Join 3,418 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Tags:

How did jazz become upscale?
January 6, 2012 10:47 AM   Subscribe

How did jazz become upscale?

Jazz has some upper-class connotations these days. It's not surprising to see a jazz band performing at an art gallery, a swanky hotel, or an expensive restaurant. Where I live, it even gets played as background music at yuppie grocery stores. This is a genre that started out as popular dance music and became home to a black modernist avant-garde in the 50s and 60s; it was never for rich people. How did that change?
posted by twirlip to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
My guess is that

a) as the initial fans of the big band and jazz movements got older and more prosperous, it inevitably became more gentrified. Rock and roll has done much the same thing. Elvis started out with a band you could fit on a flat-bed trailer, and by the time he died he had this huge Vegas-style act.

b) you're somewhat overestimating the poverty angle of the early jazz audience. I mean, if you think about the wild parties and clubs of the '20s, those weren't really for poor people. The *musicians* were, and are, less prosperous.
posted by randomkeystrike at 10:53 AM on January 6, 2012


it was never for rich people

Huh? That's not what F. Scott Fitzgerald would have you believe in his 1925 novel The Great Gatsby.
posted by John Cohen at 10:56 AM on January 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is a genre that started out as popular dance music and became home to a black modernist avant-garde in the 50s and 60s; it was never for rich people.

Popular doesn't equal not rich.

Rich people had parties back then with popular dance music of the day (jazz) just like they have parties with popular dance music of the day (techno, etc.) now.

The question is how it was preserved as "art music" (for, among others, rich people).
posted by Jahaza at 11:04 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jazz indeed began as a sort of low-rent music, and spread slowly to the upper classes with the advent of "slumming"--hanging out in low-rent dives for the thrill of it.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 11:20 AM on January 6, 2012


Here is a pdf file that might be helpful titled "A Literature Review of Research on Jazz Audiences."

Here's a relevant excerpt from Section III ("Why People Listen to Jazz") (with emphasis added):

*****

One trend within arts research emphasizes how art consumption and knowledge serve as a way to both strengthen group identity via shared cultural objects, as well as to exclude other groups. In a recent review of arts participation, McCarthy et al. (2001) note that this idea can be traced to the work of Pierre Bourdieu (1984) and Thorstein Veblen (1899). Within this trend, DiMaggio and Useem (1978) review empirical research on arts consumption, paying close attention to issues of class—both the different exposures to and experiences of art forms across classes, and how knowledge of art helps reinforce class distinctions. They offer four propositions: 1) Arts appreciation is trained, 2) Arts appreciation is contextual, 3) Arts consumption enhances class cohesion, 4) Arts consumption is a form of cultural capital. Likewise, Bryson (1996; 1997), relying on data from the 1992 General Social Survey, evaluates the relationship between musical exclusiveness, education, political tolerance, and musical tolerance. She finds that musical exclusiveness decreases with education—which may correspond with data from the SPPA that shows adults with higher education are more likely to listen to jazz, and other genres.

*****

There's a pretty good Duke Ellington excerpt about why people like jazz in the same section. The conclusion here seems to be that among higher educated groups jazz is perceived as art, and that appreciation of jazz is a way (even if done unconsciously) to demonstrate cultural bona fides and to include yourself within a group and exclude others. That the heritage of jazz is primarily African American - and therefore that embracing jazz can be seen as reflecting a viewpoint that values multiculturalism or diversity - can only help.

From personal experience, there was a time in my early 20s when it was generally accepted among my musical friends that intimate knowledge and appreciation of Kind of Blue was a prerequisite to musical credibility. I tried my damndest to like it but never could. That anecdote seems to reinforce the idea that "appreciating jazz" is something that is seen as a symbol of a refined cultural palate.
posted by AgentRocket at 11:20 AM on January 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Baby Boomers' parents listened to it. Therefore Baby Boomers did not. Therefore it became "music old people listen to," a.k.a. art.

There's actually a bifurcated jazz scene in a lot of cities with good jazz scenes -- there's jazz series at the symphony, upscale jazz clubs, etc., and then there are rundown scary-ass dives with live jazz. Many of the same bands & artists play in both scenes.

It's, um, possible that as a teenager I took advantage of the fact that my Boomer mother thought jazz was arty music for old people played at the former type of venue to, um, visit the latter type of venue where the jazz was considerably hotter.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:21 AM on January 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Opera started as explicitly popular entertainment too.

Other genres and forms capture the mass market, the venues (both broadcast and live) become more marginal, the price of admission goes up to keep the enterprise sustainable, the genre itself evolves to reflect its new cultural circumstances. Bourdieu's Distinction touches on how the transitions between "mass production" and "restricted production" are associated with elevated class/status marking.
posted by holgate at 11:24 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jazz has already made the full transformation to up-scale art.
But classic rock is currently in mid-transformation - Mick Jagger and David Bowie were both knighted.
posted by Flood at 11:28 AM on January 6, 2012


You might be interested in reading John Leland's Hip: The History. He tracks how some popular and art movements, especially jazz, became bourgeois.
posted by emilycardigan at 11:44 AM on January 6, 2012


Upscale jazz connections go back at least to the 1910's. There are a few vectors that might be responsible: Jazz was heavily intertwined with modern art movements like dada, which were patronized by the rich. Prohibition-era speakeasies would have been places where upper-class customers would have mingled with Jazz musicians. Jazz crossed into Broadway and upperclass American theater in the 1920's with the Gershwins and their contemporaries. George Gershwin himself might be a critical link between folksy jazz and "high art" jazz; compare his early ragtimes to Rhapsody in Blue.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:54 AM on January 6, 2012


1: "Whereas Big Band Swing was considered entertainment (i.e., dance music), Bebop was considered art music (like classical music, bebop was for listening only); Bebop musicians considered themselves artists, not merely entertainers."  
2: "Jazz at the Philharmonic".
3: "Jazz Goes To College". "Before Brubeck stormed campuses, bands had played fraternity dances and parties, but not concerts. Not only did college venues provide steady work and a new source of income for Brubeck's quartet, but they created a whole new fan base for jazz."
posted by iviken at 12:08 PM on January 6, 2012


Yeah, iviken has it: bebop basically killed jazz as popular/dance music, just in time for rock 'n' roll to take over. Mind you, I think the evolution of jazz is a great thing, and I wouldn't want to go back to the days when it had to be danceable to get recorded and played, but there's an inherent contradiction between the desire to have audiences be quiet and listen to your sophisticated musical concepts and the desire to be loved by millions (with corresponding royalties).
posted by languagehat at 12:25 PM on January 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Cool Jazz movement in the 70s brought jazz to those who were previously Lounge fans. It was also a strong movement based not on the East Coast but in LA.
posted by rhizome at 12:26 PM on January 6, 2012


poor people like X
> X becomes cool
> rich people catch on
> rich people like X
> X becomes uncool
poor people like Y
posted by sarastro at 12:27 PM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just a data point: Benny Goodman played Carnegie Hall in 1938. (And Lionel Hampton was with him, making it the first racially-integrated performance at that venue.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:31 PM on January 6, 2012


How did jazz become upscale?

It became safe and inoffensive, frozen for eternity in a Ken Burns documentary. Jazz, in its current form, will never be the soundtrack of the youth behind the next cultural revolution.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:35 PM on January 6, 2012


Yeah, iviken has it: bebop basically killed jazz as popular/dance music

Philip Larkin, of all people, has a lot to say about this in his books of collected prose.
posted by Jahaza at 12:42 PM on January 6, 2012


The economics of touring with big bands had a lot to do with the end of that era, too. Bebop and post-bop groups were 4 or 5 players, maybe 6 or 7 at most: much cheaper to tour.
posted by thelonius at 1:42 PM on January 6, 2012


It didn't really change. Black people came north in the Great Migration, brought jazz with them, and that was that.

Jazz was "home to a black modernist avant-garde" starting in the 1920s at the absolute latest. Starting at least as early as the Harlem Renaissance, jazz was adopted internationally as the soundtrack to Modernism—the elite movement. From then on, it was always for rich people.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:47 PM on January 6, 2012


Good jazz is an intellectual conversation among the players and the audience. This is one reason why it's associated with an "upscale" or more educated audience.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:01 PM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


But classic rock is currently in mid-transformation - Mick Jagger and David Bowie were both knighted.

Minor correction: David Bowie declined the knighthood (in 2003).
posted by VikingSword at 2:38 PM on January 6, 2012


Langston Hughes on Whites in Harlem:
White people began to come to Harlem in droves. For several years they packed the expensive Cotton Club on Lenox Avenue. But I was never there, because the Cotton Club was a Jim Crow club for gangsters and monied whites.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:49 PM on January 6, 2012


It's not surprising to see a jazz band performing at an art gallery, a swanky hotel, or an expensive restaurant.

This is also generational, to some degree. If you are at an art gallery, you have money, and you're not likely to be younger than your 30's, most people are in their 40's - 60's. What are the options for live music? Classical is a bit stuffy - may have worked 50 years ago, but not today. Techno? Erm, no. Rock-n-roll - too raucous and not quite upscale enough for a gallery that caters to real money. Jazz is respectable, genteel, just "edgy enough", yet does not interfere with the proceedings - the players can even wear tuxes. Same for upscale restaurant etc.
posted by VikingSword at 2:50 PM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


> It became safe and inoffensive, frozen for eternity in a Ken Burns documentary. Jazz, in its current form, will never be the soundtrack of the youth behind the next cultural revolution.

Do you actually pay attention to jazz outside of the Ken Burns documentary? Jazz, in its current form, has little or nothing to do with Ken Burns and is usually not "inoffensive" in the sense I presume you intend. I can send you some links if you want to learn.

> Philip Larkin, of all people, has a lot to say about this

Yeah, but Larkin hated everything after Dixieland. He was the classic "moldy fig" and should be roundly ignored on the subject.
posted by languagehat at 4:34 PM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jazz has a musical theory of the kind that can be taught in schools so it can have academic support in a way most rock cannot.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:12 PM on January 6, 2012


Eventually, everything becomes upscale.

This is because everybody imprints on the stuff that was popular when they were teenagers, including the old rich people who get to define what "upscale" means.
posted by flabdablet at 5:34 AM on January 7, 2012


Listen to languagehat. Nujazz. Acid jazz. And hey, still going strong: free jazz.
posted by likeso at 6:15 AM on January 7, 2012


« Older When applying for a grant that...   |  What is the best way to get ac... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.