Jazz as cultural practice

Bruce Johnson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Since jazz emerged from its geographical origins it has travelled back and forth across the disputed terrain between high and low culture, variously located as folk, popular, art music and permutations. Its shifting position makes it a particularly instructive vehicle through which to study the matrix of cultural politics, the balances of power that determine which cultural forms carry authority. The migrations of jazz within musical politics and aesthetics depend upon negotiations between text (the particular jazz performance) and context (the physical and cultural space within which it is situated). The Eurocentric arbitration of musical value by the end of the nineteenth century was predicated on the stability of the musical text and of its relationship with context. Jazz appeared to demolish this model. As aurally based improvisation, in performance the ‘text’ evaded fixity, and the sites and conditions of performance blurred the distinction between art and social practice, music and noise. Even preserved on a sound recording, its formal components were scarcely intelligible in established musical terms such as background–foreground, melody–harmony and structural coherence. Jazz was a site of unruliness. Jazz categorisations: The rapid international diaspora of jazz (see Chapter 2) meant that it could not be ignored; jazz was arguably the most pervasively influential development in twentieth-century music. Apart from the particular musical forms and practices in which it has been seminal, it was the most widespread musical vehicle of the progressive thrust into the experience of modernity in the early twentieth century, in such matters as gender, mass mediations and technological innovation.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge companion to jazz
EditorsMervyn Cooke, David Horn
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press (CUP)
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781139002233
ISBN (Print)9780521663205, 9780521663885
Publication statusPublished - 2003


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