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How Jazz Musicians inspired a political re-imagining of America

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  1. Introduction.
    1. The concept of Jazz being a truly American art.
    2. The vision of freedom in Jazz.
  2. The Limited potential of jazz to be politically didactic and revolutionary.
  3. The theme of internationalism as propagated by the Sweethearts.
    1. A personal account of the experience of seeing the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.
    2. Sweethearts - armed with both instruments and politics.
  4. The image of Gillespie's band and a deep seated political meaning.
    1. Gillespie stand - true to the intent of the music.
  5. Compositions of Ellington and the undelying tension that characterizes the human psyche.
  6. Conclusion.

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. [...]


[...] Gillespie's innovation as a jazz musician was appreciated by African American intellectual communities, which saw it as music of sophisticated and modernized individuals and groups? (Porter 90). For Gillespie, becoming this new symbol of sophistication and modernization displaced associations of his blackness with being rural and uneducated. Bebop painted a new image of blackness for the American and international imagination. The hundreds of compositions Ellington produced within his career resonate with the tension between what is clearly noticeable on the surface, and the mysterious and surprising world of the unseen; a tension that characterizes the human psyche in general, and American society in specific. [...]

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