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Skidmore College
Music Department

2015 Tsou Scholar: Sherrie Tucker, University of Kansas
Thursday, October 2 at 8 p.m.
Helen Filene Ladd Hall, Zankel Music Center

Lecture: "A Conundrum is a Woman-in-Jazz: Reflections on 100 Years of Ongoing Improvisation on the Categorical Exclusions of Being Included."

Jazz is often thought of as a particularly masculine musical practice; its history usually depicted as a lineage of musical instrumentalist-geniuses, all of whom are men—unless an “exceptional woman” is thrown in for good measure (usually a pianist). Jazz artists who are women show up in feminized and devalued spheres (“all-girl” bands, singers), or as perpetually emergent instrumentalists who never quite make it into jazz recognition without gendered qualifiers—recurrently set apart as “women in jazz.”

This lecture is a reflection on select moments from a century of attempts by artists and scholars to improvise their way “out” of the “in” in the persistent category of “women in jazz.” Whether taken as a devalued realm of feminized labor as novelty or gimmicks, or as a revaluation project of conferences or festivals devoted to recognizing the significance of female players, the sheer continuity of categorical exclusions and inclusions of the “woman in jazz” category poses a conundrum for artists and scholars.

In expanding on the “women in jazz” category as a lens for thinking through a selection of similarly functioning inclusions of people and social categories presumed to be “out-of-jazz” (“gender in jazz,” “LGBTQ in jazz,” “sexuality in jazz,” etc.), this paper also raises questions about the efficacy of isolating one category at a time, even for advocacy purposes, given that to trouble the parameters of jazz is also to trouble the parameters of an African American music history that emerged within, alongside, and against the rise of Jim Crow and its continued legacy of exclusionary inclusions.

Seeking alternatives to the “in” and “out,” I explore creative ways in which artists, advocates, and scholars have performed the intersections of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, ability and nation when navigating the “women in jazz” (and other “____ in jazz”) categories. What will it take to compose more innovative parameters for embodied difference in socially engaged jazz practice and scholarship than struggles over inclusion/exclusion, omission/addition, invisibility/recognition, yet, at the same time, do not lose sight of power dynamics in unequal access?

About the Speaker

Sherrie Tucker, professor of American studies at the University of Kansasm, is the author of Dance Floor Democracy: the Social Geography of Memory at the Hollywood Canteen (Duke, 2014), Swing Shift: “All-Girl” Bands of the 1940s (Duke, 2000) and co-editor, with Nichole T. Rustin, of Big Ears: Listening for Gender in Jazz Studies (Duke, 2008). She is a member of two major collaborative research initiatives: the International Institute of Critical Improvisation Studies and also Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice (for which she served as facilitator for the Improvisation, Gender, and the Body research area) both funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Tucker is a founding member of the Melba Liston Research Collective, a member of the AUMI (Adaptive Use Musical Instrument) research team of the Deep Listening Institute, and founding member of AUMI-KU InterArts, one of six member institutions of the AUMI Research Consortium. She was the Louis Armstrong Visiting Professor at the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University in 2004–05, where she was a member of the Columbia Jazz Study Group. With Randal M. Jelks, she co-edits the journal American Studies. Along with Deborah Wong and Jeremy Wallach she serves as a series editor for the Music/Culture Series at Wesleyan University Press.