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date: 18 January 2021

Jazz in America after 1945free

  • John GennariJohn GennariDepartment of English, University of Vermont


In the post-1945 period, jazz moved rapidly from one major avant-garde revolution (the birth of bebop) to another (the emergence of free jazz) while developing a profusion of subgenres (hard bop, progressive, modal, Third Stream, soul jazz) and a new idiomatic persona (cool or hip) that originated as a form of African American resistance but soon became a signature of transgression and authenticity across the modern arts and culture. Jazz’s long-standing affiliation with African American urban life and culture intensified through its central role in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s. By the 1970s, jazz, now fully eclipsed in popular culture by rock n’ roll, turned to electric instruments and fractured into a multitude of hyphenated styles (jazz-funk, jazz-rock, fusion, Latin jazz). The move away from acoustic performance and traditional codes of blues and swing musicianship generated a neoclassical reaction in the 1980s that coincided with a mission to establish an orthodox jazz canon and honor the music’s history in elite cultural institutions. Post-1980s jazz has been characterized by tension between tradition and innovation, earnest preservation and intrepid exploration, Americanism and internationalism.


In the years between the two world wars, jazz was nothing less than the pulse of American modernity. With its youthful dynamism, formal flexibility, emotional honesty, tolerant social norms, and racial mixing, jazz helped supplant entrenched Victorian ideals of hierarchy, purity, moral discipline, and cultural uplift. Jazz was the sound of an urban, industrial America humanized by the warmth, spontaneity, and expressiveness of African American culture. The music and its surrounding culture marked a shift in the United States from a largely traditional rural and small-town Anglo-German Protestant culture to a dynamic, forward-looking one centered in bustling metropolitan centers like Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh, and Detroit. There, African American migrants and southern and Eastern European immigrants jostled and mingled, while the most forward-looking white intellectuals, artists, and bohemians went “slumming” among these lower classes as they absorbed ideas and energies unleashed by Darwinism, socialism, Freudianism, feminism, primitivism, Futurism, and other modern modes of thought and action. Jazz changed the way American bodies sounded, looked, and moved, in turn changing the shape of American imagination and desire. Jazz was modern energy and movement: it catalyzed the shift from old to new, field to factory, prim and proper social dancing to the revved-up vigor of the Lindy Hop, rigidly scored compositions to improvised hot solos. Throughout the Depression and World War II, millions of Americans danced to the big bands of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Jimmie Lunceford, and a host of others. The hallmark of the swing big band, an American modernization of the Germanic symphonic orchestra, was a streamlined rhythmic groove that echoed the propulsive dynamism of the fast-moving railroad train.

By the end of World War II, then, jazz had already served for several decades along with the Hollywood cinema as a key herald of modern Americanism. But only in the years following the 1945 armistice did modern jazz—the progressive stylistic thrust within jazz itself—emerge as a full-blown movement. Jazz’s own internal modernist revolution began to take shape in the early 1940s when a group of New York–based African American musicians started to hold informal, after-hours jam sessions in Harlem. These musicians—drummer Kenny Clarke, guitarist Charlie Christian, trumpeter John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, alto saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker, pianists Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk foremost among them—had begun to rebel against the standardized and mechanized aspects of big band work. They hungered for the intimacy of small-group jazz and sparkled with new ideas about harmony, time, and texture. On up-tempo tunes, they wanted to swing even harder than the swing bands did; on slow ballads, they wanted the music to become more deeply expressive and personal.

Parker and Gillespie pioneered a new style of horn soloing full of virtuosic phrasing, blistering tempos, and agile, quicksilver runs through and over the tune’s chord patterns. Clarke accented the horn players’ fractured, serpentine phrasings with a new drumming approach featuring abstract, almost ironic snare drum riffs and—in place of the martial four-to-the-floor style of swing drumming—the deft dropping of bass drum “bombs” in odd corners of the meter. Monk hatched a musical vision situated in the harmonic innovations of bebop but still firmly grounded in the older swing and stride piano traditions. He eschewed the runaway tempos and flashy technical displays that became bebop hallmarks in favor of medium tempo swing grooves and ballads tethered to the song’s melody, even while waxing experimental and futuristic in his use of dissonant chord clusters, silences, hesitations, and disjointed phrasing.

Bebop’s supporters found its angular and abstract musical grammar witty and highly engaging, its quality of intense rhythmic orality evident in the work of instrumentalists and singers (Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, Jon Hendricks) alike. Its legion of detractors—especially self-fashioned “moldy figs,” who preferred older styles of jazz, especially the collective polyphony of New Orleans and Chicago small groups of the 1920s and 1930s which found new life in a “Dixieland Revival” of the late 1940s and early 1950s—heard and felt in the new music a cold, even neurotic affect that seemed antithetical to the soulfulness of blues-saturated early jazz. Jazz critics and fans, clamoring passionately in the established jazz magazines Down Beat and Metronome and newer specialized collector sheets like Record Changer, carried the traditionalist/modernist sectarian war deep into the 1950s. Among the musicians, meanwhile, modern jazz heralded a dramatic shift in style and attitude connected with broader currents in African American culture and politics. The young boppers, along with several leading swing performers, notably Lester Young and Billie Holiday from the Count Basie band, chafed at the minstrelsy-tinged dynamics of the music business, with its image of the musician as a happy-go-lucky servant-entertainer rather than a serious and challenging artist. A new performance persona and cultural style arrived, catalyzed by wartime demands for racial equality. Called cool (even when the music itself burned hot, as with bebop’s fleet tempos and mercurial chord changes), it was defined by an ineffable charisma, an air of mystery, a relaxed intensity resulting in an ability to create excitement without showing excitement.

Birth of the Cool

The dominant popular symbol of cool (and its twin term hip) was trumpeter and bandleader Miles Davis, perhaps the leading stylistic innovator of modern jazz. Davis moved from East St. Louis, Illinois, to New York in 1944 to attend the Julliard School of Music but soon shifted his focus to the Harlem club scene, where he forged relationships with Parker, Gillespie, Monk, and others from the original bebop circle. In the early 1950s, Davis emerged as a distinctive stylist whose lyrical, introspective sound—often abetted by his use of a Harmon mute—marked a sharp contrast with bebop’s flashy pyrotechnics as well as the bravura virtuosity of Louis Armstrong. Davis was a seminal influence on the mostly white West Coast cool movement associated with trumpeter/singer Chet Baker, saxophonists Art Pepper, Gerry Mulligan, and New York–born Stan Getz, drummer Shelley Manne and others, even as he remained tightly aligned with the black East Coast hard bop school led by drummers Art Blakey and Max Roach, bassist Charles Mingus (a transplant from Los Angeles), trumpeter Clifford Brown, and saxophonists Dexter Gordon (also originally from Los Angeles), Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Cannonball Adderley. In collaboration with arranger Gil Evans, Davis produced three albums from 1957 to 1960Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain—that found a large popular audience for a lush, romantic orchestral jazz. In this same period, Davis began to use modes rather than chords as the harmonic foundation for improvised solos, an approach on display on Kind of Blue (1959), the best-selling jazz album in history.

