," a fast-paced, intricately arranged section that portrays the complexity of black urban life. The composition anticipates Ellington's symphonic-length depiction of African American experience, Black, Brown and Beige, which premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1943, and other extended interpretations of black themes.85

Ellington was a unique individual in many respects, yet his artistic project and aesthetic vision, informed by the parameters of the music industry and the ongoing jazz discourses, bore similarities to those of other musicians. He embraced the ideal of black artistry while moving beyond limitations imposed on African Americans by race. Striking a balance between race consciousness and universalism would be a defining characteristic of Ellington's work throughout his lifetime, and it was a challenge to which future generations of musicians returned again and again, as they did to his ideal of creating a music that challenged the supposed supremacy of European concert music and that drew its legitimacy from its popular appeal.


"Swing That Music"

When scholars and critics discuss the "swing era" in musical terms, they generally refer to the ascendancy of the big bands in the 1930s, their continued popularity through World War II, and the musical changes they brought about. "Swing" in this sense refers to the shift from two-beat to 4/4 time, the replacement of small groups with larger ensembles, a move away from collectively improvised ensemble playing to multisectional written arrangements supporting solo improvisations, and the development of a propulsive rhythm conducive to dancing. Although large dance bands were growing in popularity in the late twenties and early thirties, as Ellington's success makes clear, the Great Depression and the rising popularity of radio and films helped to keep people away from dance halls and clubs and caused a drop in record sales in 1932. Yet big band jazz soon made its way to the center of American popular music. Record sales slowly began to rebound and then exploded in the late 1930s, and the repeal of Prohibition brought masses of people into dance halls. Swing as a popular movement was facilitated by a growing capital investment in the culture industry and the increasing proliferation of mass communications technologies. Jazz historians generally point to the highly acclaimed, nationwide broadcast of Benny Goodman's August 21, 1935, performance at Los Angeles's Palomar Ballroom as the symbolic beginning of the "swing era."

This musical movement was part and parcel of related cultural phenomena. Recent historical treatments of swing view it as emblematic of a democratizing ethos in American society and a more inclusive ideology of American exceptionalism that emanated from the New Deal and the antifascist Popular Front. David Stowe, Lewis Erenberg and Michael Denning have described swing's ascension as the result of changes in American thinking about race, class, cultural hierarchies, and other issues in the 1930s. During this decade, Boasian cultural relativism, New Deal liberalism, antifascist activism, and radical internationalism all challenged the most blatant aspects of racist thought. Although some moral panic erupted over jazz in the 1930s, changing ideas about race helped to make it relatively subdued compared to the furor of the 1920s. Swing was a product of a decade that witnessed a new ideology of "Americanism," which balanced nationalism and faith in American institutions with a veneration of working people and their culture and a growing commitment to ethnic pluralism.86

This democratizing ethos in American society and the cultural fusion taking place were facilitated by the culture industry. As the mass media served the needs of business, they also helped to promote cultural synthesis. "The emergence of this new commercial culture," Denning writes, "had several major consequences. . . Forms which had had a local base traveled far and wide; the 'classics,' once owned and preserved by the cultured and leisured classes, were now cheaply available, and the working-class entertainments of black and ethnic neighborhoods were available to the educated classes." And when Popular Front activists and artists entered institutions in the culture industry, they played a direct role in reshaping American culture. Members of the left figured prominently in the network of critics, collectors, record shops, and independent labels that supported jazz; and figures such as John Hammond and Norman Granz actively fought segregation and discrimination in the music industry in the late 1930s and 1940s.87

The possibilities of high and low cultural synthesis and racial egalitarianism were perhaps nowhere clearer in the swing world than in jazz concerts and integrated dance halls. Stowe points out that Benny Goodman's 1938 presentation of jazz at Carnegie Hall and various "battle(s) of the bands" at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem challenged racial and cultural boundaries. Integrated audiences attended both venues, a rare occurrence before 1930, and increasing numbers of black and white musicians were performing together live and on records. On the evening of May 11, 1937, the four thousand patrons lucky enough to gain admission to the Savoy witnessed local hero Chick Webb take on Benny Goodman, the ostensible "King of Swing." Much of the audience crowded around the bandstand to evaluate the performances of the groups. Goodman received an enthusiastic response, but when "Chick gave them the first beat of the bass drum, the crowd went absolutely mad and screamed their applause." Webb's band drew upon its status in the Harlem community to wrest away Goodman's title, at least in the eyes of its fans.88 By dancing to, listening to, and cheering on Webb and his band, Harlemites joined people from downtown in celebrating the art form that brought them together, while simultaneously building upon a collective identity in which self-worth and black cultural excellence were affirmed by Webb's "victory" over Goodman.

The seriousness with which people listened and danced to these groups was indicative of the loosening of cultural boundaries. Active listeners were important to the growing popularity of jazz concerts during the 1930s. Part of the impetus for this growth came from a mass audience who would gather around radios and bandstands, paying close attention to the music, and, in a more direct manner, from record collectors and members of "hot clubs," who sought to institutionalize musicians' jam sessions as public events, where jazz in its "purest" form could be appreciated by a paying audience. Jazz concerts promoted a greater focus on listening and demanded of the audience that performers be "accorded the kind of respect due concert artists."89 In contrast to the 1920s, when musicians transformed jazz in order to make it appropriate for the concert hall, audiences of the 1930s brought a concert hall reverence to hot, commercially oriented dance music.

