Ross School - Senior Projects 2012
Mentor: James Earle
Domain(s): Cultural History
Faculty Grader: Therese Lichtenstein
Documentation of Product
Title: Jazz as a Vehicle for Social Change
My project is an in-depth research paper examining Jazz as a vehicle for social change. By closely examining the cultural contexts in which jazz became popular music (roughly the 1930s, through the early 60s) as well as the unwritten, improvised, solos played by famous musicians, my paper explores how the ideas of individuality and musical creativity affected world in the grasp of totalitarianism, economic strife, racism and total war. In addition to my paper, I also transcribed improvised solos played by jazz musicians of several cultural backgrounds, to examine how jazz developed as an art form, and understand how musicians in different cultural contexts expressed their ideas through the jazz medium.
In addition to writing my paper, I transcribed improvised solos by ear. The solos I selected to transcribed for my project have never been written down in the history of jazz, which allowed me to cite my transcriptions as original primary research. Transcribing is also a tedious and lengthy process which requires intimate examination of music, which has definitely proved influential in my own playing as well as hugely helpful for my paper.
At the end of my writing process, my paper was 117 single-spaces manuscript pages, not including works cited or the transcribed solos. For my final product I designed a cover in Adobe In-Design that, I felt, helped to convey the nature of my thesis in a visual format. I then had it bound into a 6’’ x 9’’, perfect-bound book which consisted of 214 pages.
Exhibition & Presentation Summary
Over the summer, I began my research process by investigating the history of jazz in the United States, and Europe. I went into my research without a defined thesis, and was determined to allow my thesis to emerge from all of my reading. By September, I solidified my thesis, which I had began to define after reading about the destitute beginnings of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, and the cultural significance of jazz under oppressive political regimes. When I began writing in September my thesis was “Jazz, whether it intends to be or not, is a vehicle for social change.” From there I organize my paper, breaking it down my physical location, and political doctrine rather than chronology. It included 5 parts, which were then divided into smaller subheadings to make the paper more approachable.
I began in the American South during Reconstruction and traced jazz from ruined slave plantations to the 19th century city of New Orleans. From there I launched into a discussion of New Orleans polyphony and traced a lineage of “New Orleans Cornet Kings” that showed the development of jazz music and musicians under Jim Crow. From there I focused on Chicago during WWI and the 1920s, introducing a new type of jazz harmony related to European impressionism, and explaining the influence of crime of jazz musicians. The central focus in Chicago was still on racism, however, it introduced new themes of “colorblind music” through investigations into white jazz musicians who played alongside blacks. After Chicago I traced jazz to New York City, focusing mostly on the stock market crash and great depression era swing music. Here I investigated the allure of the black performer, and the cultural revolution of swing that would come to define a generation. I also touched upon the civil rights culture that developed in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance and the “Bebop” period of jazz evolution that would come to define an entirely new post-war generation. From there I moved on to Europe where I investigated the significance of Jazz in Nazi Germany, where it was used both as a weapon against National Socialism, and a life-saving device.
During my entire writing process I continued to transcribe solos to add primary research into my paper. I included 8 solos in the final product which are listed below:
In January , my product was displayed in the high school library surrounded by photos of jazz musicians and historical figures who featured prominently in my paper ( which I finally was able to call a “book”). I presented the first Thursday of presentations where I described my writing and transcription processes as well as played samples of the solos I transcribed.
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