Davis was more than an important musician; by the early 1960s he was a celebrity whose public persona combined romance, danger, and mystery. A shrewd real estate investor, connoisseur of luxury cars, and perennial on Esquire’s list of best-dressed men in America, Davis was a black man who seemed liberated from conventional racial constraints. Davis’s cool masculinity expressed the dignity, elegance, and sovereignty of an emancipated black identity. His razor tongue and signature on-stage gestures (wearing dark sunglasses, turning his back to the audience) became associated with a spirit of rebellion and anti-conformism in Cold War America.

Jazz cool arose as a survival technique used by black musicians to ward off the invasive white gaze, a mask of integrity and self-possession to resist Jim Crow indignities and replace the Uncle Tom minstrel mask, the ingenious but outdated survival technique of an earlier generation. The new style and attitude resonated strongly across the color line and permeated modern art and thought. The silence, mystery, and composure associated with jazz figures like Lester Young and Miles Davis informed the composed violence and molten sexual allure of Hollywood film noir actors Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd, and Robert Mitchum. This cool register deepened in the shadow side of Frank Sinatra’s persona as the world-weary raconteur and in Marlon Brando’s erotic menace and vulnerability. Existential cool—in the form of Albert Camus’s figure of the metaphysical ethical rebel—arose in jazz-smitten France in the context of the Nazi occupation and the fallen promise of Soviet Communism, soon saturating U.S. intellectual life and college student culture. Beat cool was a state of mind, an ideal of spiritual balance that writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg pursued through a synthesis of jazz and Zen Buddhism. Though masculinity was hegemonic in overlapping jazz, ’50s rebel cinema, Beat, and existentialist circles in Paris and New York, cool women—philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, jazz singers Billie Holiday, Anita O’Day, and Abbey Lincoln; writers Hettie Jones and Diane Di Prima; actresses Juliette Greco, Veronica Lake, Barbara Stanwyck, Lauren Bacall, and Joanne Woodward—were vital threads in this cultural weave.1

Even as jazz connected with postwar discourses of anti-conformism, it also (and perhaps more strongly) aligned itself with narratives of cultural normalization, maturation, respectability, and “mainstream” accreditation. African American musicians such as the members of the Modern Jazz Quartet, composer and theorist George Russell, and bassist/composer Charles Mingus, as well as white “progressive” musicians like Lennie Tristano, Stan Kenton, Dave Brubeck (a former student of European émigré composer Darius Milhaud), Jimmy Giuffre, and Gunther Schuller championed a blending of jazz language and technique with theories and structures drawn from European concert music; Schuller and MJQ pianist John Lewis spearheaded a “Third Stream” movement devoted to the concept. Meanwhile, news of jazz’s mounting middle-class adult appeal and artistic legitimacy flooded the U.S. popular media. A burgeoning LP trade, college concert bookings, festivals (Newport, Monterey, and a host of smaller ones across the country), and educational initiatives (notably the Lenox School of Jazz in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, helmed by John Lewis) gave the music a strutting, triumphal presence in the expanded postwar cultural marketplace. State Department–sponsored tours used the music as a tool of cultural diplomacy in Cold War hot spots across the globe. In lockstep with the consensus, end-of-ideology politics of the 1950s, jazz was evangelized as a force of racial harmony and bourgeois normalcy, cleansing the music of its affiliations with leftist radicalism and bohemian subcultures.

But jazz was much more complex, edgy, and enigmatic than this mainstreaming process acknowledged. Black pride sentiment in jazz was not an advent of the 1960s, but an integral feature of the entire history of the music—not least in the down-home blues singing of Dinah Washington and Joe Williams, and in the soul jazz movement of the late 1950s in which pianists Bobby Timmons and Horace Silver and others developed a black roots–infused style redolent of churchy gospel. And white identification with jazz in this period was more complicated and variegated than the normalization narrative would suggest. The age of “Jazz at the Philharmonic,” Dave Brubeck’s LP Jazz Goes to College, and Chet Baker glamour photographs coincided with a period of widespread anguish over social conformity, standardization, the soul-deadening banality of mass culture, and the dangers of affluence. In the time of the hyperrepressed Organization Man, Playboy-reading bachelors, Beat writers, and Norman Mailer’s White Negro continued to embrace jazz as a symbol of hip rebellion, transgression, instinct, ecstasy, eroticism, and authenticity. Psychiatrists who studied jazz audiences in the 1950s argued that the music held special appeal for three groups craving freedom and individuality: adolescents, intellectuals, and Negroes—the idea that African Americans might also be adolescents or intellectuals evidently eluding the researchers.

Freedom Now

Jazz’s multiple meanings and cultural tensions ramified from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, a period in which collisions between the Cold War, the black freedom movement, Third World internationalism, and the rock counterculture reverberated in the music’s sound and convulsed its social and economic foundations.

In what might be regarded as jazz’s transcendent moment of high modernism, four canonical LPs recorded in 1959 heralded the sound of the new and foreshadowed the music’s forward-looking state of permanent diversity. Miles Davis’s modal masterpiece Kind of Blue distilled an exquisitely hip melancholy out of each of its tune’s shapely melodies. Davis’s main pianist on the session, Bill Evans, would go on to become one of modern jazz’s most affecting players, his chamber-like trio work striking in its gentle poignancy and tenderness at a time when the much of the music became more muscular and aggressive to suit the increasingly roiling political climate. The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out featured time signatures unusual for jazz at the time (notably the 5/4 meter of the album’s hit single “Take Five”), resulting from the band’s assimilation of Turkish and Greek folk music on a State Department tour. John Coltrane, on Giant Steps, brought bebop harmonic complexity to an ecstatic peak, bobsledding with breathless technical skill through the title track’s dense chordal maze. The commanding power of Coltrane’s performance raised the stakes for other post-bop saxophonists, in particular Sonny Rollins, who would later emerge from a legendary two-year sabbatical to play with renewed vigor. Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come lived up to its title, meanwhile, bringing wide notice to the highly controversial work of jazz’s most significant innovator since Charlie Parker.

