In 1957 Edgard Varèse led a series of improvisation sessions in Greenwich Village with jazz musicians who included Charles Mingus, Art Farmer, Don Butterfield, Teo Macero, and Ed Shaughnessy. Few scholars have explored this episode, a lacuna that speaks to a wider, racially inflected rift in historiographies of jazz and non-jazz musical avant-gardes. Against this tendency I bring new light to the sessions as a messy and fleeting exchange characterized by mutual curiosity and crossed signals, drawing on analysis of session recordings, original interviews, and archival research. Within the larger ensemble of musicians I focus on Edgard Varèse and Charles Mingus in particular, in order to address dilemmas of race and citizenship in downtown New York during a period of postwar American cultural ascendency and national canon formation. To this end I claim Homi Bhabha's notion of “third space” as the most promising sign under which to construe the sessions, a concept that foregrounds ambivalent and transient cultural crossings that play out across an uneven field of power.

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