This essay brings jazz studies and performance studies into dialogue in order to examine the interplay between recordings and live performance in August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Although most scholarship has tended to focus on the racial exploitation of black musicians, less explored is Wilson’s decision to locate a recording session within a play in order to perform the fraught tension in blues and jazz history between live improvised performance and recordings. Situated within the ongoing conversation among jazz scholars about the status of recordings as historical evidence and the aesthetic of “the break,” this essay suggests that the text and action of the play evade the recording as a way to translate the break to theater.


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pp. 555-571
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