That many jazz concerts were benefits for leftist causes makes them even more emblematic of changes in American society during the 1930s. Although some members of left organizations disdained black popular music, instead favoring "authentic" folk or high cultural expression, others immediately saw value in jazz or eventually overcame their aversion to commercialized music. In Harlem, this newfound respect for jazz went hand in hand with the Communist Party's institutional support for black arts, a component of the party's broader attempt to gain favor in African American communities. Black artists and intellectuals by no means universally welcomed the party's cultural politics during the Popular Front, but left-wing sponsorship encouraged politically minded musicians to lend their names and talents to progressive causes. Duke Ellington made one of the earliest such appearances at a Harlem Communist dance in 1930, and near the end of the decade black musicians participated in several concerts to raise money for the Republican cause during the Spanish civil war.90 The validation of black popular culture by the left during the late 1930s may well have influenced more centrist institutions such as the NAACP, whose leadership had historically frowned upon jazz. By the end of the 1930s, the NAACP, clubs, and churches sponsored performances of jazz and blues and used the services of Ellington and others at organizational benefits.91

As much as swing culture promised in terms of egalitarianism, however, African Americans still found themselves facing discrimination and exploitation. Although the culture industry might have promoted aesthetic egalitarianism, it did not necessarily treat black workers fairly. The integration of Benny Goodman's small group and big band—Teddy Wilson joined the Goodman trio in 1935—may have been a symbol of changing times, but segregation and discrimination still ran rampant in the music industry. Managers, booking agents, and record companies seldom paid a fair wage, and radio actively discriminated against black bands. A few of the major black artists—Ellington, Armstrong, and Basie—benefited from the growing popularity of swing, but they were the exceptions. Even as record sales exploded in 1938, African American musicians increasingly found themselves in financial distress. Moreover, changing racial and cultural mores, which made black jazz music more appealing to a wide audience, also threatened to displace these performers. In the early 1930s, black bands had more or less a "monopoly" on "hot" dance band music, with whites dominating the slower, less kinetic realm of "sweet" music. As hot music became more acceptable, the black monopoly on the genre was destroyed, as bands like those headed by Goodman and the Dorsey brothers reaped most of the benefits.92 "Swing," like jazz, became a symbol of the dilemmas facing African American musicians. Some claimed the label as a means of self-promotion or celebrated it as an affirmation of African American success. Others saw swing as a dilution of black aesthetics and a marker of the restrictions the music industry enforced against them.

One of the earliest recorded commentaries on swing by a black musician was Louis Armstrong's 1936 autobiography, Swing That Music. This was one of the first published "biographies" of a jazz musician, and it was also one of the earliest attempts to record jazz history. Interspersed with a discussion of the aesthetics of swing were details of Armstrong's life and his role in music making in New Orleans, Chicago, and New York. Armstrong's input in the creation of this largely ghostwritten volume is somewhat unclear. William Kenney suggests that Armstrong's "authentic" voice is most clearly heard in the narration of actual events in his life, while the "didactic" commentary on swing is likely the voice of the ghostwriter. Thomas Brothers, however, argues that a "great deal" of Armstrong's own insights come through in the text.93 I believe Armstrong's voice may be heard in the commentary on swing—especially when the description of the genre extols black creativity while validating the role of African American musicians in the development of the music.

Armstrong differentiated "trashy, popular jazz [from] fine swing music." Jazz, in his mind, had been corrupted by the market; it had lost its vitality by being "written down and recorded." Swing, in contrast, represented both the artistic possibilities of jazz and the contributions of African American musicians. Armstrong described swing in Romantic terms as the expression of musicians' feelings. He compared "hot," or swing, musicians to "the greatest writers" who "liked best to write just the way they felt." A "sweet" musician (or commercial jazz player) was like "a writer who writes stories for some popular magazines." Just as in other art forms, a popular audience may not recognize the contributions of a great swing musician, and the market may not reward him. Thus, Buddy Bolden remained unknown outside a small circle of musicians and fans; and Armstrong recognized that, but for a few lucky breaks, he might have remained unknown himself. The genre's current popularity, however, offered greater possibilities to those musicians (black and white alike) who kept the spirit of early New Orleans musicianship alive.94

Armstrong asserted that swing was "growing into a finer and broader and richer [and] truly American" music through the incorporation of "classical influences." Although Armstrong argued that jazz had been corrupted by "writing it down," he also recognized the importance of knowing how to "play to score." One merely had to remember that to access the "true spirit of swing" one had to "originate and not just imitate." Yet the artistry of swing and its ability to express feeling were rooted in "free improvisation," which "was at the core of jazz when it started back there in New Orleans thirty years ago." He described early New Orleans musicians: "They were composers and players, all in one, and they composed as they played and held what they had done only in their musical memory." This invocation of the "mental" compositions of early innovators hinted at an argument that would often be used by musicians and commentators alike: that the art of improvisation was a spontaneous kind of composition. This suggestion implicitly challenged the hierarchical assumptions separating improvised jazz and classical music and championed an African-derived approach to making music, which Armstrong further supported by figuring New Orleans in the first decade of twentieth century as a black musical environment. As Handy had before him, Armstrong was careful to emphasize that black achievement in the genre was the product of both instinct and hard work.95

Armstrong's comments, however influenced they might have been by the ghostwriter, were a subtle yet significant attempt to validate black artists in the face of commercial forces that had the potential to erase black musicianship in the dance music world. Armstrong's aesthetic formulation, while bearing some similarities to those expressed by earlier black artists and aestheticians, directly addressed "swing," a concept that was part of the lingua franca of the jazz community and which was also a generic label gaining currency with the music industry and a mass audience. He positioned himself as a practitioner of swing and put his name to a narrative that suggested that the popularity of "hot" dance music would validate jazz artistry and black musicians' contributions.

The year 1936 also witnessed the publication of Alain Locke's The Negro and His Music, a book-length treatise on the history and aesthetics of African American music. The Howard University professor had been writing about music since the 1910s, and in this text he expanded upon the New Negro principle of "two-tiered mastery." Locke recognized the changing face of jazz music and its position in American society in the mid-1930s. Having witnessed the innovations of contemporary jazz artists, Locke was deeply moved by their work. He described Armstrong as the best of the jazz players and Ellington as the preeminent jazz composer, who was one of the people most likely to create the "classical jazz" to which artists and intellectuals had looked forward. Locke cited Swing That Music several times. He quoted at length a passage in which Armstrong described the basis of swing as the art of improvisation, as he attempted to show that jazz was a legitimate art form. Recognizing that the term "classic" was a device that created musical hierarchies, Locke drew upon Armstrong's assertion that "good" and "bad" were more important criteria for evaluating a piece of music, regardless of its high cultural legitimacy. Musical developments in jazz in the 1930s and the critical reception of the idiom suggested to Locke a kind of aesthetic leveling wherein individual and racial expression and technical virtuosity could be as important a standard of legitimacy as an adherence to high cultural forms. In his view, an Ethel Waters performance of "Stormy Weather" or Duke Ellington's rendition of "It Don't Mean a Thing" could easily outshine Tin Pan Alley versions of the same compositions as well as "a mediocre attempt in the classical forms."96

