Competing Visions of Race Music: The Aesthetics of the Black Jazz Avant-Garde, Black Jazz Neo-Conservative, and the Black Jazz Popular Vernacular

Friday, 20 July 2018: 09:30
Oral Presentation
Paul LOPES, Colgate University, USA
This paper looks at three competing visions of jazz as race-music. I argue that since the early twentieth century professional black musicians have articulated a race-conscious, black nationalist agenda in promoting black race-music as a distinct practice of music-making expressive of African American culture, politics, and self-empowerment. While the 1960s avant-garde Black Music movement in jazz has been recognized as a black nationalist race-music, I argue that two other strains of black nationalism emerged since this period. Using my research on Miles Davis, I show how Davis and electronic-jazz musicians positioned a vernacular aesthetic against the formalist aesthetic adopted by the Black Music community. Davis argued for a populist form of jazz incorporating elements of mainstream and avant-garde jazz as well as popular black music genres as seen in his 1969 album Bitches Brew. I show how in response to the black jazz avant-garde and popular vernacular, Wynton Marsalis and other neo-conservative musicians and critics adopted a black nationalism of conservation of the jazz tradition against the formalism of the avant-garde and the populism of the electronic-jazz movement. Following Robin D. G. Kelly, I show how these three-aesthetics represented distinct forms of infra-politics – cultural politics in everyday life and ritual – among black jazz musicians. I argue that these infra-politics expressed Bourdieuian distinctions of opposition, where Davis and other electronic-jazz musicians were accused of “selling-out” by the jazz avant-garde and neo-conservatives who rejected popular expressions of electronic-jazz as well as black popular music of the period. In rejecting these popular expressions, they failed to see the emerging infra-politics of hip-hop. Davis, however, recognized this infra-politics and incorporated hip-hop into his last album, Do-Bop, before his death in 1991.