Critical Theory

Discontinuity in the Music of Django Reinhardt

Current Musicology

Analysis of jazz solos has often focused on formal coherence. Proponents of this approach have often tried to establish a parallel to the formal rigor of classical music-and thus to uphold jazz' status as an art form (for example, see Sonny Rollins and the Challenge of Thematic Improvisation). Givan argues that close analysis can be instead be used to highlight not continuity in a jazz solo but discontinuity, which has its own creative and symbolic possibilities.

Let's Call This: Race, Writing and Difference

Public Access Collective

Smith explores the act of naming jazz compositions. He takes Thelonious Monk's "Let's Call This," which is elliptical and open to multiple meanings, as a starting point. Smith believes the song title is an example of African-American transgressiveness, through the creation of an aloof, sometimes deliberately ironic aesthetic. The author explores the music, and the titles, of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Anthony Braxton in this regard. He also bases his argument on the poetry of Nathaniel Mackey, who "sees language as history.

Dominant Positions: John Coltrane, Michel Foucault, and the Politics of Representation

Critical Studies in Improvisation

Nicholls argues that the way artistic projects are represented depends at least in part upon the willingness of critics to look beyond musical sounds alone and take notice of issues of identity and social positioning-their own and that of the artists they evaluate. To illustrate this point, she discusses the varying reception of John Coltrane, whose stature gave him a platform to resist and redress the negative judgments his experimental work received.

Musical Archetypes and Collective Consciousness: Cognitive Distribution and Free Improvisation

Critical Studies in Improvisation

Burrows' goal is to demystify the act of improvising by drawing on theories of cognition and on his experience as a musician. He argues that purely interior mental processes supposedly governing improvisation are in fact dependent on external "objects" or environmental factors, such as the physical act of sound creation or the reactions of others. Each performance, Burrows suggests, may thus be affected by the interplay of individual psychological motivations, technical features of instruments, or the audience.

Of Sunshine and Happy Endings: Jazz, Parody, and the Limits of Interpretation

Critical Studies in Improvisation

Stanbridge examines two recordings by the composer George Russell of the country and western standard "You Are My Sunshine." Russell's complex renditions, aided by Sheila Jordan's emotionally fraught vocals, pitted the song's rustic associations against the alienation he saw in modern technology and violence. The multileveled, perhaps cynical parody militates against any "happy endings" and, Stanbridge argues, any fixed interpretation of the performance, whether through modernist or postmodernist lenses.

O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing: Anthony Braxton’s Speculative Music

In this article, composer and educator Mike Heffley analyzes the libretto and score of a Braxton's magnum opus, the opera Trillium R (Shala Fears for the Poor) of 1991. With the term "speculative music,"  Heffley designates music as a "speculum," or a mirror of the natural world or cosmic order. Heffley considers the opera's libretto in the context of the entire corpus of Braxton's writings, particularly his Tri-Axium Writings of 1985. Heffley argues that Braxton's use of language is "a driving force behind, first, his music, and, further, his body of work as a whole . . ."

The Challenge of the Changing Same: The Jazz Avant-Garde of the 1960s, the Black Aesthetic, and the Black Arts Movement

Robinson focuses on the relationship between writers associated with the Black Arts Movement (including Amiri Baraka, Addison Gayle, Jr., Hoyt Fuller, Larry Neal, Ishmael Reed, and James Stewart) and the experimental jazz of the 1960s. The Black Arts Movement looked to black musical expression as a site of authentic artistic "blackness." Robinson asserts, however, that the literati of this movement may have actually essentialized the black subject and obscured the diverse range of protest originating from the musical arena.

"King Porter Stomp" and the Jazz Tradition


Magee traces the history of one of the most oft-performed early jazz compositions. He shows that the popularity of Jelly Roll Morton's "King Porter Stomp" was not inevitable, even though it is now frequently found in lists of canonical jazz works. The composition was often overlooked and became featured almost by accident. Magee argues that the eventual adoption and fame of "King Porter Stomp" is a testament to the very real influence and statue of the song's composer, who had claimed hyperbolically to be the "inventor of jazz."

The Legacy of Genius: Improvisation, Romantic Imagination, and the Western Musical Canon

This dissertation addresses the question of the decline of improvisation in Western classical music, investigating both its disappearance from performance practice and the scholarly neglect of this phenomenon in music histories and theories. Music historians have traditionally situated the disappearance of improvisation at the end of the Baroque, but improvisation continued to be an important part of Western classical music until well into the nineteenth century.


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