Yet Locke's celebration of jazz went only so far. While he celebrated jazz artistry and the accomplishments of jazz musicians, he considered the form something of an artistic dead end. Locke defined "jazz classics" as music in the "limited dance and song-ballad forms" that "achieve[d] creative musical excellence." "Classical jazz" represented "more sophisticated and traditional musical forms" that drew from "jazz idioms." These forms illustrated the possibilities of black music, but they would "never become great music nor representative national music over the least common denominator of popular jazz or popular ballads that are in common circulation today. Even 'classical jazz,' promising as it is, is perhaps only a transitional form. Eventually the art-music and the folk-music must be fused in a vital but superior product."97

Why did Locke stop short of a complete validation of black accomplishment in jazz? The answer seems to lie both in his continued investment in high culture and in a recognition of the restrictions facing black musicians working in the idiom. Although the Harvard-trained philosopher was by background and training something of a cultural elitist, who favored the common ground of universalism over an ethnically particular pluralism, scholars recognize that Locke's take on black music was also strategic: to him, it seemed the best way to challenge Eurocentric ideas about art and racist representations of black people.98 Locke's take on jazz was also based on the premise that "one of the handicaps of Negro music today is that it is too popular." Not only were classically oriented musicians forced into popular music by discrimination and need, but popularity imposed limitations on jazz as well. On the one hand, Locke believed that the swing music vogue had "rejuvenated" black artists such as Ellington and Armstrong. The popularity of hot music and the institutional support it received from swing clubs and critics encouraged these musicians to return to their musical roots and to reject the diluted sweet music the market had previously encouraged. But, on the other hand, Locke's optimism was tempered by a recognition that the popularity of jazz threatened the integrity of the music as a black expression. A musician operating in this idiom always had to negotiate white tastes. Moreover, the critical discourse presented impediments to musicians' livelihoods. Generic categories (that is, hot, classical, or swing) were ultimately of more interest to critics and white musicians. "What to the white musicians are different schools and contrasted techniques of jazz are to the Negro musicians, and a few whites thoroughly saturated in the tradition, interchangeable varieties of style." In the end, the investment in categories by the combined forces of the music industry and the jazz writers was predisposed to benefit white musicians to the detriment of African Americans.99

Locke saw greater hope for black vindication through classical forms. But more than that, he called for a diasporic aesthetic orientation. He encouraged musicians to study black folk music from the West Indies, Central America, and Africa. These idioms, he argued, "are more strongly racial and are free of the cultural distortion of the plantation tradition; that is, they have no minstrel taint. A healthier primitivism and a more dignified tradition are valuable today when we are trying to develop the deeper possibilities of our music." Although he recognized that explorations of African music and dance were often guided by "sentimental admiration for its effects" rather than "scientific study," he suggested that the latter could be achieved. One of the most important recent explorations of black musical culture, he argued, was Asadata Dafora's African dance opera "Kykunkor," which had played in New York in 1934.100

Locke recognized the expanding artistic possibilities of jazz, while understanding the specific limitations that the industry presented to black musicians. His book extended the New Negro discussion of music into the early swing era and provided a link between the discussion about jazz in the 1920s and 1930s and that of future generations of intellectuals and musicians. His turn to a diasporic vision as a means of countering the restrictions facing jazz players anticipated the struggles of future generations of musicians, and his suspicion of both the jazz economy and the critical discourse about jazz was a perspective that musicians were adopting and articulating with increasing frequency.


Musicians and Critics

One of the outgrowths of the popularity of jazz in the 1930s was the consolidation of jazz criticism in new trade publications such as Down Beat and Metronome, small journals for record collectors, and left-wing organs such as New Masses. This jazz discourse, by and large created by whites for a white readership, recycled some of the same primitivist ideas put forth by writers in the 1920s. The 1930s dialogue, however, reflected, in complex and often contradictory ways, changing ideas about American society. These discussions anticipated debates about the music that would occur in later years and set the stage for how future musical movements would be received. Jazz criticism also provided musicians with a limited voice for expressing their ideas about their music and life in the music industry. Most musicians generally cared little for the opinions of critics, and the terms of the debate were seldom of their own choosing. Yet the critical discourse held the potential to validate their artistic projects, and its consolidation helped to establish a larger role for musicians in the public dialogue about the music. As musicians helped to define the place of jazz in American life, however, jazz criticism itself presented its own set of restrictions.

When critics debated the merits of "hot" and "sweet" music, big bands and small groups, and jazz and swing in the late 1930s, they addressed intersecting ideas about art, culture, commerce, nation, race, gender, class, and politics. In other words, their comments reflected modernist aesthetic dilemmas as well as broader issues in American society. 101 Many of the young men writing about jazz either had direct connections to the left or were more generally invested in left-liberal politics. Jazz and swing became, in their eyes, emblematic of the pluralistic and democratic America they idealized. Critics increasingly celebrated jazz as an African American expression—although many continued to focus on white artists—and by and large the major jazz publications approved of integration in the music industry.102

Yet jazz critics' attention to African American musicians was a mixed blessing. Overlaying the attention to politics were questions of cultural legitimacy. Was African American jazz to be considered a folk form, high art, popular entertainment, or some combination of these categories? Some critics lauded the growing popularity of swing music and saw it as an expression of a thoroughly modern American democracy or a technologically advanced consumer society. Others saw its commercial viability as a mark of illegitimacy, because they preferred either an unadulterated expression of the folk form or a "serious" art form that might challenge the supremacy of classical music. These issues were manifest in the numerous attempts by critics to define jazz styles through the lens of race. Such accounts showcased African American accomplishment in the music industry, but they often defined in narrow terms what was acceptably black expression. Paul Eduard Miller, for example, emphasized the African American roots of jazz in ripostes to commentators who claimed jazz and swing had white roots. Miller, however, was also invested in a primitivist concept of black art, as he distinguished the "trul y rich and wholesome jungle jazz of Duke Ellington" from "swing" music, which in his mind included syncopated versions of popular songs and fusions of jazz and classical music. When critics responded that such views reproduced the logic of Jim Crow and offered instead a color-blind theory of jazz accomplishment, they challenged the inherent racism of such statements but also encouraged practices that marginalized black musicians.103

