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The Routledge Companion To Jazz Studies

Ian Patterson By

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In a fascinating story of the dark arts of propaganda—and one that would make for a wonderful black comedy— we learn of US dismay on discovering that Romano Full, a pianist who played the inaugural Festival di Jazz di San Remo in 1956, was the pseudonym for none other than Romano Mussolini, son of the former Italian fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. That the RCA label, which "had deep connections with the CIA..." immediately offered Romano Mussolini a multi-album contract, perhaps suggests, the author intimates, that the young Mussolini was manipulated to represent the triumph of the freedom of American jazz over Italian fascism.

A thought-provoking notion raised by Gregory Clarke in his article on the rhetoric of jazz, is not so much about what jazz is, but what it does, or in other words, the social functions of the music. To take just one example, in his essay on the festivalization of jazz, Scott Currie describes pioneering jazz festivals in the 1950s such as those at Newport and Nice as luxury expenditures that effectively erected a class barrier. Such festivals, the author remarks, helped transform jazz from a popular music enjoyed by one and all to a lifestyle brand indicative of progressive cultural tastes.

In a uniformly strong collection, there are also fascinating articles on: jazz as the music that accommodates and celebrates disability; entrepreneurship in early New Orleans jazz; the enduring fascination with "last ever concert" recordings; and a historical perspective on jazz education.

Finally, the inclusion of Roger Fagge's critique of jazz writer and academic Eric Hobsbawm seems particularly appropriate. From as early as the 1950s, the eminent historian wrote about jazz through a socio-political, historical prism, challenging readers to regard the bigger picture when thinking about jazz. That process has since been refined, so that today much of the best writing on jazz unquestionably comes from the academics and researchers associated with the New Jazz Studies.

The Routledge Companion to Jazz Studies is a thoroughly stimulating, provocative collection that challenges myriad assumptions about jazz cultures. The beauty of it is that it raises just as many questions, as all good research should, as it answers.

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