Neoliberal Legitimacy in Politics & Music: On Cooper’s Family Values & Chapman’s The Jazz Bubble

I couldn’t find a place for this piece on Melinda Cooper’s Family Values & Dale Chapman’s The Jazz Bubble, so here is a very long and unedited version of it. If any editor wants to run a shorter, cleaner version, my contact info is on the ‘about’ page.


Conventional wisdom says that liberals and conservatives hold opposing worldviews: conservatives seek to conserve existing or formerly-existing orders of rank and value, whereas liberals seek to maximize liberty, which at least in theory means treating everyone of equal rank and letting individuals decide what they value. Recent work from scholars in feminist political philosophy and jazz studies shows that over the past 40 years this conventional wisdom is increasingly mistaken. Melinda Cooper’s Family Values and Dale Chapman’s The Jazz Bubble both identify the point of commonality between neoliberals and neoconservatives: their commitment to rebuilding and reinforcing white bourgeois masculine supremacy after the civil rights movements of the 1960s eroded it a little. Neoliberals want to do this because it’s the best way redistribute wealth back to the 1% or the 0.01% as the economy evolves from (de)industrialization to financialization, whereas neoconservatives want to do this for its own sake. Read together, Cooper’s and Chapman’s books show that the practice of legitimate inheritance is guarantees the outcomes both neoliberals and neoconservatives want.


Focus On the Family

According to Cooper, neoliberals and neocons are analogous to the liberal feminists and religious right who unite in their objection to pornography (which is also about gender and sexual norms regarding private property). Neoliberals and neocons unite in their objection to the dissolution of the Fordist nuclear family. As Cooper argues, “it was only when the liberation movements of the 1960s began to challenge the sexual normativity of the family wage as the linchpin and foundation of welfare capitalism that the neoliberal–new social conservative alliance came into being” (FV 21). As the welfare state increasingly took on the responsibilities once shunted to the private sphere–care and reproductive work–both neoliberals and neoconservives sought to re-establish the domestic private sphere in its more or less traditional form, even if it meant loosening that form a bit to include, say, married gays and lesbians and black homeowners. Its like family resemblance (ha, there’s that word, family) replaced purity and correspondence as the standard for policing race, gender, and sexual norms: you didn’t have to fit all the norms perfectly, just check enough of the boxes adequately.

According to Cooper, neoliberals turn to the patriarchal nuclear family because it is the (feminized, reproductive) complement to the corporate private sphere. Here she implicitly builds on Carole Pateman’s argument that social contract theory posits domestic/civil distinction and remakes it as the both corporate private/civil public distinction, thus hiding the latter behind the former, so that “private” means business not family. Classical liberalism hides the division between the private, familial realm of reproduction and civil society behind the infra-civil division between the state and private business. One of the “neo-” things about neoliberalism is that it brings the private sphere of reproduction out of hiding, such that privatized markets are explicitly scaffolded on the private family. As Cooper puts it, “the freedom of contractual relations in the marketplace cannot be sustained without the existence of noncontractual obligations in the family” (FV 106). One of neoliberalism’s defining features is its imperative to privatize everything and evacuate the public sphere of basically everything (except, as Cooper shows, it leaves the state as a mechanism to both crate families and enforce their responsibilities). And while we mostly understand “privatize everything” to mean foisting civil responsibilities on to the corporate private/business (like charter schools), Cooper shows that this also applies to the domestic private/family. When neoliberals say “privatize everything,” they mean both private spheres. Or rather, privatizing everything means offloading public responsibilities to both the corporate private and the domestic private. They think the only legitimate role for the state is to enforce domestic obligations (like creating kinship relations among welfare recipients where none existed by consent/choice). Both private spheres have to be in play, because the unequal relations in the domestic private ensure the unequal distribution of wealth in the newly liberated corporate private sphere. As Copper puts it, in its quest to liberate private markets, neoliberalism is “compelled…to reinstate the family as the elementary legal form of private wealth accumulation?” (16; emphasis mine). The nuclear family is the only way to make sure the changes that come with neoliberal capitalism (e.g., the use of securitized debts, which makes credit available to populations traditionally seen as bad credit risks, like black people and gay men) continue to distribute wealth and whiteness as property in the ways they basically always have.


