Jammin' at the Margins: Jazz and the American Cinema

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University of Chicago Press, May 15, 1996 - Music - 350 pages
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American cinema has long been fascinated by jazz and jazz musicians. Yet most jazz films aren't really about jazz. Rather, as Krin Gabbard shows, they create images of racial and sexual identity, many of which have become inseparable from popular notions of the music itself. In Jammin' at the Margins, Gabbard scrutinizes these films, exploring the fundamental obsessions that American culture has brought to jazz in the cinema.

Gabbard's close look at jazz film biographies, from The Jazz Singer to Bird, reveals Hollywood's reluctance to acknowledge black subjectivity. Black and even white jazz artists have become vehicles for familiar Hollywood conceptions of race, gender, and sexuality. Even Scorsese's New York, New York and Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues have failed to disentangle themselves from entrenched stereotypes and conventions.

Gabbard also examines Hollywood's confrontation with jazz as an elite art form, and the role of the jazz trumpet as a crucial signifier of masculinity. Finally, he considers the acting careers of Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, and Hoagy Carmichael; Duke Ellington's extraordinary work in films from 1929 until the late 1960s; and the forgotten career of Kay Kyser, star of nine Hollywood films and leader of a popular swing band.

This insightful look at the marriage of jazz and film is a major contribution to film, jazz, and cultural studies.

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Jammin' at the margins: jazz and the American cinema

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Jazz, one of the few uniquely American musical forms, is thoroughly analyzed in this absorbing and thought-provoking work. Gabbard (comparative literature, SUNY, Stony Brook) examines the treatment of ... Read full review


Whose Jazz Whose Cinema?
The Ethic Oedipus The Jazz Singer and Its Remarks
Black and Tan Fantasies The Jazz Biopic
Jazz Becomes Art
Signifying the Phallus Representations of the Jazz Trumpet
Dukes Place Visualizing a Jazz Composer
Actor and Musician Louis Armstrong and His Films
Nat King Cole Hoagy Carmichael and the Fate of Jazz Actor
New York New York and Short Cuts

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About the author (1996)

Krin Gabbard is professor of comparative literature and English at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and an amateur trumpet player.

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