Session 19 – Transnationalism 3

Sunday 4 September – 12.00-13.15 (Sweelinck)
Chair: Walter van de Leur

Lisa Barg – Queer Nationalism in Mid-century Jazz The Case of Billy Strayhorn

This paper addresses issues of cultural-national translation and queer history in jazz though a focus on three mid-century works composed and/or arranged by Billy Strayhorn: a song (‘Wounded Love’) composed for an Off-Broadway 1953 production of García Lorca’s The Love of Don Perlimplín for Belisa in Their Garden; Strayhorn’s contributions to the suite Such Sweet Thunder (1958), in paricular ‘Up And Down, Up And Down (I Will Lead Them Up and Down),’ an instrumental ‘parallel’ to the character of Puck from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and the final movement, ‘Arabesque Cookie,’ from the Strayhorn-Ellington collaborative adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite (1960). Specifically, I will examine in these texts Strayhorn’s musical engagement with artistic figures, themes, topics and aesthetic practices which have strong queer historical affiliations.

Notwithstanding significant differences in genre and history, these works, which originate in specific dramatic or programmatic contexts (two plays and a ballet, respectively), share aspects of translations across musical, racial, national and temporal boundaries and foreground queer topics such as failed or impossible love, stylized exotica and perverse pleasures/desire. As such, these pieces represent queer transnational encounters, not least because two of the pieces involve a spectral gay collaborator (García Lorca and Tchaikovsky), while the third is based on an artist (Shakespeare) whose work has an extensive history of queer readings.

How might we situate Strayhorn’s imaginative translations within modernist queer cultural history and, more specifically, the history of black gay cultural production? How can looking at the programmatic and expressive features of these works through queer historical frames reorient the conventional scripts of Ellingtonia and jazz history? In the course of exploring a web of transnational queer affiliations surrounding these works and the kinds of racial and sexual identities they call forth, my approach suggests an alternative model for writing jazz history.

Scott Currie – Stylistic Diaspora or Deracination: The Transnational Politics of Avant-Garde Jazz

The notion of a jazz avant-garde, as first championed by Jazz Review contributors in the late-1950s and early-1960s, owes its half-century longevity and now-secure institutionalization not only to the manner in which it has served to valorise jazz as (post) modernist art music, but also to the strategic ambiguity it has allowed and even embraced with respect to cultural and national identity. Based on over a decade of oral-historical and ethnographic research with artist collectives in New York and Berlin, this paper examines the shaping influence of these intertwining avant-garde dynamics on the emergence and transnational flourishing of a radically iconoclastic movement that—while recognizably grounded in African-American expressive cultural traditions—paradoxically helped undermine the status of vanguardist jazz as quintessentially American music.

Ultimately, I contend, from its integrationist Third Stream roots at home, through Emanzipationist anxieties of influence abroad, to the co-dependent complexities of the contemporary globalized scene, the schizophonic implications of jazz avant-gardism have facilitated an exnomination of its origins in Black culture, which has demonstrably advanced the recognition and prestige of innovative Black artists even — or perhaps insofar — as it has encouraged the appropriation and transformation of their improvisational practices.

Tom Sykes – Jazz in the Cloud?: Researching the Dissemination of Jazz Online

Music is no longer something the mainstream audience owns and collects—’Music is in the Cloud’ (Wikström 2009: 4). Jazz is mostly on the margins of the ‘mainstream’ of music, so are its recordings also situated in the internet ‘cloud,’ or do jazz fans still collect and own them? Does fan activity in this respect vary from one country to another (within Europe for example), and therefore is it connected to national identity? Indeed, is national identity in jazz being diluted or strengthened by the internet? Jazz culture in general can be disseminated in various ways in cyberspace, and this is where jazz can be experienced, promoted and criticised in a form of discourse peculiar to the open, interactive nature of the medium.

My research into the effects of digital media on the dissemination and consumption of jazz involves conducting online surveys—’virtual ethnography’ (Hine 2000)—of what could be considered to be the online community of jazz enthusiasts. With reference to the work of Baym (2010), David (2010) and others involved in the study of online communities, as well as authors such as Jenkins (2006) and Lessig (2008) on fandom and internet activity, this paper outlines the pros and cons of such research, my methodology and the stage I have reached to date.

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