Book Excerpt — Art Rebels:  Race, Class, and Gender in the Art of Miles Davis and Martin Scorsese, by Paul Lopes

October 30th, 2019

 

.

.

 

.

In Art Rebels:  Race, Class, and Gender in the Art of Miles Davis and Martin Scorsese (Princeton University Press), Colgate University sociologist Paul Lopes refers to the post World War II era as the “Heroic Age of American Art,” a period that was “a perfect storm of changes in American art and society that led to a general burst of domestic rebellion and innovation across the arts that truly transformed how Americans viewed the nature of arts and entertainment.”

Lopes writes that experimental music and experimental film “both represent the high art road of rebellion in American music and film during the Heroic Age,” and in Art Rebels, portrays Davis and Scorsese as iconic artists whose work is connected to their “ethnic identities” and “hypermasculine ideologies” that “exposed the problematic intersection of gender with their racial and ethnic identities as iconic art rebels.”

I spoke with Paul about his book today and will publish the interview in the near future.  Meanwhile, the following excerpt from Art Rebels, “Interlude,” (pages 105 – 107) introduces the book’s Part II, “The Biographical Legends of Rebels,” in which Lopes writes of how “two starkly different biographical legends emerged:  one of an ‘unreconstructed’ black man who lambasted the relentless indestructible power of Jim Crow America, and another, of an ‘unmeltable’ Italian American who became, over time, a quintessential white ethnic American.”

 

 

.

.

_____

.

.

 

 

 

 

 

Interlude

 

“The Biographical Legends of Rebels” is concerned with the intersection of biography, social identity, and selfhood in the public stories of Miles Davis and Martin Scorsese. While the term biographical legend originally referred to how personal biography shaped the reputation and reception of an artist, my work expands on the scope and power of biographical legends. Such legends in the public stories of Davis and Scorsese spoke not only to their art but also to the American experience writ large. Race, ethnicity, and gender would significantly shape these two public stories. Both artists embraced their roles as active voices for their respective communities. Both artists openly connected their artistic visions with their racial and ethnic identity. And both artists expressed deeply troubling interconnections between their gender identities and their racial and ethnic identities. But crucial to understanding the power of biographical legends is to recognize how they are products of a collective telling of these biographies and their significance. Not only artists, but also critics, journalists, and others construct public stories. So, to understand the biographical legends of Davis and Scorsese, we must understand how the collective nature of the storytelling made their public stories special expressive spaces for transcoding the broader ideological conversations and imaginative interpretations that have defined the racial and gender formations in the United States from the 1950s to the present. As I mentioned in the introduction, the Heroic Age of American Art opened up an invitation for a robust new cultural politics. Public stories about American art became collective cultural politics on a large scale.

Miles Davis would become an iconic African American musician challenging the jazz art world and the broader racial formations of Jim Crow and New Jim Crow America. Martin Scorsese would become an iconic Italian American filmmaker and chronicler of the American experience. But how their respective embracing of racial and ethnic identity played out in their public stories and careers was starkly different. The unbridgeable racial divide in the American racial formation would shape far different forms of rebellion and far different responses to these art rebels. Two starkly different biographical legends emerged: one of an “unreconstructed” black man who lambasted the relentless and indestructible power of Jim Crow America, and another, of an “unmeltable” Italian American who became, over time, a quintessential white ethnic American. As Scorsese came to celebrate how white ethnic Americans were the foundation of the modern American experience, and how the American Dream eventually opens to all immigrants and social groups, Davis remained focused on how this dream was continually deferred and denied for African Americans. In other words, Davis and Scorsese gave witness in their public stories to two very distinct, if not diametrically opposed, encounters with the American experience.

The social distance and micropolitics of race relations also informed the telling and interpretation of Miles Davis’s and Martin Scorsese’s public stories. The modern jazz art world was fundamentally shaped by the social distance between white and black musicians, critics, entrepreneurs, and fans. Such a social distance existed from the microlevel of everyday interaction, to the practice of music making, to the telling of public stories. Unlike Scorsese, Davis confronted a very contentious collective telling of his public story that reflected not only his challenging of the race relations of the jazz art world and Jim Crow America but also the multimirrored interpretations of his actions, demeanors, and words. Being an “unreconstructed” black man in America was a far more perilous, and far more often misinterpreted, role than being an “unmeltable” Italian American. The public story of Miles Davis reveals the racial minefield that all African American artists navigated in a world dominated by a white racial imagination. Scorsese’s biographical legend meshed easily with the dominant narratives and self-serving delusions of post–civil rights America, while Davis’s biographical legend rubbed against such narratives and delusions. As we will see, it was the contrasting receptions of these two artists’ public stories, generated by the racial divide in America, that led to the so-called enigma of Miles Davis as the “evil genius” of jazz.