Despite the efforts of activist critics like Hammond to fight discrimination in the music industry, jazz criticism could have a detrimental effect on black musicians. Any attempt to define what was legitimate jazz expression or to set up generic boundaries—whether cast in racial terms or not—had the potential to affect the livelihoods of African American musicians at a moment when many were struggling financially. This precarious situation was compounded by the fact that some working critics—including Hammond—had financial interests in the artists they championed in print. Other writers simply knew little about jazz and were careless with their remarks. One of the striking aspects of jazz criticism in the late 1930s, however, is that it almost immediately began to interrogate its own methods. In this climate, jazz writers began to turn to black musicians in order to authenticate their own perspectives and raise questions about the assumptions of their peers.104

As musicians helped to shape the discussion about jazz, they expressed their own concerns. In a 1937 Metronome article entitled "Do Critics Really Know What It's All About?" saxophonist Benny Carter described the need for critical standards. Carter understood that the capricious tastes of the "commercial ickies" (swing fans) from the daily papers, as well as those of the Ivy League dilettantes who wrote for jazz journals, had a real effect on the lives of working musicians. He called for a "more objective viewpoint in the criticism of dance music" that took seriously what musicians were trying to accomplish rather than merely imposing a critic's own personal taste on a performance or recording.105

In three 1939 essays in Down Beat, Duke Ellington once again articulated his New Negro concept of musical artistry and took on issues relating to jazz criticism as well. He recognized that critical assessments of jazz seldom addressed the relative merits of the music but instead reflected the ideological prejudices and financial interests of jazz critics. Such criticism not only placed restrictions on what was acceptable jazz performance; it also facilitated a system from which commercial white bands were profiting more than black bands.

In the first essay, Ellington explored the development of jazz and swing. Jazz, he suggested, was an "original and authentic form" that was moving "toward legitimate acceptance, in proportion to its own merits." Swing, however, had been transformed from a verb (that is, an approach to playing music) to a noun (a genre).106 The consolidation of swing began innocently enough when enthusiastic supporters in Europe and the United States "combin[ed] their efforts to popularize jazz music" and in so doing expanded its audience and "seemed to afford musicians the moral courage and incentive necessary to the open adoption of swing as a style of playing." Yet swing began to stagnate when "writers, faddists, band managers, night club proprietors, entertainers and newspapermen entered the field with a vengeance." Ellington was careful to note that even commercial swing "demand[ed] superior musicianship," but, as art became a commodity, the problem was that "genuine values became distorted and false ones set up in their places."107

The blame, Ellington argued, lay in part with critics who had not adequately educated fans about the more artistically inclined bands. Instead, audiences were patronizing the more banal purveyors of the current craze. The promotion of the most popular bands hurt African American groups whom he considered the greatest purveyors of the art form. In the last essay in the series, Ellington made subtle reference to the process by which white groups profited from music with African American roots. Although his tone was diplomatic, he described how black bandleaders such as Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman, and Jimmie Lunceford had not received adequate attention or had seen their innovations appropriated. While Ellington voiced praise and respect for Benny Goodman and some white bandleaders, he gently chastised others for profiting from "musical-simplification to the 'nth' degree" and "reach[ing] a pleasing musical middle." Regarding Bob Crosby, Ellington implied that his "blues influence" was borrowed: "We feel that here the tan has attained a very luxurious luster, perhaps through absorption."108

Ellington also chastised critics for imposing unfair standards on bands. He did not think jazz was beyond criticism; but, like Benny Carter, he believed a problem arose when critics used "personal standards" of judgment without understanding what musicians were trying to achieve. He named several prominent critics who had been guilty of misrepresentation. Ellington reserved his strongest comments for John Hammond, whose judgment, he claimed, was influenced by his financial interest in certain artists and his role as an "ardent propagandist" with connections to the Communist Party—a charge he would retract a month later. Ellington was not an anticommunist, as his support for Popular Front causes in the 1930s and 1940s attests, but he was involved in a feud with Hammond. A few years earlier, Hammond had written a blistering review of Ellington's twelve-minute composition "Reminiscing in Tempo," in which he charged that Ellington's music "is losing the distinctive flavor it once had, both because of the fact that he has added slick, un-negroid musicians to his band and because he himself is aping Tin Pan Alley composers for commercial reasons." But, he wrote, the "real trouble" with Ellington was his lack of social conscience. Hammond chastised Ellington for not speaking out about the Scottsboro case—in which nine young African American men were falsely accused of raping two white women in Alabama—or the general conditions facing black working-class and poor people. He asserted that Ellington's lack of political commitment led him to perform music that was "formless and shallow" and divorced from its social context.109

While critics who supported more commercially successful white bands could negate the contributions of African American bands, such progressively minded assumptions as Hammond's about proper performances of black music and black identities could be just as limiting. Hammond, as Stowe notes, had by 1938 positioned himself as an arbiter of African American musical authenticity. He thought Ellington's musicianship, extended compositions, and commercial appeal had moved him too far from his folk roots. Instead, Hammond championed blues players, gospel singers, and New Orleans jazz musicians whose expression was not yet diluted by musical training or the marketplace as well as those commercially successful artists—such as Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Fletcher Henderson, and Benny Goodman—in whom he had a financial stake.110

Ellington's way out of this quandary was to hold true to his New Negro ideals and the aesthetic principles of his music. After predicting that swing's entry into the concert hall might lessen its banality, Ellington said that his band members were unconcerned with the conditions in the swing industry. In fact, what they were involved in was larger than jazz or swing. Their "aim has always been the development of an authentic Negro music" that was "a genuine contribution from our race." His band drew strength from itself and its community. "As a group of musicians we understand each other well. We have identical feelings and beliefs in music. Our inspiration is derived from our lives, and the lives of those about us, and those that went before us." By situating himself in a lineage of musicians immersed in an African American community, Ellington claimed another kind of authenticity: one that carried with it political and cultural meanings, as a means of subverting the strictures of the market and the critical discourse. He described a vision that carried with it some of the goals of the Harlem Renaissance and directly addressed the position of African American artists in the music industry.111



Jazz was indeed a "marvel of paradox." It consisted of elements of African and European musical cultures and had developed at the intersection of African American and American society, art and popular music, and high and low culture. In existence for a only few decades, it became imbued with a variety of equally paradoxical meanings by its fans, its detractors, and the people who created it. Like Europe, Handy, Peyton, Armstrong, and a number of "traditional" intellectuals, Ellington responded to the brief history of the meanings associated with jazz and helped to chart its future.