The Texas-reared Coleman combined deep southern blues with a part-scholarly, part-bohemian iconoclasm. During the same months he was collaborating with John Lewis and Gunther Schuller on several of their highbrow Third Stream projects, Coleman galvanized audiences at the Five Spot, the clubhouse of the downtown New York avant-garde, with the keening sound of his plastic alto sax and the striking originality of his piano-less quartet. On “Lonely Woman,” Coleman seemed to recover an ancient soulfulness in long skeins of haunting melody that sounded absolutely personal, nothing jazz had sounded like before and yet, because of its uncanny rural blues overtones, strangely familiar. On the other hand, there was nothing at all familiar about Free Jazz, Coleman’s 1960 LP that used a double-quartet to experiment with extended form (the longest continuous jazz recording to date at 40 minutes on two album sides) using collective free improvisation on top of skeletal themes.

The musicians associated with the first wave of free jazz—Coleman, Coltrane, fellow saxophonists Jimmy Giuffre, Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, and Pharoah Sanders, trumpeters Don Cherry and Bill Dixon, pianists Cecil Taylor and Paul Bley, bassists Charlie Haden, Steve Swallow, and Henry Grimes, drummers Billy Higgins, Ed Blackwell, Andrew Cyrille, and Sunny Murray—disrupted such received notions of jazz musicianship as centered tonality, regular beat and tempo, bar divisions, conventional theme-and-variation structure, and improvisation based solely on chord changes. Their experiments with dissonant extremes of pitch falling outside of the American pop song and blues harmonic palette; their eschewal of a standard time feel in favor of oscillating pulses and bursts of rhythmic energy; and their solemn attitudes that were so different from the exuberant personae not just of earlier swing-era entertainers like Louis Armstrong but even certain beboppers like Dizzy Gillespie, led some critics to label the new music “anti-jazz.” Other critics, even if ambivalent about the most discordant sounds, embraced the new jazz avant-garde as evidence of the progressive logic of the music and yet another sign of its ballyhooed artistic legitimacy.

The sign of “freedom” fairly defined the U.S. Cold War political and cultural zeitgeist: while American foreign policy aimed to promote capitalist free enterprise, artistic movements like free jazz, Abstract Expressionism, Beat poetry, Method acting, and modern dance enshrined expressive freedom as their highest aesthetic ideal. Thelonious Monk once was quoted as saying “jazz and freedom go hand in hand,” and the sound bite found its way into Cold War–era propaganda campaigns linking jazz to American ideals of liberty and democracy. This was a time, alas, when the publishers of Down Beat refused to put black jazz musicians on their magazine cover, and civil rights workers were showing up dead in backwoods Mississippi. While black musicians drew on the “freedom” discourse to signal their music’s political urgency (e.g., Max Roach’s “Freedom Now Suite”), they also sought to distance themselves from the term’s association with unfettered choice and wanton artistic license. Some of the era’s most innovative and challenging sounds came from jazz composers and auteurs—George Russell, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Charles Mingus—who fashioned themselves heirs to the formal ambitions of Duke Ellington.

Still, some jazz of the early to mid-1960s was so superbly performed, so bracing in both imagination and execution, it could not help but be heard as the emblematic sound of its own historical moment. Miles Davis’s quintet in this period stretched all post-bebop ideas to new and dizzying heights of intensity, each of his sidemen (bassist Ron Carter, drummer Tony Williams, pianist Herbie Hancock, saxophonist Wayne Shorter) unique stylists in their own right who would go on to become key innovators of modern jazz’s second and third waves. John Coltrane emerged in this period not just as a canonical jazz figure but a cultural hero among black artists and intellectuals as well as the rock counterculture. His 1965 LP A Love Supreme, featuring the classic quartet with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones, synthesized hard bop, modal jazz, and free jazz while also moving jazz into the new expressive territory of spiritual awakening and purity ritual. By turns devotional and ecstatic, tender and frenzied, the album soon exerted widespread totemic influence from the Black Arts Movement to the rock guitar effusions of Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana.

The music of Davis, Coltrane, Coleman, Mingus, Roach, Rollins, and others churned with a potent feeling of struggle and yearning. Like the civil rights movement, the pan-African anti-colonial movement, and the Black Power movement, this jazz was driven by collective energy and collaborative action. While the new music continued to be performed, recorded, publicized, and critically evaluated within the same matrix of commercial institutions (nightclubs, festivals, magazines, etc.) that had governed jazz for decades, as the 1960s unfolded musicians went about creating new spaces and institutions where they could exercise greater control over their own creativity and connect it to grassroots community-building efforts in their own neighborhoods. Much of this activity converged with the activist efforts of poet, playwright, and jazz critic Amiri Baraka and other politically engaged African American artists and intellectuals who positioned jazz as a bulwark of the interdisciplinary Black Arts Movement. A great deal of the most compelling jazz of the late 1960s and 1970s found its origins in Black Arts institutions whose atmosphere was thick with colliding energies from the arts (music, dance, theater, painting, poetry), social activism, and black self-consciousness. This wave included The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in Chicago, which birthed the Art Ensemble of Chicago; the Black Arts Group in St. Louis (BAG), spawning ground for the World Saxophone Quartet; and the Union of God’s Musicians and Artists Ascension (UGMAA), the Watts Writers Workshop, and other organizations in Los Angeles, where Stanley Crouch, Jayne Cortez, Arthur Blythe, David Murray, Butch Morris, and other vital contributors to the downtown New York scene in the 1970s first worked in a collaborative community setting.

