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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
November 2023
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Book description

Almost immediately after jazz became popular nationally in the United States in the early 20th century, American writers responded to what this exciting art form signified for listeners. This book takes an expansive view of the relationship between this uniquely American music and other aspects of American life, including books, films, language, and politics. Observing how jazz has become a cultural institution, widely celebrated as 'America's classical music,' the book also never loses sight of its beginnings in Black expressive culture and its enduring ability to critique problems of democracy or speak back to violence and inequality, from Jim Crow to George Floyd. Taking the reader through time and across expressive forms, this volume traces jazz as an aesthetic influence, a political force, and a representational focus in American literature and culture. It shows how Jazz has long been a rich source of aesthetic stimulation, influencing writers as stylistically wide-ranging as Langston Hughes, Eudora Welty, and James Baldwin, or artists as diverse as Aaron Douglas, Jackson Pollock, and Gordon Parks.


‘In this elegant, bold, ambitious, and much-needed intervention in the standard histories of Jazz, Borshuk brings together an all-star cast of leading scholars on a comprehensive set of topics that together enable us all to make a great leap forward in understanding the music’s essential relation to American culture. The book begins with several insightful discussions of the specific aesthetic features that define jazz in the context of improvisation, race, literature, and performance, then situates the music historically in terms of Harlem, Modernism, and the watershed upheaval that peaked in 1968; from there, it connects jazz to American vernacular, the personal style of “cool,” and the music’s eventual and always fraught relations with institutions of various kinds, its representation in poetry, autobiography, liner notes, and in the visual realm from cinema to TV to photography. An invaluable resource, a stunning achievement.’

T. R. Johnson - Tulane University, Author of New Orleans: A Writer’s City

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