A Concentric Model for Jazz History

Nathan C Bakkum


This article proposes an alternative to the historical narratives and learning outcomes undergirding the organization of the majority of modern jazz history courses and textbooks. After outlining the dominant modes of historical and ethnographic writing on jazz, I assert the need for scholars and educators to shift attention away from the objects of jazz history – such as prized recordings, performances, and biographies – and toward interactive processes as the core content of the tradition. Through a sustained consideration of musical process, I ask students to engage with the collective work of improvisers and the subjectivities – of bandleaders, recordists, audiences, and critics –  that inevitably shape their interactive work. This concentric historical model is responsive to the contingent, communal work that defines the jazz community and reflective of the multiple, uneven, non-linear temporal frames that inform historical narratives in the age of recorded sound.


jazz; ethnography; recording; pedagogy

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ISSN 2155-109X