By the late 1960s, jazz had grown into an even deeper state of permanent diversity, the music proliferating in an increasing variety of styles while expressing multiple, and often conflicting, values and ideals. While jazz “collectives” nurtured explicitly noncommercial projects and front-line innovators Taylor, Coleman, Sun Ra, and others continued to experiment with radical new sounds and performance norms, many West Coast jazz musicians found steady, remunerative work in the Hollywood studios, where various strains of modern jazz suffused the soundtracks of a number of film soundtracks and TV show themes. From its inception, jazz was an international, multinational music with roots in both African and European vernaculars, seasoned by what New Orleans jazz pianist Jelly Roll dubbed the “Latin tinge.” In the Cold War period, as American jazz musicians became more culturally adventurous, and as the U.S. government and media industries proselytized the music across the globe—United States Information Agency jazz disc jockey Willis Conover became one of the most famous Americans in the world—jazz’s inherent cosmopolitanism escalated yet further. Afro-Cuban jazz already had been percolating in the work of trumpeter and arranger Mario Bauzá and singer and maracas player Machito when Dizzy Gillespie introduced clave rhythms into bebop in 1947, featuring the Cuban conguero Chano Pozo in a Carnegie Hall concert and on a subsequent European tour. Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain was rife with Andalusian passions. Sonny Rollins employed calypso rhythms on “St. Thomas,” a signature tune reflecting his Virgin Island heritage. Stan Getz scored one of jazz’s biggest popular hits with “The Girl from Ipanema,” a collaboration with Brazilian bossa nova stars Antonio Carlos Jobim and Astrud Gilberto. Charles Mingus evoked the California/Mexico borderlands in Tijuana Moods. Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite (which might have been more appropriately named “Far and Near East Suite”) captured themes and moods his band developed during a mid-1960s tour of Beirut, Kabul, New Dehli, Tehran, Cairo, and Tokyo. John Coltrane nurtured an interest in raga’s modal drones and rhythms and featured them explicitly on his tune “India.” Rollins’s “Airegin” (Nigeria spelled backwards), Coltrane’s “Dahomey Dance” and “Africa,” and pianist Randy Weston’s “Uhuru Afrika (Freedom Africa)” expressed strong affinities between vanguard African American jazz and the African anti-colonial movement. Similarly, the Afro-Latin jazz of Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barreto, Eddie Palmieri, and others became not just another layer of the U.S. urban soundscape but a vivid expression of transnational, multicultural identity.


By the late 1960s, this global cultural ambit reflected not just the musicians’ cosmopolitan spirit but also their recognition that jazz, both its swing-bebop-cool mainstream and its various tributaries, had been eclipsed by rock music as the dominant force in modern American popular culture. Jazz and rock shared the same DNA, but as modern jazz developed into a more cerebral listening music, the blues and gospel legacy of stomping, hand-clapping, pleasure-centered music and dance fell to Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, B. B. King, Etta James, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and other artists in the R&B (rhythm-and-blues) and rock n’ roll orbit. 1960s British Invasion blues-based rock and its various U.S. imitations, producer Phil Spector’s “wall of sound,” Motown pop, Memphis soul, and the first stirrings of hard rock gained massive cross-racial popularity among the exploding baby boomer youth demographic, leaving jazz with an aging and diminishing audience. In 1960, the look of music-world hipness was the cover of a Blue Note LP with a stylish chiaroscuro image of black jazz musicians working arduously at their craft. By 1970, that image seemed like an archival remnant suddenly supplanted by celebrity photographs of androgynous, libertine rock superstars.

This was the context in which Miles Davis found himself overshadowed in celebrity and youth idolatry by rock guitar deity Jimi Hendrix and soul luminaries like James Brown and Aretha Franklin. In one of the most controversial transformations in jazz history, Davis decided to shun established jazz norms and bourgeois African American culture alike. His clothing and persona now drew on countercultural sources such as Afrocentrism and psychodelia. His music—on albums like Miles in the Sky (1968), Bitches Brew (1969), and On the Corner (1972), and in concerts held in huge rock venues—turned to heavily amplified electronics, Afro-Brazilian percussion, rock and funk rhythms, and open-ended forms. Some damned Davis as an apostate for moving away from acoustic instruments, swing rhythm, and standard song form; they struggled to hear Davis’s melodic beauty and expressive finesse in the sonic maelstrom. Others embraced this move as a creative innovation in the spirit of jazz’s history as an ever-changing art that moved forward by absorbing new styles and cultivating new audiences.

Davis’s new sound was billed as a jazz-rock synthesis—not the first, vibraphonist Gary Burton and guitarist Larry Coryell having already explored the idea for a couple of years—but its concept was more ambitious than that: it was questioning whether jazz should be, or ever was, a pure and autonomous form. Black music had always troubled and defied conventional genre boundaries, and the exaltation of jazz as an elite and singular music had always been—in spite of the canonizing efforts of jazz critics, intellectuals, and modern musicians themselves—in dynamic tension with African American culture’s strong impulse toward inclusive populism. The idea of jazz as part of a unified black music aesthetic and ethos—what critic Amiri Baraka famously called “the changing same”—gathered force through the influence of the Black Arts Movement. Far from being just fashionable nationalist propaganda, the idea was deeply rooted in practical musical experience: John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, and Albert Ayler started their careers in R&B bands, which was also true of the next generation of jazz innovators such as Oliver Lake, Hamiet Bluiett, Arthur Blythe, and Anthony Braxton. The one jazz style that garnered a growing popular audience during the ’60s was soul jazz, whose lean grooves, gospel-rich chords, and hip urban vibe became an ambient sound of black neighborhoods in cities all across the country. Jazz label recordings like Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” (and its Latin cover by Mongo Santamaria), Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder,” Ramsey Lewis’s “The ‘In’ Crowd,” and Cannonball Adderley’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” rose to the top of the R&B charts. Keyboardist Jimmy Smith pioneered the use of the Hammond B3 organ in a trio with drums and saxophone or guitar, a soul jazz offshoot that became a standard live format in urban neighborhood bars. Saxophonists Pharoah Sanders, Joe Henderson, and Gary Bartz popularized John Coltrane’s spiritualism in a new Afrocentric style combining ethereal sonorities drawn from free jazz with danceable grooves augmented by African percussion. Herbie Hancock’s 1973 LP Head Hunters found a mass cross-racial audience in both the older soul jazz cohort and among younger college students. With Hancock playing Fender Rhodes electric piano, synthesizers, and clavinet and modeling a Sly Stone–influenced Afro-futurist look, and with African percussion punctuating its deep R&B grooves, the album helped announce the arrival a new subgenre: jazz-funk. A decade later, Hancock again showed his facility with fresh styles and his desire to stay connected to a mass youth audience with his 1983 single “Rockit,” a techno/dance club hit featuring synthesizers and programmed drum machine.

Various forms of hyphenated jazz (soul jazz, jazz-rock, jazz-funk, Latin jazz, and fusion) would gain popularity through the 1970s and early ’80s as major record labels—now fattened by profits from their rock acts into full-fledged corporate operations—abandoned most of their straight-ahead (i.e., acoustic post-bebop) jazz artists and looked for commercially viable niche markets among relatively sophisticated and adventurous consumers. Musicians highly skilled in post-bop styles (The Crusaders, Eddie Henderson, Donald Byrd, George Benson, The Brecker Brothers, and others) met mid-range popular success with material that featured jazz-quality chops and soul/funk grooves contoured for FM radio–friendly popular formats. Weather Report, headed by saxophonist Wayne Shorter and Austrian émigré keyboardist Joe Zawinal, started as an avant-garde experimental spin-off from the Miles Davis electric band, then developed its own unique blend of African American, Latin, and world music styles deployed through shifting time signatures and richly layered sonic textures. The Tony Williams Lifetime, a power trio featuring Davis’s virtuoso drummer, the British guitarist John McLaughlin, and jazz organist Larry Young, combined hard rock energy and volume with fierce improvisational agility. Pianist/keyboardist Chick Corea’s electric group Return to Forever featured Brazilian and Latin rhythms and textures knit together by the deft fretless electric bass playing of Stanley Clarke.

