Impressions (Part II)

A Selected Annotated Bibliography

See Part I here.

Meadows, Eddie S.. 1987. “Ethnomusicology and Jazz Research: A Selective Viewpoint”. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, no. 95. University of Illinois Press: 61–70.

Eddie Meadows is a faculty member of the Department of Music at San Diego State University. In this paper, he explores novel musical notational techniques designed to better express jazz music. The representation of ‘blue notes’ plays an important part in this analysis. Better written notation would help bridge jazz performance and written music, allowing for better ethnomusicological research.

Schuller, Gunther.. “Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development”. 43.

Schuller explores the roots of jazz, drawing attention to the limitations of early analysis of the blues scale. Unlike other mainstream authors, Schuller looks at how and why blues notes were adopted by African-American musicians. Blues scales work well with simple tetrachords used in the 1920s, mirroring  quartal harmony East-African singing.

Barrett, Samuel. 2006. “Kind of Blue and the economy of modal jazz”. Popular Music 25/2, Cambridge University Press:185-200.

Samuel Barrett is a faculty member of the Department of Music at Cambridge University. In this paper, he explores the popular association of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue with modal blues and jazz approaches. He asserts that the meaningful use of the blues scale in the album were meant to further 1950s integrationist ideals, but have been smoothed by record companies to reflect less ‘controversial’ ideas.

Charlie Gerard, “Jazz in Black and White”. Blog.

Charley Gerard analyses black and white attitudes on jazz using Bell Hook’s theory of ‘Essentialism’. Gerard explores the use of the blues scale, ‘soul’ and black attitudes towards white jazz musicians. His criticism of Amiri Baraka’s analysis of Paul Desmond and Charlie Parker illustrates inherent biases towards whiteness and classicism in mainstream literature.

Hein, Ethan. “Blue notes and other microtones”. Accessed 11/01/2015.

Ethan Hein’s blog is one of the few online sources that relates the microtonal nature of blue notes to that of Indian, Arabic and Klezmer music. It provides important non-Eurocentric insights into the use of microtonal scales outside equal temperament scales.

Kubik, Gerhard. 2008.  “Bourdon, Blue Notes, and Pentatonism in the Blues: AN AFRICANIST PERSPECTIVE”.  In Ramblin’ on My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues, edited by DAVID EVANS, 11–48. University of Illinois Press.

Kubik’s interactions with blues musician Robert Belfour and east African music expert Moya Alia Malamusi cast light on the east African origins of the blue note. Malamusi’s commentary on traditional Delta blues provides a framework for blues ‘theory’ outside the even tempered scale.

Kubik, Gergard. 1999. “Some Characteristics of the Blues”. In Africa and the Blues, 82–95. University Press of Mississippi.

This piece provides insight into the theoretical characteristics of the Blues in a Western sense, but crucially laments the lack of expressive notation. The author draws an analogy between European’s trying to transcribe the blues and classical Chinese notation being used to describe the same music. Several cultural and contextual messages in the blues are lost when placing them in a foreign notational system.

Kubik, Gerhard. 1999. “The Blues Tonal System”. In Africa and the Blues, 118–45. University Press of Mississippi.

This chapter of Africa and the Blues helps cement a theoretical background for tonal systems used in the blues, focusing on ‘blue notes’ around the flattened 3rd and 7th notes of a Western diatonic scale.

Tallmadge, William. 1984. “Blue Notes and Blue Tonality”. The Black Perspective in Music 12 (2). None: 155–65. doi:10.2307/1215019.

Tallmadge draws attention to the lack of consensus on the meaning or origin of the ‘blue note’ amongst mainstream musicologists and ethnomusicologists. Much like in Africa and the Blues[8], a lot of Tallmadge’s theoretical analysis revolves around the flattened 3rd and 7th, though in a decidedly more Western context.

Madura, Patrice D.. 2001. “A Response to David Carr, “Can White Men Play the Blues?: Music, Learning Theory and Performance Knowledge””. Philosophy of Music Education Review 9 (1). Indiana University Press: 60–62.

Madura’s response to a piece by David Carr explores the idea that opposition and oppression are required to produce ‘authentic’ blues. The institutionalization of blues as the music of ‘oppression’ provides important cultural context to the idea that African-American retentions require a unique notational system to be properly expressed.



TBT: Red Baraat

One of British colonization’s most peculiar impacts on Indian culture is the use of large marching brass band in Punjabi weddings. The music these bands play is notoriously lackluster — they are the butt of many wedding jokes in North India.

On the 23rd of January 2013, I attended a concert by the band Red Baraat at The Sinclair in Cambridge, MA. The octet is from Brooklyn and comprises a soprano saxophone, trumpet, bass trumpet, trombone, sousaphone, a standard drum set, Latin percussion, and an Indian dhol.  The band plays music inspired by songs played at North Indian weddings–‘baraat’ means wedding procession in Hindi. Interwoven with the bhangra beat, however, are New Orleans jazz idioms and go-go drumming.

Red Baraat did not introduce what they played, assuming that the mostly Indian audience would recognize their interpretations of popular Hindi songs. Rather than individual pieces, they played a continuous, interwoven set of songs for over two hours. Each horn player took extended solos over each song,often embellishing the melodies with chromatic ideas. While the key and time signature would often change, everything was immutably up-tempo. The only slow song they played was a rubato version of the Hindu prayer ‘Om Jai Jagdish’ , with which they ended the night.

