David Baker


Applegate, Erik

Committee Member

Zaremba, Drew

Committee Member

Casey, Brian

Committee Member

Gudmundson, Donald


College of Performing and Visual Arts; School of Music, Jazz Studies


University of Northern Colorado

Type of Resources


Place of Publication

Greeley, (Colo.)


University of Northern Colorado

Date Created



103 pages

Digital Origin

Born digital


The moral ecosystem of New Orleans at the beginning of the twentieth century offers a unique opportunity for jazz to function and be observed beyond positivist definitions of music. The common narrative often cites religion and morality as peripherally influencing factors in the development of jazz but frequently disregards the impact of New Orleans’ atypical religious milieu and its influence on local culture. While recent research exists that studies the nuanced role of identity, phenomenology, and culture in shaping early jazz, the influence of New Orleans’ unusual form of morality and religion is subsequently ignored. Understanding the birth of jazz in transcendental and philosophical terms in response to its surrounding culture of adaptive pluralism permits insight into how early jazz musicians allowed their music to determine ethical boundaries that may or may not be at odds with their birth cultures. This inimitable capacity for jazz to exist in modified religious standing frames the subversive and adaptive nature of the music and musicians in a way that is otherwise overlooked. By defining the national ethos in terms of religious tolerance, pluralism, and authority and comparing it to the non-conforming nature of New Orleans, an idiosyncratic function of acclimatization can be observed that allowed relativist beliefs to thrive under basic conditions. Jason Bivins argues that the expression of both music and religion offer similarities that obscure the boundary of each, offering a metaphysical connection between spirituality and the performance and embodiment of music. When the expression of each is abstracted and mapped onto a culture of unique behavioral patterns, the claim can be extended to include the institution and cultural function of each. Where most of the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century was incapable of tolerating a music as heretical and imposing as jazz, New Orleans’ moral ecosystem provided a backdrop that not only allowed its existence, but also supported its ability to impact the ethics and morality of an individual with greater authority at times than traditional religious expression. Jazz, therefore, permeates the identity of its participants in a quasi-religious capacity that requires embodiment, performance, and concession to its ethical boundaries in a way that New Orleans was distinctly poised to tolerate. The addition of this realization to the common narrative of jazz history offers the ability to view the participants and their decisions as individual results of an overarching cultural phenomenon.

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