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6. Jazz: From the Gutter to the Mainstream

Jeremy Yudkin

Subject Literature » American Literature

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics music, novel and novella

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631206873.2009.00009.x


In the first half of the twentieth century – for reasons of intellectual snobbery, the American cultural inferiority complex, associations with “low life,” racism, and misunderstanding – jazz and practitioners of jazz experienced a general miasma of disdain mixed with gradually increasing glimmers of appreciation. This gradual change in the acceptability of jazz as a topic of serious interest over the first half of the twentieth century can be demonstrated by a survey of music history books, journals, and articles in both specialized and popular magazines over that period. The change was also no doubt due to a growing respect among the white population for African-American intellectual and cultural figures and to a growing familiarity with the music. Jazz experienced a roller-coaster ride in the annals of American respectability and acceptance over the first half-century of its existence, but the trend was gradually upwards, and in the 1950s jazz entered the mainstream of American intellectual life. General histories of music published in the US were very slow to show interest in any American music, let alone in jazz. From 1870, when the first general music history book ( The History of Music by Frédéric Ritter) was published in the United States, and for many decades thereafter, American music received no mention. This pattern was followed until the early 1940s. Implicit in all ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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