We’re pleased that the folks at Full Stop Magazine are letting us re-blog this great interview with Sherrie Tucker.
For Sherrie Tucker, research is dancing. A leading academic in the Jazz Studies world, she is part of a cohort of scholars working on gender, embodiment, memory, social improvisation, and dis/ability in jazz. Rather than creating a new subfield of inquiry though, these priorities demand new ways of talking about older themes in jazz scholarship such as race, democracy, war, nationalism, and, in Tucker’s recent work, stem from thinking critically with dance. Her first book, Swing Shift (2000), lays out the forgotten history of the “all-girl” swing bands of the World War II era. She also co-edited, with Nichole T. Rustin, the Big Ears collection on gender and jazz with Duke University Press (2008).
We caught up with Tucker (via Skype) one afternoon to ask her about her new book Dance Floor Democracy. This book is a study of the Hollywood Canteen, a club where female movie starsdanced with rank-and-file military men (not officers) during the World War II era. The official narrative from Hollywood films and press releases tells us that white and African American service men, military women, and Hollywood “starlets” danced side by side here, creating a uniquely American “democratic” space. Tucker got interested in this nostalgic re-telling of the Hollywood Canteen, and spent 14 years in and out of conventional archives, as well as in private living spaces and nursing homes conducting oral history interviews with those who had volunteered at or visited the Canteen 60 years previously. What she found was a decidedly diffuse set of narratives that often broke with typical World War II nostalgia.
The book is hot off the press, and Tucker was eager to talk about it, especially in light of a recent and somewhat dismissive Wall St. Journal review that lamented the displacement of “long-lost corny patriotism.” This gave us a good starting point. As in any improvisational encounter though, our conversation took productive digressions.
Jay Hammond: World War II nostalgia has a way of smoothing out political and social conflict in the U.S. during that period. What were some of your strategies for broaching questions of gender and racial integration on the dance floor at the Hollywood Canteen in the interviews?
Sherrie Tucker: I thought about that a lot because it’s true that with some of the interviews people identified very closely with the nostalgic version of the history. But, in other interviews, people really wanted to explain to me how the nostalgic version got it wrong. And so my analysis really does come from the interviews, it’s not something that I had already and then approached people hoping to prove my point. I felt a kind of urgency to talk to people who had been to the Hollywood Canteen. It could have been another site; I wanted to take a nostalgic site from WWII, a swing site, and talk to people who were there. I didn’t think that everybody was going to tell exactly the same story, but I also don’t think I expected the range of political viewpoints and analyses that people had. That seemed really important because the World War II generation has been so infantilized in the way that it’s been talked about: the “Greatest Generation,” you know, the greatest moment in American history where everyone agreed on everything. I think sometimes the reviewers think that I’m imposing a viewpoint on the people I talked to, but I talked to people who were people in the present, not people in the past; people who had diverse experiences at the Canteen and in life, and who were very interesting and had a lot of opinions about war, democracy, and swing. That was really interesting to me, that swing dancing was connected to their ideas about World War II, and war in general, and America. I didn’t have to ask people to be dissonant — oral history is always surprising. I just tried to listen very carefully, and I tried to pay attention to my own responses and include that. I tried to figure out a way to write — this is probably the hardest part — in a way that gets at all these differences, without finally coming up with the “correct” story, but something that could attend to all of the different positions that people spoke from.
To tell you a little about my methodology, I did make it clear that I was interested in the integration of the dance floor. So I didn’t surprise people with that question, also I didn’t walk in “hunting for racism” (as the fellow at the Wall St. Journal implied), but I did let people know ahead of time that this is something I heard about the Hollywood Canteen and I was interested in learning more about it, so they knew that this was a topic that was going to come up. I did have certain questions I made sure I asked every person. And one of the questions was “was the dance floor integrated?” “I understand it was racially integrated, what did you know about that?” I also always asked if they saw military women there, where they lived, and how they got to the Canteen, because that was an important part of the story.
But otherwise, in the open-ended parts of the interviews, I asked them about their Canteen memories in ways that tried to get at embodied perspectives. I asked questions that were designed to get beyond the proscenium viewpoint. Rather than the textbook questions, “what was it and what can you tell me about it?” I asked, “What streets did you go down in order to get there? How did you travel? What do you remember about walking in the door? Who do you remember seeing? Who do you remember dancing with?” Many of these are impossible questions, but when people talk from their bodies they get into a different kind of perspective, one that I wanted to get at. And then when people were there, in their bodies, thinking about the dance floor, they’d start telling me about other parts of their life. I wanted to know how they connected their memories of their bodies on that dance floor with other things.
