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

painting of Clifford Brown by Paul Lovering
A Collection of Jazz Poetry — Spring/Summer, 2024 Edition...In this, the 17th major collection of jazz poetry published on Jerry Jazz Musician, 50 poets from all over the world again demonstrate the ongoing influence the music and its associated culture has on their creative lives.

(featuring the art of Paul Lovering)

Publisher’s Notes

photo by Rhonda Dorsett
On turning 70, and contemplating the future of Jerry Jazz Musician...

The Sunday Poem

photo via RawPixel
"23 Poets remember their father…"

This space on Sunday is generally reserved for a single poet to read one of their works, but this week’s issue -Father’s Day – features 23 poets who weigh in on the complexity of their relationship with their father, revealing love, warmth, regret, sorrow – and in many cases a strong connection to a common love of music.

Click here to read previous editions of The Sunday Poem

Poetry

Proceeding From Behind: A collection of poems grounded in the rhythmic, relating to the remarkable, by Terrance Underwood...A relaxed, familiar comfort emerges from the poet Terrance Underwood’s language of intellectual acuity, wit, and space – a feeling similar to one gets while listening to Monk, or Jamal, or Miles. I have long wanted to share his gifts as a poet on an expanded platform, and this 33-poem collection – woven among his audio readings, music he considers significant to his story, and brief personal comments – fulfills my desire to do so.

Interview

The Marvelettes/via Wikimedia Commons
Interview with Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz, authors of But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?: An Oral History of the 60’s Girl Groups...Little is known of the lives and challenges many of the young Black women who made up the Girl Groups of the ‘60’s faced while performing during an era rife with racism, sexism, and music industry corruption. The authors discuss their book’s mission to provide the artists an opportunity to voice their experiences so crucial to the evolution of popular music.

Book Excerpt

An excerpt from Emily Jon Tobias’ MONARCH: Stories, and a reflection on our friendship

In Memoriam

photo via Wikimedia Commons
A few words about Willie Mays...Thoughts about the impact Willie Mays had on baseball, and on my life.

Art

photo of Archie Shepp by Giovanni Piesco
The Photographs of Giovanni Piesco: Archie Shepp...photos of the legendary saxophonist (and his rhythm section for the evening), taken at Amsterdam's Bimhuis on May 13, 2001.

Poetry

The cover to Joni Mitchell's 1976 album Hejira [Asylum]; photo by Norman Seeff
“Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada” – a poem (for Joni Mitchell) by Juan Mobili

Click here to read more poetry published in Jerry Jazz Musician

Calling All Poets!

News about a Jerry Jazz Musician printed jazz poetry anthology, and information about submitting your poetry for consideration

Short Fiction

pickpik.com
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #65 — “Ballad” by Lúcia Leão...The author’s award-winning story is about the power of connections – between father and child, music and art, and the past, present and future.

Click here to read more short fiction published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Interview

photo of Louis Jordan by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Interview with Tad Richards, author of Jazz With a Beat: Small Group Swing, 1940 – 1960...Richards makes the case that small group swing players like Illinois Jacquet, Louis Jordan (pictured) and Big Jay McNeely played a legitimate jazz that was a more pleasing listening experience to the Black community than the bebop of Parker, Dizzy, and Monk. It is a fascinating era, filled with major figures and events, and centered on a rigorous debate that continues to this day – is small group swing “real jazz?”

Playlist

Sonny Rollins' 1957 pianoless trio recording "Way Out West"
“The Pianoless Tradition in Modern Jazz” – a playlist by Bob Hecht...an extensive playlist built around examples of prominent pianoless modern jazz.

Feature

Excerpts from David Rife’s Jazz Fiction: Take Two – Vol. 2: “Fathers in Jazz Fiction”...A substantial number of novels and stories with jazz music as a component of the story have been published over the years, and the scholar David J. Rife has written short essay/reviews of them.  In this second edition featuring excerpts from his book, Rife writes about four novels/short stories that include stories involving relationships between fathers and children.

Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

The cover of Wayne Shorter's 2018 Blue Note album "Emanon"
Trading Fours, with Douglas Cole, No. 20: “Notes on Genius...This edition of the writer’s poetic interpretations of jazz recordings and film is written in response to the music of Wayne Shorter.

Click here to read previous editions of Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

In Memoriam

Hans Bernhard (Schnobby), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
“Remembering Joe Pass: Versatile Jazz Guitar Virtuoso” – by Kenneth Parsons...On the 30th anniversary of the guitarist Joe Pass’ death, Kenneth Parsons reminds readers of his brilliant career

Book Excerpt

Book excerpt from Jazz with a Beat: Small Group Swing 1940 – 1960, by Tad Richards

Click here to read more book excerpts published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Poetry

painting by Vaino Kunnas
Jazz…in eight poems...A myriad of styles and experiences displayed in eight thoughtful, provocative poems…

Jazz History Quiz #172

photo of Teddy Wilson by William Gottlieb
Teddy Wilson once said this about a fellow jazz pianist:

“That man had the most phenomenal musical gifts I’ve ever heard. He was miraculous. It’s like someone hitting a home run every time he picks up a bat. We became such fast friends that I was allowed to interrupt him anytime he was playing at the house parties in Toledo we used to make every night. When I asked him, he would stop and replay a passage very slowly, showing me the fingering on some of those runs of his. You just couldn’t figure them out by ear at the tempo he played them.”

Who is the pianist he is describing?

Community

photo via Picryl.com
.“Community Bookshelf, #2"...a twice-yearly space where writers who have been published on Jerry Jazz Musician can share news about their recently authored books. This edition includes information about books published within the last six months or so…

Contributing Writers

Click the image to view the writers, poets and artists whose work has been published on Jerry Jazz Musician, and find links to their work

Coming Soon

A new collection of jazz poetry; a collection of jazz haiku; a new Jazz History Quiz; short fiction; poetry; photography; interviews; playlists; and lots more in the works...

Interview Archive

Eubie Blake
Click to view the complete 22 year archive of Jerry Jazz Musician interviews, including those recently published with Richard Carlin and Ken Bloom on Eubie Blake (pictured); Richard Brent Turner on jazz and Islam; Alyn Shipton on the art of jazz; Shawn Levy on the original queens of standup comedy; Travis Atria on the expatriate trumpeter Arthur Briggs; Kitt Shapiro on her life with her mother, Eartha Kitt; Will Friedwald on Nat King Cole; Wayne Enstice on the drummer Dottie Dodgion; the drummer Joe La Barbera on Bill Evans; Philip Clark on Dave Brubeck; Nicholas Buccola on James Baldwin and William F. Buckley; Ricky Riccardi on Louis Armstrong; Dan Morgenstern and Christian Sands on Erroll Garner; Maria Golia on Ornette Coleman.

Site Archive