Volume X, Special Issue on Jazz

Guest Editors' Introduction

This special issue of AMERICANA offers a collection of essays to intimate how jazz studies – one of the most vigorous interdisciplinary areas of cultural studies since the 1990s – revised our notions of jazz in conjunction with transnational American studies. Like new musicology highlighted by Joseph Kerman, Lawrence Kramer, Susan McClary or Rose Subotnik – to mention only a few luminaries of this highly controversial scholarship with “an increasingly open-ended intellectual climate” (Regula Burckhard Quareshi), jazz studies also challenges its own traditional boundaries and deploys hitherto unwelcome analytical tools derived from post-structuralism, gender studies, psychoanalysis, cultural studies, postcolonial theory and critical race studies. No longer resorting to biographical research, musical inventories, phonographic commentary, or sheer fetishism to glorify jazz artists, new jazz studies engages with jazz culture as a continuously changing, dynamic system of multiple interactions structured by race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and class; to wit, its canon- formation, as in literary studies, is also grasped as a discourse of power. This collection – to our knowledge the first of its kind in Hungary – is also proof of the continuously opening horizon of new jazz studies, the essays here predominantly drawing out the racial inflections of jazz.

The editors of this special issue are happy to announce among the contributors Krin Gabbard, one of the formative voices of new jazz studies who has been instrumental in reconceptualizing jazz scholarship as well as reinvigorating its discursive apparatus. Professor Gabbard’s essay “Playing the Clown: Charles Mingus, Jimmy Knepper and Jerry Maguire” is an extract from his evolving book about Charles Mingus, the stunningly innovative but also unfriendly musical genius who, on occasion, did not shrink back from abusing his own musicians, including white trombonist, Jimmy Knepper. This essay explores the complicated and racially charged relationship between Mingus and Knepper rendered as “reverse minstrelsy,” a kind of historically sedimented power dynamics whereby, instead of black man, white man is worked into the act of making himself a clown. While laying out this argument, Gabbard also contextualizes it by pointing out deep-seated correspondences of racialization in American culture played out in jazz and film, the latter demonstrated by a 1996 Hollywood production, Jerry Maguire.

Manuel Zabel’s essay “Fight Jim Crow! A Jazzy Protest Born in the U.S.A.” also addresses scenes of racialization in American jazz culture, problematizing modes of appropriation in the civil rights struggle. Jazz is addressed as a “cultural phenomenon highly charged with extramusical content in a racialized America of the 1950s and 1960s” when jazz was instrumentalized to challenge sociopolitical inequalities, indeed, it was deployed to construct black and white agents on opposite turfs. As a result, it is not only the narrative of Jim Crow but also that of Crow Jim – a kind of reverse minstrelsy again – that the argument highlights and resituates.

Pierangelo Castagneto’s “Ambassador Dizzy: Jazz Diplomacy in the Cold War Era” focuses on yet another aspect of jazz culture, this time contextualized within the international arena of cold war politics. Castagneto discusses jazz constructed as a discourse of the free world, that of the American administration adamant about promoting American expressive cultures, jazz among them, by federally funded programs in their mission to spread American democracy without, while also seeking to handle race relations within. The essay is particularly interested in teasing out Dizzy Gillespie’s State Department tours and the personal-political dimensions of the black artists’ involvement in cultural diplomacy.

Kornél Zipernovszky’s “’Who will win­ – the jazz or Gypsy, it is hard to tell.’ Gypsy Musicians Defend Hungarian National Culture Against American Jazz” explores a specific contact zone between Hungarian and American culture in post-Trianon Hungary where the first dramatic encounter between Hungarian Gypsy orchestras with American jazz bands was staged by a racialized narrative of Hungarian exceptionalism. Zipernovszky addresses the plight with which Gypsy musicians were to cope on losing their jobs, discussing negative racialization while also pointing out the dynamics of positive racialization, jazz becoming identified as Race music in the contemporary U. S. A. as part of the African American struggle for racial integration.

Jazz promoter Péter Pallai’s “Respectability and All that Jazz” concludes the collection with an emotionally charged essay, drawing on his own insights into jazz from the perspective of the enthusiastic expert listener, indeed, from that of the committed participant observer of jazz culture. His non-academic discourse notwithstanding, Pallai probes some of the foundational issues of new jazz scholarship when problematizing the binary of elite and popular culture as well as the type of critical responses to jazz that this untenable hypothesis entails.

Éva Federmayer and Kornél Zipernovszky