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.
Enigmas of the Third Space: Mingus and Varèse at Greenwich House, 1957
BRIGID COHEN is Assistant Professor of Music at New York University. Her book Stefan Wolpe and the Avant-Garde Diaspora (Cambridge University Press, 2012) won the Lewis Lockwood Award of the AMS. She is currently working on a project entitled “Musical Migration and the Global City: New York, 1957–1966,” a study of media, displacement, and citizenship during the Cold War, research for which has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.
Brigid Cohen; Enigmas of the Third Space: Mingus and Varèse at Greenwich House, 1957. Journal of the American Musicological Society 1 April 2018; 71 (1): 155–211. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jams.2018.71.1.155
Download citation file: