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Watching JazzEncounters with Jazz Performance on Screen$
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Björn Heile, Peter Elsdon, and Jenny Doctor

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780199347650

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199347650.001.0001

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Assimilating and Domesticating Jazz in 1950s American Variety Television

Assimilating and Domesticating Jazz in 1950s American Variety Television

Nat King Cole’s Transformation from Guest Star to National Host

(p.73) Chapter 3 Assimilating and Domesticating Jazz in 1950s American Variety Television
Watching Jazz

Kristin McGee

Oxford University Press

This chapter investigates how variety television supported the role of jazz artists in the conservative postwar era, as rock and roll superseded jazz’s prominence. Hosts such as the crossover jazz crooner Nat King Cole attracted domestic publics who nostalgically recalled swing’s participatory culture during the war. This chapter first examines Cole’s appearances in Ed Sullivan’s variety program Toast of the Town before turning to the series that Cole himself hosted, The Nat King Cole Show. Cole’s musical versatility, charismatic personality, and civic activism earned his show a special place in the history of early music television; yet the program’s commercial failure betrayed the continued racism guiding American mass culture at that time. These obstacles—exacerbated by jazz critics who prioritize modern instrumental jazz as America’s national art—have contributed to the peripheral status today of jazz singers like Cole whose careers prospered on television in the postwar era.

Keywords:   Nat King Cole, variety television, jazz crooner, Ed Sullivan, racism, American mass culture

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