Jazz Goes to the Movies: Contemporary Jazz Musicians' Work at the Intersections of the Jazz and Film Art Worlds

Carlson, Gretchen, Music - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
DeVeaux, Scott, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Dave, Nomi, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Miller, Karl, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Amaya, Hector, Department of Media Studies, University of Virginia

Jazz music has a long history in cinema soundtracks. Its on-screen representations have been widely discussed by jazz scholars and critics alike. But what happens behind-the-scenes in jazz soundtrack production? Why are certain filmmakers interested in engaging jazz artists to create soundtracks for their films? How do jazz artists then negotiate the clash of their own creativity and practices with the reality of film industry conventions and hierarchies?
This dissertation investigates contemporary jazz musicians’ work within the film industry from a sociological and ethnographic perspective. I examine the relationships and tensions between jazz artists’ creative autonomy and their “work-for-hire” statuses within film industry hierarchies, read alongside critical examinations of their relationships with particular directors, the directors’ goals and interests, filmmaking risk ideologies, and the artists’ own musical productions. I theorize this work as operating at the intersections of the jazz and film “art worlds.” Drawing on Howard Becker’s conceptualization of the term, I understand each art world as an art-work-producing cooperative network structured around shared conventions. In my analyses of specific jazz soundtrack productions, I critically examine how each art world’s conventions, practices, ideologies, and expectations complexly intersect, and affect the members of each art world in turn.
I address these broader themes through specific case studies. Each of these studies examines the film work of what I recognize as “inner circle” jazz artists within the last several decades – artists who hold jazz performance careers, but have also worked recurrently on film projects through their ongoing collaborations with specific filmmakers. A chapter on Vince Giordano and Dick Hyman investigates the work and experiences of jazz artists producing historicist soundtracks for period films, positioning their work in dialogue with certain filmmakers’ conceptions of “authenticity” in period productions. In a chapter focusing on the film work of Antonio Sanchez and Mark Isham, I examine the production of improvised jazz soundtracks, particularly their uniqueness in relation to film industry conceptions of risk. My primary argument is that these scores – facilitated by risk-taking, “maverick” filmmakers – challenge conventional methods of film score production and offer unique opportunities for jazz artists’ creative agency within film industry labor structures. The final chapter examines Terence Blanchard’s score work for Spike Lee’s films through the lens of political, racial, and personal ideology. I situate Blanchard’s and Lee’s extensive collaborative relationship at the intersections of shared political ideology and commitment to jazz as representative of black experience and creativity.
Ultimately, this study integrates diverse, interdisciplinary analyses of contemporary jazz artists’ behind-the-scenes work in film. It moves beyond representational readings of these jazz-film intersections, and engages with the complex circumstances informing the production of the soundtracks themselves. It recognizes jazz production beyond the boundaries of the music industry, examining how jazz artists’ work in film uniquely facilitates opportunities for expanded creative production and conventional transformation in both the jazz and film art worlds. Finally - beyond its pertinence to jazz studies and film studies – this study contributes to understanding the tensions and complexities between creative agency and labor in cultural industry (or art world) work.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
jazz, film music, art worlds, film industry production, creative labor
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