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This project explores the lives and music of gender nonconforming and transgender jazz musicians who lived and played throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Although transgender visibility in mainstream culture seems to be increasing today, this narrative does not account for the real life experiences of gender nonconforming people from the past. By utilizing the work of thinkers in various fields including queer and transgender studies, literary analysis, musicology, and music history, I aim to show that a deeper and more complex understanding of trans and queer experience is possible. In addition, I wish to support the work of feminist and queer musicologists who have argued that analysis of gender in music, and jazz in particular, is salient not only to a better understanding of individual lives, but also to a better understanding of the music itself. My research included close readings of first and second-hand accounts of these musicians’ lives, close listening to their music, analysis of interviews conducted by others, and one interview I conducted myself, in addition to a review of theoretical works. This interdisciplinary approach allows me to ask questions that may not otherwise make themselves clear. In the end, this project is by no means a comprehensive history of transgender jazz musicians, or a history of the way gender nonconformity has shaped jazz. Instead, the hope is that some of the connections drawn here can support further explorations into these issues, while also resisting a canonical approach to jazz or trans history.
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Pitman, Max, "Improvised Identities: Episodes of Gender Nonconformity in Jazz History" (2018). Senior Projects Spring 2018. 68.