"A Tone Parallel"--Jazz Music, Leftist Politics, and the Counter-Minstrel Narrative, 1930-1970 Open Access
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Abstract of Dissertation"A Tone Parallel"--Jazz Music, Leftist Politics, and the Counter-Minstrel Narrative, 1930-1970My dissertation analyzes the ways that musicians voiced, through the medium of jazz, the values and politics of black public intellectuals and the political left. By arguing that jazz was a sonic expression of the anti-racist politics of black public intellectuals, my dissertation works to extend the scope and study of race and racial politics outside the well traversed realms of literary and visual studies to incorporate music. Ultimately, this project reveals the music as a form of political activism and illustrates how jazz of the New Deal era developed a viable, tangible political resonance that shaped the history of race and racial politics to the era of the Civil Rights Movement. My project begins by locating the "modern" incarnations of jazz outside of its blues-associated, New Orleans roots, and instead as a product of the leftist, Marxist values that circulated amongst black public intellectuals during the New Deal. Understanding jazz as a product of the Popular Front offers insight into the ways debates concerning black radical politics shaped not only the music, but the manner in which politically active black artists influenced the politics and ideals of American society. Additionally, this dissertation explores how the musical language of jazz functioned as a narrative for what I call the "counter-minstrel" activity of jazz musicians. This counter-minstrel activity enabled jazz musicians to work as entertainers and political figures within a mainstream that still operated on the logic inherited from blackface minstrelsy, contrary to the purportedly apolitical stance of the musicians themselves. Thus, this dissertation contends that the primary political actions of black jazz musicians were articulated in the display of their artistic responses to the lingering history of the minstrel show. This dissertation also argues that the "soundings" of musicians, located in the cultural work of their music and public endeavors, allowed for these artists to function as black public intellectuals engaging in the pursuit of African-American social, artistic, and political freedom.