Monday, December 28, 2009

Court Carney's "Cuttin’ Up"

Court Carney is Assistant Professor of History at Stephen F. Austin State University, where he teaches courses on African American history, race and culture, and American music. His next book project looks at the connections between racial identity and public memory through the lens of memorializing the Civil War.

He applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Cuttin’ Up: How Early Jazz Got America’s Ear, and reported the following:
In Cuttin’ Up: How Early Jazz Got America’s Ear, I examine the various processes that helped transform early jazz into a national popular music. The book is divided into three sections—Creation, Diffusion, and Acceptance—underscoring the general pattern of transmission as a southern black folk music emerged and within two decades became the modern soundtrack of white America. The first section examines the creation of early jazz through its predecessors, ragtime and the blues, and focuses on New Orleans as the site of its conception. The middle section (of which page 99 is a part) looks at the technological and cultural process of diffusion in Chicago with the recording industry, New York and the radio industry, and Los Angeles and the film industry. The final section, then, looks at the various controversies that reverberated out of the acceptance of the music as Americans confronted the culture of modern life. As young (and white) Americans began to clamor for this new sound the moral debates began to dissipate and by the 1930s jazz, in its popular incarnation of “swing,” defined American popular music. At the center of the book is the complex issue of modernity and its dual (often competing) roles within in the nation. As jazz musicians developed a new musical language this self-aware and self-reflexive crafting of identity redefined the cultural conversation of expression. Situating this process within the context of America in the first decades of the 20th century helps underscore the function of the music as individuals challenged and redefined their place within a heterogeneous society.

Page 99 captures pretty well the argument of the book as it summarizes the chapter on jazz in New York City during the 1920s:
The film Black and Tan illustrates a similar convergence as new technologies allowed for a larger reception. This film also speaks to the complexities inherent in modern artistic expression especially in terms of the projection of race. Whereas technology heightened the experimental elements of “Mood Indigo,” the power of film helped make clear the bizarre negotiation of racial images on screen as blackface is used not only to distinguish a white performer as “black” but also to maintain the expectation of segregation. Together, Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” and his appearance in Black and Tan underscore the promise and power of modern entertainment technology as a black composer found artistic acceptance within a nation struggling to discover its own racial identity in the first decades of the twentieth century.
Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo”—which plays a major role in this particular chapter—was the first jazz piece that really influenced the way I listened to jazz. I initially heard Charles Mingus’s version of “Mood Indigo” (off of his 1963 LP Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus.) as a teenager. That record turned me onto Ellington and, I suppose, led me down the path that culminated many years later with Cuttin’ Up. That Mingus record, coincidentally, also introduced me to Eric Dolphy, but that is a much different story for another time.
Learn more about Cuttin’ Up at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue