This introductory chapter begins with a discussion of the purpose of the book, which focuses the arguments and debates that defined the scope of jazz as an aesthetic practice, a social community, and an economic livelihood — that is, what people fought about as well as agreed upon. Many of these arguments were about race and racism, even when the ostensible subject of discussion was something else, like harmonic choices or swinging. The aim is not only to capture the multiple points of view expressed about music and politics, but also to understand the social and musical logic that informed them. It also discusses the structural significance of Jim Crow policies for the musical world, legal definitions of race, cultural hybridity, Black nationalism, how issues of race mediated between the aesthetic and political views of the modern, and the growth of African American studies since the 1960s.
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