Jazz improvisation as situated cognition: historical and analytical perspectives on the music of Milt Jackson

Gagatsis, Alexander Christos (2018) Jazz improvisation as situated cognition: historical and analytical perspectives on the music of Milt Jackson. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Abstract

This thesis examines the life and music of vibraphonist Milt Jackson as a form of situated cognition. Situated cognition theory, or situated learning, argues for the ecological specificity of perception: namely that knowledge is situated in activity bound to social, cultural and physical contexts. My study brings such a perspective to mid-twentieth-century jazz practice with the view of bringing to the fore a certain cultural knowledge with regards to the practice and expression of jazz in the 1940s and 1950s, and to highlight important parts of its knowledge base as these are evident in the musical outputs of Jackson. In so doing, this thesis also attempts to offer the first substantial historical account of Jackson’s upbringing in Detroit, based on detailed archival research, and highlight some of the influential environments to which he was exposed. Typical of his generation, Jackson forged diverse musical influences into a personal sonic signature; in this development, the Detroit communities were highly instrumental.

In the analytical section I examine a selection of Jackson’s recorded performances and identify the recurrence of stylistic devices, patterns and schemata, as well as perceived gesture, in his improvisations. My findings reveal a certain cultural knowledge with regards to the practice and expression of jazz in the 1940s and 1950s, and allow me to demonstrate that some of Jackson’s performing strategies were culturally specific, historically contingent, and predicated on statistical learning. My focus on examining choices made by Jackson and his peers in their use of musical language, as well as my subsequent emphasis on the recognition, transformation, and categorisation of musical material, has larger implications. Throughout, I engage with the notion of invented traditions and theories of cultural (collective) memories, and propose that a study of jazz in terms of concrete moves in forms of improvisation may help us understand how jazz improvisation is constantly redefined, and how different modes of relationships between past and present affect its performance practice. This methodology offers systematic analysis of embodied knowledge and experience, of imagined worlds, metaphors, allegories and the valuations of social significance and personal affect.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Cooke, Mervyn
Ó Briain, Lonán
Keywords: Jazz, Improvisation, Schemata, Patterns, Milt Jackson,
Subjects: M Music and Literature on music > ML Literature of music
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of Humanities
Item ID: 51736
Depositing User: Gagatsis, Alexandre Christos
Date Deposited: 24 Aug 2018 13:58
Last Modified: 07 May 2020 17:31
URI: http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/51736

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