An impressive level of technical proficiency—not just the leaders but sidemen like Clarke, fellow bassist Jaco Pastorius with Weather Report, guitarist Al Di Meola in Return to Forever—became a hallmark of this new music, though very few bands could match the musicality and conceptual innovation of these pioneering groups. Instrumental technique and cutting-edge electronic equipment often became fetishized in the broader fusion movement, resulting in a sound that struck many traditional jazz, soul, and American popular song fans as bereft of warmth, gracefulness, and conversational intimacy. At the same time, certain jazz-knowledgeable pop artists developed styles that valued tunefulness and groove over fusion-style pyrotechnics. These included Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan, who brought a deep grounding in Ellington, bebop, and soul to their rock/pop concept and used top-drawer jazz talent like saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Phil Woods on their studio recordings; Joni Mitchell, who moved from singer/songwriter-centered folk rock to a sophisticated jazz-seasoned sound when she hired Pastorius and other jazz/rock musicians into her group; Carlos Santana, who crafted a hugely popular mix of guitar-centered arena rock, blues, jazz, and salsa into Coltrane-like sheets of sound; and Earth Wind & Fire, who synthesized R&B, funk, and Afro-Latin rhythmic textures under a modern big-band jazz-style horn section.

As traditional, straight-ahead jazz fought a losing battle in the music marketplace of the late 1970s and 1980s, the racial boundaries of the music shifted in several ways. From the 1920s to the mid-1960s, most European jazz had been a straightforward imitation of American jazz, with expatriate African American musicians such as Kenny Clarke, Bud Powell, Sidney Bechet, and Dexter Gordon serving as hallowed models of jazz authenticity. This pattern began to change in the late 1960s. European musicians like Peter Brotzmann, Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, and Willem Breuker both emulated and diverged from American jazz culture during the apogee of African American cultural nationalism, embracing the ethos of free improvisation associated with John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and others, but also embarking on an effort to cultivate a separate jazz aesthetic informed by a non-American cultural ethos. Even as members of the AACM and BAG and other African American musicians in the second wave of the jazz avant-garde relocated to Europe in the late 1960s, European musicians developed various nation-based free jazz scenes where the music often aligned with local countercultural and libertarian social movements.

Jazz had long been thought of as a primarily urban music, its high-affect sound and dynamic pulse associated with cities like New Orleans, Chicago, New York, and Kansas City. Historically, jazz was in large part music produced by urban migrants and immigrants—not just African Americans, but also Jews, Italians, Latinos, and Asians. The 1970s brought a shift in jazz’s cultural and racial geography. The Munich-based ECM record label flourished in that decade with a signature sound evoking pastoral and rural landscapes, including a so-called “Nordic tone” among its Scandinavian artists. American pianist Keith Jarrett began an association with Norwegian saxophonist Jan Gabarek and drummer Jan Christensen and Swedish bassist Palle Danielsson (musicians earlier mentored by expatriate African American composer George Russell). Jarrett’s ECM recordings with his European quartet, along with his 1975 live solo album The Köln Concert, were among the era’s best-selling jazz records in the American market. ECM also recorded guitarist Pat Metheny, including his LPs New Chautaqua (1979) and As Falls Witchita So Falls Wichita Falls (1981), which strongly evoked a frontier sensibility redolent of the small-town Midwest plains. Missouri-reared Metheny cut the figure of a white post-hippie, blue jeans–clad land grant state university student playing jazz with overtones of bluegrass, country, and white church music. This made it all the more interesting when he began to collaborate regularly throughout the 1980s with Ornette Coleman and his circle (including bassist Charlie Haden and saxophonist Dewey Redman) and other venerable black modernists such as Chicago-reared Miles Davis alumni Herbie Hancock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. The musical vocabulary and sensibility shared by these musicians underscored how jazz resisted and scrambled conventional codes of race and geography as often as it buttressed them. Metheny’s association with Ornette Coleman made it easier to hear in Coleman’s classic free jazz quartet of the late 1950s the “country” sound of his own Texas and his bassist Haden’s Iowa heartland heritage. And that made it easier to recall earlier jazz/country affinities such as Bob Wills and his Texas Playboy’s Western swing, fiddler Vassar Clements’s hillbilly jazz, and legendary Nashville studio guitarist Hank Garland’s crossover projects with jazz modernists from Charlie Parker (known as “Bird,” short for “Yardbird,” as in barnyard chicken) to vibraphonist Gary Burton.

“America’s Classical Music”

Partly as a response to the profusion of hyphenated styles and the constant, commercially driven pursuit of newness, partly as a matter of the natural aging process of the music and the need to memorialize its progenitors—Louis Armstrong died in 1971, Duke Ellington in 1974—prominent jazz musicians, critics, and other cultural mediators worked hard in this era to establish permanent forms of institutional recognition of jazz as an American national treasure, even as “America’s classical music.” Renowned critic Martin Williams, in his role as head of jazz programming at the Smithsonian Institution, curated a multi-LP set called The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz (1973), which drew on his book The Jazz Tradition (1970) to present a canon of classic jazz recordings from Bessie Smith, King Oliver, Armstrong, and Ellington down to John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. A number of new jazz history textbooks arrived on the market (many of them using the Smithsonian Collection for their listening examples) to service a growing number of courses at colleges and universities. Gunther Schuller, tribune of the jazz/classical Third Stream, president of the New England Conservatory of Music, and author of the groundbreaking study Early Jazz (1968), spearheaded a “jazz repertory” movement that later culminated in the advent of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. Billy Taylor, a pianist and composer who started his career on the 1940s New York bebop scene, now became widely known as “Dr. Billy Taylor”—not just for his University of Massachusetts doctorate and his multiple honorary degrees, but also for his extraordinary work as the public face of the jazz education movement. In 1961, Taylor had founded New York’s Jazzmobile, a citywide program of arts enrichment workshops, master classes, and outdoor concerts. Over the next several decades, Taylor became a ubiquitous presence in radio and television jazz programming and served as the inaugural artistic director of jazz at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Many other top-rank jazz performers who had come of age in the 1950s and ’60s (David Baker, Archie Shepp, Reggie Workman, Sam Gill, and Anthony Braxton among them) secured teaching posts at colleges and universities. Jazz became an increasingly integral part of U.S. music performance and education at every level; rare, by the 1980s, was the American college, high school, or junior high school that did not have a jazz band, and whose music director did not struggle to get students interested in European classical music in addition to jazz. In 1998, the twenty-fifth annual convention of the International Association of Jazz Educators drew more than 7,000 participants.

