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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Fall 2009

E 389P • Sex, Gender, and the Jazz Body

Unique Days Time Location Instructor


Course Description

Peruse any of the widely available listening guides to or chronicles of jazz. Will you conclude, historically speaking, that jazz has been a masculinist discourse? If you are an aficionado, you might surmise the dominant discourse of male instrumentalists in the history and hagiography of performers in jazz still prevails. Varied nomenclature used within the jazz idiom such as: balladeer, canary, chanteuse, torch singer, cabaret singer, musician, siren, songstress, vocal instrumentalist, vocalist signals the historically hierarchical social organization of vocal and instrumental expression. The gendered and sexualized nature of these terms also accentuates the cultural values which inform this binary classification in jazz. This graduate seminar will consider how writers, particularly though not exclusively, poets, influenced by jazz have addressed this gender and genre divide. The seminar coheres around twentieth century African American fiction, nonfiction prose and poetry. We will explore black expressive cultural practices of poetics in literature, particularly through the lens of jazz as visual and verbal performance, as instrumental and vocal music, as symbol and structure, and as organizing trope. We will examine the ways in which the intersections of gender, race, class and sexuality impact the jazz inflected writings of African-American authors in the second half of the century. This will include a consideration of the following queries: How does the persistent portrayal of black male instrumentalists as the authentic bearers of the jazz canon and its history motivate particular modes of expression in jazz literature? What role does the canary, the gendered trope of the caged bird play as a predominate theme in African-American letters and lyrics? How does jazz-influenced performance enable readers and listeners to consider racial, gender and sexual identity both within and as performance in contemporary literature? Our seminar will also consider how various authors push the boundaries of the term, performance, in myriad theoretical and practical ways. Thus, our course will explore how performance, as a multidimensional process, is a political and aesthetic issue in varied authors and scholars work and will propose alternative methodologies for "close listening," "close reading" and "close viewing."


Literature: Jazz, Sassafrass, Cypress, & Indigo, The Big Sea, Trumpet, Sent for You Yesterday, Bellocq's Ophelia, Criticism: Coltrane’s Sound, The Color of Jazz, If You Can’t Be Free, Be A Mystery, Swing Shift, Black Chant,, Theory: Performance Studies Reader, and Jazz Studies Course Reader. Films/Documentaries : Mo Better Blues, Round Midnight, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, among others.


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