The rapid development of jazz in both the United States and Europe generated a number of diverse musical expressions, including musics that most listeners today would not recognize as “jazz” music. In order to remedy this situation, jazz musicians and critics after 1930 began to codify what “real” jazz encompassed, and more importantly, what “real” jazz did not encompass. This construction of authenticity, often demarcated along racial lines, served to relegate several artists and styles (those outside a “mainstream” to the margins of historiography.
The issue of race is central to all discourses of jazz. Alongside race goes the problem of representation, or, who gets to play what for whom and under what circumstance. Problems of representation abound from the beginning of jazz history, usually centered on white representation of black music and culture from a negative vantage point. Iconic examples of this phenomenon include the 1917 release of
Livery Stable Blues by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and Paul Whiteman‘s 1924 Aeolian Hall concert. The ODJB‘s recording was the first jazz record and the first representation of jazz to the majority of Americans, both black and white. Whiteman’s concert was invested in representing jazz to white Americans, showing how it had progressed from its primitive black beginnings to a more sophisticated style rooted in the fundamentals of European practice. Indeed, ideas of creation and control in jazz have usually been drawn along racial lines: black as creator, white as curator. In this mode of racial understanding in jazz, white jazz fans and musicians supposedly lack an essential “something” that makes them unable to innovate in jazz. Conversely, black musicians, while highly creative, lack an understanding of culture and history necessary for the preservation of a music: they are a people without a past or a future, inhabiting a nebulous eternal present, unconscious of their own contributions. This line of thinking, only first being seriously and systemically challenged near the end of the timeframe of this study, does more than essentialize whiteness and blackness. It creates a false binary
in which the only races involved in the creation or playing of jazz are black and white,
thus implicitly writing European, Roma, Latin American, or other ethnic groups out of
the narrative, a mistake this thesis will seek to correct by including guitarists from outside
the black/white binary as valid contributors to discourse.
Ideas intimately tied to issues of race and social impact is the issue of authenticity.