Much of the allure of jazz throughout its history had to do with its radical individualism, its outsider stance, its renegade assault on musty conventions and proprieties. Many of its canonical figures were larger-than-life characters (Satchmo, Billie, Prez, Count, Duke, Bird, Monk, Miles, Mingus), American originals who became subjects of romantic legend and myth. On the face of it, the new preservationist mission ran against this current, emphasizing past accomplishment over present and future change, tradition over innovation, established authority over resistance and reinvention. What made jazz special and powerful, for many, was that it was an intrepid music with a heroic narrative full of audacious risk and arduous struggle. How could jazz maintain its verve and vigor if it became another music of the conservatory, the library, and the museum? How could it avoid being consumed by its past and continue to be a living and growing art form?

These questions began to dominate the conversation about jazz in the mid-1980s, generated to a very large degree by the persona of the music’s most visible and controversial symbol and spokesperson during this period, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Marsalis hailed from a family of highly accomplished jazz musicians in New Orleans, including his father, pianist and educator Ellis Marsalis, and his brother, saxophonist Branford Marsalis. Marsalis swiftly gained notice in his first years in New York in the early 1980s for his technical excellence in both the jazz and classical idioms. After a stint with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, he emerged as a leader of his own group of fellow youthful African American musicians playing a style reminiscent of Miles Davis’s 1960s modal/hard bop band, also performing with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams in what was marketed as a reunion of Davis’s classic group. Marsalis’s facility with this music was remarkable, but what made him mainstream jazz’s first popular crossover figure in years was less his musical performance than his persuasive self-fashioning as nothing less than jazz’s savior. Fiercely outspoken and highly media-savvy, Marsalis claimed to be leading a holy mission to redeem true jazz from the apostasies of free jazz and fusion, a campaign for time-honored standards countering the preceding generation’s misplaced emphasis on both unfettered creative freedom and pop culture relevance. Marsalis began to publicly castigate Miles Davis as jazz’s premier heretic, venerating his pre-1968 acoustic work and scorning everything that came after his turn to electric instruments. As Davis, undeterred, reached out to the MTV generation with covers of Michael Jackson and Cindy Lauper pop tunes, Marsalis’s jazz purism took on an increasingly pointed rearward focus, reaching back to King Oliver and Louis Armstrong for models of jazz greatness.

Marsalis’s posture might have registered merely as a curious postmodern version of earlier moldy-fig and Dixieland Revival leanings, if not for the trumpeter’s rising celebrity status among cultural elites, his adoption by key African American public intellectuals into a new stream of neoclassical thought, and his impressive abilities as a mover and shaker. This heady convergence made it possible for Marsalis to become the avatar of a new kind of jazz heroic narrative. Marsalis’s putative heroism was ideally suited to the post–civil rights era moment—a heroism not in the mold of John Coltrane’s transcendent spirituality or touched by the valor and grace of 1960s freedom riders, but the heroism of the arts world warrior fighting for African American representation and power in the key institutions of elite American culture. Marsalis became a blistering scourge of rap and hip-hop, aligning himself with conservative critiques of alleged American cultural decadence while also highlighting a widening class schism in black culture. He and fellow African American “young lions” of jazz (Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride, Cyrus Chestnut, and others) were held up as exemplars of bourgeois refinement, their fine tailoring noted as often as their music. Marsalis’s image of dignified tastefulness, coupled with his reverence for the blues-and-swing-centered jazz they loved, moved the eminent African American writers Ralph Ellison, Albert Murray, and Stanley Crouch to embrace the trumpeter as the new standard-bearer of a time-honored black masculine éclat crucial to the health of the entire American nation. The deep eloquence with which Murray, Crouch, and Marsalis himself voiced their jazz ethos helped convince the City of New York, major philanthropic organizations, and corporate underwriters to finance Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC), a venerable performing arts center with a lavish new home in Columbus Circle, with Marsalis as artistic director. In 1994, Marsalis won jazz’s first Pulitzer Prize for his oratorio “Blood on the Fields,” a narrative of heroic black struggle set to a musical score of spirituals, blues, gospel, and swing played in reverentially traditional fashion.

As the first African American director of a major, well-funded, autonomous jazz institution, Marsalis found himself navigating tricky racial waters. Some accused Marsalis of reverse racism in his choices of which jazz master figures to honor in his programming, and in his alleged “Crow Jim” hiring practices for the JALC orchestra—the kind of charge that was never leveled at the almost completely white composition of the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and other organizations under the Lincoln Center umbrella. A more enduring criticism of Marsalis focused on what was widely perceived (not least among a number of African American musicians) as the narrow and rigid neoclassical orthodoxy of his jazz canon. This critique intensified in the wake of Ken Burns’s documentary film Jazz, which aired on PBS in 2000 and won public acclaim as a kind of official U.S. national history of jazz. Many inside the jazz world saw Burns’s film as unduly beholden to JALC scripture, its narrative giving the impression that jazz effectively died in the late 1960s, only to be resurrected by one Wynton Marsalis.

