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Title:Imaginings of Africa in the music of Miles Davis
Author(s):McNulty, Ryan S
Department / Program:Music
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Miles Davis
Abstract:Throughout jazz’s history, many American jazz musicians have alluded to Africa using both musical and extramusical qualities. In musicological literature that has sought out ties between American jazz and Africa, such as Ingrid Monson’s Freedom Sounds (2007) and Robyn Kelly’s Africa Speaks, America Answers (2012), the primary interest has thus far been in such connections that occurred in the 1950s and early 1960s with the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement and the liberation of several African countries. Among the most frequently discussed musicians in this regard are Art Blakey, Max Roach, and Randy Weston. In this thesis, I investigate the African influence reflected in the music of Miles Davis, a musician scantly recognized in this area of jazz scholarship. Using Norman Weinstein’s concept of “imaginings,” I identify myriad ways in which Davis imagined Africa in terms of specific musical qualities as well as in his choice of musicians, instruments utilized, song and album titles, stage appearance, and album artwork. Additionally (and often alongside explicit references to Africa), Davis signified African-ness through musical qualities and instruments from throughout the African diaspora and Spain, a country whose historical ties to North Africa allowed Davis to imagine the European country as Africa. Like other jazz musicians such as John Coltrane, Davis also incorporated Indian musical styles and instruments alongside African and Afrodiasporic elements to reflect an affinity between Africa and India as part of the emerging Global South. After broadly describing African musical characteristics and ideas on their survival throughout the African diaspora (most notably Paul Gilroy’s appropriation of Amiri Baraka’s concept of the “changing same”), I outline Davis’s imaginings of Africa, which began with 1959’s Kind of Blue and continued throughout the next thirty years before concluding with 1989’s Amandla. As Davis’s fusion period (the late 1960s to his “retirement” in 1975) reveals the greatest density of such allusions, I also discuss musicological scholarship that deals with this period more broadly, identifying the literature’s strengths, weaknesses, and biases. At the end of this chronological study, I examine Davis’s influence in regards to African imaginings by looking specifically at the music of Herbie Hancock, one of his most prolific and successful protégés. In terms of both Davis and Hancock, I argue that their music incorporates imaginings of Africa in ways both new and consistent with those deployed by the likes of Blakey, Roach, Weston, and other musicians more commonly discussed in this regard.
Issue Date:2015-04-24
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 Ryan McNulty
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-07-22
Date Deposited:May 2015

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