Friday, August 2, 2013

Damon J. Phillips' "Shaping Jazz"

Damon J. Phillips is the James P. Gorman Professor of Business Strategy at Columbia University and a faculty affiliate of Columbia's Center for Jazz Studies and the Center for Organizational Innovation.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Shaping Jazz: Cities, Labels, and the Global Emergence of an Art Form, and reported the following:
Shaping Jazz seeks to understand how the context of production affected which tunes became jazz standards and the role of record companies in privileging certain songs over others. Rather than assuming that jazz standards are inherently “better” songs than those which are not standards, in Shaping Jazz I provide evidence that our understanding of “good jazz” is heavily influenced by sociological and economic forces.

In this light, page 99 summarizes one of my key findings, that the jazz music produced by record companies in the 1920s was influenced by strong anti-jazz pressure by the cultural elite. It turns out that jazz music was reviled by the cultural elite to the point of them pursuing anti-jazz legislation, issuing official health warnings against jazz, writing anti-jazz articles and editorials, and forming anti-jazz police units in cities such as Philadelphia and New York. On the preceding page (p. 98) I report analyses showing that the major record companies (called “Victorian-era firms”) were not only less innovative in the early 1920s, but also avoided recording black groups who resembled Louis Armstrong’s style of jazz. Page 99 culminates these analyses by reporting more results showing that “…the greater the anti-jazz pressure, the less innovative Victorian-era firms were.” In other words, innovativeness by the major record companies was lower when anti-jazz pressure increased. Moreover, these same companies “…responded to anti-jazz pressure by decreasing their production of black non-orchestras…” where “black non-orchestras” is my label for groups that resembled the early Louis Armstrong type of group.

This gets to one of the main points of Shaping Jazz, that jazz as we know it today is not the product of artistic production in a vacuum, rather it was shaped by the decisions and actions of record companies. To the extent that recordings represent the history of jazz, record companies helped to write that history, and we can’t really understand the trajectory of jazz, or the canon of jazz standards that represent jazz, unless we take a serious look at the commercial and cultural interests that affected what was recorded and marketed as jazz in the first place.
Learn more about Shaping Jazz at the Princeton University Press website and Damon J. Phillips' website.

--Marshal Zeringue