Jazz Planet

Edited by E. Taylor Atkins

University Press of Mississippi (Jackson), 292 pages

Includes Notes, Bibliography and Index


An ambitious collection of more than a dozen essays which raises a good deal of questions, Jazz Planet may serve for many people as a first look at the study of Jazz as a global, or rather transnational, phenomenon. Nearly equal parts ethnomusicology, socio-anthropology or historiography, this collection won't be an easy read for the uninitiated or non-academic. But for the editor who spearheaded the collection, E. Taylor Atkins, a lauded scholar on Jazz in Japan, it's a labor of love. Indeed, for those of us interested in such questions as what is or isn't Jazz, or whether Jazz is uniquely American (or even uniquely African-American), there is plenty of food for thought here.

Though Atkins takes as a given that the African (and African-American) roots of Jazz are primary, in his introduction he persuasively argues that Jazz has not only been used as an "instigator" of globalization, but has also been a product of it. And his and other essays in this book demonstrate how this global or transnational trend of "cultural hybridization" has been taking place at least as long as there has been "Jazz." That is, thanks to the rise of the recording and entertainment industries as a worldwide development, Jazz was introduced nearly everywhere as a product of the United States, or of "the West." In no time at all, Jazz was not only embraced abroad as a sound of modernity or freedom, but also resisted as an agent of colonization or cultural dominance. Meanwhile, as the existing music cultures in these countries interact with Jazz, it's only natural that new interpretations will arise. One reward of delving into Jazz Planet is tracing how new hybrids of Jazz take shape, as musicians reflecting that interaction seek an authentic voice which can be related to the local traditions or context.

Aside from his own fine introductory essay and overall thematic guidance, Atkins' book benefits most from the analysis of several of the non-U.S. writers here, including insightful views of "Local Heroes" in places such as Brazil, Cuba, and Europe. Rather than merely present narrative histories about Jazz in these locales, these writers use Jazz to explore how non-American artists "heeded the Jazz aesthetic's demand to constantly "innovate" and transform the music," as Atkins puts it. In other words, important individual voices and contributions to the Jazz idiom also have come from outside the U.S., just as organically as in the original African-American context, wherever divergent musical traditions intermingled and exchanged inspiration.

by Eric Golub

Jazz Now Interactive April 2004 Vol 13 No. 11 - Table of Contents

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