Transporting the Tradition: The Social Production of Authenticity and Sincerity in Post-Katrina New Orleans Jazz

Colby-Bottel, SherriLynn, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Handler, Richard, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

The economy of New Orleans has been dependent on cultural tourism for more than a century, and after hurricane Katrina in 2005, saving the city's "unique culture" became a fundamental justification for many rebuilding arguments. Demonstrations of cultural heritage activities, and ownership of those activities, took on a new significance. Many New Orleanians already feared that local arts were endangered by globalization and corporatized popular culture. Many more feared the loss of their local culture as they saw urban reconstruction being driven by a neoliberal agenda. New Orleanians also struggled with long-standing structural and racialized poverty as debates about what to rebuildand in effect whom to rebuild-continued. Within this dynamic context, my dissertation offers an in-depth examination of one of the city's most iconic and historical arts: jazz music. In three ethnographic chapters, I examine how those who produce and promote New Orleans traditional jazz construct their ideas about the authentic local tradition and the role of sincerity in its practice. First, in an analysis of a local jazz radio station, I set out my thesis about socially produced authenticity and demonstrate how ideas about authenticity become reified, managed, and reproduced in a corporatized context. Next, I examine the decentralized musical landscape of the city. I show how musicians who perform traditional jazz self-organize iv into networks of people who tend to work together along lines of race, style, financial preferences, and perceived sincerity in practice. In my final ethnographic chapter, I compare corporatized and decentralized processes of musical production. For five years, I researched a small group of post-Katrina newcomers: a collection of musicians and dancers who relocated to New Orleans and performed regularly in the streets of the French Quarter. While the street musicians eventually became absorbed by decentralized networks of local musicians, the dancers organized into a non-profit corporation, relocated a national dance event to the city, and have now significantly increased the call for jazz dance music played in local clubs.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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