The questions remained, however, and would continue to echo. Should one reclaim the music as an African American expression, or did such a move merely reproduce the logic of racist thinking and social segregation? Was it possible to reconcile a belief that jazz was an important African American expression with its larger place in American culture and the vast numbers of white musicians who were contributing to the idiom? Would it make more sense to describe it as an expression of a national identity or as a universal human impulse? Did musicians benefit from critical definitions of jazz as a product of intuitive, natural genius, or was it important to stress the hard work and self-consciousness that went into the production of the music? Could this music implement broader social transformations? How did one come to terms with the music's popularity, when popularity represented both the people from whom the artists drew sustenance as well as the machinations of the jazz industry and the conditions under which musicians labored? Would casting jazz in the image of classical music be better? And what were the gendered implications of defining jazz in relation to high culture and popular culture?

As the discourse about the music evolved in different social contexts and around new ways of playing jazz, musicians found themselves and their music celebrated and disparaged in changing ways. Musicians who chose to express their ideas in public would come to terms with the idea of the "jazz tradition" and its formal and ideological components. They spoke also of their own musical projects and expressed ideas consistent with their identities as artists, human beings, racialized subjects, and men and women. And black musicians continued to address concerns about their marginalization in the music industry. The following chapter takes this analysis into the 1940s, exploring changes in the jazz community during those years and the challenge that bebop as an emergent art form and a discursive field presented to musicians.



Chapter 1. "A Marvel of Paradox"

1. Duke Ellington, "Duke Says Swing Is Stagnant," in The Duke Ellington Reader, ed. Mark Tucker (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 135 (originally published in Down Beat, February 1939, 2, 16-17); John Hammond, "The Tragedy of Duke Ellington, the 'Black Prince of Jazz,'" in Tucker, The Duke Ellington Reader, 118-120 (originally published in the Brooklyn Eagle, November 11, 1935; and in Down Beat, November 1935, 1, 6).

2. J.A. Rogers, "Jazz at Home," in The New Negro, ed. Alain Locke (New York: Atheneum, 1977), 216.

3. Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr., "Cosmopolitan or Provincial? Ideology in Early Black Music Historiography, 1867-1940," Black Music Research Journal 16, no. 1 (Spring 1996): 15-21; Jon Michael Spencer, The New Negroes and Their Music: The Success of the Harlem Renaissance (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1997), 3, 22-26.

4. W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, in Three Negro Classics (New York: Avon Books, 1965), 378; William Banks, Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996), 65-66; Hazel V. Carby, Race Men (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), 9-41, 91.

5. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 382.

6. Alain Locke, "The New Negro," in The New Negro, 3.

7. Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 27.

8. See especially Amiri Baraka [LeRoi Jones], Blues People: Negro Music in White America (New York: Morrow, 1963; reprint, New York: Quill Paperbacks, 1983); Burton Peretti, The Creation of Jazz: Music, Race, and Culture in Urban America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992); Burton Peretti, Jazz in American Culture (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1997); Kathy Ogren, The Jazz Revolution: Twenties America and the Meaning of Jazz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); Albert Murray, Stomping the Blues (New York: McGraw Hill, 1976; reprint, New York: Da Capo, 1989); William Kenney, Chicago Jazz: A Cultural History, 1904-30 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Ann Douglas, Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s (New York: Noonday Press, 1995).

9. Contrary to myth, most early professional jazz players received some measure of formal training—from school, church, parents, orphanages, fraternal organizations, or other musicians—that included instruction in harmony, sight reading, and composition. Most also had some familiarity with classical and religious music and with various elements of popular music. See Ogren, The Jazz Revolution, 29-30; Peretti, The Creation of Jazz, 100-106; Scott DeVeaux, The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 39-45, 49-69. For an excellent, though less historically specific, discussion of the role of educational networks in the development of jazz, see Paul Berliner, Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), especially pt. 1.

10. Ogren, The Jazz Revolution, 14-18, 35, 43; Baraka [Jones], Blues People, 51-70.

11. Sociologist C. Wright Mills defined a cultural apparatus as "all the organizations and milieux in which artistic, intellectual and scientific work goes on, and of the means by which such work is made available to circles, publics, and the masses" ("The Cultural Apparatus," in Power, Politics, and People: The Collected Essays of C. Wright Mills, ed. Irving Louis Horowitz [New York: Ballantine, 1963], 406). During the first half of the twentieth century, as Michael Denning explains, this cultural apparatus incorporated the arts in two primary areas: "a culture industry of leisure and entertainment built on new technologies of motion pictures, recorded sound, and broadcasting; and a state cultural bureaucracy collecting, subsidizing, and distributing arts, information, and education through a variety of schools and agencies" (The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century [London: Verso, 1996], 38-39).

12. Peretti, The Creation of Jazz, 50-58; James Weldon Johnson, Black Manhattan (New York: Knopf, 1930; reprint, New York: Da Capo, 1991), 162-180; Ogren, The Jazz Revolution, 56-86; Robin D.G. Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (New York: Free Press, 1995), 45; Earl Lewis, In Their Own Interests: Race, Class, and Power in Twentieth-Century Norfolk, Virginia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 91-92.

13. Douglas, Terrible Honesty, 364-368, 419-425; Ogren, The Jazz Revolution, 5, 35-38, 91, 100. As Douglas perceptively notes, recordings and radio broadcasts were perfect vehicles for disseminating African American music, as they conveyed distinct tonalities, rhythms, and emotional depth, which could not be done with any accuracy through sheet music or written instruction.