It’s a tricky methodology. It’s not historically disinterested but it’s also very specifically a history of the present and an interaction with the present. So to get back to the question of nostalgia, one of the things I saw a lot was that most people would identify with the nostalgic, familiar version, but they would also dis-identify with it. And that’s where I saw that interesting tension that I talk about with the “torque.” People could tell the story in a certain way and use the power of the nostalgic version to push off from, sometimes using that power to turn it a different way.
Karim Wissa: How did you think about structuring the narrative?
I struggled with the writing a lot. This book took me 14 years. I interviewed roughly 60 people, but it wasn’t just the logistics of tracking people down — that was the easy part in some ways — it was really figuring out how to write. I really wanted to do something in writing that was doing some of the analytical work. So the writing itself is part of the methodology and I tried a lot of things before I got where I wanted. The dance scholars really gave me new ways of writing, which I found very exciting. I initially went to the dance scholars for a different reason. Because here I was, somebody who was writing about swing, but I had never written about dance, or never read dance scholarship — how is that possible?! I guess that’s because I’m a product of jazz studies. So I turned to the dance scholars thinking I would learn terminology and content, like what people did while the music was playing, but instead I get this whole different way of approaching sound and embodiment, and writing and improvisation. Susan Leigh Foster for example says we need different ways of writing and understanding history by acknowledging the fact of improvisation. That’s one of the charges I tried to give to my writing — to really get improvisation in there. Because it wasn’t just about what happened and didn’t happen — what’s been concealed and revealed — it was about different things happening on the ground on different nights in different parts of the room that unfolded differently for different bodies and different encounters. How can history account for that?
Karim: What are the things you noticed in that shift in perspective from talking about musicians to dancers, from the stage to the floor?
First of all, I want to step back a minute and clarify that there have been dance scholars who have been trying to be heard by jazz studies scholars for a long time. But most of us failed to listen carefully enough. And it isn’t even that dance scholars are never also jazz scholars.Jacqui Malone was a member of the Columbia University Jazz Studies Group for a long time. Other important scholars include Brenda Dixon Gottschild, and the late Terry Monaghan. One emerging scholar I’m very excited about is Chris Wells. His dissertation at UNC was on band-leader Chick Webb, and it is very much focused on dance. Chris is doing really exciting work; looking at dance throughout jazz history, and he helped me a lot.
I think that one of the things that happened in that moment of institutionalization of jazz, that Scott Deveaux talks about in his article “Constructing the Jazz Tradition,” is that in order for jazz to be taken seriously in universities and concert halls, the body had to be removed. It had to become as abstract and dance-free and body-free as classical music — and I’m being ironic here, right? Because classical music is full of bodies, but they get hidden behind these transcendent genius stories — it’s a discursive cover-up, right? Dance scholarship shows us all kinds of ways that we can return to places that we think have been really covered in all kinds of places, including jazz studies. The relationship between instrumentalist and instrument is highly embodied, and when you interview musicians or you go through oral histories, there is a lot of talk about body, and a lot of anxiety about injury until people are retired and can speak more freely about things that happened to their teeth on the road and stuff. There’s so much protection around the cohesive body that it’s hard to talk about. But it’s huge, embodiment is absolutely huge, traveling and producing sound with an instrument. This element is often left out of jazz scholarship.
Ok, I’m starting to ramble, and I really need to focus myself, because I don’t want to give the impression that the only place to look at embodiment and jazz is in what happens with the institutionalization of jazz. I haven’t even touched on affect, and practices of fans and communities. But right now I’m talking specifically about the uplift that happens when jazz is brought into institutions — there is a certain kind of very managed cordoning off of affect and embodiment that one sees in the construction of the jazz canon, and it is raced and gendered in particular ways. What gets sanctioned is a certain kind of representation of black masculinity, where the black man can sweat while blowing his instrument, while still being seeing as making art. But this is highly managed, and makes invisible other kinds of embodiment, including other expressions of black masculinity. So what dance studies can do, and could have been doing for a much longer time if jazz scholars such as myself had clued in earlier, is to get jazz studies scholars to think more deeply and critically about embodiment. Sound production, injury, etc. — there are all kinds of things that we can think about.
