The concept of jazz music being truly American art form is both sadly ironic and inspiringly beautiful. Being that the music itself is a direct product of the black experience in America, it is a national symbol that while challenging the nation has come to define it. As Eric Porter describes in What Is This Thing Called Jazz? jazz was a business enterprise and a set of institutional relationships, a focal point for political and social debate, a vehicle for individual and communal identity formation, and, eventually, an idea (6). The acceptance of the idea as a symbol of Americanism reveals both paradox and evolution within American thought. At the peak of jazz music's popularity, black people, who were once not even considered to be more than three-fifths of a man or woman, were celebrated for their musical contributions, and a new drive to re-write the image of the African-American was advanced. Because of the extreme marginalization of the black community at the time of the emergence of jazz due to deep-set racist sentiment within the American political and social atmosphere, the newly emancipated black community became, both passively and actively, an entity with unique social goals and political aspirations.
[...] Female jazz musicians had to overcome obstacles of racism and prejudice, which functioned both within and outside of the jazz community, the former being an added challenge that their male counterparts didn't have to overcome. As a result, these gate-keeping obstacles left women little access to the jazz world. Additionally, women who did manage to gain publicity were still expected to adhere to certain notions of femininity such as Rosie the Riveter and Swing Shift Maisie, who were prevalent symbols during World War II. [...]
[...] The black press, most undoubtedly one of the foremost political channels of the black community, has in their honor of the Sweethearts acknowledged the immense effect they have had on the public imagination, and the consequent effect such an “empowering social alternative to looking at blackness” can have in re-creating a new envisioning of black and minority communities. A personal account of the experience of seeing the International Sweethearts of Rhythm reveals even more about the effectiveness of their politics. [...]
[...] The image of a strictly segregated United States was overwritten by the construction of this band and a new image of integration and unity emerged as a result. Being that music served an ulterior motive driven by the American political powers, tour became highly political” (Gillespie 417). The musicians in Gillespie's band were used as political pawns and the music, which was once a foreground for the artistic dialogue providing a alternate image to the dehumanizing portrait of Negros that America historically constructed since emancipation and before, was now ironically being used as an icon for democracy, negating the existence of such an image. [...]
[...] The body of the music, through its diverse textures and fast rhythms, was in liberated from its blues predecessor, which “many beboppers saw . as a symbol of the limitations placed on them as musicians and as African Americans” (Porter 69). This new musical form, often described as fast and complicated, was a portrait of modern life and about making disciplined imagination alive and answerable to the social change of its time” (Porter 70) and “some believed bebop was a militant expression” (84). [...]
[...] Inherent in the international tour were “ironies of the export of jazz ambassadors at a time when America was still a Jim Crow nation and civil rights activists were faced with violent resistance and the indifference of the federal government” (The Real Ambassadors 90). African American musicians such as Gillespie were clearly the most marginalized and thus they were used manipulatively by the State Department to symbolize that even they, the least likely, are supporting America at home. Otherwise, there would be no need to concoct a band of racial integration that so rarely occurred on the home front. [...]
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