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Reviewed by:
  • Tom Greenland
Jazz Worlds/World Jazz. Edited by Philip V. Bohlman and Goffredo Plastino. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. [xxxi, 496 p. ISBN 9780226158082 (cloth), $105; ISBN 9780226236032 (paperback), $35.] CD, music examples, illustrations, bibliography, index, discography, filmography.

Seemingly able to incorporate and inhabit a global range of local music-making practices, jazz may not be an ideal subject for ethnomusicology. Adhering to the tenets of (Franz) Boasian anthropology, most ethnologists resist the idea that discrete cultures can (or should) be compared and evaluated according to supposedly universal criteria, but rather work vigorously to understand such cultures on their own terms. In compiling an anthology like Jazz Worlds/World Jazz, therefore, should editors try to define, or at least narrow down, a central constellation of features that circumscribe jazz-making writ large, then apply this paradigm across a series of case-studies to construct broader, possibly cross-cultural, conclusions? Or should they forego any definition(s) of jazz and instead present each case as separate, unique instantiations and expressions of what some particular people are calling “jazz?” Perhaps, as Richard Middleton argues in the epilogue, any definition must be contingent, and Jazz (with a capital J) “does not exist” (p. 452). Furthermore, unlike “popular” music, which raises similar problems for ethnographers, jazz, especially its more experimental offshoots, is rarely popular within a given community and so can scarcely claim to embody or represent its conventional mores. Rather, because radical individuals (or small cliques of them) are most responsible for its development, jazz is better described as idiocultural.

Despite these caveats, a volume like Jazz Worlds/World Jazz is valuable for the critical lens that the assembled ethnomusicologists bring to bear on local music practices, which targets issues of race/ethnicity, nationalism, gender/sexuality, identity politics, mediation, globalization/indigenization, historiography, canonization, socioeconomics, and the like. As such, this collection is probably most suitable for graduate students, jazz scholars, and other academics interested in exploring expressions of, and issues associated with, jazz music and musicians in a variety of local/global and historical settings. The book’s language varies by author, most of it insightful and accessible, although the rhetorical style and/or handling of theoretical references in some sections (particularly the introduction and epilogue) may prove challenging for some readers. Anahid Kassabian’s reflexive account of Armenian jazz, Carol Ann Muller’s glowing portrait of South African vocalist Sathima [End Page 265] Bea Benjamin, and Kristen McGee’s similarly glowing assessment of Hazel Scott are the least formal, approaching their subjects with obvious appreciation. The accompanying compact disc of musical examples, referred to in the text, further illustrates and clarifies the discourse; unfortunately, the book’s index omits most of the track titles and names of performing artists, so readers must search the entire text for the corresponding discussion. The tracks are especially helpful for hearing how jazz and other music traditions can simultaneously (or sequentially) occupy the same sonic space.

Responding to the implied question—what is jazz?—artist/academic George Lewis’s foreword begins with the acknowledgement that, although identity politics are of central concern to cultural scholars, the delineation and exploration of jazz as a genre is less meaningful than a closer consideration of the people who make it and, by extension, how they make it. In the introduction, co-editors Philip V. Bohlman and Goffredo Plastino briefly introduce the five themes used to organize the anthology: place, history, media, globalization/indigenization, and race. Home, they argue, is both intimate and global (hence Jazz Worlds and World Jazz), a paradox that enlivens discussion throughout the volume. Places fall under the convenient (and necessary) shorthand of nationhood; spaces are less definable as cultural geography and its diaspora, or as virtual and/or performance spaces. History/historiography is framed in terms of canon and canonization, identity, and representation. Media/mediation is broached via jazz’s permeation of the Eurovision Song Contest. Problematizing jazz as a world or pan-ethnic music, the introduction to globalization/indigenization compares its itinerate travels to those of the Roma. The introduction to race issues sidesteps the customary focus on African America to reflect on German Jews. Finally, in summing up their approach...


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