At the Vanguard of Vinyl: A Cultural History of the Long-Playing Record in Jazz
At the Vanguard of Vinyl investigates the jazz industry's adoption of the long-playing record (LP), 1948-1960. The technological advancements of the LP, along with the incipient use of magnetic tape recording, made it feasible to commercially issue recordings running beyond the three-minute restrictions of the 78-rpm record. LPs began to feature extended improvisations, musical mistakes, musicians' voices, and other moments of informal music making, revolutionizing the standard recording and production methods of the previous recording era. As the visual and sonic modes of representation shifted, so too did jazz's relationship to white mainstream culture, Western European musical aesthetics, US political structures, and streams of Afro-modernism. Jazz, as an African American social and musical practice, became a form of resistance against the violent structures of institutional racism within the United States in the 1950s.
Using the records of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Cannonball Adderley, this study outlines the diverse approaches to record making that characterized the transitional years as the LP became the standard recording format. Through archival research, close listening, and detailed discographical analyses of the era's most influential record labels, I show how jazz practices and musical "mistakes" caught on record provided opportunities for recording experimentation. I examine choices made during the record production process, such as tape edits, microphone placement, overdubbing, and other sound processing effects, connecting such choices to the visual and tactile attributes of these discs. Drawing on scholarship that considers how sound reproduction technologies mediate constructions of race and ethnicity, I argue that the history of jazz in the 1950s is one of social engagement by means of and through technology. At the Vanguard of Vinyl is a cultural history of the jazz LP that underscores the ways in which record making is a vital process to music and its circulation.
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