The formalization of New Orleans jazz musicians: a case study of organizational change

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

This study involves the social structures and processes contained in the organization of New Orleans jazz musicians. The literature concerning the sociology of musicians as well as general sociology suggests some initial hypotheses. These hypotheses involve sociological concepts such as formalization, socialization into jazz, band cohesion, band-audience relations, commercialism and organizational type. However, the hypotheses function merely as starting points for the major purpose of this paper -- the generation of emergent theory.

The emergent theory involves the concept of formalization as well as the other concepts previously mentioned. The data from which the theory emerges are provided by histories of jazz, biographies and autobiographies, institutional sources and interviews with seventeen commercial jazzmen. The findings in relation to New Orleans jazzmen indicate that changes in the type of organization that the musicians manifest have important consequences for the variables selected for the hypotheses. In addition, some general theoretical findings emerge; e.g., the nature of the dialectical relationship between orientation and organization is explored.

More specifically, the findings suggest that first (on the macro level) as the musicians have become more formal (and less communal) in organization and progressively white vis-a-vis racial composition, the socialization into music has become more secondary, the codification associated with the production of music has increased, the end product has become objectified (in the form of recordings), and the social class of the musicians has increased from "lower-middle" to "upper-middle" class. Second (on the biographical level), the following changes are associated with the orientations of the musicians throughout their careers: perception of codification within the organization decreases; the social distance between the musician and the band decreases; the orientation of the musician changes from traditional to commercial; and the commitment to the band increases. Finally, a formal theoretical statement suggests that there is a dialectical relationship between orientations and social organization.