April in Paris, Autumn in New York: Whiteness and the Racial Formation of European Jazz in the US, 1940s–1970s

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April in Paris, Autumn in New York: Whiteness and the Racial Formation of European Jazz in the US, 1940s–1970s

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This dissertation charts the US reception and dissemination of European jazz and how ideas of European jazz were shaped through racialized narratives in the meeting of African American culture and European whiteness. In a series of roughly chronological of case studies, it traces how Americans wrote and thought about European jazz and explore the lives of Europeans jazz critics and musicians who went to the US.As a historiographical intervention, the dissertation responds to the fact that histories of transnational jazz in large part locate “the transnational” outside the US. The histories told in this dissertation show that the idea of “European jazz” was not only created in Eu-rope, but was also defined by discourses and music created in the US. Mobilizing critical race studies, the dissertation also argues that scholarship on European jazz has avoided the question of its overwhelming whiteness at the expense of colorblind cosmopolitan univer-salism. By focusing on how European jazz fared in the US, this dissertation highlights how the unavoidable fact of jazz’s Blackness came to set the whiteness of European jazz in re-lief. This also shows that the account of whiteness and jazz, even within the US, cannot be bounded by strict national frameworks. Chapter 1 shows how European critics were positioned in the US press as culturally superior to American jazz critics and audiences, through discourses of high-art class hierar-chies and racial whiteness. Chapter 2 explores of the US careers of the European singers Alice Babs and Caterina Valente, whose gendered whiteness was positioned as a form of exoticized Europeanness in the US. Chapter 3 is a portrait of the Austrian pianist and key-board player Joe Zawinul, who used narratives of miscegenation, racial passing, and “soul” in ways that rely on the fundamental instability of racial markers but also on his white privi-lege to tell such stories. Chapter 4 is a case study of the most prominent European jazz rec-ord label, ECM, which built an identity as a European label upon the already established American ideas of European jazz, specifically its high-art status, “serious” approach to mu-sic, “pure” sound production, and whiteness. The research presented herein reveals that Americans used the specter of Europeanness for their own purposes, reshaping American jazz discourse through transatlantic juxtaposi-tions. Most consistently, American critics and musicians saw these fault lines as one marked by class and race, associating European critics with intellectualism and European jazz with the idea of high art (for instance, through the comparison with European classical music). European ethnicities functioned as a white privileged position from which musi-cians could negotiate their identities with African Americans, claiming both solidarity and difference. American notions of an intrinsic white, highbrow European sensibility worked to uplift jazz in the cultural hierarchy.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. April 2022. Major: Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society. Advisor: Sumanth Gopinath. 1 computer file (PDF); ix, 251 pages.

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Vad, Mikkel. (2022). April in Paris, Autumn in New York: Whiteness and the Racial Formation of European Jazz in the US, 1940s–1970s. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/241333.

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