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Title: "Unmistakable": How Jazz Listeners Identify Style
Authors: O'Meara, Daniel
Advisors: Agawu, Kofi
Manabe, Noriko
Contributors: Music Department
Keywords: blindfold test
stylistic identification
Subjects: Music
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Almost exclusively, studies on musical improvisation focus on what the performer does—the process through which improvisation "happens." But how performers improvise is only one component of how improvisation reconfigures musical experience. Improvised music is not only created by performers. It is heard by listeners; they parse the musical texture and group certain passages together while comparing their own present and past musical experiences. In the context of an uncertain and transitory musical landscape, a listener makes choices—conscious or unconscious—in order to navigate through what he or she hears. For jazz improvisation, this navigation relies on signposts of style. Jazz listeners routinely gain an intimate knowledge of certain performers' styles (as reflected in cultural touchstones such as the long-running "Blindfold Test" column in Down Beat magazine). This familiarity extends to new, previously unheard improvisations, so that even within an unknown recording, a listener might recognize a familiar musical voice. How does a listener recognize a performer, even in an unfamiliar recording? This project addresses this question, first by probing the diverse ways in which listeners talk about stylistic identification, and then by developing models of listening and exploring these models' ramifications. Using an explicitly intertextual lens, the study compares similar-sounding moments (typically conceived in melodic parameters) from different recordings to explore the kinds of criteria that tie together disparate musical strands into a single improvisational formula, or "lick." Starting with the Down Beat blindfold tests, the first two chapters explore the range of interpretive approaches that listeners use for stylistic recognition. Although individual listeners’ responses are diverse, particular ways of listening recur across jazz cultures; these prevalent listening approaches correlate with jazz’s musical characteristics as well as its social and economic context. Chapters 3 and 4, drawing upon theories of categorization, suggest how a listener’s initial exposure to a performer’s style impacts the way subsequent music is heard and interpreted. The final chapter integrates these individualized listener processes into a shared culture of jazz listening, emphasizing how listeners use skills of stylistic recognition to parse influences and interpret musical meaning.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Music

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