Jay: That ties into question of your article — “When Did Jazz Go Straight?” — and the de-sexualization of jazz as part of the process of institutionalization. It seems to pull certain kinds of bodies out in order to make jazz a hyper masculinized space. Is that what led you to think about swing era and the swing years? In other words, would the (perhaps) more canonical bebop years have been as interesting for thinking about the questions that interest you most?
I don’t think of myself as someone who’s been committed to swing or been doing swing for that long, but here I am. The period I was drawn to took me there. I’ve been interested in the war years as a time in the U.S. where certain kinds of rules about gender, race, sexuality, and class are a little bit destabilized, a little bit up in the air — they’re managed and destabilized at the same time. It’s a very interesting window of time to look at the questions that I’m interested in. I think the bigger questions that always drive my work are about how communities access a differential possibility, by which I mean a possibility for difference that is valued as generative and necessary and that doesn’t throw the community into crisis. So what kinds of communities thrive on difference and how do people use music and dance to create opportunities for difference, instead of making culture that just tightens the walls around a community? The swing era, or late swing era, which I’ve been looking at is by no means the only place to look at that — in fact, it’s a little counter-intuitive to go to World War II swing culture in search of communities-of-difference, but I think once I had done so much research and knew some history and made some contacts, other projects emerged out of that. The Hollywood Canteen is something I got interested in while working on my first book Swing Shift.
But your question makes me think about that more deeply — like what did I find out by looking at that period that I wouldn’t have gotten if I had started with work on a different period? I think what the late swing era had to offer has to do with the anxieties that swing presents to jazz studies. I think these would include the dance floor, notions of authenticity that scholars try to debunk but tend to walk around with despite themselves, the horrors of mainstreaming, commercialism — and so much of this is associated with women’s bodies, right? I think my own interest would have led me to ask questions about gender, sexuality, and race whether I was looking at bebop or avant-garde jazz or anything else, but I think swing does give a particular kind of slipperiness that I found very interesting. And I think, to answer the other part of that question, is that books about the big band era and the swing era were every bit as canonical as any bebop jazz history. Look at Ken Burns’s Jazz, the representations of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, etc. They’re slightly different characterizations, but a very similar kind of story over and over. This is almost blasphemy in jazz studies, but wouldn’t it be interesting to do a study of bebop nostalgia and national memory?
Karim: You mentioned the anxieties that swing allows you to get at. What exactly do you see as these institutionalized anxieties?
As the jazz tradition is constructed, commercial music becomes a problem. Jazz is supposed to be art, and art is supposed to be for its own sake. Swing would have looked different in popular music studies, rather than jazz studies, for example. Jazz studies has never aspired to be popular music studies, and I think there are some things jazz studies has gained and lost by that. What jazz studies has done well that pop music studies hasn’t been able to get at is that not all music that people like and engage is high money making music. Pop music studies values the meaning that people make of highly commercialized music and is much less interested in music constructed as an art. But jazz studies has been able to develop in a way that could accommodate all different constructions of jazz. Music that has been called jazz has been sometimes been conceived and used and presented as art music, sometimes popular music, sometimes populist, sometimes elite, sometimes folk — so that has been rich — but jazz studies has been late to come to things like audience reception and dance. I think embodiment, sexuality, and gender were less of a problem for popular music studies, but part of the reason for that is that all of those things were gendered in art discourse, which excluded them. Jazz had to be constructed along the lines of classical music to get into that part of the academy. But that prestigious form of institutionalization is mirrored somewhat by commercial circuits, like radio. Jazz radio is marketed very similarly to classical music radio and less similarly to popular music radio, and there are a number of ways that that has worked. In black music discourse jazz has had a very different kind of place with different stakes than popular music, so that uplift narrative is a little bit different — the stakes are about distancing from minstrelsy and self-determination, and that has its own kind of hetero-masculine stakes in the privileged forms of respectable and heroic blackness that artists contend with.
Karim: If swing, or if the Hollywood Canteen era becomes this moment where, because of the many contradictions, you can explode these anxieties, then do you see a utopian thrust in your project?
