Intertextuality and the Construction of Meaning in Jazz Worlds: A Case Study of Joe Farrell’s “Moon Germs”

Andrew J. Kluth


(Opening paragraph): 

In this article, I invoke the concept of intermusicality as defined by Ingrid Monson and develop its role in meaning-making in musical worlds. Her groundbreaking book, Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction (1996) offers a sophisticated criticism of jazz improvisation and the construction of meaning therein. In doing so, it explores methods by which to nuance and/or rupture traditional historiographies that construct the jazz canon. More than intermusicality, though, I look to a more general intertextuality as a hermeneutic window disruptive to the “great man” histories that have so often heretofore constructed the jazz tradition. I argue that the notion of intertextuality is particularly useful in mediating questions of essentialism in jazz (racial or otherwise) with considerations of practical competency and an artist’s particular situatedness in that body of texts. Working against positivist taxonomies resultant in definitions of what is/is not jazz, this perspective leaves space for the refiguring work of novelty and experimentation requisite therein. This resonates with Steven B. Elworth’s (1995) claim: “Far from being an unchanging and an easily understood historical field, the jazz tradition is a constantly transforming construction” (58). In my suspicion of linear ideas of history and “progress” (and therefore, telos), I prefer to interrogate and ratify instead the complicated relationship of novelty to tradition. The negotiation of these meta-categories is at the heart of the work improvising musicians do; combining disparate ways of being in the world with musical ideas and practices to create new musico-sociocultural wholes.

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