Jam Sessions as Rites of Passage: An Ethnography of Jazz Jams in Phoenix, AZ

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This thesis examines the jazz jam session’s function in the constitution of jazz scenes as

well as the identities of the musicians who participate in them. By employing ritual and

performance studies

This thesis examines the jazz jam session’s function in the constitution of jazz scenes as

well as the identities of the musicians who participate in them. By employing ritual and

performance studies theories of liminality, I demonstrate ways in which jazz musicians,

jam sessions, and other social structures are mobilized and transformed during their

social and musical interactions. I interview three prominent members of the jazz scene in

the greater Phoenix area, and incorporate my experience as a professional jazz musician

in the same scene, to conduct a contextually and socially embedded analysis in order to

draw broader conclusions about jam sessions in general. In this analysis I refer to other

ethnomusicologists who research improvisation, jazz in ritual context, and interactions,

such as Ingrid Monson, Samuel Floyd, Travis Jackson, and Paul Berliner, as well as ideas

proposed by phenomenologically adjacent thinkers such as Gilles Deleuze, Martin

Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Karen Barad.

This thesis attempts to contribute to current jam session research in fields such as

ethnomusicology and jazz studies by offering a perspective on jam sessions based on

phenomenology and process philosophy, concluding that the jam session is an essential

mechanism in the ongoing social and musical developments of jazz musicians and their

scene. I also attempt to continue and develop the discourse surrounding theories of

liminality in performance and ritual studies by underscoring the web of relations in social

structures that are brought into contact with one another during the liminal performances

of their acting agents.