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Grins and Grimaces: Jazz Performance and the Face-Work of Drummers : Dana Gooley, Music Studies Colloquium
Performing Arts - Music | November 16 | 4:40-6 p.m. | 128 Morrison Hall
Dana Gooley, Associate Professor of Music, Brown University
In jazz performance, drummers and percussionists have long been a principal site of spectator focalization, second only to singers and instrumental soloists. In early jazz the percussionist, facing the audience and lacking any obstruction to the face, acted as a sort of comedian sporting an antic grin. During the swing era this grin was preserved by nearly every drummer although the elaborate percussion sets disappeared. At the same time Gene Krupa, drummer for Benny Goodman, introduced a variant of the drummers grin: a tortured grimace that, combined with copious perspiration, signified intensity, labor, even obsession. Krupas dionysian manner became wildly popular (he was brought forward to the front of the stage) and was widely emulated by drummers in both jazz and rock. In this article I consider how the grimace and grin tropes framed meanings for "jazz" and "rhythm," while at the same time destabilizing those meanings through the dynamism of performance. I further discuss how these tropes embodied negotiations of black and white identities. Exchanges and condensations of racial markers are especially clear in a comparison between Krupa and Count Basies drummer Jo Jones, a vigorous grinner. In fleshing out these problems I draw on Erving Goffmans notion of face work, which he uses to describe the maintenance of a consistent persona or impression of engagement over the course of a controlled social encounter. I further consider how televisual and cinematic media transformed "drum-face" into a performance convention taken up in non-jazz genres.
Reception follows colloquium
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