Planet Jazz

Over time, JALC’s programming—and Marsalis’s work in other projects—gradually opened up at its edges to a more pluralist, inclusive conception of the music, including efforts to feature Latin jazz and country/jazz parallels and crossovers. Meanwhile, the vast majority of jazz musicians built their careers caring little or not at all what Marsalis said or did—though perhaps resenting how little public and corporate funding and mass audience attention was left over after Marsalis took his lion’s share. In the years when the “young lions” appeared on magazine covers and dominated PBS/NPR jazz coverage, living titans Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz, Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, Johnny Griffin, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Hank Jones, Phil Woods, and Tommy Flanagan were playing some of the best music of their careers. Non-JALC traditionalists Scott Hamilton, Bob Wilber, and Kenny Davern were breathing new life into old-fashioned swing. Established avant-gardists (an oxymoron, but an accurate indication of the permanency of the genre) Anthony Braxton, James Blood Ulmer, Sonny Sharrock, Ronald Shannon Jackson, David Murray, Oliver Lake, Odean Pope, Marty Erlich, George Lewis, William Parker, and Hamid Drake deepened their creative explorations. New waves of maverick experimentation spilled forth from Matthew Shipp, Steve Coleman, Myra Melford, Greg Osby, Kenny Garrett, Dave Douglas, Fred Hersch, Tim Berne, Uri Caine, and John Zorn. Both generations participated in vibrant multi-arts alternative scenes in “downtown” Manhattan (a euphemism for the East Village blocks where loft apartments and other spaces in repurposed industrial buildings serve as performance sites) and Brooklyn (especially the Fort Green and Clinton Hill neighborhoods where a “new black arts movement” flourished in the late 1980s and ’90s). Latin jazz players Jerry Gonzalez, Steve Turre, Arturo Sandoval, Hilton Ruiz, Ray Vega, Dave Valentin, and Chucho Valdez added new layers and flavors to their thriving genre. Veteran female musicians like the composer/bandleaders Carla Bley and Toshiko Akiyoshi continued to excel, while a new generation of women (composer/bandleader Maria Schneider, pianists Melford, Geri Allen, and Renee Rosnes, violinist Regina Carter, drummer Terri Lynn Carrington, among others) and openly gay men and women (Taylor, Hersch, Burton, singers Andy Bey and Patricia Barber) mounted a bold challenge to the dominance of jazz’s presumptive hetero-masculinity (age-old and rearguard, but newly energized by the Marsalis neoconservative circle).

In spite of this creative ferment, by the beginning of the 21st century, jazz had become such a sweepingly global and diverse multicultural art form that many began to wonder if the United States was any longer the music’s creative epicenter. In the years since the rock revolution wreaked havoc on jazz’s stateside economy—sales of recorded jazz now made up less than 5 percent of the consumer market—American jazz musicians came to depend on bookings in Europe and Asia for most of their income. Outside of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco, there were hardly any possibilities for steadily remunerative work other than festivals, the biggest of which took place in Montreal, Rotterdam, and Perugia (Italy). This was true even for a new breed of well-publicized hip-nerd artists such as The Bad Plus (a trio of Midwesterners who ingeniously drew on recent pop and alternative rock sources as improvisational material), Don Byron (a woodwind virtuoso whose wide-ranging eclecticism included jazz/klezmer crossover), and Vijay Iyer (a stunningly original pianist and composer who worked effortlessly across styles and genres). Even with such artists finding modest success among adventurous college-age listeners, earnest jazz jeremiahs continued to wonder whether the music’s canonization—jazz education, repertory orchestras, documentary films, CD reissue programs, museum exhibits—had turned it into a historic relic: honored, appreciated, even revered, but nowhere near the thriving pulse of vanguard American culture as it had been from the 1920s through the 1960s.

Over that period, jazz had produced a remarkable succession of pioneering innovators, master figures whose conceptual originality changed people’s understanding of what jazz could be and pointed the whole field in that new direction. No such master figure emerged after Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman. And yet American jazz continued to attract extraordinary talent, expand its language, insinuate itself in a variety of cultural contexts, and—most of all—surprise its listeners. This was the case with one of the more heralded musicians of the new millenium, the pianist, bandleader, and multimedia artist Jason Moran. Amiably hip with his Thelonious Monk–inspired penchant for rakishly stylish hats, Moran cut a figure emblematic not just of the jazz tradition but also of fresh, dynamic stirrings in hip hop-era African American cultural and intellectual life. Born in 1975 and raised in a middle-class Houston, Texas, family before moving to New York to attend the Manhattan School of Music, Moran became a central figure in the efflorescence of art and culture that some called the “New Harlem Renaissance.”

Moran’s 2002 solo CD Modernistic was a rare event for a jazz record in its having generated widespread enthusiasm from normally dissonant, conflicting corners of the U.S. jazz criticism and jazz musician communities. It did so by positing contemporary jazz as a capacious cultural archive reaching from Schumann lieder to James P. Johnson stride to Muhal Richard Abrams post-free to hip-hop and electronica. Younger listeners especially prized Moran’s wry cover of “Planet Rock,” the early hip-hop anthem by Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force. Moran—who found his way to jazz through hip-hop, discovering Monk and Horace Silver in De La Soul breakbeat samples—used the song’s paint-by-the-numbers melody to evoke a spacy techno vibe on top of a delightfully cheesy synthesizer sample that sounds like something one might hear in an amusement park or bowling alley. “Planet Rock” said that jazz improvisation didn’t have to remain tethered to popular standards from the 1940s and ’50s; it could also draw on the popular music and culture of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s.

In his role as artistic director of the San Francisco Jazz Center, Moran devised an event in which his trio, Bandwagon, improvised a funky version of “Blue Monk” to a crew of skateboarders careening around a ramp set up in front of the band. After succeeding Dr. Billy Taylor as jazz director at the Kennedy Center, Moran moved quickly to attract a new and younger audience. He curated events for which the center converted its atrium into a lounge-style club where multigenerational, multicultural audiences crowd the dance floor for, say, the jam band Medeski, Martin & Wood, the funk-jazzers Soulive, and the Afropop jazzer Lionel Loueke. Moran himself teamed up with neo-soul icon Meshell Ndegeocello for a project called the Fats Waller Dance Party. Moran playfully donned a huge papier mâché mask of Waller’s fedora-topped head, and limned the melodies of “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Jitterbug Waltz,” and “Your Feet’s Too Big” against funk vamps and hip-hop grooves. Dancers and musicians shared the stage in a spectacle that recalled the joyous revelry of Harlem rent parties.

Building on the foundation that took shape with pre–World War II blues and post–World War II bebop and spread in multiple directions over the next several decades, Moran and his contemporaries embraced changes in culture and technology that kept jazz pointed forward, ensuring that the music did not suffocate under the weight of its mighty tradition. Seventy years after Bird, Diz, and Monk insisted that jazz move ahead, a half-century after Miles Davis and John Coltrane moved it into previously unimagined territory, jazz was a memento of modern America’s past that remained a beacon of its future.

Discussion of the Literature

In a clarion call to jazz scholars across academic disciplines, music historian Scott DeVeaux wrote in 1991 that “the time has come for an approach that is less invested in the ideology of jazz as an aesthetic object and more responsive to issues of historic particularity. Only in this way can the study of jazz break free from its self-imposed isolation, and participate with other disciplines in the exploration of meaning in American culture.”2 Contemporary jazz scholarship, whether affiliated with ethnomusicology, American Studies, cultural studies, or history, investigates the ways jazz has been imagined, defined, managed, and shaped within particular cultural contexts. It considers how jazz as an experience of sounds, movements, and states of feeling has always been mediated and complicated by broader cultural patterns, especially those of race and sexuality.

