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Esman, A.H. (1951). Jazz — A Study in Cultural Conflect. Am. Imago, 8(2):219-226.

(1951). American Imago, 8(2):219-226

Jazz — A Study in Cultural Conflect

Aaron H. Esman, M.D.

Perhaps the most strikingly indigenous product of American popular culture is hot jazz music. It has been and is regarded all over the world as a peculiarly American art form, and as such has been warmly welcomed by both masses and intellectuals in such countries as France and as warmly denounced in the totalitarian nationalisms of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

Paradoxically, however, in the very country of its origin hot jazz1 has had a very limited acceptance. Its appreciation is restricted to relatively small groups, and the mass of the dominant cultural group has either rejected it or modified it almost beyond recognition into “swing” and “popular dance music”.

This is an extraordinary phenomenon, virtually unparalleled in history. It is rare indeed for a cultural product to achieve greater recognition in alien cultures than in that which engendered it. It would seem to be a problem worthy of investigation, yet little or nothing has been written on the question. This article will seek to fill the gap by considering some of the psychological factors involved.

Hot jazz was born (it can only be said to have been born, rather than “created”) in and around New Orleans in the years before the turn of the 20th century. It arose out of a unique combination of cultural forces to be found nowhere else in the world. New Orleans was, in those days, an island of Latin, Romance culture in the predominantly Anglo-Saxon United States. The French-Creole influence, though on the wane, still governed the social forms of New Orleans life, and that city remains to this day the most cosmopolitan and most tolerant in the South.


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