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A Poetry Performance/Reading/Talk by Meta DuEwa Jones

Improvisation in Black and Blue: Performing Jazz Poetry, Performing Gender

Wed, September 30, 2009 | GAR 2.112

4:45 PM

Dr. Meta DuEwa Jones will give a talk and improvisatory reading performance of blues and jazz influenced poems based on her research exploring the intersections between jazz, improvisation, gender and sexuality in African American literature in her forthcoming book:  The Muse is Music:  Jazz, Poetry and Gendered Performance (University of Illinois Press, 2010)

The cabaret singer, diva, jazz vocalist, and musician Abbey Lincoln insisted in an interview that what sets a “jazz singer” apart from being “just a singer” is not merely the ability  “to sing in tune, sing well;” but more importantly the power of imaginative direction, to sing “freely, without anyone telling you what to sing.”This artistic freedom and authority figuratively opens the canary’s cage. Such varied nomenclature:

balladeer  bandleader canary  chanteuse  chirper  cabaret singer diva  girl  singer horn player  jazzman  jazz singer  jazzwoman  musician  siren  songbird  songstress  syncoette sweetheart of rhythm  torch singer  vocal artist  vocal instrumentalist  vocal stylist  vocalist warbler  women in jazz 

signals the historically hierarchical social organization of vocal and instrumental expression.  The gendered and sexualized nature of these terms accentuates the cultural values that inform this binary classification.  This talk considers how poets and musicians have addressed the gender and genre divide within jazz.  Pertinent questions to be addressed include:  How do racialized assumptions about codes of masculinity, femininity and heteronormativity play out in representations of sexuality in blues and jazz performance and its accordant literature? What has compulsory heteronormativity meant for jazz narratives, particularly jazz poetry, and what does it mean in terms of representations of women and men’s relationship to musicianship and to their instruments?  How does the association of “instrumental virtuosity” with a male body in a ritualistic display of performance as play and as sustained labor shape perceptions of jazz performance? 

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    The University of Texas at Austin
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