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Ramanna, Nishlyn

Jazz as Discourse: A Contextualised Account of Contemporary Jazz in Post-Apartheid Durban and Johannesburg

Ph.D. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, 2005
(nishlyn@gmail.com)

This study offers an ethnographically contextualised close reading of the music played by three 'jazz' groups in eight concerts held in Durban and Johannesburg between June 1994 and December 2003. These performances were videotaped and then analysed with reference to 1) the compositional and improvisational techniques employed in the creation of the performances; 2) the stage behaviour of the musicians; 3) audience behaviour, and 4) the physical contexts in which the performances occurred. The performances constitute the primary texts on which this study is based. Secondary texts, in the form of discourse produced because of the concerts, are also examined. These take the form of open-ended interviews with thirteen participant musicians and twelve audience members. The primary and secondary texts are then compared with each other and situated within their broader musical and social contexts. This exploration of the ways in which social processes inhere in musical processes draws on a notion of expressive discourse as 1) a multifaceted practice in which textuality, subjectivity, place, history, and power function as interdependent parts of a complex social ecology and 2) a dialogically-constituted system of utterances. The study proposes that musical details articulate social meanings - and thus function as utterances - because of their dual existence within 1) systems of intra- and intertextual relationships and 2) processes of dialectical interaction between texts and socio-historical contexts. Building on this central premise, and combining close musical analysis with ethnography, the study then describes and theorises some of the micro and macro-narratives of race, gender, economy, nation, etc that find expression in the specific formal, timbral, harmonic, etc. characteristics of the compositions performed/received by the interviewed musicians and audience-members.