Discontinuity in the Music of Django Reinhardt

Givan, Ben

Most analytical literature on jazz still places a premium on structural
unity. Early writers, such as Andre Hodeir (1956) and Gunther Schuller
(1958), sought to legitimize the music in the eyes of the musicological
community by demonstrating its accessibility to traditional formalist interpretation.
This methodological orientation persists in much current jazz
analysis (e.g., Block 1990; Martin 1996; Larson 1998; Harker 1999). In recent
years, however, the formalist view of jazz improvisations as autonomous
artifacts, whose aesthetic value stems from their internal coherence,
has been challenged on the grounds that it remains as inseparably
tied to an inapposite, European ideological heritage as the conservatism it
opposes. Ethnomusicologists and "new" musicologists have instead preferred
to divert their attention toward jazz's immediate social context-primarily
the vernacular culture of black America-and its historic roots
in sub-Saharan Africa (Tomlinson 1992; Walser 1995; Floyd 1995). This
more humanistic perspective has served to dispel formalism's claims to
objectivity. A compromise can be found between these opposing standpoints by regarding
musical structure and social context as inextricably interdependent
(Monson 1996:186, 190). But a further possibility that has yet to be
considered seriously is that jazz might be subjected to close analysis without
necessarily invoking the organicist corollary that the music itself
ought, at some level, to exhibit a unified structure. Indeed, as this paper
will show, an examination of manifestations of discontinuity, rather than
of unity, may offer insight into the creative processes underlying improvised



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Columbia University
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November 19, 2014