Midterm II Essay question
Fall 2004

Choose one of the essay questions below. Write a coherent and concise essay on the issues raised by this question. On the first page of the exam, be sure to indicate clearly which essay question you chose (I or II), along with your name, ID#, section #, and the name of your teaching assistant.


The essay question is "open-book": you will be allowed to draw upon class notes, the class web site, assigned reading, and listening. These resources are sufficient to answer any of the questions. Sources of information should be cited, and must be cited when direct quotations are used. Use brief in-text references: e.g., (Ellison, "Golden Age, Time Past," 201). Use direct quotations sparingly, however. I expect you to answer the questions in your own words, and your own thought processes. Essays that present arguments in exactly the same form as they appear in class notes or assigned readings will receive no more than 80% of credit.


The essay should be computer-printed, double-spaced (leaving room for comments), and legible (i.e., the print must be dark enough to read).


We suggest a short essay of three to five pages. Answer the question as concisely and completely as you can. You will be judged on the quality of your writing--the skill with which you are able to construct arguments in good prose style--not the quantity. Since this is a short essay, you need not explore every possible aspect of a subject. Make sure the points you do make are clear and cogent. Excessive verbal "padding" will count against your grade.


The take-home essay will be turned in no later than 12 noon on Monday, November 22. Late essays will be accepted only with a penalty.

Turn in your essays to your teaching assistant's mailbox in the Music Department Office in Old Cabell Hall (lobby level, east end).

Essay Questions (choose one)


Throughout its history, jazz has been deeply involved in the politics of race. Some would argue that the musical elements of style, as well as the social reality of its performers, suggest a sense of identity that is clearly African-American. Others would argue that the cross-cultural appeal of jazz-its ability to attract not only audiences but also performers of all kinds-suggests that musical style transcends and transforms cultural barriers. Either side can be successfully argued; it's a matter of what attitude one takes from the music and the history.

Consider the racial politics of jazz from one of the following periods:

*note: If you choose New Orleans jazz, please be sure that your essay does not focus heavily on Louis Armstrong, who was the topic for the essay for the previous midterm.

For the period you choose, explain how the jazz in question was related to issues of social identity. Be sure to cite musical resources, citing specific musical examples (using CD timings to cite particular passages). Use your skills in music analysis--writing about musical in detail, using terms and concepts from class--to argue how the specific musicians, styles, and concepts you choose situate jazz into racial politics.


Duke Ellington is often cited as one of America's greatest composers. But, as one can tell from Richard Boyer's overview of his activities in "The Hot Bach" (1944), all of that composing happened under trying circumstances Ellington wrote on the road, in venues ranging from clubs to concert halls to recording studios. He composed music that conveyed African-American ideals in a contentious racial climate. His music is composed, but it relies on improvisation: it was a collaboration between Ellington and the musical personality of the men who worked with him.

Write an essay that explores as many of the issues outlined above as possible. Use three pieces by Ellington from the 1920s to the 1940s to illustrate your arguments. These pieces can be drawn from the following list:

Use your skills in music analysis--writing about musical in detail, using terms and concepts from class--to explain precisely how these particular pieces convey Ellington's many musical goals. Be sure to cite specific passages (especially from the Boyer article), and be as specific as possible in referring to places in the recordings, using CD timings.