I think you are asking me about my own hopes in writing this book. I really wrestled with that question, because I did not want to wind up substituting one utopian fantasy with another. I try to be honest about my own politics, and the ideology I’m writing about and tried to be attentive to the ways in which the nostalgia I was writing critically about, definitely affected my own relationship to the topic and the language that came to me as I wrote. I wanted my wrestling with the nostalgia to be part of the writing without it sounding labored or self-indulgent. Essentially, I’m arguing for greater attention to how democracy is defined. This gets at another struggle within jazz studies that I and many other scholars have been grappling with. What do we mean when we say this music is more democratic than other kinds of music? And is this an either/or proposition? Like does our work always have to argue in support of that or debunk it? How do we get beyond those two positions? I wanted to be more attentive to how democracy was being defined by different people on the same dance floor and to consider all of those definitions as simultaneous and interrelated. I think that is what I want in the present. The unified World War II generation gets held up again and again as a model for when people were in agreement about what democracy was. And what I hope this book can get at is that people meant all kinds of things by democracy then. So for me it’s not utopian in the sense of a vision that has ever been or will ever be achieved, but it is utopian in the sense that we need to be envisioning better futures in order to have better practices.
Jay: It’s interesting to hear you say that you would write ahead to your informants and say that you are interested in questions of race, gender, etc. You have a series of questions, but you also want to allow yourself to be surprised by things.
Yeah. I’m just always surprised in oral history. I always know that I’m going to be surprised. What I’m worried about, and the reason I have questions I ask everyone, is when you end up with a whole bunch of oral histories where you don’t have any questions that you asked everyone, then you really can’t make any kinds of generalizations. It’s very difficult. But you can say, “I asked everybody this.” I can say I asked everybody if military women were on the dance floor, and most people said yes, but most of the military women said no. That tells us something! And if I didn’t ask everybody that question then I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know if the people weren’t thinking of military women when they were talking to me, etc. You know, “were there people of color on the dance floor?” “Was there integrated dancing?” Most of the white people say, “absolutely, everybody was welcome, everybody had a great time.” And then most of the people of color say, “well actually, we were allowed in but . . .” So without having a praxis that got me to do that with every interviewee I wouldn’t have that. But I do like the surprise, and I do really like going on the journey. I like asking the question and then trying follow and initiate the dance.
Jay: I’d like to hear more about what the dance scholarship brought to your methodology.
The dance scholars really helped me be a better oral historian. I don’t see my use of dance in this book as a metaphor. I see it as praxis. I see it as a methodology. I think that oral history is more like a dance, which allows me to think in terms other than “narrator” and “interpreter.” For me it’s more metaphor to call oral history a narrative than to call it a dance. Narrative is a part of it. But it’s also performance, it’s rapport building, it’s people reading each other.
Karim: Does going to the archives differ in that sense? It seems as though there’s a more linear sense of transcription or time in terms of your reporting or your research vs the oral history that gives you that sense of torque where there’s this constant motion. Is that the difference you see between an archival history and an oral history?
I don’t actually. The dance scholars, and improvisation and performance studies scholars also helped me be a better archival researcher. I felt like I also experienced torque in the archives, drawing from Diana Taylor in thinking about the archive and the repertoire as interconnected. The archive is not static or linear. I could ask for this box instead of that box and I’ve got four hours, and then I’ve got to get on a plane. So the choices I make in that moment, the responses I make to what I see are definitely turning me in different directions than I would be otherwise. And then the other thing about that is the immediacy of language in some kinds of documents. It’s sometimes more urgent and more immediate than somebody reflecting back and trying to remember something that happened a long time ago with somebody they’ve just met. So reading the diary entry somebody wrote the night they got home from dancing is really different than somebody saying, “Oh, yes, I danced every Wednesday.”
Karim: As you were talking about the Hollywood Canteen, and embodiment, and the perspective of dance, I was thinking in terms of the soldiers coming back from the war, in terms of disability. Did people bring that up in the interviews? How did that come into relation to talking about the dance?
It did come up quite a bit. A lot of the volunteers talked about the sadness of the Hollywood Canteen. That was one way that people pulled away from the nostalgia. They said they had to act like they were happy, but it was actually pretty sad. Many of the women said that a lot of times the young men they would meet would come back later with injuries, or that they would keep in touch with the families and would get word that the soldiers had been killed. A lot of injured soldiers did come to the Hollywood Canteen. One woman told me she stopped being a hostess when her husband came home with a disability and she needed to stay home to take care of him. So that was very much a part of it. It also came up in the film archives. I went through all the behind the scenes archival materials about the making of the film Hollywood Canteen. How to represent soldiers with disabilities was actually a debate at that time, and it changed with different periods of the war. There are a couple moments that end up getting cut out of the film that show soldiers with disabilities. On the other hand, there’s this really ridiculous narrative part of the film, where the soldiers have injuries in the beginning of the film, and then they go to the Hollywood Canteen and their injuries are cured! [Everyone laughs.] One of the characters has a cane, and he dances with Ida Lupino and Janis Paige, and leaves his cane on the dance floor. He goes back to the barracks, and he suddenly realizes, “I can walk again!” So the representation of soldiers with lasting disabilities literally wasn’t allowed because that would make people depressed and less supportive of the war effort, but they do allow this kind of storyline where starlets can make disabilities go away.
