Jazz and Gay Culture
February 22, 2003 7:43 PM   Subscribe

Are Jazz And Gay Culture Antithetical? When an American friend of mine told me recently that gay men hate jazz, although that's not my experience in my part of the world, it got me thinking. But the article I found, by Francis Davis, only added to the mystery. Is the audience for Jazz overwhelmingly and creepily white, bourgeois, straight, macho and middle-aged (which, embarrassingly, just about describes this Jazz fan...)? If it is, why the hell is it? Why are there so few outed gay Afro-American musicians, for instance? Is there still a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" mentality? Or, more interestingly, does it have something to do with Jazz itself? Or even being gay? And what about the other musical stereotypes (Garland, Streisand et al.) used in caricatures of gay men? Is there anything in them? [NYT reg. required for main link; atrocious text garbling in the second.]
posted by MiguelCardoso (31 comments total)
Why are there so few outed gay Afro-American musicians, for instance?

Well, going from Parliament album cover liner notes and music biz gossip--Gay Parker Jr?
posted by y2karl at 7:50 PM on February 22, 2003

What about the P-Funk tune: "Jimmy's Got a Little Bit Of Bitch In Him", prolly the first gay themed R&B number?
posted by jonmc at 8:08 PM on February 22, 2003

Oops, I forgot to post the first 50 songs of Robert Nishikawa's list of the Top 100 Songs of Popular Gay Culture, linked under "musical stereotypes".
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:10 PM on February 22, 2003

Why are there so few outed gay Afro-American musicians, for instance?
Probably most black men find it unbearable being discriminated against twice as much. Remember Billy Strayhorn.
Although jazz has had its share of deviants of all sorts, I suspect homosexuals may not feel very attracted to the jazz world simply because it is too stolid, colorless and Reader's digest-like; perhaps it reminds them of the larger establishment that pushes gays to the fringes of society.
posted by 111 at 8:10 PM on February 22, 2003

I'm curious if the NYT writer (Mr. Davis) isn't going out on a limb for a story where perhaps there is little to report. "Gay Culture" and "Jazz" are not antithetical by definition at all, and that is just for beginners. Does he not embrace either in his restrictive semblances?
To mention, briefly, his question whether discretion equals homophobia is near ignorant (unless, of course, he isn't familiar with the suggestions of homophobia, either).
Which is not to say I didn't enjoy this post (I have yet to get to the other links). But such a potentially heated article as supper is being served is cruel (emoticon of choice).
posted by G_Ask at 8:11 PM on February 22, 2003

Well, the beats sure seemed to love jazz.
posted by raysmj at 8:12 PM on February 22, 2003

Kiki and Herb played for years at the same club as the Mingus Big Band. Chris Connor (gay) and Anita O'Day (straight) shared the same stage in that club, too. I'm sure there are as many examples for the other side of the argument, though.
posted by bcwinters at 8:24 PM on February 22, 2003

The article seems to present a very narrow definition of jazz, the jazz that was new 50 years ago and since then is the rehashing of the old (more or less). Among the avantgarde jazz musicians I have met / performed with gaylessness doesn't seem to be the case - there are plenty of gays in these circles. What gives?
posted by bokononito at 8:26 PM on February 22, 2003

As is Miguel's personal experience, bokononito, he linked to the NYT bit to piss us (who have had such dissimilar experiences) off. Rascal!
posted by G_Ask at 8:33 PM on February 22, 2003

Hey, you can't have jazz without first having some (j)ass.
posted by WolfDaddy at 11:00 PM on February 22, 2003

Good point, bokononito...there are so many different types of jazz. Hard jazz, soft jazz, fusion, bebop, swing jazz, etc. I think this is a non-issue -- but I'm not too hip to the jazz scene anyway.
posted by davidmsc at 11:02 PM on February 22, 2003

Yeah, uh huh, all of the Billie Holiday fans out there are straight.
posted by Nelson at 11:07 PM on February 22, 2003

Is the audience for Jazz overwhelmingly and creepily white, bourgeois, straight, macho and middle-aged (which, embarrassingly, just about describes this Jazz fan...)?

Don't worry, Miguel. You're not that macho.

I think bokononito is on the right track. If gays are more prevalent in the avant-garde--well, they'll be just where they've always been.
posted by hippugeek at 11:22 PM on February 22, 2003

Hmmm.. from reading Mefi today, all I've learned about the gay community is that they don't like Jazz, but they love Star Trek. Must continue this fascinating research... how does the gay community feel about office supplies?
posted by jonson at 12:03 AM on February 23, 2003

I believe Koop are gay, though they could just be really european. Jazz in Europe is more integrated (musically and socially) into the club culture; that probably helps.
posted by Tlogmer at 12:11 AM on February 23, 2003

bokononito: You may be right that there are more gays in avant garde circles, but I don't think it was unreasonable for the article to ignore a movement that is really on the fringes of jazz, both in terms of the size of its audience and its musical idioms. The article is talking about the jazz "culture" which almost by definition is going to focus on the mainstream. I like avant garde jazz myself, but if you thumb through an issue of Downbeat or Jazz Times, or glance at who's headlining at the big NYC jazz clubs in the next month, you're not going to find many truly avant garde artists.

