Playing Standards: Authenticity, Evaluation, and Agency among Seattle Jazz Musicians
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This dissertation investigates the performance standards used to evaluate selected Seattle jazz musicians, as well as the effects of these standards on musicians’ educational, professional, and community experiences. My study synthesizes theoretical and methodological approaches from ethnomusicology, jazz studies, and other disciplines; draws from interviews with Seattle jazz musicians who studied jazz at a college level; and incorporates my experiences as performing jazz musician, scholar, and educator. I explore issues of authenticity, evaluation, and agency. I argue that individual performers generate their own definitions of jazz musicianship in response to competing standards and notions of authenticity held by instructors, audiences, and other musicians. I show that some performers feel disadvantaged or marginalized by negative evaluations based on certain restrictive criteria. Standards function within technical, conceptual, and social domains of musicianship, as well as in relationship to social categories such as gender and race. Oftentimes, musicians either cannot or do not wish to satisfy evaluative standards – including homogeneous definitions of playing technique rooted in particular notions of talent; static forms of jazz tradition based on certain notions of historical convention; restrictive modes of social presentation tied to specific notions of artistry; and exclusionary social structures reflecting overlapping ideologies of gender and race. This study shows that jazz musicians develop adaptive approaches by making their own choices and by using strategies particular to their musical setting, thereby asserting their agency. These approaches include recognizing tensions, conflicts, and biases in evaluative standards, as well as and taking responsibility for their own musical development. I demonstrate that standards function through processes of acceptance, contestation, or adaptation. While these standards create structural limitations for jazz musicians, they are still able develop their own identities, senses of authenticity, and motivations to continue performing.
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