JAZZ IS (un)DEAD

(a conference paper)

HEY I GOT A HAIRCUT

Continuing my spate of public-access-style conference papers, here’s my recent one for this year’s online conference for the International Association for the Study of Popular Music-US (IASPM-US), held in May 2021. I’m interested more and more in how our embodied communal archive of musical practices (memory, affect, imagination) is connected to the spaces we inhabit together. The JAZZ IS DEAD phenomenon is an example of how our engagements with music both reproduce and change culture (here’s the text of the paper if you’d rather read it).

Just yesterday I shared almost the same paper at the University of Edinburgh’s Documenting Jazz conference (also held online) and got some great leads on complementary literature as well as questions regarding JAZZ IS DEAD’s relationship to other multi-cultural music scenes in Los Angeles. Lots to think about – hit me up if you’ve got ideas and/or want to talk about this stuff. Thanks!

ABSTRACT: A few years back, posters emblazoned with “JAZZ IS DEAD” started appearing around Los Angeles. No further comment or context was offered; just white block letters on black paper. Was this statement earnest? Ironic? Related to a brand or ad campaign? Yes. JAZZ IS DEAD turns out to be a concert series and influencer brand in Los Angeles that deploys a discursive move asserting the death of jazz, or at least the term’s problematization, while simultaneously being a proponent of the many ways “jazz” presently manifests. In doing so it figures jazz as a non-essentialized intermusical archive of practices, attitudes, and histories of taste that echo their communities of production. More importantly, it moves strangers with varied backgrounds and values to meet in a room and dance. My paper presents this phenomenon as one trading on the idea that jazz is not monolithic, but rather a negotiation located in an intermusical constellation—manifest materially in a complex socially- and historically-situated urban space. By programming small-group jazz, funk, samba, hip-hop, experimental beat music, etc., JAZZ IS DEAD is by accident or design engaged in the sonic and spatialized curation of a community that models those musical interspaces—mixing audiences of varied histories of taste, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds often separated by those very differences. JAZZ IS DEAD is, then, a vivifying, symbolically rich space that transcends genre from which we can uniquely consider music’s relationship to issues of popular culture, memory, representation, and resistance.

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