Keynote 2 – Bruce Johnson

Gaining Citizenship Jazz and Local Identity
Professor Bruce Johnson

(Respondent: Tony Whyton)

Saturday 3 September 9.15-10.30 (Blue Note)

The first new music to be globalised primarily by modern media technologies was jazz. Within a year or so of the production of its first sound recordings, the word “jazz” was describing music from as far afield as Norway and Australia, hitherto the fastest global dissemination of music in history. As the most durable musical product of modernity, jazz thus provides lessons that reverberate in studies of all contemporary popular musics.

Some of the most important of those lessons relate to how imported musics are received and assimilated in diasporic destinations. It is how they interact with national identities that makes the “margins” rather than the “centres” most instructive (and indeed dismantles the distinction).

Every region outside the US can be regarded as a test case in this connection. As in most diasporic sites, during the first phase of the history of jazz in Australia, there was a deep antagonism between the music and the sense of Australian identity. By the late twentieth century, however, the two had become so mutually supportive that the phrase “Australian jazz style” was internationally recognised.

The initial disjunction between jazz and national identity in Australia was a manifestation of a number of antagonisms: tradition versus modernity, rural versus urban, national purity versus imported contaminations, indoor versus outdoor leisure, the visual versus the sonic, and unsurprisingly the field was also traversed by gender politics.

These breaches were closed by changes in jazz and its performance conditions and mediations, by changes in discourses of nation, and how the two negotiated.

This paper illustrates one stage of that process in the post-war era.

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