Assistant professor of musicology recognized for contribution to study of American music

By

Lynne MacDonald

Christopher J. Wells, assistant professor of musicology in the Arizona State University School of Music and former editor of the Journal of Jazz Studies, has been awarded the 2018 Irving Lowens Article Award.

The award is granted annually by the Society for American Music, founded by Irving Lowens, for an article that makes an outstanding contribution to the study of American music.

Wells’ article, "'A Dreadful Bit of Silliness:' Feminine Frivolity and Ella Fitzgerald’s Early Critical Reception,” was published in Women and Music (2017).

“I initially found my passion for jazz music through dance,” Wells said. “As I continued my education with the goal of becoming a jazz scholar, I came to understand that caring deeply about jazz music should also mean caring deeply about the people and communities who make it, which is why my work has grown to emphasize issues of race, gender and power as they impact the careers and legacies of jazz musicians.”

In its review of the article, the Society for American Music Lowens award committee stated, “A thorough and incisive analysis of early jazz criticism and aesthetics, Professor Wells lays bare the interconnections among anticapitalism, authenticity, masculinity and blackness for the white critics who contributed to the early formation of the jazz canon. With its comprehensive survey of the relevant critical literature on gender, jazz and popular music, and its impressive mobilization of countless primary sources, the article provides synthetic, thoughtful and substantial arguments to a challenging subject."

Wells said they use the article in the doctoral colloquium to show students the whole process of submitting an article to a journal and making changes/responses based on peer review. Students also learn to do primary source research, reception history and critical discourse analysis using periodicals and newspapers as primary source materials, and Wells’ article provides them with an excellent illustration of this work.