Sociologist Awarded NSF Grant to Study Jazz Repertoire
Robert Faulkner, professor of sociology, with Howard S. Becker, of the Chicago School of Sociology, has received a National Science Foundation Award for “Repertoire in Action among Jazz Musicians.” The project, to be supported with a $115,000 award, will run for two years.
Sociology studies how people combine individual lines of activity so they can produce coordinated collective action. Faulkner and Becker, who both are working jazz musicians in addition to their academic careers, are interested in how jazz musicians, who often are hired to work in temporary combinations, manage to play together for entire nights, generally without benefit of written scores and with a minimum of discussion or preparation. They perform well enough to satisfy their employers and, quite often, well enough to satisfy themselves. The researchers aim to answer how musicians do that.
Jazz is of analytic interest to social science research because a considerable degree of extemporization is not only permitted but also required. Recognizing that improvisation combines elements of organization and spontaneity, Faulkner and Becker will investigate the contingencies of playing professionally and preparing for performances. They are also interested in changes the music and the musicians undergo. Preliminary interviews with jazz musicians reveal that they possess a paradoxical combination of ritual and flexibility in their thinking, their playing and even their practicing.
The sociology of the arts, and the sociology of music in particular, are burgeoning. Even so, notable gaps exist. First, studies of music often treat music as an object (i.e., a recorded product) rather than an activity resulting from an individual line of effort. Second, those concerned with the “selection” (i.e., production) of music typically focus on the decision-making routines of non-musicians (e.g., recording firm personnel) rather than the aesthetic and pragmatic choices made by musicians. Third, musical content or repertoire is ironically absent from work in the sociology of music. Given these limitations, the sociology of music has not emphasized key aspects of music making and repertoire, particularly the processes of jazz repertoire this study addresses. The researchers will explore some of these contingencies using inductive methods.
The culmination of the data collection, local ethnography, and qualitative comparative analysis will result in conference presentations and professional articles, and a book demonstrating that the study of repertoire is the study of contingencies at work, and that the study of occupational dynamics can be achieved by reducing the scale of observation through the intensive study of interview, observation, and documentary materials. They also expect to produce a digital version of some of these materials that will incorporate the written verbal and musical materials they generate, and photographs made in research settings.
March 7, 2006
Read more about Robert Faulkner's work.