Paris Blues African American Music & French Popular Culture,1920-1960

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The Jazz Age. The phrase conjures images of Louis Armstrong holding court at the Sunset Cafe in Chicago, Duke Ellington dazzling crowds at the Cotton Club in Harlem, and star singers like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. But the Jazz Age was every bit as much of a Paris phenomenon as it was a Chicago and New York scene.

In Paris Blues, Andy Fry provides an alternative history of African American music and musicians in France, one that looks beyond familiar personalities and well-rehearsed stories. He pinpoints key issues of race and nation in France’s complicated jazz history from the 1920s through the 1950s. While he deals with many of the traditional icons—such as Josephine Baker, Django Reinhardt, and Sidney Bechet, among others—what he asks is how they came to be so iconic, and what their stories hide as well as what they preserve. Fry focuses throughout on early jazz and swing but includes its re-creation—reinvention—in the 1950s. Along the way, he pays tribute to forgotten traditions such as black musical theater, white show bands, and French wartime swing. Paris Blues provides a nuanced account of the French reception of African Americans and their music and contributes greatly to a growing literature on jazz, race, and nation in France.
“Fry has combined meticulous research with careful and creative use of sources from the worlds of music, film, history and popular culture more generally to produce an account that might, finally, bury the perennial (and perennially misguided) idea that Europeans and especially the French understood and appreciated jazz before Americans did. The story is false not only because African American and other U.S.-based supporters of jazz seem not to be ‘Americans’ in that version of history, but also because, as Fry eloquently argues, the French at times tried to claim jazz as their own creation, because ethnocentrism and paternalism were rarely absent from what they wrote, because the music and the musicians were often proxies in debates over national culture, and because musicians had reasons for living in France that previous scholars have failed to describe completely.”
(Travis Jackson University of Chicago)


 
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Last modified on Sunday, 21 September 2014 20:28
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