14. Ted Vincent, Keep Cool, Keep Cool: The Black Activists Who Built the Jazz Age (London: Pluto Press, 1995), 106-160; Ogren, The Jazz Revolution, 113-114; Peretti, The Creation of Jazz, 22-32, 60-64.

15. Kenney, Chicago Jazz, 121-123. See also various advertisements in The Crusader, March, April, May, and September 1920; February, April, May, and July 1921.

16. Kenney, Chicago Jazz, 127.

17. Lawrence Levine, "Jazz in American Culture," in The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, ed. Robert G. O'Meally (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 431-447.

18. Ogren, The Jazz Revolution, 139-161. For a good sample of the responses to jazz during the 1910s and 1920s, see Keeping Time: Readings in Jazz History, ed. Robert Walser (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 3-69.

19. Douglas, Terrible Honesty, 5, 49-52, 217-299, 349-399; Ogren, The Jazz Revolution, 7, 100, 139-161; Peretti, Jazz in American Culture, 17, 31-43; Peretti, The Creation of Jazz, 76-99, 189; David Levering Lewis, When Harlem Was in Vogue (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 99.

20. Peretti, The Creation of Jazz, 76-82; Peretti, Jazz in American Culture, 32-43.

21. Paul Whiteman, press release for 1924, in Henry O. Osgood, So This is Jazz (1926; New York: Da Capo, 1978), 144-145; Whiteman's statement is also reprinted in Reading Jazz, ed. David Meltzer (San Francisco: Mercury House, 1993), 116-117. Two years later, Whiteman published his autobiography, which did not mention African American contributions to the idiom; see Paul Whiteman, with Mary Margaret McBride, Jazz (New York: J.H. Sears, 1926).

22. Studies emphasizing the elitism of these intellectuals include Nathan Huggins, Harlem Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971); and Lewis, When Harlem Was in Vogue. For studies that address the complexities of Harlem intellectuals' assessments of jazz, see Ogren, The Jazz Revolution, 111-138; and Spencer, The New Negroes and Their Music.

23. James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), 215-251.

24. James Weldon Johnson, "Preface" to The Book of Negro American Poetry, in Voices of the Harlem Renaissance, ed. Nathan Huggins (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 281-283.

25. Ibid., 281-288. See Ramsey, "Cosmopolitan or Provincial?" 22-25, for a discussion of Johnson's cultural politics.

26. Johnson, "Preface," 283-300.

27. For interesting comments on the conundrum facing black intellectuals, see Gerald Early, "Pulp and Circumstance: The Story of Jazz in High Places," in O'Meally, The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, 393-430. For a discussion of New Negro intellectuals' aversion to the constraints of racial categories, see Lewis, When Harlem Was in Vogue, 176-178; and Ross Posnock, Color and Culture: Black Writers and the Making of the Modern Intellectual (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998).

28. James Weldon Johnson, ed., The Book of American Negro Spirituals (New York: Viking, 1925), 28-32; Brent Edwards, "The Seemingly Eclipsed Window of Form: James Weldon Johnson's Prefaces," in O'Meally, The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, 590.

29. Langston Hughes, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," in Huggins, Voices of the Harlem Renaissance, 308.

30. Ibid., 305-309.

31. Zora Neale Hurston, "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," in Folklore, Memoirs, and Other Writings (New York: Library of America, 1995), 828-829.

32. Ogren suggests that there may have been a certain amount of irony in Hurston's description; see The Jazz Revolution, 136.

33. Hughes, "The Negro Artist," 307-309.

34. Hurston, "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," 829; Zora Neale Hurston, "Characteristics of Negro Expression," in O'Meally, The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, 304.

35. Rogers, "Jazz at Home," 217-220.

36. Ibid., 218-221.

37. Ibid., 216-217, 223-224.

38. Samuel Floyd, The Power of Black Music: Interpreting Its History from Africa to the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 100-107.

39. Vincent, Keep Cool, 62-65; Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans, 2d ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1983), 343-345.

40. Ogren suggests that this description may have been based on the experiences of Tom Brown's Dixieland Jass Band; see The Jazz Revolution, 142.

41. "A Negro Explains Jazz," in Readings in Black Music, ed. Eileen Southern, 2d ed. (New York: WW. Norton, 1983), 239 (originally published in Literary Digest, April 26, 1919, 28-29); Early, "Pulp and Circumstance," 416-420.

42. Europe is quoted in Southern, The Music of Black Americans, 288.

43. "A Negro Explains Jazz," 240-241.

44. See W.C. Handy, Father of the Blues, ed. Arna Bontemps (New York: Macmillan, 1941), 33. For additional comments on the restrictions faced by black musicians during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see Southern, The Music of Black Americans, 242-245, 296, 424.

45. Handy, Father of the Blues, 75-77.

46. Ibid., 78-79, 97-100, 119-121.

47. "Men of Our Times," The Crusader, January 1919, 11; advertisements for the Pace and Handy Music Company in The Crusader, January 1919 (back cover) and September 1920 (33); advertisements for the Handy Brothers Music Company, Inc., in The Crusader, June 1921 (inside front cover) and October 1921 (inside front cover).

48. Handy, Father of the Blues, 210, 230; Abbe Niles, "Introduction" to Blues: An Anthology, by W.C. Handy (New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1926), 1, 14.

49. Niles, "Introduction," 1-6, 10-13.

50. Ironically, Handy would later celebrate the role that white Harlem Renaissance patron Carl Van Vechten, who has frequently been criticized for his primitivistic outlook, played in promoting the blues. In his autobiography, Handy mentions the essays about music by Alain Locke and J.A. Rogers in The New Negro and the references to the blues in the poetry of Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown. Handy thought, however, that Van Vechten had done more to draw attention to the idiom; see Father of the Blues, 229-230.

51. Niles, "Introduction," 1, 14-16; Handy, Father of the Blues, 119-121.

52. Niles, "Introduction," 8, 17-18.

53. Peretti, The Creation of Jazz, 22-75, 100-119.

54. Niles, "Introduction," 17-22, 31-32, 39. Niles and Handy also saw validation in Harry Yerkes's 1925 performance of "Jazz America," a four-movement symphony written by Albert Chiaffarelli and based in large part on a Handy blues composition.

