Monk's image in various cinematic biographies is puzzling and contradictory. Gabbard argues that films on Monk tell us as much about the inherent difficulties of documentary filmmaking-particularly with respect to jazz-as they do about Monk's life and music. In addition, he suggests that, like many African-American artists, Monk successfully "held up a trickster's mirror to his observers," allowing them to see precisely what they wished to see.
Pickering examines Stratton's popular blackface routine in late 19th century Britain. He argues that Victorian society defined itself as modern and civilized vis-à-vis a stereotyped racial "other"-yet also cynically suppressed awareness of the brutal colonial oppression attending its growing empire. Stratton made "visible for his British audiences what was otherwise evaded or concealed ‘inside themselves'."
Napier explores a tension between received tradition and individual expression in North Indian classical music. How should improvisation be understood, he asks, in a musical culture which prizes intergenerational continuity as much as innovation? He suggests that melodic moments should be viewed in that context as attempts at reconciling tradition with contemporary concerns. In this light, Napier argues that "improvisation" should in no instance be used to validate novelty without acknowledging reproduction and continuity.
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.
Vocalist Jeanne Lee took a multidisciplinary approach to improvisation that incorporated dance and visual media and produced remarkable innovations in vocal sound. She remained relatively obscure throughout her 40-year professional career, Porter argues, because of her iconoclastic performance art, and because of her status as a woman, working mother, and black person. He explores the challenges to assumptions about nation, gender, and race in Lee's work, particularly in her performance of her poem "In These Last Days."
Just after World War I, when proper jazz journalism did not yet exist, composer and orchestra leader James Reese Europe served as an articulate, even prophetic voice. Though not a writer, comments Europe made on jazz to the press helped cast it as a legitimate art form rather than a threat to society, as it was then sometimes seen. Welburn discusses Europe's comments on race, the origins of jazz, and idiomatic jazz performance techniques.
Recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder has been active since the 1940s. Skea notes that that the quality of Van Gelder's output rests not necessarily on technical innovation but on determination to master successive waves of state-of-the-art technology available to him and a legendary degree of perfectionism.
One gets the sense that Ben Watson is itching for a fight, given his writerly penchant for polemic and confrontation. Readers of Derek Bailey and the Story of Free Improvisation don't have to wade into his 400-plus page biography of the great British guitarist, however, to perceive Watson's put-up-your-dukes method of critical inquiry: The story of "Free 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.
Chicago's notoriety as the hub of the Jazz Age of the 1920s is unquestioned. But little has been written about how African-American entrepreneurs and community leaders built the commercial infrastructure for the rise of jazz and blues clubs in the city. Although Chicago's mob rule put its stamp on the era in public consciousness, Vincent observes that it was only after black entrepreneurs laid the foundation that the mob decided it wanted "a piece of the action."