Dialog and Self-Expression in Jazz

Authored by: Charles Hersch

The Routledge Companion to Jazz Studies

Print publication date:  December  2018
Online publication date:  December  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138231160
eBook ISBN: 9781315315805
Adobe ISBN:


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This essay uses Mikhail Bakhtin’s dialogic theories to explore the way jazz musicians engage in self-expression that is at the same time inseparable from their relationship to others. For Bakhtin, the self is rooted in the social world yet retains “unfinalizability”—our ability to shape ourselves. Bakhtin shows us both that jazz improvisation is a struggle to differentiate one’s own voice from others’ and that musicians find their own voice only in relation to others through dialog—with themselves, tradition, the audience, and other musicians. I argue that jazz, as a dialogic art form Bakhtin calls “polyphonic,” is particularly suited to the expression of the unfinalizable self, which requires a supportive group of equals.

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