Often called “the new jazz studies,” recent jazz scholarship aims to take the discussion of the music beyond the insider discourse of record collectors and aficionados, the sober formalism of traditional musicology, and the impressionistic treatments of popular journalism. Central to the new turn has been the recognition that jazz has never been just music—it has been a cornerstone of the modern cultural imagination, an archive of mythological images, an aesthetic model for new modes of seeing, moving, and writing. Across the spectrum of high, middlebrow, and low culture, from symphonies and modern dance to cartoons and advertising, jazz has been appropriated, remembered, dismembered, loved, and abused.

Jazz has loomed large in stories that individuals and groups like to tell about themselves. These stories—stories about freedom, oppression, democracy, dissent, individuality, conformity, communalism, improvisation, modernity, urbanity, mobility, hipness, soulfulness, struggle, authenticity, innovation, tradition—constitute an important field of meaning, not just in the United States but throughout the world. Recognizing this, scholars conceive jazz as a site of intense fascination, desire, anxiety, and scrutiny, with people looking to the music and its cultural milieu for models of expressivity, identity, and self-fashioning. Jazz musicians have been influential exemplars of style, speech, dress, and attitude—even when they have also served as symbols of tragedy and pathology. Seizing on an enormously rich corpus of sound, visual imagery, folklore, criticism, and literature, jazz studies has positioned itself as a leading interdisciplinary field at the intersection of race and ethnic studies, film and media studies, cultural history, and cultural studies. A notably rich vein of recent scholarship has concerned itself with jazz’s gender and sexual dynamics—its tradition as a space of overtly normative hetero-masculinism as well as covert (until recently) expressions of non-normative (feminist, womanist, queer) sexualities and gender identities.

Jazz scholars who focus on the post-1945 period have been especially interested in the ways the music has intersected with social movements (black freedom, international anti-colonialism, feminism, multiculturalism, LGBT) and cultural/artistic formations (the Beats, abstract visual art, modern and postmodern dance and theater, Hollywood cinema, alternative cinema, the Black Arts Movement and other ethnicity-centered cultural programs, various countercultures, neoclassicism, American heritage). Following DeVeaux, many jazz scholars have endeavored to take a critical, analytical stance toward what might be called jazz exceptionalism: the assumption that jazz is a unique and singular art form that hovers in an exalted aesthetic space above the hurly-burly of politics and commerce. A central feature of recent scholarship is to regard jazz’s deep anti-commercialism discourse as ideology rather than reality—and to explore exactly how jazz positions itself within the commercial institutions of art and entertainment, drawing boundaries between itself and other genres of music and cultural expression. This critical attitude carries over into a suspicion toward uses of jazz within an ideology of American exceptionalism. Increasingly, scholars question the assumption that jazz is an essentially American music. This takes the form of encouraging the investigation of jazz as a global culture—not just a projection of jazz as an American culture across the world, but the exploration of jazz trans-nationalism throughout its entire history.

Primary Sources

The premier location for primary research in jazz is the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University/Newark.The Institute holds the world’s largest collection of jazz recordings, scores, books, periodicals, photographs, business records, and oral histories.

The U.S. Library of Congress has vast holdings of jazz materials. The library’s Music Division holds scores, sheet music, and copyright deposit lead sheets as well as the private papers of such major jazz figures as Ella Fitzgerald, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, and Dexter Gordon. Other LOC divisions (Motion Pictures, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound; Prints and Photographs; the American Folklife Center) contain extensive collections of recordings, moving and still images, artifacts, and oral histories.

The Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University contains a wealth of materials concerning the history of jazz and related styles (ragtime, gospel, blues, R&B) in New Orleans. These materials include local oral histories, sound recordings, films, photographs, sheet music, personal papers, and records of the American Federation of Musicians union local.

Jazzinstitut Darmstadt, in Darmstadt, Germany, Europe’s largest public jazz archive, houses an extensive collection of jazz recordings, periodicals, books, and photographs. The institute’s weekly e-newsletter, Jazz News, is a comprehensive digest of jazz coverage in general-interest newspapers and periodicals from around the world.

The Harry Ransom Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin holds the private papers of Ross Russell, an important modern jazz record producer, critic, and historian.

The Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College, Chicago holds recordings, books, and periodicals and administers the Mark Tucker Fund for Jazz Research Materials.

Further Reading

  • Ake, David. Jazz Matters: Sound, Place, and Time Since Bebop. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.
  • Anderson, Iain. This Is Our Music: Free Jazz, the Sixties, and American Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.
  • Cawthra, Benjamin. Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.
  • DeVeaux, Scott. The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Cultural History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.
  • Dinerstein, Joel. The Origins of Cool in Postwar America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.
  • Early, Gerald, ed. Miles Davis and American Culture. St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 2001.
  • Gabbard, Krin. Better Git It in Your Soul: An Interpretive Biography of Charles Mingus. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016.
  • Gennari, John. Blowin’ Hot and Cool: Jazz and Its Critics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
  • Giddins, Gary. Weather Bird: Jazz at the Dawn of Its Second Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Griffin, Farah Jasmine, and Salim Washington. Clawing at the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008.
  • Kelley, Robin. Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. New York: Free Press, 2009.
  • Lewis, George. A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.
  • Litweiler, John. The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958. New York: William Morrow, 1984.
  • Mandel, Howard. Miles, Ornette, Cecil: Jazz Beyond Jazz. New York: Routledge, 2007.
  • Monson, Ingrid. Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Nicholson, Stuart. Jazz-Rock: A History. New York: Schirmer, 1998.
  • O’Meally, Robert, Brent Hayes Edwards, and Farah Jasmine Griffin, eds. Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.
  • Ramsey, Guthrie. The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013.
  • Rosenthal, David. Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music, 1955–1965. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
  • Rustin, Nichole Rustin and Sherrie Tucker, eds. Big Ears: Listening for Gender in Jazz Studies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.
  • Saul, Scott. Freedom Is, Freedom Ain’t: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.
  • Szwed, John. So What: The Life of Miles Davis. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.
  • Taylor, Yuval, ed. The Future of Jazz. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2002.
  • Von Eschen, Penny. Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.
  • Whyton, Tony. Beyond a Love Supreme: John Coltrane and the Legacy of an Album. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.


  • 1. Joel Dinerstein, The Origins of Cool in Postwar America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).

  • 2. Scott DeVeaux, “Constructing the Jazz Tradition: Jazz Historiography,” Black American Literature Forum (Fall 1991): 553.