The public stories of Davis and Scorsese also showed how their gender identities were inseparable from their racial and ethnic identities. The intersectionality of race, ethnicity, and gender expressed itself powerfully in both these public stories. An intersectional feminist perspective highlights two distinct expressions of gender identity in these public stories. First, black and white masculinity in the racial imagination negotiated distinct contours of rebellion and masculinity. So black and white hypermasculinity would be experienced and interpreted differently, even while simultaneously reaffirming hegemonic masculinity and the gender formation in America. Second, the normative power of hegemonic masculinity also seemed to resolve both black and white hypermasculinity within a male gendered imagination, so that such expressions, except for a few rare moments, were rendered as taken-for-granted in music and film.

The following two chapters will show how the racial, ethnic, and gendered tropes of these iconic artists’ biographical legends speak volumes to the continuing power of the racial and gender formations in the United States during the Heroic Age of American Art. Such tropes speak not only to how such social identities shaped the actual art and lives of Davis and Scorsese but also to how these social identities acted as ciphers for interpreting these artists’ art, actions, demeanors, words, biographies, and even selfhoods. The public stories of Miles Davis and Martin Scorsese show in surprisingly, and often disturbing, ways how the racial and gender imaginations work in tandem in the collective storytelling of American art, the American experience, and the personal biographies of our most iconic artists. And as we will see, these imaginations often act to make invisible the true nature of race and gender relations as such truths are lost in translation through the power of the white and male imaginations in America.

.

Excerpted from ART REBELS: Race, Class, and Gender in the Art of Miles Davis and Martin Scorsese by Paul Lopes. Copyright © 2019 by Princeton University Press. Reprinted by permission.

.

___

.

 

 

 

photo Mark Diorio

Paul Lopes, author of Art Rebels:  Race, Class, and Gender in the Art of Miles Davis and Martin Scorsese

.

Lopes is associate professor of sociology at Colgate University, and the author of Demanding Respect:  The Evolution of the American Comic Book and The Rise of a Jazz Art World

.

.

.

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In this Issue

A Collection of Jazz Poetry – Spring, 2020 Edition There are many good and often powerful poems within this collection, one that has the potential for changing the shape of a reader’s universe during an impossibly trying time, particularly if the reader has a love of music. 33 poets from all over the globe contribute 47 poems. Expect to read of love, loss, memoir, worship, freedom, heartbreak and hope – all collected here, in the heart of this unsettling spring. (Featuring the art of Martel Chapman)

Interview

Ornette Coleman 1966/photo courtesy Mosaic Images
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Ornette Coleman: The Territory And The Adventure author Maria Golia discusses her compelling and rewarding book about the artist whose philosophy and the astounding, adventurous music he created served to continually challenge the skeptical status quo, and made him a guiding light of the artistic avant-garde throughout a career spanning seven decades.

Features

Red Meditation by James Brewer
Creative artists and citizens of note respond to the question, "During this time of social distancing and isolation at home, what are examples of the music you are listening to, the books you are reading, and/or the television or films you are viewing?”

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time – the author Philip Clark writes about the origins of the book, and his interest in shining a light on how Brubeck, “thoughtful and sensitive as he was, had been changed as a musician and as a man by the troubled times through which he lived and during which he produced such optimistic, life-enhancing art.”

Interview

NBC Radio-photo by Ray Lee Jackson / Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, acclaimed biographer James Kaplan (Frank: The Voice and Sinatra: The Chairman) talks about his book, Irving Berlin: New York Genius, and Berlin's unparalleled musical career and business success, his intense sense of family and patriotism during a complex and evolving time, and the artist's permanent cultural significance.

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Maria Golia’s Ornette Coleman: The Territory and the Adventure – excerpted here in its entirety – the author takes the reader through the four phases of the brilliant musician’s career her book focuses on.