The few pieces that involved singing were performed in Hindi. Most of the lyrics revolved around the idea of revolution, freedom and finding one’s place in multicultural society. The songs often talked about the immigrant experience. The band integrated very different styles of folk music in a surprisingly novel way. Bhangra is a purely homophonic tradition, while jazz revolves around ideas of harmony and polyphony. Rather than emphasizing these differences, the band chooses to focus on both forms’ highly improvisational nature. In the concert, they used the Indian sa-re solfege system alongside western harmony, and juxtaposed cyclic Indian rhythm patterns against measure-based drumming. Though similar in lineup, they were nothing like Indian wedding bands.

Red Baraat at a TED Talk

As their encore, the band played an interesting version of an infamously bad Indian pop song — ‘Tunak Tunak’ by Daler Mehndi. While the original starts with a set of particularly dull electronic drums, ‘Red Baraat’ began with an extended call and response between the different percussionists. To this, they soon introduced tabla bol, a tool used by Hindustani classical musicians to vocally express rhythm. Soon,  I could hear interesting harmonic changes behind the familiar melody of ‘Tunak Tunak’. There were ‘ii-V-I’s  and ‘I-vi-ii-V’s juxtaposed against one of the least jazz melodies imaginable. The energy of the performance blew me away — everyone was dancing and singing.

As an Indian who loves jazz living in America, I felt a strange sense of cultural resonance with the band. Here were a group of people from a place very different from me, playing songs one hears everywhere in my hometown. They were playing a mixture of a two musical idioms with which I am familiar. One was imparted to me by my community and the other I have discovered all by myself.


The Problem with White Hipness

“The Problem with White Hipness” was written by musicologist Ingrid Monson when she was at the University of Michigan. It was published in the Journal of the American Musicological Society in autumn 1995. The paper discusses white notions of hipness and African American culture.

“The perspectives of Amiri Baraka, Mezz Mezzrow, Norman Mailer, and Dizzy Gillespie are used to develop the thesis that there is a problem with white presumptions [1]about how hipness relates to African American cultural life and history. This problem requires addressing interrelationships between race and gender, as well as the legacy of primitivism embedded in common assumptions about how jazz since World War II relates to social consciousness, sexual liberation, and dignity”[1]

The author contends that both gender and race are important factors in when it comes to white associations between primitivism and jazz. These links tie ‘hipness’ to jazz in the modern era, framing an important ethnomusicological discussion. Public perceptions of the lifestyles of jazz musicians have had a great impact on the attitudes and clothing style of white males in post-World War II America.

The author draws on several well regarded books and papers on jazz in her argument, including  Blues People (Bakara), To Be or not…to Bop: Memoirs of Dizzy Gillespie (Dizzy Gillespie), Mezzrow, and The Hip: Hipsters, Jazz and the Beat Generation. She often quotes large paragraphs, interpreting the facts presented differently from the original authors. These negative citations present a stark contrast between the author’s arguments and the ethnomusicological mainstream. Monson then uses accounts from jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie to strengthen her argument. While such performers are traditionally associated with drugs and sexual excess, most were everyday family men. Drawing on Freudian theories linking primitivism and sexuality, she contends that the hyper-sexualization of the male jazz musician is symptomatic of white audiences thinking of African Americans as raw and backward. It is important that modern attitudes towards hipness take history, social inequity and different moral values into account. This subconscious view of African American musicians as outsiders will continue as long as different views on sexuality and fashion are seen as retentions from a more primitive society.

One of the most interesting points made in the paper is the difference in style between influential bebop musicians like Max Roach and that of the white “zombies” emulating them. The oversized zoot suits, and “black” affectations of the jazz-listening community contrasted starkly with the performers themselves. Similarly, Monson’s critique of the romanticization of drug abuse also establishes a similar point. The assertion that jazz musicians never viewed intoxication as a creative force is a compelling one, which must be included in dialogue about jazz music.

On the other hand, some of Monson’s arguments criticizing ‘white hipness’ positively cite white jazz sources. Downbeat magazine, one of the driving forces of white interest in jazz, is represented as a force of non-primitivist racial integration in the jazz world. Arguments often gloss over the fact that club owners like Teddy Hill who “treated the guys well” (Monson), often did not pay performing musicians. The sources Monson uses are so entrenched in the mainstream views on jazz that positive citations of this sort often lend uncertainty to an anti-establishment argument. An argument could be made that white ‘hip’ sources are often the most strident in criticizing white ‘hipness’.

“The Problem with White Hipness” raises several possibilities for scholarly dialogue.

  • While Monson’s paper correctly identifies several issues with the white idea of ‘hipness’, it fails to account for the role of white and Hispanic musicians in the bebop era. Several influential bop compositions, including Oleo (Sonny Rollins), were based on George Gershwin songs. The role of musicians from different cultural milieus in the bebop era highlights how the incorporation of different musical ideas was a massive part of this supposedly anti-assimilationist movement.
  • “The Problem with White Hipness” demonstrates that being ‘hip’ in the 1950s involved the white middle class attempting to imitate the lifestyle of ‘raw’, ‘primitive’ African Americans who were excluded from ‘civilized’ society. Despite the success of Manouche jazz songs like Honeysuckle Rose (Django Reinhardt), the Romani people who played them faced similar societal exclusion in France. An application of Monson’s approach to this travelling population explains cultural disdain for Romani culture and heritage in Europe.
  • Monson explores the white idea of male African-American jazz musicians symbolizing masculinity and sexual freedom. She highlights how the role of women in jazz at the time was downplayed by a ‘hip’ audience. Female performers often faced violence and sexual harassment from bandmates, and criticism from audiences at the time. Similar analysis of modern day hip-hop culture explain the misogyny in rap songs like Bitches Ain’t Shit by Dr. Dre, as well as the marginalization of female rappers by the hip-hop community at large.



[1] Ingrid Monson, “The Problem with White Hipness,” Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 48, No. 3, Music Anthropologies and Music Histories Autumn 1995 : 422.