Karim: There’s a disjunction between what you see in a performance versus all the physical work that goes into sustaining the means of subsistence, which is not only the know-how in terms of learning your instrument, but it’s also keeping up your body. You put that in relation to the kind of work environment that the musicians are put under, which is constantly being on the road. One starts to understand that maintaining the body in relation to labor is a very central category when talking about this.
Jay: It’s like another layer of precariousness. Especially if you think about the fingers, etc. These are very vulnerable parts of the body.
I was at the Oral History Association conference one year, and Robin D.G. Kelley was on a panel on jazz and oral history, and somebody asked a question about how much musicians talk about drugs in oral histories. Robin said, “everyone wants to talk about musicians and drugs, but nobody wants to talk about musicians and health care, such as the number of musicians that die of preventable diseases and in car accidents.” So illegal drugs are sensationalized, even romanticized, in some kinds of jazz discourse, but not placed within a broader precariousness of health care issues for musicians who work on the road, who are freelance, who don’t get sick leave, who can’t afford to not play when injured, etc.; all of which disproportionately affects musicians affected by racism, under-employment, etc. And I think that disability studies is bringing a lot to music studies that is going to be very helpful. I’ve been reading Alex Lubet’s book Music, Disability and Society, in which he talks about classical music as a kind of musical culture that disables musicians in all kinds of ways. The whole construction of the perfect body that doesn’t make mistakes is a highly disabling construct. It produces musicians who cannot and will not talk about their injuries, which yields a lack of labor protections.
Jay: I saw that you’re teaching a course on embodiment. How does the performance studies scholarship come into that? I haven’t read The Archive and the Repertoire, but I know of it, and it seems like a way of talking about the mind/body nexus in a new way.
Well, I’m very interested in research on embodiment and performance, but also on research asembodied and improvisational. I’ve been involved in a few projects along these lines. One is the Melba Liston Research Collective. This has been one of the most wonderful, exciting things I’ve ever done. The collective consists of me, Tammy Kernodle, Lisa Barg, Monica Hairston O’Connell, and Dee Spencer. We had each been attracted to writing about Melba but hadn’t pursued it for various reasons. She’s so complex, and she left us really so little to go on in some ways and so much in others. Hers is a challenging archive. She didn’t leave any personal papers to speak of, but she left 44 boxes of scores and lead sheets at the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago. I’m not a musicologist, so when I first saw the collection, I was like, “I want to write about her but I can’t make sense of this.” In conversations over the years I found other people who felt the same way. It was through that kind of encounter that Tammy, Lisa, Dee, and I decided we wanted to work together. We also wanted to develop a different kind of collaborative research praxis. We wanted to pool our different approaches and expertise and go to the archive together. We wanted to work together, and play music while we did it. We wanted to be loud! [Everyone laughs.] And so we did.
We were very fortunate in that Monica was director of the Center for Black Music Research and that she also wanted to do more with Melba’s collection. She loved the idea of the collective and helped us actualize our dream. She wound up joining the collective later on. It was thrilling all being in the archive together. Dee had worked for a time as Melba’s copyist, so she could understand her shorthand in the scores. The idea was that our research was going to be improvisational and collaborative, and we had to figure out how to do it. We were going to use our differences as strengths, and we were going to go together and improvise. So we got some help from Ajay Heble’s research initiative, Improvisation Community and Social Practice (ICASP) — Lisa and I were both members — and we got help from the Center for Black Music Research. Monica arranged for us to get a gig teaching at the Straight Ahead Jazz Camp for Music Educators, which was also fun for all of us to be teaching together at something like this, instead of being like the one woman who comes in to teach a gender day. It was a blast! When we went into the archive, none of us knew what we were going to write about, what we were going to do. We’d work all day together, we’d have dinner and we’d talk about what we learned. We created strategies and parameters for the next day, and we’d work like improvisers. We did a special issue of the Black Music Research Journal on Melba Liston. So that’s been really fun. It really comes from our work and conversations and all of our attention I think that because we were all women doing feminist jazz studies, we had had experiences in the archives as well that really made this very pleasurable for us to go in and have a different experience than we’d had.