Also, there are lots of jazz musicians out that that are making great music that doesn't "rehash" anything who are also not within the avant garde. Check out him, him, him and him, if you don't believe me.
posted by boltman at 12:27 AM on February 23, 2003

Can you extend this analogy to include the Jam-band scene? I haven't seen too many of The Gays listening to the Phish much, either.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:30 AM on February 23, 2003

how does the gay community feel about office supplies?

Florescent pink Post-its rule.
posted by y2karl at 6:09 AM on February 23, 2003

Civil_Disobedient: I give you Brian & Robert.
posted by muckster at 6:48 AM on February 23, 2003

The distinction between jazz styles (and traditions) seems apposite. As someone said in the third link:

"The maleness of the jazz audience and the pervasive machismo of the scene is actually pretty interesting, too (not to mention frustrating). The"avant" scene seems somewhat more fluid in this area (as well as racially and, um, genderly.) Though the fans are still pretty male."

I wonder whether the fact that traditional jazz audiences (in clubs and such) are predominantly traditional (boring, white, middle-aged and -class) has anything to do with it.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:10 AM on February 23, 2003

It is well-known that straights can be "turned out" to gayness by listening to jazz for extended periods of time. This has been well documented going back to Holliday's Strange Fruit song
posted by Postroad at 7:39 AM on February 23, 2003

What? Jazz is middle-aged and white-bread? Hmmm. I keep thinking of it as a genre that has very Afro-American roots and of innovations that come from Latin America and Brazil and stuff.
posted by namespan at 9:57 AM on February 23, 2003

Spend any time in an arts school and you will find that there are plenty of gay males in the choir, the orchestra, the dance department, and the theater department, of course. There may be a few gay artists and writers. But if you're a girl looking for a straight guy, the jazz band is the place to go. (The jazz musicians are also typically the least likely to be stellar students.)

As a straight jazz musician, I wouldn't have a clue why this is the case...ask a fish about water, why doncha...but I think there is something about the nature of improvising music on stage that straight males take a liking to. Further amateurish psychological speculation would make me sound like an ignorant, sexist, homophobic asshole, so I'll shut up now.
posted by kozad at 10:12 AM on February 23, 2003

Marge: "Lisa, stay away from that Jazz man"
posted by clavdivs at 10:51 AM on February 23, 2003

Well, I guess I'm the exception to prove the rule or something, cuz I'm a gay man and a big fan of jazz vocalist Kurt Elling. I also like Diana Krall, Holly Cole, Patricia Barber, early Miles Davis, and lots of old classic jazz like Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, etc. True, I'm not a fan of some of the more recent "avant-garde" jazz that sounds just as noisy as heavy metal does. I listen to people talk about it, like on NPR, and they talk about "how well these two guys play off each other in this piece" - but all I hear are clashing notes as if they're not paying attention to each other at all, just four guys on a stage playing different songs. Ugh. Gimme that glassic style, like Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue."
posted by dnash at 8:26 PM on February 23, 2003

Damn..that last line should be "classic" style. oops.
posted by dnash at 8:27 PM on February 23, 2003

Provocative thesis, Miquel. I will now proceed to demolish it in two words: James Baldwin.

In the transitional Another Country, Baldwin attempted to evoke the bohemian world through a sequence of riffs and montages, fractured forms that express the brilliance and movement of improvisation. The late-night world of jazz clubs, endless talk, and sexuality - this is the milieu that Baldwin depicts, but he debunks the popular representations of bohemian elan, extending his public argument with Mailer here through the novel form instead of the polemical essay. Baldwin contends that white liberals' celebration of jazz as a form of oppositional cultural power has in effect robbed black bohemianism of its vanguard potential, holding it hostage to the misguided hero-worship of white consumer culture.

Positions like Mailer's construct the black musician as stud, making his artistic authority a function of his sexual potency, a rhetorical move that epitomizes unconscious liberal racism. For Baldwin, the black musician is the intellectual, the restless experimenter who takes apart dominant musical forms and recasts them; the sexual lionizing of the black musician merely appropriates him for white consumption, and, Baldwin warns, if black musicians embrace this myth, they will be destroyed by it, as demonstrated by the case of Rufus Scott, the tragic character at the center of Another Country.

Next provocative thesis?
posted by mediareport at 10:24 PM on February 23, 2003

Wow, mediareport, that stuff on Baldwin is fascinating, and it ends up speaking to the division in hip hop between "gangstas" and "playas" and "conscious" rappers...
posted by eustacescrubb at 9:10 AM on February 24, 2003

Damn, now that you mention it, eustacescrubb, you're right.

Er, I mean, "Yes, of course, how sharp of you to notice it as well!"

[Oh, and sorry Miguel/Miquel!]
posted by mediareport at 10:56 AM on February 24, 2003

I believe Koop are gay, though they could just be really european

posted by Mocata at 11:40 AM on February 24, 2003

/me knocks mediareport over the head with a hardback edition of "Go Tell It On The Mountain" for ruining his thesis yet again.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:59 PM on February 24, 2003

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