Art

Art by Charles Ingham
Charles Ingham’s “Jazz Narratives” connect time, place, and subject in a way that ultimately allows the viewer a unique way of experiencing jazz history. Volume 7 of the narratives are “Torn from Its Moorings", "Watching the Sea" and "Plantations" (featuring west coast stories of Ornette Coleman and Billie Holiday)

Interview

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection
Richard Crawford’s Summertime: George Gershwin’s Life in Music is a rich, detailed and rewarding musical biography that describes Gershwin's work throughout every stage of his career. In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Crawford discusses his book and the man he has described as a “fresh voice of the Jazz Age” who “challenged Americans to rethink their assumptions about composition and performance, nationalism, cultural hierarchy, and the racial divide.”

Jazz History Quiz #138

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Shortly following their famed 1938 Carnegie Hall performance, Benny Goodman’s drummer Gene Krupa left the band to start his own. Who replaced Krupa?

Interview

photo unattributed/ Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview with The Letters of Cole Porter co-author Dominic McHugh, he explains that “several of the big biographical tropes that we associate with Porter are either modified or contested by the letters,” and that “when you put together these letters, and add our quite extensive commentary between the letters, it creates a different picture of him.” Mr. McHugh discusses his book, and what the letters reveal about the life – in-and-out of music – of Cole Porter.

Book Excerpt

The introduction to John Burnside's The Music of Time: Poetry in the Twentieth Century – excerpted here in its entirety with the gracious consent of Princeton University Press – is the author's fascinating observation concerning the idea of how poets respond to what the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam called “the noise of time,” weaving it into a kind of music.

Short Fiction

photo Creative Commons CC0
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #53 — “Market & Fifth, San Francisco, 1986,” by Paul Perilli

Photography

photo by Veryl Oakland
In this edition of photographs and stories from Veryl Oakland’s book Jazz in Available Light, Frank Morgan, Michel Petrucciani/Charles Lloyd, and Emily Remler are featured

Poetry

photo Bret Stewart/Wikimedia Commons
“Afterwards — For the Spring, 2020” — a poem by Alan Yount

Interview

photo by Fred Price
Bob Hecht and Grover Sales host a previously unpublished 1985 interview with the late, great jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz, who talks about Miles, Kenton, Ornette, Tristano, and the art of improvisation...

Book Excerpt

A ten page excerpt from The Letters of Cole Porter by Cliff Eisen and Dominic McHugh that features correspondence in the time frame of June to August, 1953, including those Porter had with George Byron (the man who married Jerome Kern’s widow), fellow writer Abe Burrows, Noel Coward, his secretary Madeline P. Smith, close friend Sam Stark, and his lawyer John Wharton.

Interview

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Con Chapman, author of Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges discusses the great Ellington saxophonist

Humor

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
"Louis Armstrong on the Moon," by Dig Wayne

Book Excerpt

This story, excerpted from Irving Berlin: New York Genius by James Kaplan, describes how Berlin came to write his first major hit song, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and speaks to its historic musical and cultural significance.

Pressed for All Time

In this edition, producer Tom Dowd talks with Pressed for All Time: Producing the Great Jazz Albums author Michael Jarrett about the genesis of Herbie Mann’s 1969 recording, Memphis Underground, and the executives and musicians involved

Interview

photo by Bouna Ndaiye
Interview with Gerald Horne, author of Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music

Great Encounters

photo of Sidney Bechet by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
In this edition of "Great Encounters," Con Chapman, author of Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges, writes about Hodges’ early musical training, and the first meeting he had with Sidney Bechet, the influential and legendary reed player who Hodges called “tops in my book.”

Poetry

The winter collection of poetry offers readers a look at the culture of jazz music through the imaginative writings of its 32 contributors. Within these 41 poems, writers express their deep connection to the music – and those who play it – in their own inventive and often philosophical language that communicates much, but especially love, sentiment, struggle, loss, and joy.

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

"What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?"
Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

In the Previous Issue

Interviews with three outstanding, acclaimed writers and scholars who discuss their books on Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter, and their subjects’ lives in and out of music. These interviews – which each include photos and several full-length songs – provide readers easy access to an entertaining and enlightening learning experience about these three giants of American popular music.

In an Earlier Issue

photo by Carol Friedman
“The Jazz Photography Issue” features an interview with today’s most eminent jazz portrait photographer Carol Friedman, news from Michael Cuscuna about newly released Francis Wolff photos, as well as archived interviews with William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, a piece on Milt Hinton, a new edition of photos from Veryl Oakland, and much more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive