Mark your calendars for this upcoming talk with visiting jazz scholar, Dr. Kimberly Hannon-Teal (University of Arkansas). Hosted by Prof. Charles Carson and the Center for American Music.
Thursday 4/4. 5pm @ Recital Studio MRH 2.608
In order to strengthen perceptions of jazz as high art, early jazz criticism, and later the young field of jazz studies, often presented Duke Ellington as a remarkably strong individual composer by drawing parallels between him and canonical composers of Western art music. While this narrative served an important twentieth-century purpose in celebrating his art in particular and the broader arenas of jazz and African American music in a cultural environment that often positioned such music as primitive, unrefined, or overly commercial, it bears revisiting in a twenty-first-century context, especially as it does not easily account for Ellington’s well documented practice of collaborative composition. This study explores what Ellington’s music can teach us about community, collaboration, loss, and healing through close readings of works as performed before and after the deaths of featured Ellington Orchestra members, drawing on multiple recordings of various solos in reference to the soloists’ written part books to tease out the relationship between Ellington’s written and sounding music. A series of vignettes examining the “voices” of Joe Nanton, Jimmy Blanton, and Johnny Hodges delineates a number of techniques for navigating death and remembrance based largely in the manipulation of instrumental timbre. These strategies range from a careful emulation of deceased performers to the opposing approach of highlighting a missing musician’s absence through direct contrast, ultimately showing how diverse voices defined the Ellington Orchestra’s sound. Informed by Stanyek and Piekut’s (2010) theorization of the intermundane in posthumous duets like Nat and Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable, this study highlights overlapping labors and identities of living and dead musicians in the Ellington Orchestra in order to reframe their music and creative processes, looking away from the isolated pedestal of the individual composer toward a view that includes a network of collaboration and community.