Interaction, Collaboration, and Improvisation in the Intersection of Jazz and Poetry

Aaslid, Vilde, Music - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Deveaux, Scott, Department of Music, University of Virginia

In the simultaneous performance of poetry and jazz, artists bring the interactivity of jazz to texted music. This dissertation examines jazz poetry intersection as musicopoetic object and cultural practice. In improvisation, I argue, jazz poetry performance asserts an affinity between music and poetry—a bond based on sound and syntax rather than semantics. Jazz poetry intersection pushes at the boundaries of the music’s generic boundaries, and the performances often challenge barriers to artistic mobility that have emerged from discourses of genre, race, and cultural hierarchy.

Four chapters put the overarching themes in dialogue with specific cases. In chapters on Charles Mingus and Vijay Iyer, I consider how two jazz composers structure the combination of music and word in improvisatory contexts. I examine the gendered politics of language in jazz in a chapter on Black Arts poet Jayne Cortez, reading her performances as a black feminist revision of the role of jazz singer. In the final chapter I survey the relationship between poetry and jazz in New York City between 2012 and 2014, situating the form within the jazz scene and the broader cultural landscape of the city.

This study of “intersection” bridges disciplines. Texted jazz has been marginalized in Jazz Studies, and this project brings deep analytical engagement to text in jazz. Further, the detailed study of how music and language intersect in performance has been entirely based in notated traditions; I ask what the inclusion of improvisation brings to the understanding of musicopoetics. The fundamentally interactive nature of jazz practice has shaped jazz poetry intersection and in this dissertation I listen for the resonance of that interaction in the musicopoetics and the cultural practices of the form. In analyzing the diversity of jazz poetry performance, I recuperate the format; the poetry-read-to-jazz fad of the beatnik era has dominated the form’s reception, occluding other examples. Writing against this erasure, I assert the richness of expression—personal, political, artistic—in jazz and poetry intersection.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
jazz, poetry, musicopoetics, text and music
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