The Challenge of the Changing Same: The Jazz Avant-Garde of the 1960s, the Black Aesthetic and the Black Arts Movement

  • Jason Robinson
Keywords: Jazz Avant-garde Movement, Black Arts Movement


This essay focuses on the relationship between writers associated with the Black Arts Movement in the United States and the experimental directions in jazz that occurred during the 1960s, the decade generally associated with the evolution of the Black Arts Movement as well as the rise of the jazz avant-garde. The emergent experimentalism in the music centered on transgressive and innovative uses of improvisation that led to new approaches, sounds and interpretive meanings. While it is necessary to understand that both poetry and music of the 1960s were important sites where hegemonic processes were contested, it is equally important to draw out differences in the strategies of various black artists. Throughout this period, the attitudes, values, and goals of black artists were anything but monolithic. Instead, the interrelated worlds of black literature and musical experimentalism created a dialogic space that encouraged interrogation, innovation and articulation of new artistic ideas. Within this environment, “black music” took on heterotopic meanings; rather than a rigid, collectivized notion of “black identity” in music, the Black Arts Movement and the jazz avant-garde were marked by multiple, sometimes competing, conceptions of artistic identity. In most cases, the musicians stridently resisted any single narrative of racial and socio-aesthetic identity. The essay clarifies the complex critical positions of those involved with the Black Arts Movement and the jazz avant-garde, while challenging the possibility of any one unifying narrative about this improvised, processual music.

Author Biography

Jason Robinson
Jason Robinson is a Ph.D. Candidate in Music in the Critical Studies and Experimental Practices program at the University of California, San Diego. His recent work has focused on improvised music, the Black Arts Movement, Jamaican popular music, the Harlem Renaissance, and the San Diego-based Trummerflora Collective. As a saxophonist, Robinson has performed/recorded with Peter Kowald, Anthony Davis, George Lewis, Vinny Golia, Eugene Chadbourne, Lisle Ellis, Gerry Hemingway, J.D. Parran, Bertram Turetzky, Marco Eneidi, and others. He teaches at the University of California, Irvine in African-American Studies and the University of California, San Diego in Music and directs the Afro-Cuban Jazz Ensemble at Southwestern College in San Diego.