Risk and Responsibility

Family wealth and reproductive labor insure people privileged enough to benefit from them against the ever-increasing risks–such as “the risks of…racial discrimination or unsafe sex” (FV 8)–individuals are expected to assume and manage responsibly. One of the most interesting things Cooper’s book reveals is that risk becomes the focus of neoliberal notions of consent–and this is important because the mechanism of consent traditionally functions in liberalism as a device that hides inequity and subjection behind the veneer of free choice. The classically liberal social contract imagines that individuals consent to subordination (to, for example, the state) in return for protection against risk to their persons and their private property (see Locke Two Treatises and Rousseau Second Discourse here). Neoliberalism purports to liberate individuals from such subordination: as Cooper explains, “neoliberal legal theorists explicitly revive the notion, foundational to classical tort law, that freedom of contract implies the voluntary assumption of risk” (FV 179). We can’t be truly free unless we choose to assume the risk that classical contracts sign away, thus “transforming public risks into private responsibilities” (174). Individuals consent to the risk to person and property that private individuals are exposed to without the protection of public welfare. But this consent also makes them responsible for whatever outcomes, good or bad, come from their expanded freedom of choice: “risk, once consented to, must be borne entirely by the individual” (179). “Individual” here means “private individual”–which includes any private, familial support they can lean on. So, as public civil society is gutted and replaced by corporate private markets, the domestic private sphere (i.e., the family) bears responsibility for risks that had, in the postwar West, been covered by social insurance and welfare programs. So for neoliberals, “consent” means agreeing to take private responsibility for risk.

And just as Pateman points out that the original social contract was subtended by a racialized sexual contract, Cooper’s analysis shows that such “risk” was never, in practice, abstract chance, but always tied to the status inequities central to patriarchal racial capitalism. One of the first ways this theory of consent was translated into policy occurred as a response to the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s. The original sexual contract treats sex as the exchange of bits of ourselves that are consumed and used by other people for their pleasure. But early US AIDS policy treats reframes sex as an investment in one’ own pleasure, which is also a cost:benefit analysis of risk and reward. Cooper summarizes this view: “apart from the limit cases of rape and contaminated blood transfusion, the HIV virus is the result of voluntary sexual contact between consenting adults and thus represents the very prototype of the rational transaction and the freely assumed risk” (171; emphasis mine). This is a fundamentally different way of thinking about sex, and thus the sexual contract subtending the social one: it’s modeled not on the exchange of property-in-person, but on the assumption of (racialized) sexual risk in an attempt to successfully invest in myself. (And, as I discuss in the next section, this rethinking of sex as consent to risk is essential to the shift in modes of governmentality from normalization to legitimacy.)

Because family is a racialized, gendered, sexualized ordering of private property, family can mitigate the racialized sexual risk neoliberalism expects individuals to assume. But if it is not adequately “legitimate” (e.g., Cohen’s “welfare queens”), family can exacerbate those risks. This is one way of reading Cathy Cohen’s point in her “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens” article: heterosexualities that don’t provide adequate insurance against such risk are comparably illegitimate (in Cooper’s terms) or queer (in Cohen’s terms) as non-heterosexualities because they are both insufficient grounds for establishing the kind of property relations that lead to success in the neoliberal market. “The neoliberal critique of normativity ends up endorsing an alternative form of moral philosophy—one that restores the private family and its legal obligations of care to a foundational role in the free-market order” (174). For neoliberals, their every-so-precious maximal civil liberty requires participation in a rather strictly ordered set of gendered, racialized, and sexualized property relations. “Legitimacy” is the term Cooper uses to describe the configuration of race/gender/sexuality relations necessary to successfully mitigate the personal risk neoliberalism demands we expose ourselves to.

This argument is then the foundation for Cooper’s claim that the opening of credit markets to white gay men was what made marriage the spotlight issue for decades of LGBTQ activism. For most of the 20th c, white gay men were seen as uncreditworthy–too high a risk for creditors. But then once securitized debt could be sold off and made profitable for both the original creditor and the new investor regardless of debtor default, credit markets opened to them (and a lot of other people). Now that white gay men could assume the the kinds of risks that go with consumer debt, they wanted insurance against those risks. And that insurance had to come from the private sphere; that includes both inherited/heritable wealth and access to the reproductive labor that’s always taken place in the domestic sphere. This is just one example of how the inclusion of traditionally oppressed groups in neoliberal markets motivates these newly-included groups to buy into respectability politics (for how this works wrt race, see Lester Spence’s Knocking the Hustle).


Legitimacy to Legitimation

Cooper argues that this emphasis on legitimacy leads to an evolution in neoliberal governmentality, specifically, in the mathematical models it uses to account for and manage risk. Traditionally, neoliberalism uses what Foucault calls statistical normalization to do that: Gaussian (i.e., “bell curve”) models are used to establish an average rate of risk in a population. As Mary Beth Mader observes, this normal curve creates a flat social ontology in which every member of the population is plotted on a continuous spectrum of risk; this is part of what is supposedly liberatory about neoliberalism–it eliminates classically contractarian hierarchies and puts everyone on an equal playing field (cf Ranciere on postdemocracy here). Noting that the math behind securitized debt is different than the math behind these Gaussian models, Cooper argues that more recent techniques of neoliberal governmentality re-introduce hierarchies: “uninsurable—or, in statistical terms, non-normalizable risks—could be hedged in a process that was proliferative or fractalizing rather than normative, thus opening up unheard of credit opportunities for the nontraditional borrower” (160-1). Securitized debts slice risk levels into things called “tranches” and then rank tranches hierarchically from least to most risky. The higher-risk tranches come with higher interest rates, so the higher risk comes with higher reward, thus making the risk economically rational. As the above-linked Wired article explains, “Investors like risk, as long as they can price it. What they hate is uncertainty—not knowing how big the risk is.” The individual levels or “tranches” represented different levels of risk, which could then be priced accordingly. Basically, tranching lets investors use probabilities to distinguish among different intensities of risk, creating hierarchies instead of Gaussian distributions.


Hierarchies rank things. Family legitimacy is the standard these neoliberal risk hierarchies use to measure and rank risk pools against one another. For example, the purported risk that comes with

non-normative sexuality is now much more likely to be accepted, as long as the attendant transmission of biological and economic assets—that is, children and wealth —is appropriately legitimated within the form of marriage. The socially meaningful dividing line, in other words, appears to have shifted from the normative and non-normative expression of sexuality to the legitimate or illegitimate relationship” (165).

Gaussian normaliazation and neoliberal legitimation use different types of “dividing lines.” Gaussian models create breaks between the normal population and abnormal cases, cases who can’t efficiently be brought back within the normal range. White supremacist capitalist patriarchal legitimacy is the “dividing line” that stamps out various levels of risk and ranks them in relation to one another. This is why sexuality has to be re-thought as risk. As Foucault argues, sexuality was so central to biopolitical normalization because it was the site where both dimensions of biopower (the discipline of the individual body and the normalization of the population) met. Legitimation has a different interest in sexuality as a site where risk is consented to. In fact, as the last line of the above quote indicates, sexuality itself takes a subordinate role to (racialized, gendered) property relations. Legitimacy updates normalization’s interest in sexuality as the site where individual bodies and population meet to an interest in sites where private individuals making choices on free markets meet “the private,” both in its familial and its corporate senses. This is still a site where micro- and macro-cosm meet; it’s just small and large versions of a different cosmology, a hierarchical universe of risk rather than a flat universe of norms.

Legitimation, then, is a technique that ranks relative levels of risk according to their likelihood of reproducing and contributing to the property relations traditionally guaranteed by the white supremacist capitalist patriarchal family. Think of it this way: whereas legitimacy traditionally refers to the inheritance of wealth from parent to legitimate offspring, neoliberalism leverages this same idea of legitimacy to the transfer of wealth in the other, corporate private sphere; legitimacy allows liberalized access to market participation while guaranteeing that wealth always remains disproportionately in the hands of those at the top of patriarchal racial capitalism’s hierarchies. This is what Cooper means by her claim that “neoliberals and neo-conservatives sought to contain the antinormative and redistributive promise of these [20th century liberation] movements by capturing them within the horizon of reinvented tradition” (312). White supremacist capitalist patriarchal legitimacy is that reinvented tradition, upgraded so that the same outcomes can be achieved at a lower cost (bc white racial purity and sexual chastity need to be less rigorously policed).

If the classical contract masks the domestic private behind the corporate private sphere and its opposition to the public sphere/the state, legitimation makes the former the explicit and obligatory model for the latter (talk about reinvented tradition). Thus, just as sexuality was central to Gaussian normalization because it was the site where individual bodily discipline met population management, gender is central to legitimation because it is where the domestic meets the corporate, or where the private family meets the individual fully liberated to the free market. I argue that more fully here. Think about it: from gender reveal parties to TERFs to Michelle Murphy’s claim that “The Girl” is the “iconic figure of human capital” to Tiqqun’s similar claim that the “young girl” is neoliberalism’s ideal subject, logics of financialization foreground gender’s contractarian origins as a racialized property relation. As Murphy points out, girls–appropriately reproductive girls, girls who wait to have children till they are financially productive workers and/or wives and who ‘responsibly’ plan their families–are the best investments because (1) their low status in patriarchy means they can be “bought low and sold high,” and (2) patriarchal norms about femininity and women’s sexuality (obedience, chastity, etc.) act as insurance against risky behavior. Murphy’s “Girl” is a figure of gendered legitimation: “The Girl” is a good investment because of her gendered status and because of her role in familial responsibility. (Girl campaigns, which focus on educating girls instead of family planning as a form of population control, are pedagogies of familial responsibility–they explicitly encourage girls to wait till they are married and/or employed to begin having children.)

Gender, then, is a hinge on which practices of legitimation can swing back and forth from the individual liberated to the free private market and the domestic private sphere of the family, the family being the point of mutual interest among neoliberals and neoconservatives. Dale Cooper’s study of jazz and neoliberalism reveals that genre is a hinge on which practices of legitimation can swing back and forth from neoliberal markets and their logics (like financialization and entrepreneurship) to aesthetic expressions of the same values and structures that ground notions of familial legitimacy in Cooper’s sense.


Neoclassical Jazz and Sonic Legitimacy

Just as the legitimate family insures that the transmission of private property traditionally guaranteed by the Fordist family structure is secured as norms about individual behavior and identity are liberalized, neoclassical jazz is offered as insurance against the risks of various neoliberal practices, from theories of entrepreneurship to real estate speculation. Neoclassical jazz is the ‘reinvented tradition,’ that, like the Fordist family, makes sure ever-democratized access to the free market continues to reproduce the same old property relations. Legitimacy is Coopers’s term. It helps explain the gender, sexual, and racial politics that Chapman points at in jazz aesthetics but does not develop. Chapman’s attention to jazz aesthetics can help us unpack how legitimacy feels.

Like neoconservatism, which arose as a rejection of the gains won by 60s social movements, neoclassical jazz uses discourses of (patriarchal, white supremacist, capitalist) legitimacy as a bulwark against liberalizing aesthetic norms regarding gender and sexuality.  According to Chapman, “neoclassical” jazz emerged in the 1970s as a response to fusion, on the one hand, and the explosion of popular musics such as disco (there’s that anxiety about sexuality!), punk, and hip hop, on the other. “The term neoclassicism has in large part come to refer to a musically conservative, stylistically traditionalist revival in the jazz world…that emphasizes ‘straightahead’ swing feel, adherence to conventional blues-based and popular song forms, the use of primarily acoustic instrumentation, and the privileging of a stylistic vocabulary that extends (roughly) from New Orleans polyphony through to 1960s postbop” (6). Though he doesn’t use this term, “neoclassicism” is the result of applying something akin to Cooper’s concept of legitimacy to jazz to “jealously guar[d] the boundaries of its stylistic legacy and musical canon” (6; emphasis mine). Just as familial legitimacy governs the transmission of a family’s legacy (i.e., the patrilineal inheritance of private property), neoclassical jazz uses ideas of aesthetic legitimacy to govern the transmission of jazz’s legacy. This idea of legitimacy was explicitly circulating in jazz circles in the late 20th century. For example, Chapman cites avant-garde jazz pianist Matthew shipp as critiquing proponents of neoclassicism, such as Jazz at Lincoln Center director Wynton Marsalis, as “trying to make jazz legitimate, and I think the good thing about anything good is that it’s illegitimate’” (12). I’ll return to the gendered and raced implications of jazz legitimacy later; for now I want to establish that the dynamic Chapman establishes between neoclassical jazz and neoliberalism maps onto the dynamic Cooper identifies between neoconservatism and neoliberalism. Arguing that Ronald Reagan’s “manichean dimension of conservatism, its pitting of a valorized identity or tradition against encroachment from without, serves as a suggestive template for certain aspects of the neoclassicist project” (11), Chapman explicitly allies neoclassical jazz with Reagan-style neoconservatism. So, neoclassical jazz and Cooper-style neoconservatism aren’t parallel so much as intersecting phenomena.

Throughout his book, Chapman studies various ways neoclassical jazz serves as the foundation or ground for neoliberal concepts and practices. From the rampant use of “the jazz” metaphor in management literature to the common use of jazz venues to anchor urban redevelopment projects (e.g., in New Orleans or in Oakland), neoclassical jazz makes the economic risk entailed in these phenomena feel like a safe bet. Cooper’s concept of legitimacy helps us see that neoclassical jazz’s appeal for neoliberals lies not just in its “aesthetic conservatism” (12), but in its deployment of the very race/gender/sexual dynamics of patrilineal inheritance that Cooper identifies in the legitimate family.

Narrating the history of jazz through the filter of legitimate patrilineal inheritance resituates jazz with respect to blackness as a gendered property relation. As Chapman points out the neoclassical “vision of jazz has made it legible to those individuals and institutions who might otherwise have been skeptical about reviving such a transgressive musical legacy, originating from such a culturally charged site of identity” (12). Jazz is, after all, a “counterhegemonic” (10) Afro-modernist intellectual, political, and cultural project. However, as black feminist scholars such as Hortense Spillers, Jennifer Morgan, Christina Sharpe, and C. Riley Snorton have all pointed out, racial blackness is a property and status relationship defined, both historically and in the present, by its abjection from patrilineal inheritance. Prior to the end of the US Civil War, the English common law doctrine partus sequitur ventrum (that which follows from the womb) held that slave status descended matrilineally rather than patrilineally (that way the mixed children of slave women and white men would necessarily be slaves). This way, blackness as a racialized property relation was inherited matrilineally. Though chattel slavery is no longer legal, this association between racial blackness, private property, and matrilineal inheritance persists in things like the Moynihan report and the neoliberal reforms to the welfare state Cooper discusses in the early chapters of Family Values. So, if racial blackness’s abnormality is both marked and produced by its deviation from the legitimate patriarchal family and its intergenerational transmission of private property, re-framing jazz as a properly patrilineal tradition dissassociates it from the property relation embodied by racial blackness. So jazz might be something black people write, perform, and listen to, and it might be something memorialized or performed in a black neighborhood, but the neoclassical narrative about jazz’s respectable, legitimate patrilineal lineage re-frames this style of jazz as a non-black property relation…i.e., as an acceptably risky investment. So it’s not so much the neoclassicial jazz’s aesthetic conservatism that appealed to neoliberals because it “rendered jazz palatable for the consumption of large institutional actors by putting a brake on innovation” (13), so much as the racialized, gendered property relation its canonizing narrative articulates; this narrative serves the same legitimating function to neoliberalism as discourses of private family legitimacy do.

Chapman’s chapter on Dexter Gordon’s mid-1970s career renaissance shows how this works. Gordon was a middle-aged horn player whose career got a second wind when he became the leading New York City-based figure in the first wave of neoclassical “stylistic nostalgia” (74). Much in the same way then-contemporary TV shows like Happy Days looked back on the 1950s as a simpler, more wholesome (i.e., more white and heteronormative) time, “jazz critics and fans…position[ed] their advocacy of acoustic jazz as a response to the changing landscape of contemporary popular music in this period, a bulwark against the encroachment of punk’s nihilism or disco’s artifice” (67). Just as neocons object to liberalized sexual norms, advocates of neoclassical jazz object to liberalized aesthetic norms that are tied to queer sexuality (punk negativity (Edelman, Halberstam), disco (Lawrence, Dyer)). Chapman’s analysis reveals that advocates of neoclassical jazz are critiquing the illegitimacy of then-contemporary evolutions in jazz and popular music: insufficient masculinity leads to the breakdown of properly patrilineal descent, resulting in the rise of jazz fusion, which brings DNA from non-jazz music into the sonic mix. For example, “in Down Beat’s disco letters, concerns about riffs, vamps, and repetition ultimately takes a back seat to anxieties about the sexual identities with which disco was associated…positioning the music’s artifice as a locus where cultural authenticity, artistic integrity, and masculine virility are all fatally compromised” (89; emphasis mine). The concern here isn’t just with masculinity, but with masculine virility, masculinity as the performance of men’s reproductive prowess. Similarly reproductive language appears in Nelson George’s critique of disco’s bastardization of the blues tradition, which, as Chapman explains, “tacitly link[s]” disco to “the theme of sterility that conservative voices have so often linked with queer sexualities” (90). Disco is the blues’ illegitimate child because it has not inherited the tradition from the properly masculine (jazz) fathers. The thing that neoclassical jazz supposedly has that other popular musics apparently do not is patriarchal masculine reproductive power–i.e., patrilineality. The absence of proper patrilineality leads to the breakdown of familial legitimacy in the intergenerational or inter-genre transmission of intellectual and cultural property. In this light, we can restate Chapman’s claim that “the gendered rhetoric of moral panic that permeates conservative denunciations of disco throughout the late 1970s must be understood as a potential subtext in the contemporaneous backlash against fusion” (91) in even stronger terms: concerns over sexualized, gendered legitimacy are not a potential subtext, they are key elements of the main text, because concerns about ‘fusion’ or “ hybridized strains of the music” (81-2) are concerns about patriarchal lineage and reproduction.

Advocates of neoclassical jazz sought to make jazz legitimate again, often by rehabilitating the black masculinity it was associated with. Describing “the urge to defend some core of authentic black experience against encroaching market forces or cultural amalgamation” (85), Chapman identifies what we can perhaps understand as a neoconservative complement to the neoliberal black parallel publics Lester Spence discusses in his work on hip hop: neoconservative dynamics are reproduced within black communities, making them parallels to their white counterparts. This investment in patriarchal legitimacy oozes out of Chapman’s analysis of Gordon’s reception in the 1970s. First, there’s a general “fixation on Gordon’s appearance and physicality…verging over into a kind of fetishization of his black masculinity” (93). But if you read more carefully, it’s clear that the fixation isn’t on masculinity in general, but legitimate paternity and patriarchal reproductivity. For example, Chapman quotes one critic who says that “‘Gordon was talking of his music but his remark could have also referred to the fact that he has two grown daughters by his first wife living in California and a robust toddler named Benjamin Dexter Gordon with his Danish wife Fenja’” (94-5); note the reference to wives in each case–this was all done by the books. As Chapman argues:

Readers of Down Beat used words such as impotence and sterile to describe disco; set against this backdrop, the critical ecomiums to Gordon, which privilege his height, charisma, and physical magnetism, inscribe the artist within the logic of ‘reproductive futurism,’ the promise that Gordon’s bebop constitutes a vital cultural lineage  that will persevere in the face of the dissipated, fecund environment that surrounds it. For Gordon’s critical admirers, his return holds out the hope that the bebop revival of the late 1970s will not only survive amid the perceived onslaught of punk, disco, or R&B, but that in doing so, it will serve as the implicit guarantor of a future grounded in heteronormative masculinity” (95; all emphasis mine).

Chapman doesn’t use the term “patriarchal legitimacy,” but what he’s describing here is exactly that: a narrative about “cultural lineage,” neoclassical jazz is an attempt to put jazz back on the track of legitimate patrilineal descent. This is why what’s “discursive representations of Gordon’s personality and music…tacitly link a vibrant, culturally creative production to the latent promise of heterosexual reproduction, to a masculine virility encoded in aesthetic output” (100). The aesthetics of neoclassical jazz express a version of sonic legitimacy. (As Chapman notes, this is “What Eric Porter has described as an element of ‘cultural Moynihanism’ in neotraditional jazz discourses” (21).) Gordon is a model for what becomes the genre’s “idealized subject,” who “ is, on the one hand, heroically resistant to youthful vice, and is at the same time the avatar of something close to entrepreneurial selfhood…at once fortified with an appreciation of timeless values, and perfectly calibrated to flourish in the ruthlessly atomized environment of the free market” (21). Chapman’s characterization of this idealized subject clearly presents it as the meeting point between private domestic individual (the subject of virtue and timeless values) and individual venturing onto the free private market.


The jazz metaphor

This feeling of legitimacy is what management scholars and corporate executives appeal to when they use jazz as a metaphor for entrepreneurship. Chapman argues that neoclassical jazz “c[a]me to resonate as a symbol for capitalism itself” because of “a mutual investment in constructions of virtuosic masculine creation” (101), and Cooper’s concept of legitimacy helps us deepen our understanding of what exactly this construction of ‘virtuosic masculine creation’ is: it’s a gendered, racialized private property relation designed to effect the same patrilineal transfer of wealth/personhood-as-property as the Fordist family traditionally did. In other words, “the jazz metaphor” (13) uses the feel of neoclassical jazz to suture risk-taking on private markets to legitimate foundations in the domestic private. Neoclassical jazz feels like legitimate patrilineal inheritance–that’s the whole point of Chapman’s analysis of Gordon’s second wind. The jazz metaphor appeals to that feel: insofar as metaphors transfer or carry things over from one place to another, this one carries the feel and effects of legitimacy over from a context that’s explicitly about patrilineal inheritance (of a musical tradition) to one that’s explicitly about private markets. The “jazz” in the jazz metaphor creates qualitative versions of the quantitative relations necessary for success in post-Gaussian, post-normalizing neoliberal markets.

This is why the “jazz” in the jazz metaphor has to be neoclassical jazz. As Chapman emphasizes,

The ease with which such ‘thought leaders’ have appropriated jazz as a metaphor for institutional risk taking may be attributed in part to the utility of certain kinds of jazz in making this point. Both the renewed interest in jazz as a metaphor for democracy as well as the emergent interest in jazz as a private-sector organizational metaphor coincide with the rise of neoclassical jazz in the late 1980s and early 1990s” (19).

Reading Chapman’s analysis of Gordon’s second wind through Cooper’s concept of legitimacy helps us understand the relationship between the rise of the jazz metaphor and the rise of neoclassical jazz as more than merely correlational or coincident. As normalization gives way to legitimation, metaphors for the private market had to be updated; neoclassical jazz’s narrative about patrilineal inheritance is precisely the thing/relationship these new metaphors for legitimacy needed to express.


Melancholic Risk

In his study of actual jazz musicians and musics, Chapman’s analysis can help us understand alternatives to legitimacy and legitimation that already exist in our world and don’t have to be invented or imagined out of thin air. These approaches largely fit with the practices I’ve identified as “melancholic”: they are ‘bad investments’ to the extent that they are beneficial for the people practicing them but don’t produce adequate surplus value for patriarchal racial capitalism.

Chapman argues that the jazz metaphor misreads the approach to risk that’s actually adopted in and by the music–in part because neoclassical jazz misreads the approach to risk originally taken by its jazz forefathers. First, in assuming that everyone is equally susceptible to risk, the jazz metaphor abstracts away from the relations of social domination (white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism) that structure the conditions of jazz music’s production and jazz musicians’ lives. As Chapman points out, jazz is a musical tradition invented and made by people who, because of white supremacy, face “a constant and existential exposure to radical risk” (44). Neoliberalism intensifies the already racially disproportional distribution of risk. Chapman argues that jazz is one of the practices that African-Americans have used to theorize alternative approaches to risk, ones that make patriarchal racial capitalism more navigable for them. He traces this approach back to the methods “enslaved people” used to undercut their value as commodities: “they frequently sought to act in ways that would affect the terms of their sale, engaging in a risky performativity designed to showcase (or undercut) their value to prospective buyers. Even as financial risk was understood to reside entirely with the owner of the chattel slave, the enslaved person herself took risks calculated to affect his or her own status as a commodified human” (43). This is something like what Katherine McKittrick calls “demonic calculus” or “wicked mathematics,” wherein black people make decisions that are bad/unprofitable approaches to capitalist financial risk because they are beneficial decisions for them and their lives. (This is, btw, exactly what I mean by melancholy.) McKittrick gives the example of Du Bois’s observations about the role of gambling as a mode of sociality in African-American communities. Gambling is always a bad financial decision (the house always wins), but that poor economic investment was a positive investment in sociality and the social life of a minority community. In this context, we might think of this as illegitimate or illegitimating approaches to risk.


It’s this sort of approach to risk that Chapman identifies in the “classical” jazz that neoclassicals seek to revive. For example, he reads Herbie Hancock’s quintet as a place where “performers navigating a space of controlled freedom construct a social dynamic in which freedom and responsibility are held in tension through the SHARED currency of risk” (49), and he notes a similar commitment to collectivizing risk in Miles Davis’s quintet (54). Here, risk is not something solely or primarily embodied by the private individual. Chapman argues that neoclassical jazz cheerleaders like Wynton Marsalis misread and misinterpret the collective approach to risk. I will quote Chapman at length because this is a crucial point:

If the technical devices used by the Davis quintet and the early Marsalis group are clearly similar at the level of their sonic traces, the language that the two bands use to account for their respective applications of these devices reveals a difference of emphasis…[in davis] the cues that the quintet used to shift rhythmic emphasis were often subtle, and only identifiable as cues in retrospect…By contrast, Marsalis’s account of the similar polyrhythmic devices employed by his band tends to imply that their logic, if not their precise timing, was meticulously rehearsed…What is implied here is a clear hierarchy, with one player…responsible for indicating the precise moment in which the band would emerge from the metric overlay (57).

Marsalis individualizes what was originally collective, re-making the jazz classics in the image of neoliberal legitimacy. In this way, neoclassical jazz enables white business people and management scholars in their misreading of jazz’s traditional approach to risk. That traditional approach is one place we can look for existing alternatives to neoliberalism and neoliberal legitimation. How does this collectivization of risk among members of a group provide a different kind of risk protection or accommodation than the private, legitimate family? In this way, music studies might contribute to feminist political philosophy’s theorization of legitimacy.