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At the Vanguard of Vinyl: A Cultural History of the Long-Playing Record in Jazz

by Darren Mueller

Duke University Press, 2024


eISBN: 978-1-4780-5907-3

OA eISBN: 978-1-4780-9415-9

Paper: 978-1-4780-3007-2

Cloth: 978-1-4780-2581-8

About the Book
In At the Vanguard of Vinyl, Darren Mueller examines how the advent of the long-playing record (LP) in 1948 revolutionized the recording and production of jazz in the 1950s. The LP’s increased fidelity and playback capacity allowed lengthy compositions and extended improvisations to fit onto a single record, ushering in a period of artistic exploration. Despite these innovations, LP production became another site of negotiating the uneven power relations of a heavily segregated music industry. Exploring how musicians, producers, and other industry professionals navigated these dynamics, Mueller contends that the practice of making LPs significantly changed how jazz was created, heard, and understood in the 1950s and beyond. By attending to the details of audio production, he reveals how Black musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Charles Mingus worked to redefine prevailing notions of race and cultural difference within the United States. Mueller demonstrates that the LP emerges as a medium of sound and culture that maps onto the more expansive sonic terrain of Black modernity in the 1950s.
About the Author
Darren Mueller is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, and coeditor of Digital Sound Studies, also published by Duke University Press.
“Darren Mueller gives us a fresh take on jazz recordings that fundamentally transforms the way we think about jazz improvisation and the relationship between jazz musicians and recording technologies, as well as our assumptions about how gender, race, and music inform record production. A profound reconception of jazz historiography, At the Vanguard of Vinyl forces us to confront our deepest-held notions about jazz through close attention to the musicians and record-industry personnel who shaped the ways in which we hear and appreciate the music.”

-- Kevin Fellezs, author of Birds of Fire: Jazz, Rock, Funk, and the Creation of Fusion

“In this brilliantly researched and sophisticated work, Darren Mueller presents a genealogy of the jazz LP as it became canonized as the music’s familiar and durable mode of presentation on record. His advocacy for understanding recordings as fixed moments of culture and freedom work and, at the same time, as evolving points of relation in a still emergent Afro-modernity is most compelling. Offering a much-needed intervention in African American studies, jazz studies, music history, and sound studies, At the Vanguard of Vinyl is a game changer for anyone who considers recordings as a site for interrogating technological change and cultural politics.”

-- Charles F. McGovern, author of Sold American: Consumption and Citizenship, 1890–1945

"This excellent title embraces art, technology and economics. Its accessible scholarship changes our understanding of a familiar artefact. . . . Mueller's title is one of my jazz books of the year, for sure."

-- Andy Hamilton The Wire

Sound recordings, Sound recording industry, Recording & Reproduction, African American jazz musicians, 1951-1960, Vanguard, Genres & Styles, Media Studies, Music, History and criticism, 20th century, Social Science, History
Open Access Information

Label: University of Rochester

License: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0