In jazz circles, players and listeners with “big ears” hear and engage complexity in the moment, as it unfolds. Taking gender as part of the intricate, unpredictable action in jazz culture, this interdisciplinary collection explores the terrain opened up by listening, with big ears, for gender in jazz. Essays range from a reflection on the female boogie-woogie pianists who played at Café Society in New York during the 1930s and 1940s to interpretations of how the jazzman is represented in Dorothy Baker’s novel Young Man with a Horn (1938) and Michael Curtiz’s film adaptation (1950). Taken together, the essays enrich the field of jazz studies by showing how gender dynamics have shaped the production, reception, and criticism of jazz culture.
Scholars of music, ethnomusicology, American studies, literature, anthropology, and cultural studies approach the question of gender in jazz from multiple perspectives. One contributor scrutinizes the tendency of jazz historiography to treat singing as subordinate to the predominantly male domain of instrumental music, while another reflects on her doubly inappropriate position as a female trumpet player and a white jazz musician and scholar. Other essays explore the composer George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept as a critique of mid-twentieth-century discourses of embodiment, madness, and black masculinity; performances of “female hysteria” by Les Diaboliques, a feminist improvising trio; and the BBC radio broadcasts of Ivy Benson and Her Ladies’ Dance Orchestra during the Second World War. By incorporating gender analysis into jazz studies, Big Ears transforms ideas of who counts as a subject of study and even of what counts as jazz.
Contributors: Christina Baade, Jayna Brown, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Monica Hairston, Kristin McGee, Tracy McMullen, Ingrid Monson, Lara Pellegrinelli, Eric Porter, Nichole T. Rustin, Ursel Schlicht, Julie Dawn Smith, Jeffrey Taylor, Sherrie Tucker, João H. Costa Vargas
Open from 1942 until 1945, the Hollywood Canteen was the most famous of the patriotic home front nightclubs where civilian hostesses jitterbugged with enlisted men of the Allied Nations. Since the opening night, when the crowds were so thick that Bette Davis had to enter through the bathroom window to give her welcome speech, the storied dance floor where movie stars danced with soldiers has been the subject of much U.S. nostalgia about the "Greatest Generation." Drawing from oral histories with civilian volunteers and military guests who danced at the wartime nightclub, Sherrie Tucker explores how jitterbugging swing culture has come to represent the war in U.S. national memory. Yet her interviewees' varied experiences and recollections belie the possibility of any singular historical narrative. Some recall racism, sexism, and inequality on the nightclub's dance floor and in Los Angeles neighborhoods, dynamics at odds with the U.S. democratic, egalitarian ideals associated with the Hollywood Canteen and the "Good War" in popular culture narratives. For Tucker, swing dancing's torque—bodies sharing weight, velocity, and turning power without guaranteed outcomes—is an apt metaphor for the jostling narratives, different perspectives, unsteady memories, and quotidian acts that comprise social history.
This second volume of Music in Black American Life offers research and analysis that originally appeared in the journals American Music and Black Music Research Journal, and in two book series published by the University of Illinois Press: Music in American Life, and African American Music in Global Perspective. In this collection, a group of predominately Black scholars explores a variety of topics with works that pioneered new methodologies and modes of inquiry for hearing and studying Black music. These extracts and articles examine the World War II jazz scene; look at female artists like gospel star Shirley Caesar and jazz musician-arranger Melba Liston; illuminate the South Bronx milieu that folded many forms of black expressive culture into rap; and explain Hamilton's massive success as part of the "tanning" of American culture that began when Black music entered the mainstream.
Part sourcebook and part survey of historic music scholarship, Music in Black American Life, 1945–2020 collects groundbreaking work that redefines our view of Black music and its place in American music history.
Contributors: Nelson George, Wayne Everett Goins, Claudrena N. Harold, Eileen M. Hayes, Loren Kajikawa, Robin D. G. Kelley, Tammy L. Kernodle, Cheryl L. Keyes, Gwendolyn Pough, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Mark Tucker, and Sherrie Tucker
The forgotten history of the “all-girl” big bands of the World War II era takes center stage in Sherrie Tucker’s Swing Shift. American demand for swing skyrocketed with the onslaught of war as millions—isolated from loved ones—sought diversion, comfort, and social contact through music and dance. Although all-female jazz and dance bands had existed since the 1920s, now hundreds of such groups, both African American and white, barnstormed ballrooms, theaters, dance halls, military installations, and makeshift USO stages on the home front and abroad. Filled with firsthand accounts of more than a hundred women who performed during this era and complemented by thorough—and eye-opening—archival research, Swing Shift not only offers a history of this significant aspect of American society and culture but also examines how and why whole bands of dedicated and talented women musicians were dropped from—or never inducted into—our national memory. Tucker’s nuanced presentation reveals who these remarkable women were, where and when they began to play music, and how they navigated a sometimes wild and bumpy road—including their experiences with gas and rubber rationing, travel restrictions designed to prioritize transportation for military needs, and Jim Crow laws and other prejudices. She explains how the expanded opportunities brought by the war, along with sudden increased publicity, created the illusion that all female musicians—no matter how experienced or talented—were “Swing Shift Maisies,” 1940s slang for the substitutes for the “real” workers (or musicians) who were away in combat. Comparing the working conditions and public representations of women musicians with figures such as Rosie the Riveter, WACs, USO hostesses, pin-ups, and movie stars, Tucker chronicles the careers of such bands as the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Phil Spitalny’s Hours of Charm, The Darlings of Rhythm, and the Sharon Rogers All-Girl Band.