Latin Jazz: The Other Jazz

Washburne, Christopher J.

Since the mid-1940s the jazz scene in the United States has been gradually
moving away from playing a significant role in mainstream popular
culture to a more marginalized one, aligning itself with practices associated
with Western art music traditions. For jazz musicians, this shift from
"popular" to "high art" status has proven advantageous in some respects,
awarding an unprecedented level of respectability and increased recognition
of artistic merit. This is particularly significant, though bittersweet,
for many African American jazz innovators who after persevering for years
through much racial strife, are finally receiving long overdue accolades.
The road from brothels and speakeasys to Lincoln Center was a long and
hard-fought one. Doors to institutional funding, concert halls, and universities
(i.e., "the privileged white establishment") are open to the jazz
world to an unprecedented extent. Programs such as Jazz at Lincoln
Center certainly can be seen as a victory for those musicians and proponents
of jazz, such as John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Charles Mingus, Leonard
Feather, Barry Ulanov, Stanley Crouch, and Albert Murray, among others,
who have demanded that the music be taken seriously and afforded a
respectability absent in much of its history.
Along with newly-established jazz programs in colleges and concert
halls has come a demand for jazz scholarship to both supply teaching materials
and to determine a canon of "great works" to be preserved through
performance. A subject worthy of study is also worthy of rigorous academic
analysis and documentation, and accordingly, numerous doctoral
dissertations in recent years have focused on jazz. No longer is the construction
of jazz historical narratives left primarily to musicians, journalists,
and critics; they are now also being written by trained scholars in
musicology, ethnomusicology, history, and cultural studies. With the
emergence of this new literature and strong institutional support, as well
as the release of influential documentaries and compilations, such as Ken
Burns's Jazz and its spin-off recordings, we are at an important juncture in
the construction of the jazz historical narrative. Now is an opportune time,
as the canon is being reconstructed, to stop and ask, what history is being
written? What history is being unwritten?



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Columbia University
Published Here
November 19, 2014