Jazz Neoclassicism and Racial Uplift, 1970-2007

Lewis, Steven, Music - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Deveaux, Scott, Department of Music, University of Virginia

Jazz’s neoclassical turn in the late 1970s, and the subsequent arrival of the young musicians labeled the “Young Lions” in the 1980s and 1990s, was one of the most important developments in late 20th century jazz history. This dissertation contextualizes this moment in jazz history and jazz criticism within the broader context of African American social and political thought. I argue that, in their cultural politics, Wynton Marsalis, Albert Murray, and Stanley Crouch—the ideological architects of jazz neoclassicism—were deeply indebted to the ideology of racial uplift first articulated in the early 20th century by African American leaders like Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. Murray, Marsalis, and Crouch articulated a shared vision of jazz as emblematic of black respectability, black self-help, and black contributions to Western civilization. They saw the resurgence of straight-ahead jazz in the 1980s and 1990s as indicative of the coming cultural and moral uplift of black America after the confusion and degradation of the late 1960s and 1970s.

Each of my three chapters explores the ways in which one of my key figures drew on the influence of earlier leaders of racial uplift. While tracing these ideological influences, I also place each of my subjects in the contexts of debates and anxieties in 1980s and 1990s black America. In my first chapter, I argue that Albert Murray’s formulation of a distinctively black “blues idiom” reflects the influence of Booker T. Washington’s ideology of self-help. I show how Murray positioned his ideas against those of sociologists like Kenneth Clark and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, presenting the “blues idiom” as the antithesis of ideas of black inner-city pathology that were influential in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. In my second chapter, I explore the influence of W.E.B. Du Bois’s early 20th century program of uplift by an educated elite on Stanley Crouch’s rhetoric in the late 1980s through the 1990s. Crouch, I argue, drew on Du Bois’s “Talented Tenth” idea to position the Young Lions as agents of an uplifting African American culture who could lead black America out of its post-1960s state of decadence. My third chapter presents the argument that from the 1990s through the early 21st century, Wynton Marsalis used images of an idealized community of black jazzmen to counter derogatory popular stereotypes about black masculinity and black fatherhood. I draw parallels between Marsalis’s notions of black manhood and those of the Prince Hall Freemasons, arguing that Marsalis presents the jazz community as a fraternity of proud black craftsmen as a way of constructing a positive black male image and symbolically conferring a traditional patriarchal identity on black men.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Wynton Marsalis, Jazz Neoclassicism, Stanley Crouch, Albert Murray, Respectability Politics
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