Waiting for the Writers

I have been relatively absent from this blog for a few weeks as I learned the SFJAZZ Collective music and begin touring it. About which more soon.

But I got this letter from John Murphy, who teaches at University of North Texas in Denton. He’s proposing this topic for a panel for the 2007 Society for Ethnomusicology annual meeting. In the third paragraph he mentions “jazz history as currently practiced,” to which his thesis would, I assume, be a corrective. It’ll be interesting to see whether and how this shapes up.

Rethinking Jazz History Since 1967

In his 1997 book, Scott DeVeaux presents bebop as the midpoint of jazz
history. In an influential 1991 article, he argues that the 1950s
“jazz tradition” paradigm reshaped jazz history in the image of bebop,
and that the jazz narrative loses coherence as it approaches the
present. One sign of this loss of coherence or direction is the
impression one gets from the 2001 PBS jazz documentary that the 1960s
avant-garde and the fusion of the 1970s were mistakes that left the
jazz tradition stalled until the revival of acoustic mainstream jazz
in the 1980s.

A recent debate over the value of jazz recorded in the 1970s and 1980s
has called attention to the fact that jazz history since 1967 needs
rethinking. A 2006 essay by Dave Douglas links the conservatism of the
jazz establishment in recent decades to the political conservatism
that has reshaped U.S. politics and society since the 1970s. This
prompted discussions that resulted in a collaborative website, Ear of
the Behearer, that provides information about creative music recorded
between 1970 and 1989.

A decade from now will mark 100 years since the first jazz recording,
“Livery Stable Blues.” At that time, the chronological midpoint of
jazz history will be 1967, the year of John Coltrane’s death, which
left the emerging avant-garde without one of its leading figures and
prompted many musicians to rethink their creative direction. This
panel explores the implications of using 1967, or the 1960s in
general, as both a chronological and a conceptual divide. In
conceptual terms, we argue that jazz history as currently practiced is
too narrowly focused on a rigid notion of jazz as a unique genre; that
it pays insufficient attention to jazz outside the U.S.; that it
focuses too much on critical reception and not enough on cultural
politics, the music business, and the views of the musicians
themselves. In practical terms, we argue that is time to begin
teaching jazz history with equal emphasis on music before and after
the 1960s, and music in the U.S. and elsewhere. By presenting
ethnomusicologically-informed case studies of jazz and improvised
music since 1967, we hope to suggest new ways of theorizing the jazz
tradition that will contribute to a rethinking of the standard
narrative of jazz history.