Alan Stanbridge

Rhythm Changes: Jazz, Culture, Discourse

Stanbridge’s new book, Rhythm Changes: Jazz, Culture, Discourse, takes its title from the expression used by jazz musicians to refer to the ubiquitous chord changes of George and Ira Gershwin’s celebrated song, ‘I Got Rhythm’, from the 1930 Broadway musical Girl Crazy. The book offers a unique perspective on the history and development of jazz, addressing the music, its makers, and its social and cultural contexts, as well as the various discourses – especially those of academic analysis and journalistic criticism – that have served to influence the creation, interpretation, and reception of this distinctive cultural form.

Tackling a diverse series of issues, encompassing race, class, nationalism, authenticity, irony, parody, genre, musical meaning, romanticism, gender, art, commercialism, technology, sound recording, and musical form and style, the book adopts a radically contextualist viewpoint on artistic and cultural practices, suggesting new ways of thinking and talking about jazz and its history. In addition to his own provocative insights, Stanbridge challenges many established scholarly approaches in the field, whether those of analytical formalism, cultural elitism, critical idealism, or national and racial exceptionalism, providing a much-needed and long-overdue intervention in the current academic orthodoxies of Jazz Studies research.

Employing multiple, wide-ranging, but carefully chosen case studies, from nineteenth century literature, through 1930s Broadway and film, to twentieth and twenty-first century jazz and popular music, Stanbridge cites over seven hundred recordings and eighty films and television shows throughout the text, making cultural connections and finding discursive parallels across an eclectic array of musical, cinematic, and literary examples: from George Gershwin to Derek Bailey; from Walt Whitman to Dizzy Gillespie; from Girl Crazy to The Walking Dead; from George Russell to Julie Andrews; from Benny Goodman to Ray Bradbury; from Gold Diggers of 1933 to The Twilight Zone; from Vladimir Mayakovsky to Miles Davis; from Mary Shelley to Frank Sinatra; from Porgy and Bess to What’s Opera, Doc?; from Richard Rodgers to Willem Breuker; from Busby Berkeley to Tubby Hayes; from Frankenstein to The Sound of Music; from Igor Stravinsky to Johnny Cash; from Enrico Caruso to John Coltrane; from West Side Story to Westworld; from Hank Williams to Evan Parker; and from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Keith Jarrett.

The book will be of particular interest to scholars, researchers, and students in the fields of Jazz Studies, Popular Music Studies, Cultural Studies, Sociology, Musicology, Ethnomusicology, American Studies, Improvisational Studies, Performance Studies, and Film Studies. Written in an engaging and accessible style, with richly documented case studies and examples, the book will also have considerable appeal for a broader audience of jazz and contemporary music enthusiasts, music journalists, cultural critics, music industry executives, and arts and cultural policy makers. In addition, the book will serve as a valuable teaching tool, with six thematically-linked but stand-alone chapters that can be employed in a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate courses in cultural studies, music, arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Rhythm Changes: Jazz, Culture, Discourse is available from Routledge, and can also be purchased on Amazon.

Rhythm Changes - Reviews

The first review of Rhythm Changes: Jazz, Culture, Discourse appeared in the September 2023 issue of Jazzwise, the popular English jazz magazine, courtesy of Alyn Shipton – broadcaster, bassist, teacher, editor, critic, and author of multiple books on jazz, including his recent work on Gerry Mulligan’s 1950s quartets (reviewed by Brian Priestley in the same issue).

Alyn’s review is extremely positive, and really captures the spirit of my work. A few choice quotations:
“[Stanbridge’s] experience makes him unusual among those academics who theorise about jazz, as he has first-hand knowledge both of the business, and of numerous musicians who have shaped the music over the last quarter century. Consequently this book… treads a careful and fascinating course between theory and thoroughly grounded research.”
“Rhythm Changes is a hugely detailed and closely-argued 300-page book… [making] it an absorbing and fascinating read.”
“For a compelling and down-to-earth investigation of jazz and cultural theory, this book is a very welcome addition to the literature.”

Many thanks to Jazzwise for their permission to reproduce the full review here.

Rhythm Changes: Jazz, Culture, Discourse was the subject of a colourful full-page feature in the Winter 2024 edition of Informed, the Alumni Magazine of the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. Many thanks to Editor Ann Brocklehurst for such a nice piece, and to Ann and Communications Coordinator Ruth Hobbis for pulling the whole thing together!

The book is accompanied by extensive online music playlists and film clips – multimedia extras that enhance the book’s broad
readership appeal and wide-ranging educational utility. The album covers below are a selection from the Rhythm Changes Playlists.

Go to the Rhythm Changes Playlists page to listen to over 550 tracks on Spotify – the vast majority of the musical examples mentioned in the book.
Go to the Rhythm Changes Playlists 2 page to listen to over 100 additional tracks on YouTube and Bandcamp and to watch excerpts from movies.

