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Post-bebop Jazz

The myth of the macho jazz musician continues to exercise a hold on the world of jazz. Still, there have been several post-bebop musicians who have been rumored to be gay, and some who have actually come out publicly as homosexual.

Miles Davis (1926-1991), for example, exemplified the masculine self assurance and "cool" style of post-bebop jazz. He conducted well-known relationships with French singer Juliet Greco and actress Cecily Tyson, but according to biographer Ian Carr, there were also persistent rumors of his bisexuality, and his death from pneumonia, stroke, and heart failure was attributed to AIDS.

Avant-garde jazz pianist Cecil Taylor is another post-bebop musician with a very muscular style of playing the piano. However, John Gill records that Taylor gave an interview in 1985 to a San Francisco newspaper that stressed the importance to his music of his race and his homosexuality.

Taylor, who was born in Boston in 1929, is, along with Art Tatum, Earl Hines, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk, one of the five most important jazz pianists to emerge since the end of World War II.

Vibraphonist Gary Burton (b. 1943) is another contemporary jazz musician who has publicly come out of the closet. A prominent composer and bandleader, Burton has had an exemplary career working with many of the leading figures in contemporary jazz, such as Stan Getz, George Shearing, Carla Bley, Keith Jarrett, and Pat Metheny. Although married twice, Burton had always known that there was a gay side to his personality. He had gay relationships before and in between each of his marriages.

The 1993 announcement by pianist Fred Hersch (b. 1955) that he was both HIV-positive and gay shocked the jazz community. For years after moving to New York from Cincinnati in the late 1970s, Hersch was so terrified that the celebrated jazz musicians with whom he was working might discover his homosexuality that he felt compelled to suppress his own identity. In order to protect himself from any damaging disclosures, Hersch radically divided his social world between gay friends and fellow musicians.

In 1996, Andy Bey (b. 1939), a suave African-American musician who, like his idol Nat King Cole, sings and plays the piano, also came out as an HIV-positive gay man.

[In a 2004 interview in The Advocate, saxophonist Dave Koz (b. 1983) came out as a gay man. Koz, who has been nominated multiple times for Grammy Awards, is a leading practictioner of "smooth jazz." His albums regularly place high in the Billboard charts. He frequently appears on radio and television programs and regularly collaborates with leading jazz musicians and singers.

In 2011, Koz issued an album entitled, Hello Tomorrow, which features a cut of his rendition of the Burt Bachrach-Hal David song, "This Guy's in Love with You," in which he sings as well as plays the saxophone. The music video of "This Guy's in Love with You," directed by Graham Streeter, features Koz performing in historic Figueroa Plaza in Ventura, California, where he is joined by a "love mob" of numerous couples assembled in support of marriage equality. Herb Alpert, who had a No. 1 hit with the song in 1968, performs alongside him as they walk the street, surrounded by the crowd.]

glbtq Audiences

Jazz is one of the America's most significant cultural contributions. Yet homosexual and transgendered audiences in the second half of the twentieth century have expressed little interest in the contemporary developments of this vibrant cultural tradition.

Over the course of the twentieth century, the jazz scene has seemed to become less and less hospitable to gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people. Indeed, in an interview with John Gill, musician Gary Burton has argued that today "of all the forms of music, jazz is the least tolerant of homosexuality." Nevertheless, even despite a hostile atmosphere, the contributions of gay jazz artists such as Billy Strayhorn, Cecil Taylor, and Gary Burton have been significant.

Jeffrey Escoffier

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Carr, Ian. Miles Davis: The Definitive Biography. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1999.

Dahl, Linda. Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazz Women. New York: Limelight Editions, 1989.

Gill, John. Queer Noises: Male and Female Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century Music. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

Hajdu, David. "A Jazz of Their Own." Vanity Fair no. 465 (May 1999): 188-196.

_____. Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1996.

Lomax, Alan. Mister Jelly Roll: The Fortunes of Jelly Roll Morton, New Orleans Creole and the "Inventor of Jazz." New York: Pantheon, 1950; rpt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

Middlebrook, Diane Wood. Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

Mumford, Kevin. Interzones: Black/White Sex Districts in Chicago and New York in the Early Twentieth-Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Pool, Jeannie. "The Peggy Gilbert Story: Saxophonist, Band Leader, Advocate for Women in Music." (2007).

Reich, Howard, and William Gaines. Jelly's Blues: The Life, Music and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo, 2003.

Watson, Steven. The Harlem Renaissance: Hub of African American Culture, 1920-1930. New York: Pantheon, 1995.


    Citation Information
    Author: Escoffier, Jeffrey  
    Entry Title: Jazz  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 16, 2011  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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