What is Jazz Studies?
Jazz is often called America’s only original art form, its classical music, the twentieth century music par excellence. Now, in the new century, jazz has splintered into many things for many people—an avant-garde or alternative music for some, a traditional music for others.
In fact, jazz has been represented in a striking number of ways and by a variety of means, even moving beyond the music to become what some would call a discourse, a point at which a number of ideas and texts converge. The influence of jazz reaches far beyond the music through a variety of representations—on recordings, on film, in art, photography, literature, advertising, clothing, speech, food and drink. Tropes and paradigms drawn from jazz have deeply impacted not only other art forms, but also the humanities, social sciences, and even the natural sciences.
Jazz began by claiming all of the world’s music as source material for its own, and now the world has come to claim jazz as its own. Jazz has profoundly influenced a panoply of world musical and artistic forms and practices, and music with ties to jazz is now played by musicians of great accomplishment around the world–all with local inflections, but still recognizably part of an ever-extending family.
Postmodern avant la lettre, jazz shamelessly borrowed anything not fastened down, ignoring origins and cultural status, mocking hierarchies and pomposity, relishing contradiction and absurdity. The hybrid, creole, synthesizing, and combinatory nature of jazz has become an appealing model for contemporary culture, and shows no sign of fading as a paradigm for the century ahead. In short, what jazz generates is far greater than the music’s audience, and now has a cosmopolitan existence all its own.
As a consequence of jazz’s ongoing globalization, a the serious study of jazz in all its manifestations requires engagement with an enormous body of materials and discourses–historical, anthropological, sociological, literary, musical, discographical, filmic, and bibliographical, among many others. This radical interdisciplinarity directs the mission of jazz studies in the 21st century.
— John Szwed