55. Angela Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday (New York: Pantheon, 1998), xvii, 3-41; Hazel Carby, "'It Just Be's Dat Way Sometime': The Sexual Politics of Women's Blues," in Unequal Sisters: A Multi-Cultural Reader in U.S. Women's History, ed. Ellen Carol DuBois and Vicki L. Ruiz (New York: Routledge, 1990), 238-249.

56. Niles, "Introduction," 22-23; Handy, Father of the Blues, 209. Women with credits in Handy's Blues: An Anthology include Handy's daughter Lucille, who penned the music to "Deep River Blues"; Mercedes Gilbert, who wrote the lyrics to "Friendless Blues"; and Ethel Neal, who cowrote "The Blues I've Got."

57. Carby, Race Men; Kevin Gaines, Uplifting the Race (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).

58. Sherry Ortner, "Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?" in Women, Culture, and Society, ed. Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1974), 67-87.

59. Sally Placksin, Jazzwomen, 1900 to the Present: Their Words, Lives, and Music (London: Wideview, 1982; Pluto Press, 1987), 41; Linda Dahl, Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazzwomen (London: Quartet Books, 1984), ix-x; Peretti, The Creation of Jazz, 35-36, 123-124, 160.

60. Peretti, The Creation of Jazz, 35-36, 123-124.

61. Patrick Hill, "Furious Style: Jazz, Sporting Life, and the Forging of a Masculinist Cultural Politics in Black Chicago, 1912-1923," working paper, University of Michigan, 1998.

62. Edward Kennedy Ellington, Music Is My Mistress (New York: Doubleday, 1973; reprint, New York: Da Capo, 1976), 20.

63. For a description of clubwomen's aversion to jazz and other popular entertainments, see Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 200.

64. Susan McClary, Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 7-8, 17, 57.

65. Ibid., 81-82, 101-103.

66. Ibid., 25.

67. Marlon B. Ross, "Romantic Quest and Conquest: Troping Masculine Power in the Crisis of Poetic Identity," in Romanticism and Feminism, ed. Ann K. Mellor (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 26-51.

68. Douglas, Terrible Honesty, 409.

69. Ogren, The Jazz Revolution, 98.

70. Peretti, Jazz in American Culture, 47-51; Gioia, The History of Jazz, 49-66, 106-122.

71. Ogren, The Jazz Revolution, 87; Peretti, The Creation of Jazz, 71, 115-116, 151-155.

72. Ogren, The Jazz Revolution, 50-51, 105, 115; Kenney, Chicago Jazz, 56-57.

73. Dave Peyton, "The Musical Bunch," Chicago Defender (national edition), January 23, 1926, 6; March 19, 1927, 6; April 16, 1927, 6. Peyton was not without his criticisms of Armstrong, however; in his March 19, 1927, column, Peyton praised Armstrong's musicianship but said the trumpeter did not have the discipline or organizational skills to be a leader.

74. Peyton, "The Musical Bunch," Chicago Defender (national edition), March 10, 1928, 6.

75. Peyton, "The Musical Bunch," Chicago Defender (national edition), May 21, 1927, 6; April 14, 1928, 6; March 9, 1929, 6; March 23, 1929, 6. The March 9 column is quoted in Kenney, Chicago Jazz, 127.

76. Peyton, "The Musical Bunch," Chicago Defender (national edition), August 17, 1926, 6; May 12, 1928, 6; March 10, 1928, 6; June 30, 1928, 6.

77. Tucker, The Duke Ellington Reader, 3-22.

78. Ibid., 31-40; Graham Lock, Blutopia: Visions of the Future and Revisions of the Past in the Work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 77-88. For a lengthier treatment of Ellington's ideas during the 1930s and 1940s, see Lock's two chapters on Ellington in Blutopia.

79. Mark Tucker, "The Renaissance Education of Duke Ellington," in Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance, ed. Samuel Floyd Jr. (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990), 111-117, 121-122. Tucker mentions that Henry Lee Grant expressed such views about popular music in the journal Negro Musician, which he edited in 1921. For a similar take, see Albert Murray, The Blue Devils of Nada: A Contemporary American Approach to Aesthetic Statement (New York: Random House, 1996), 83-96.

80. Janet Mabie, "Ellington's 'Mood in Indigo': Harlem's 'Duke' Seeks to Express His Race," in Tucker, The Duke Ellington Reader, 41-43 (originally published in Christian Science Monitor, December 13, 1930); Lock, Blutopia, 77-88.

81. Florence Zunser, "'Opera Must Die,' Says Galli-Curci! Long Live the Blues!" in Tucker, The Duke Ellington Reader, 44-45 (originally published in New York Evening Graphic Magazine, 27 December 1930).

82. Duke Ellington, "The Duke Steps Out," in Tucker, The Duke Ellington Reader, 46-50 (originally published in Rhythm, March 1931, 20-22). Tucker suggests that the editors may have changed Ellington's prose for this essay, but, as he also notes, the ideas seem consistent with Ellington's project.

83. Ibid., 48-49.

84. Ibid., 49.

85. Ellington, "The Duke Steps Out," 50; Gioia, The History of Jazz, 131; Lock, Blutopia, 104-109.

86. David Stowe, Swing Changes: Big Band Jazz in New Deal America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), 1-38; Lewis Erenberg, Swinging That Dream (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 120-149; Denning, The Cultural Front, xiv-xviii, 4-9, 324-337.

87. Denning, The Cultural Front, 42-48, 337-338.

88. Stowe, Swing Changes, 21-24; Down Beat, June 1937, 1, 3; Samuel B. Charters and Leonard B. Kunstadt, Jazz: A History of the New York Scene (Garden City: Doubleday, 1962; reprint, New York: Da Capo, 1981), 259.

89. Scott DeVeaux, "The Emergence of the Jazz Concert, 1935-1945," American Music 7 (Spring 1989): 7-12, 24-25.

90. Mark Naison, Communists in Harlem During the Depression (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983; reprint, New York: Grove Press, 1985), 193-212, 298-301; Denning, The Cultural Front, 333-334; "Harlem After Dark," Amsterdam News, February 11, 1939, 20.

