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Cuttin' Up: How Early Jazz Got America's Ear.

Cuttin' Up: How Early Jazz Got America's Ear. By Court Carney (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2009. 157 pp.).

The popularity of Jazz, "signified a revolution in sound"(10) linked to the rise of modern America. Thus is the basic theme of Court Carney's Cuttin' Up, and anyone who has read about the development of Jazz during the first part of the twentieth century recognizes this familiar narrative. This brief volume does an excellent job of synthesizing most existing scholarship concerning Jazz music in America with some new analysis regarding the Chicago Defender's role, but for the most part there is little new here and a quick perusal of the endnotes reveal the countless debts owed earlier scholars in formulating Carney's creation.

Beginning with ragtime and early blues and carrying through to the first third of the twentieth century, Carney documents the social and historical factors that allowed for the eventual success of an African American music in dominating the American popular musical consciousness. Urbanization, migration, electrification, commodification, organization, and proliferation provide the basic outline of analysis. Ragtime, like Jazz afterward "echoed the ordered chaos of city life" (17) and came to captivate listeners regardless of race, and later, class. Carney discusses the multiple incarnations of early blues and ragtime and assigns to each their proper role in the formation of Jazz, which began to develop in New Orleans around the same time period, suggesting a "compromise ... between the folk dynamics of the blues and the commercial leanings of ragtime." (36) Combined with the fluid nature of race relations in the Crescent city, even under the restraints of post-Plessy America, musicians like Sidney Bechet and Joe Oliver honed what came to be the Jazz sound and helped influence other musicians, regardless of race, like the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Economic factors in New Orleans and the draw of larger audiences (augmented by the increased need to record) encouraged many to migrate north, first to Chicago in the early and mid 1920s, and then New York City in the latter part of the decade.

It is in the chapter on the influence of Chicago and the emergent recording industry where Carney contributes to our understanding of how Jazz comes to play such a prominent role in the popular music discourse. His discussion and analysis of Dave Peyton's column "The Musical Bunch" for the Chicago Defender are significant on at least two levels: one, Peyton sought to legitimize the new music to a heterogeneous African American population recently migrated to the city; and two, he provided an excellent foundation for the development of critics or gatekeepers of Jazz later in the 1930s and 1940s. But what is most interesting to the modern reader is how closely the arguments for good Jazz over what Peyton calls the "barbaric, filthy, discordant, wild, and shriek music" (66) of "clown jazz," (65) mirrors those made by many African American music critics over the last twenty years regarding hip-hop and rap. Peyton's column ran from 1925 until 1929 when it was dropped by the paper. Correspondingly, in the half-year beforehand, Louis Armstrong cut his first record utilizing modern electronic recording equipment, thus setting the stage for the emergence of a "new era of jazz music." (75)

The new era meant New York City, radio, and a move west into the movies. The intersection of capital and culture plays the central role here, as New York and Los Angeles were the dissemination centers of American culture which absorbed and reproduced Jazz across the country. Carney outlines the development, led by Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Don Redman, and in a later chapter, Paul Whiteman, of chart-based arrangements that better conformed to the new technologies (records, radios and movies) and also sonically for play in the larger ballrooms made necessary by the increased popularity of the bands brought about by their radio performances, record sales, and appearances in Hollywood films. Much of the story here is a synthesis of existing scholarship, from Collier to Gioia to Dinerstein to Gabbard. The section on the movie industry is relatively brief and focuses on the "filmic arc of white acceptance" (119) from 1928 until 1933, which of course ignores the zenith of Jazz on film after 1935 during the swing era. The final chapter focuses on the cultural acceptance of the music rooted in the "growing tensions and divisions created by the ambivalence embedded in the introduction of new standards of productively, morality, and consumption." (130) The book ends with Benny Goodman's successful Carnegie Hall performance, where Goodman and the band not only wow the crowd but also provide it a history lesson on the evolution of jazz. In this way then, the concert serves as the apogee of this first phase of Jazz, serving to break with the creative tension of the past and introduce the commercial realities of the future.

Cuttin' Up is a well-written and interesting tour of the first third of the twentieth century and the development and rise of Jazz in America. It serves as an excellent synthesis of existing scholarship, and for those seeking more in depth analysis of specific instances--like the role of New Orleans, Chicago, New York or Jazz's cultural and historical connection to any of the eras covered--the bibliography is first rate. Carney has written a very concise book and should be sought out by those seeking an introduction to Jazz as a historical phenomenon and certainly for undergraduate courses in American Studies, cultural history, and Twentieth century studies.

Kenneth J. Bindas

Kent State University
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Author:Bindas, Kenneth J.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2011
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