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  • Gender and Identity in Jazz ed. by Wolfram Knauer
  • Kimberly Beck Hieb
Gender and Identity in Jazz. Edited by Wolfram Knauer. (Darmstadt Studies in Jazz Research, vol. 14.) Hofheim: Wolke Verlag, 2016. [308p. ISBN 9783955930141 (paperback). €28.] Pictures, index, bibliography.

Gender and Identity in Jazz publishes research presented at the 14th Darmstadt Jazzforum, which was held in October of 2015 and celebrated the Jazzinstitut’s 25th anniversary. While Darmstadt does not boast the flourishing jazz scenes of Berlin, Cologne, Stuttgart, or Munich, the smaller city is home to a baroque hunting chalet that houses an international archive and center for jazz research. The Jazzinstitut has a rich collection of primary source material first bequeathed to the organization by jazz critic and producer Joachim Ernst Berendt in 1983. It regularly hosts jazz workshops, a concert series, and monthly jam sessions that draw musicians from the entire Rhine-Main region of Germany. A biennial international conference hosted by the Jazzinstitut, the Darmstadt Jazzforum features scholarly presentations accompanied by a series of concerts reflecting the central research interests of the presenters.

The volume is edited by Wolfram Knauer, the director of the Jazzinstitut, and includes seventeen essays (fourteen in English and three in German). In his introduction, Knauer argues that even though jazz as an art is neither “female” nor “male” and has no gender or sexual orientation, aspects of one’s identity as a performer or as an audience member clearly impacts one’s experience (p. 7).

The topics addressed are wide-reaching but can be categorized broadly. Some of the essays shine light on the process of constructing jazz narratives, while others provide case studies in identity (including the musicians Clare Fischer, Jutta Hipp, Sun Ra, and Irène Schweizer). Also discussed are the topics of negotiating male/male relationships and homophobia in jazz, and the focus of the male gaze on the male performing body in jazz film. The German contributions to the volume explore how female instrumentalists become familiar with jazz, with the greatest focus of the book on challenges faced by female jazz musicians.

Jazz historiography is central to Knauer’s essay “Clash of Identities.” Knauer contrasts stereotypes placed upon artists by external factors with personal factors that shape one’s identity, including family, religious, racial, and ethnic backgrounds, arguing that the wealth of different identities present in the voices of the jazz should be embraced rather than homogenized. In his essay, “Sexuality, Eroticism, and the Construction of the Jazz Tradition,” Mario Dunkel argues convincingly that the historiography of jazz is partially to blame for the continued marginalization of populations on the jazz scene, especially that of women. Early narrations of jazz history not only justified black subordination but also unnecessarily lumped African and African American culture together. While the history of jazz has focused on legitimizing the genre, Dunkel proposes a more democratic version of jazz history focusing on significant musical achievements.

In “A Conundrum is a Woman-in-Jazz: Enduring Improvisations on the Categorical Exclusions of Being Included,” Sherrie Tucker argues that crafting jazz [End Page 263] narratives, especially that of marginalized groups, is essentially diversity work not unlike the work of diversity committees on college campuses and in workplaces across the world. She maps the various modes of diversity work described by Sarah Ahmend in On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012) on work in the field of jazz studies. Ultimately Tucker calls for a “multi-perspectival rewriting” of history that takes into account the many identities present in the history of jazz (p. 258).

Case studies in identity exploring issues of sexuality and gender pepper the volume. Michael Kahr’s essay aims to locate specific expressions of masculinity and femininity in Clare Fischer’s life and works. He uses Raymond Monelle’s topic theory to point to particularly “emotional” qualities of Fischer’s music. While he provides many insights into Fischer’s life and work, he struggles to successfully map “meaningful aspects” (p. 81) of the artist’s identity. Sexuality is central to both John Murph’s consideration of the life of Sun Ra and Christian Broecking’s study of pianist Irène Schweizer...


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