The Rise of a Jazz Art World

Paul Lopes
Cambridge University Press: Cambridge
2002
0521000394 (pb); 0521801915 (hb)
$25.00 (pb); $75.00 (hb)
302

Order this book?


Front CoverPaul Lopes was certainly aware, writing his book on the formation of a new culture, that his effort could be proudly be seen as one of the latest achievements in a long historical process started back in the early 1950s. Lopes calls this construction of a jazz history by way of proliferation, whether in words or notes, the literation of jazz, which reached its most creative peak around the end of 1970s. However, the literation of jazz is not only a matter of tracking down the history of the jazz in serious books and articles, it is also evident in jazz critiques, popular articles and panels published in jazz journals and magazines, among which the most important were Metronome and Downbeat, which portrayed jazz's heartbeat in 20th century.

Yet, the reader should not get the false impression that Lopes' book is merely about the literature. The author's prime intention is to depict the evolution of meaning and practice in the world of jazz as a genuine demonstration of American culture. Although a theoretical background of Lopes' sociological interpretation of jazz can easily be extracted from the text, it is only briefly disclosed at the end of the book. By quoting Robert Wuthnow, Pierre Bourdieu and Richard A. Peterson, Lopes sets a useful framework for the interpretation of the social and cultural dimensions of jazz. He borrows institutional, subjective, structural, and dramaturgic elements from Wuthnow, whilst Bourdieu draws his attention to the concept called the field of forces, and the way in which individuals may engage this field. But it is Peterson, who provides Lopes with a far-reaching theoretical perspective. An organisational arrangement, in which not only jazz artists but also hepcats, jazz enthusiasts, bepoppers, hipsters and many others produce and consume jazz culture, is vital for its historical construction and transformation.

The Jazz age of the 1920s has its roots in the 19th century, when jazz professionalism developed its first features. Music was segregated along racial lines. Unions and band orchestras controlled the best-paid 'gigs'. A lust for a cultivated American musical vernacular was also perpetuated by the highbrow tradition of Europe. This was a moment, when the clear barrier between high and low jazz musical taste slowly began to dissolve, although the synthesis of the vernacular and advanced jazz techniques was still highly dependent on race. White performers considered themselves as the only true cultivators of jazz music during the period of the jazz craze. Racial differentiation also took its place after both wars, despite the enlistment of black jazz musicians into army. Before the great depression, the top jazz orchestras and recording dates were reserved almost exclusively for white musicians. In the 1930s, the economic situation in general deteriorated, but the population of non-professional black jazz musicians was hit most. Their musical skills were not recognised until the end of 1930s, when swing musicians, black and white, shared the idea of racial integration. White romantic hepcats, who identified with black colleagues and vernacular jazz, were the avant-garde in terms of assimilation. At the same time jitterbugs, extreme swing addicts, emerged. In addition, connoisseurs, longhairs and jazz enthusiasts participated in the constitution of a jazz market. In the 1940s, jazz fans were already deeply involved in collecting almost anything that linked to jazz, from records to information, to constructing exchange networks, which led to a further popularisation of jazz. The development of new organisational structure of creation, improvisation in jam sessions, where at first black jazz musicians, later followed by their white colleagues, practised in small groups outside their regular jobs, was a result of the decline in the big band market in 1950s. By the end of 1970s, the jazz's renaissance was finished, and since that time the audience of jazz has become more select.

Lopes' The Rise of a Jazz World is a fine study in jazz history, due to its emphasis on the social and organisational aspects of jazz. The only thing that really surprises me is the conclusion, which is, in a way, replaced by a short depiction of a theoretical horizon on which an interpretation of jazz can be made and its significance to American culture. I expected this to be done in the preface as a guide for the reader.

TomaŻ Krpiè
University of Ljubljana, Slovenia