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Improvising Resistance: Jazz, Poetry, and the Black Arts Movement, 1960–1969



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Bateman, Richard Gethin  ORCID logo


This thesis is an interdisciplinary analysis of jazz music and poetry produced by African-American artists, primarily in New York, over the course of the 1960s, set within the broad context of the civil-rights and black-nationalist movements of the same period. Its principal contention is that the two forms afford each other symbiotic illumination. Close reading of jazz musicology in particular illuminates the directions taken by the literature of the period in a manner that has rarely been fully explored. By giving equal critical attention to the two artistic forms in relation to each other, the epistemological and social radicalism latent and explicit within them can more fully be understood.

Through this understanding comes also a greater appreciation of the effects that the art of this period had upon the politics of civil rights and black nationalism in America – effects which permeated wider culture during a decade in which significant change was made to the legal position of African-Americans within the United States, change forced by a newly, and multiply, vocalized African-American consciousness.

The thesis examines the methods by which jazz and literature contributed to the construction of new historically-constituted black subjectivities represented aurally, orally and visually. It looks at how the different techniques of each form converse with each other, and how they prompt consequential re-presentations and re cognizations of established forms from within and without their own continua. That examination is conducted primarily through forensic close readings of records made between 1960 and 1967, which though of widely differing styles nevertheless can be said to fall under the broad umbrella term of 'post-bop' jazz, alongside equally close readings of poetry written primarily by members of the New York wing of the equally broadly-termed Black Arts Movement [BAM] between 1964 and 1969.





Hrebeniak, Michael


Jazz, Poetry, Civil Rights, Black Arts Movement, Black Power, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Jayne Cortez, Steve Jonas, Don L. Lee/Haki Madhubuti, Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, American Literature, American Music


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge