Big Ears

Listening for Gender in Jazz Studies

Big Ears

Refiguring American Music

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Book Pages: 472 Illustrations: 19 photographs, 1 table, 4 figures Published: November 2008

American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Music > Jazz

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


Big Ears . . . evaluates the long fetch of history that is jazz, and by contemplating and calling into question where that history came from, it helps us understand the past, present, and future of jazz more clearly.” — Kara A. Attrep, Critical Studies in Improvisation

Big Ears uses a wide variety of methodologies and spans multiple eras, topics, and locations. The book is intended to be useful in a number of different scholarly contexts, and Rustin and Tucker are completely successful in that goal. It would make a wonderful core textbook for a gender and jazz course, but also contains gems that would be useful in subjects as diverse as German studies and African American studies. In addition to its value in the classroom, this collection is a significant addition to jazz and gender studies, as well as to feminist scholarship in general.” — Stephan Pennington, Feminist Formations

Big Ears, which is part of the Refiguring American Music series, goes to great lengths in the description of how women in general faced an uphill battle in receiving the spotlight and the accolades they deserved. It also digs into the core of jazz’s gender roots, when singing and piano-playing were considered feminine. So it is that men also faced gender discrimination when taking to the stage on a piano or for vocals.” — Elizabeth Amore, Popmatters

“[A] ground-breaking volume. . . . For scholars of popular music not directly associated with jazz, Big Ears will prove relevant due to the way in which the disparate essay topics demonstrate the widespread cultural impact of jazz from its earliest origins to the present day: jazz is represented as popular music and as a source of pop cultural aesthetics. . . . The authors in Big Ears represent a group of scholars willing to listen to jazz culture in ways which some of us might have missed or need to hear again.” — Rob Wallace, Journal of Popular Music Studies

“[I]f you want to be prompted to think in sociological and musicological terms about gender as well as race in jazz, you should add this book to your reading list or at least to your reference library. . . . It could be said that first public instance of gender analysis in jazz was in 1924. . . . Big Ears helps show how and why jazz music, and the men and women who play it, have evolved since then, as it paves the way for more analysis and discussion to come.” — Yvonne Ervin, Jazz Notes

“[M]ore jazz citizens do seem to be awakening to issues of gender. That process may be best observed in academia, thanks to scholars like Sherrie Tucker, Farah Jasmine Griffin and Lara Pellegrinelli, whose perceptive work can be sampled in Big Ears: Listening for Gender in Jazz Studies, a worthwhile new anthology edited by Tucker and Nichole T. Rustin.” — Nate Chinen, JazzTimes

“The pieces collected in this volume view women not necessarily as exceptional but as ‘common’ and vital in the history and culture of jazz. The editors . . . do a fine job of analyzing the role of women in jazz studies from all perspectives: as musicians, scholars, writers, critics, and listeners. They have also made these academic essays highly accessible; in turn their call for further exploration of gender dynamics as well as race and sexuality in jazz studies falls on receptive ears.” — Ivana Ng, All About Jazz

“These essays explore many issues of gender in jazz, covering a wide range from a variety of viewpoints, illuminating the past and looking at the present and possible future of jazz. . . . These essays should have a real impact on an area of jazz studies that deserves more attention. Highly recommended.” — C. M. Weisenberg, Choice

Big Ears is a breath of fresh air in contemporary jazz studies. Whereas the field has exploded during the last several years, this is the first volume specifically devoted to new work on gender and jazz. The essays here are wide-ranging in form, content, and method. They pay admirable attention to jazz across media (in film, concerts, recordings) and in international, not just U.S., contexts.” — Gayle Wald, author of Shout, Sister, Shout! The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe

“Opening new vistas upon the study of jazz in the humanities, Nichole T. Rustin and Sherrie Tucker guide a vibrant and profound conversation at the nexus of performance studies, film and literary studies, gender studies, and many other fields. The unprecedented range and scope of this essential new collection affirm the centrality of improvisation to our understanding of culture.” — George E. Lewis, author of A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Nichole T. Rustin is completing a book titled Jazz Men: Race, Masculine Difference, and the Emotions in 1950s America.

Sherrie Tucker is Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Kansas. She is the author of Swing Shift: “All-Girl” Bands of the 1940s, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction / Nichole T. Rustin and Sherrie Tucker 1

Part I. Rooting Gender in Jazz History

Separated at "Birth": Singing and the History of Jazz / Lara Pellegrinelli 31

With Lovie and Lil: Rediscovering Two Chicago Pianists of the 1920s / Jeffrey Taylor 48

Gender, Jazz, and the Popular Front / Monica Hairston 64

"The Battle of the Saxes": Gender, Dance Bands, and British Nationalism in the Second World War / Christina Baade 90

Identity for Sale: Glenn Miller, Wynton Marsalis, and Cultural Replay in Music / Tracy McMullen 129

Part II. Improvising Gender: Embodiment and Performance

From the Point of View of the Pavement: A Geopolitics of Black Dance / Jayna Brown 157

Perverse Hysterics: The Noisy Cri of Les Diaboliques / Julie Dawn Smith 180

"Born Out of Jazz . . . Yet Embracing All Music": Race, Gender, and Technology in George Russell's Lydian Chromatic Concept / Eric Porter 210

"But This Music is Mine Already!" : "White Woman" as Jazz Collector in the Film New Orleans (1947) / Sherrie Tucker 235

Fitting the Part / Ingrid Monson 267

Part III. Reimagining Jazz Representations

"Better a Jazz Album Than Lipstick" (Lieber Jazzplatte Als Lippenstift): The 1956 Jazz Podium Series Reveals Images of Jazz and Gender in Postwar Germany / Ursel Schlicht 291

Exclusion, Openness, and Utopia in Black Male Performance at the World Stage Jazz Jam Sessions / João H. Costa Vargas 320

"It Takes Two People to Confirm the Truth": The Jazz Fiction of Sherley Ann Williams and Toni Cade Bambara / Farah Jasmine Griffin 348

"Blow, Man, Blow!": Representing Gender, White Primitives, and Jazz Melodrama Through A Young Man With A Horn / Nichole T. Rustin 361

The Gendered Jazz Aesthetics of That Man of Man: The International Sweethearts of Rhythm and Independent Black Sound Film / Kristin McGee 393

Bibliography 423

Contributors 435

Index 441
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4320-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4336-3
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