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Tsou scholar's title: "A Conundrum is a Woman in Jazz"

October 5, 2015
Sherrie Tucker, University of Kansas
Sherrie Tucker

“A Conundrum is a Woman in Jazz” is the title of this fall’s Tsou Music Scholar Lecture, to be given by University of Kansas scholar Sherrie Tucker on Thursday, Oct. 8.

Free and open to the public, the event is scheduled at 7 p.m. Oct. 8 in the Arthur Zankel Music Center.

According to Tucker, 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.”

Tucker will share research 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 re-valuation 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.), she will also question 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,” Tucker will 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.

A professor of American studies at the University of Kansas, Tucker 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 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 2004-2005, 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 Editors for the Music/Culture Series at Wesleyan University Press.

Judy Tsou, a member of Skidmore’s Class of 1975, established the Tsou Music Scholar Series to provide both formal and informal interaction of music students with prominent music scholars. The series is designed to extend Skidmore students’ musical education and to provide an introduction to prominent scholars and their work.

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