Item Details

Photographic representations of jazz: Testimonial advertising in Down Beat, 1938–48

Issue: Vol 11 No. 2 (2017)

Journal: Jazz Research Journal

Subject Areas: Popular Music

DOI: 10.1558/jazz.35812


Musical instrument makers were key suppliers to the jazz art world of the 1930s and '40s. They operated with well-developed ideas about musicians. As instrument manufacture moved to volume production, advertising spend rose significantly and manufacturers turned to the advertising industry to translate these conceptions into a selling vocabulary, or 'professional code'. Testimonial advertising incorporating photography became a preferred style and Down Beat emerged as an extremely important medium. Based on a survey of some 1,500 testimonial advertisements in Down Beat between 1938 and 1948, this article shows how assumptions about the nature of musicianship, the social and racial composition of jazz, the relationship between art and commerce and the lifestyle aspirations of working musicians were signed within these advertisements. The analysis traces their intertextual relationship with Down Beat editorial and broader impact through collateral print material. The analysis hopefully suggests further lines of enquiry as well as highlighting the benefits from study of jazz photography beyond the narrow canon of white art photographers.

Author: Alan John Ainsworth

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