Rhythm Changes – Chapters • Abstracts • Sub-Headings • Case Studies

Introduction: The Persistence of Authenticity  [Abstract]

Chapter 1 – The Challenge of the Past:
Jazz, Parody, and Jazz Discourse  [Abstract]
•  They Brainwash and Teach You Hate: From Parody to Protest
•  It Ain’t Necessarily So: From Caricature to Celebration
•  In a Sentimental Mood: From Ridicule to Romanticism
Case studies and examples include: Charles Mingus; Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers; Bobby Watson; George Gershwin; Archie Shepp; Bill Dixon; West Side Story; Leonard Bernstein; Antonio Carlos Jobim; Duke Ellington

Chapter 2 – A Few of My Favorite Things:
Analyzing Jazz, Interpreting Irony, Assessing Value  [Abstract]
•  “Saying Something”: Coltrane, Irony, and ‘My Favorite Things’
•  “White Things,” Black Things, and a Few Other Things
•  “Undeniable Qualities”: Homage, Value-For, and Ideological Hegemony
•  “Myriad Subtleties,” Bebop Parody, and the Question of Context
•  “We’re in the Money”: Irony, Complexity, and Social Normativity
Case studies and examples include: The Sound of Music; John Coltrane; Bing Crosby; Richard Rodgers; Oscar Hammerstein II; South Pacific; Frank Sinatra; Dizzy Gillespie; Girl Crazy; Ethel Merman; Gold Diggers of 1933; Busby Berkeley

Chapter 3 – My Only Sunshine:
Jazz, Country Music, George Russell, and Musical Meaning 
•  Way Out West: From Cowhand Sonny to Dangerous Davey
•  Cowboy Favorites: Jazz Meets Country Music
•  You Are My Sunshine: From Singing Cowboys to Gassed Soulsters
•  Happy Endings: George Russell Meets ‘You Are My Sunshine’
•  Sunshine Redux: From Kiddies Songs to Kitchen Appliances
Case studies and examples include: Sonny Rollins; Dave Pell; Ed Summerlin; Gary Burton; Jimmie Davis; Kitty Kallen; The Three Sounds; George Russell; Sheila Jordan; Don Cherry; Patricia Barber; Ran Blake; Johnny Cash

Chapter 4 – Divine Revelations:
Keith Jarrett, Acoustic Authenticity, and Romantic Genius  [Abstract]
•  Fun With Toys: Miles, Electricity, and Acoustic Relief
•  A Blazing Forth of a Divine Will: Blank Slates, Claptrap, and Emphysemic Goats
•  Body and Soul: Sacred Space, the State of Grace, and Everyday Ecstasy
•  Blessed With Genius: The Flame Itself, the Man from Porlock, and the Heavenly Ostrich
•  Play On, Play On: Robert Bly, the Wild Man, and the Neglected Male Psyche
•  Touch the Soil: Elemental Instruments, Indian Country, and the Noble Savage
Case studies and examples include: Keith Jarrett; Ian Carr; Miles Davis; Mike Dibb; Keith Jarrett: The Art of Improvisation; Samuel Taylor Coleridge; Vladimir Mayakovsky; Robert Bly; Iron John: A Book About Men

Chapter 5 – The Body Electric:
Music, Machines, and Mechanical Reproduction  [Abstract]
•  I Sing the Body Electric: Aesthetic Materialism, Technological Humanism, and Electrical Grandmothers
•  Spark of Being: Frankenstein, Electricity, and the Merging of Text and Form
•  Undervaluing Overdubbing: Jazz, Spontaneity, and Recording Studio Trickery
•  Essential and Divine: Faithful Fidelity, Analogue Authenticity, and “exactly what was played”
•  Preserving Spontaneity: Free Improvisation, Live Performance, and the Paradox of Sound Recording
Case studies and examples include: Weather Report; Ray Bradbury; Walt Whitman; Dave Douglas; Bill Morrison; Spark of Being; Mary Shelley; Frankenstein; Lennie Tristano; Tubby Hayes; Bill Evans; Benny Goodman; Derek Bailey

Chapter 6 – Can Blue Men Sing the Whites?
African American Exceptionalism, European Stereotypes, and the
Jazz Studies Debate  [Abstract]
Getting to Know You: The ‘Afrological,’ the ‘Eurological,’ and the Illogical
•  The Anxiety of Affluence: Race, Class, and European ‘Privilege’
•  A Pan-European Conspiracy? Cultural Nationalism, Nativist Politics, and Foreign Competitors
•  The Emancipation Problem: African American Models and German Belligerents
•  A Delicate, Nuanced Approach? Humour, Improvisation, and Composer-Centred Music
•  Networks of Power: Whiteness, Erasure, and World Harmony
•  Postscript: Say It Loud, I’m British and I’m Proud
Case studies and examples include: Lester Bowie; Art Ensemble of Chicago; Misha Mengelberg; Alexander von Schlippenbach; Trevor Watts; Evan Parker; Willem Breuker; Derek Bailey; Lol Coxhill; AMM; Keith Tippett; John Stevens; Albert Mangelsdorff; John Surman; Tony Oxley; Barry Guy; Howard Riley