I also have been part of a project with Pauline Oliveros for several years. She and I were both part of the “Improvisation, Gender, and the Body Research Area” of ICASP. She brought this amazing project to the group to see if we wanted to do research on it. It’s called the Adaptive Use Musical Instrument, or AUMI. It’s a free software interface that turns any computer with a camera into a musical instrument that adapts to all bodies. Pauline’s philosophy is always about expanding the improvising community. The AUMI was first designed for people with very narrow range of mobility, but it has been great for people with all kinds of bodies and abilities and mobilities. I got really involved in this instrument, and I’ve been doing research on it, doing mixed ability improvisation performances as a way of continuing to explore my questions about music and communities-of-difference.
Finally, I’ve enjoyed teaching a series of graduate seminars at University of Kansas where my graduate students, who typically come from American Studies and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, have a relationship with students taking Dance Improvisation from Michelle Heffner Hayes, Dance Professor at University of Kansas. Michelle is an amazing flamenco and improvisation scholar-practitioner, and a truly great collaborator. We have had a blast bringing her undergraduate dance majors together with my graduate students. The dance undergrads aren’t expecting to discuss readings with grad students, and the non-dance major grad students are definitely not expecting to dance. We improvise together, read together, dance together, and we learn a lot from each other. I have my students try to write from their bodies — “My body at my computer,” “My body in the archive,” etc. I really think that it’s very helpful to scholarship to attend to that. It makes us more creative and aware of our choices. It makes us better improvisers.
Jay: With the Melba Liston collective, you said that as feminist scholars you’d had certain experiences in the archives, and that the collective offered a different kind of experience. What did you mean?
I should just speak for myself. There was a kind of skepticism that some of us came through that was very hard to deal with. When I was doing research for Swing Shift, I was constantly being told that there wouldn’t be anything. “Oh there were no women,” or “Well, you know, the women weren’t real musicians.” I was constantly being told that by people who I considered to be authorities. I was also spoken to a lot as though I didn’t know anything about Jazz. It got tiresome. There are of course wonderful archivists who never did that. Bruce Raeburn at the Hogan Jazz Archive in New Orleans is somebody who was always open, and someone who knew a lot about women in jazz, and parts of jazz history that don’t get written about all the time. But I did encounter a lot of people who thought I was just wishing for something that wasn’t there, and they had to break the news to me that I should just do something else. I had a pretty prominent jazz historian (I won’t say who) tell me, “I’m sorry we don’t divide up our collection by gender.” [Everyone laughs.] Is that what I asked? I guess no one can write about trumpet players because you don’t divide up your collection by instrument? It just didn’t make any sense.
When Swing Shift came out, I was on the job market. I had an adjunct position. I was torn apart for that book when it first came out. There was a jazz studies research listserv. People who hadn’t even read the book started ripping into it, and others, thankfully, were defending it. But it was very strange, because I was a pretty new scholar, and all these people that I was completely in awe of were treating me like this controversial figure who either hallucinated jazz history or as someone who was saying that everybody should write about gender. And I did want everybody to write about gender — I was saying that — but I wasn’t at a moment in my career where I was really prepared to become a symbol for a claim that people would fight about. I felt like the straw feminist of jazz studies. This had pros and cons — I got wonderful opportunities from people who wanted feminist theory more in evidence in jazz studies. But one of the cons was that it often meant standing alone. And there were others of us out there and we had to find each other and figure out how to create a more expansive space that could accommodate more than one of us at a time. So being in a different moment, where Monica is the director of a major archive, and Tammy, Lisa, and Dee and I show up on the same day, and Monica understands what we want to do because she’s also been doing this work and wanting this to happen, and nobody is questioning the research we want to do or our desire to do it together, was, for me, a wonderful, wonderful moment. I really felt a shift on what could happen on the dance floor of jazz studies, if that isn’t too corny to say.
Karim Wissa is a graduate student in Literature at Duke University, currently exploring the historical connections between New Orleans Social Aid and Pleasure clubs and the Paris Commune.
Jay Hammond is a graduate student in Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. His dissertation research examines historical and contemporary patterns of circulation between New York, New Orleans and Appalachia among early jazz musicians.