91. "Thousands Jam Great Hall at City College for Musical Fete," Amsterdam News, January 7, 1939, 12; "Harlem After Dark," Amsterdam News, February 4, 1939, 16; "Artists Set for Concert," Amsterdam News, February 11, 1939, 20. Determining the extent to which participation in a benefit reflected a musician's politics is difficult. Some musicians indeed were active in unions or more radical Popular Front organizations during the 1930s. Pianist Teddy Wilson, for example, taught at the left-wing Metropolitan Music School in New York. Other musicians' connections to the left were more tenuous, but, as Denning suggests, artists who participated in these benefits "recognized the social crises of the depression and fascism, and were attracted to the hopes and energies of the Popular Front social movement" (The Cultural Front, 333). As Handy himself put it in a 1938 letter that discussed a birthday party given for him by a "Spanish Democracy organization": "I am no communist but I have taken part in their programs for the Scottsboro Boys and felt very good in doing so. I have taken part in benefits for the flood sufferers, Jews, Catholics, Negroes, whites and everybody else and at the time I was sympathetic with the Loyalists of Spain" (W.C. Handy, letter of November 4, 1938, reprinted in Father of the Blues, ix).

92. Stowe, Swing Changes, 102-109, 122-123.

93. Scholars generally point to Horace Gerlach, an arranger who worked with Armstrong and contributed an analysis of Armstrong's music at the end of the text, as the ghostwriter. Dan Morgenstern suggests that Armstrong wrote or dictated some of the earlier passages, with later parts adapted from interview notes. Similarly, Thomas Brothers says: "I find it likely that the relationship between the published text and Armstrong's original text was somewhat close, that Armstrong was edited and embellished and altered, but that we can read a great deal of him in this book." William Kenney believes the ghostwriter had a larger role. See Dan Morgenstern, "Foreword" to Swing That Music, by Louis Armstrong (London, New York: Longman's, Green, 1936; reprint, New York: Da Capo, 1993), vii, x-xi; Thomas Brothers, Louis Armstrong in His Own Words: Selected Writings by Louis Armstrong (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 203; William H. Kenney, "Negotiating the Color Line: Louis Armstrong's Autobiographies," in Jazz in Mind: Essays on the History and Meanings of Jazz, ed. Reginald T. Buckner and Steven Weiland (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991), 38-59.

94. Armstrong, Swing That Music, 9, 12, 29-30, 74, 105, 122.

95. Ibid., 32, 72-75, 104-105, 121-122.

96. Alain Locke, The Negro and His Music (Washington, D.C.: Associates in Negro Folk Education, 1936; reprint, New York: Kennikat Press, 1968), 78-79, 93-94, 98-99.

97. Ibid., 96, 130.

98. See, for example, Paul Burgett, "Vindication as a Thematic Principle in the Writings of Alain Locke on the Music of Black Americans," in Floyd, Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance, 29-39; Lorenzo Thomas, "The Bop Aesthetic and Black Intellectual Tradition," Library Journal of the University of Texas 24, nos. 1 and 2 (1994): 105-117.

99. Locke, The Negro and His Music, 4, 86, 100-103, 129.

100. Ibid., 130-137.

101. See Bernard Gendron, "'Moldy Figs' and Modernists: Jazz at War (1942-1946)," in Jazz Among the Discourses, ed. Krin Gabbard (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), 31-56.

102. For extended discussion of the complicated issues involved with jazz criticism in the 1930s, see Stowe, Swing Changes, 50-93; John Gennari, "The Politics of Culture and Identity in American Jazz Criticism" (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1993), chaps. 2 and 3.

103. "White Man's Music Started Jazz—Says Nick," Down Beat, March 1937, 1-2; Paul Eduard Miller, "Roots of Hot White Jazz Are Negroid," Down Beat, April 1937, 5; Paul Eduard Miller, "Critic Deplores Recording of the 'Jazzed-Up' Classics: Real Swing Is Ellington's Jungle Jazz—Not Semi-Classical Music," Down Beat, June 1937, 14; Gennari, "The Politics of Culture and Identity in American Jazz Criticism," 78-87, 102-103, 123; Stowe, Swing Changes, 54, 62-80, 89-93.

104. Stowe, Swing Changes, 86-92.

105. Ibid., 87-88; Benny Carter, "Do Critics Really Know What It's All About?" Metronome, May 1937, 17.

106. Like James Weldon Johnson's reference in his discussion of spirituals, Ellington's comments here anticipate Baraka's later critique of swing; see the chapter titled "Swing—From Verb to Noun," in Baraka [Jones], Blues People.

107. Ellington, "Duke Says Swing Is Stagnant," 132-135.

108. Ibid., 134; Duke Ellington, "Duke Becomes a Critic," in Tucker, The Duke Ellington Reader, 138-140 (originally published in Down Beat, July 1939, 8, 35).

109. Duke Ellington, "'Situation Between the Critics and Musicians Is Laughable'—Ellington," in Tucker, The Duke Ellington Reader, 136-137 (originally published in Down Beat, April 1939, 4, 9); Duke Ellington, "Duke Concludes Criticism of the Critics," in Tucker, The Duke Ellington Reader, 137-138 (originally published in Down Beat, May 1939, 14); Hammond, "The Tragedy of Duke Ellington," 120. For a discussion of the feud between Ellington and Hammond, see Stowe, Swing Changes, 50-54; and Lock, Blutopia, 119-125.

110. Stowe, Swing Changes, 52, 61.

111. Ellington, "Duke Says Swing Is Stagnant," 135.

Copyright © 2002 by the Regents of the University of California. Not to be reproduced without written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents


1 "A Marvel of Paradox": Jazz and African American Modernity
2 "Dizzy Atmosphere": The Challenge of Bebop
3 "Passions of a Man": The Poetics and Politics of Charles Mingus
4 "Straight Ahead": Abbey Lincoln and the Challenge of Jazz Singing
5 Practicing "Creative Music": The Black Arts Imperative in the Jazz Community
6 Writing "Creative Music": Theorizing the Art and Politics of Improvisation
7 "The Majesty of the Blues": Wynton Marsalis's Jazz Canon

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