Ideals, Aesthetics, and Practices of Professionalization in the Tokyo Jazz Scene

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In the early twenty-first century, jazz has a history in Japan of approximately 100 years. In contemporary Tokyo, Japanese musicians demonstrate their right to access jazz performance through a variety of musical and extra-musical techniques. Those accepted as fully professional and authentic artists, or puro, gain a special status among their peers, setting them apart from their amateur and part-time counterparts. Drawing on three months of participant-observation in the Tokyo jazz scene, I examine this status of puro, its variable definition, the techniques used by musicians to establish themselves as credible jazz performers, and some obstacles to achieving this status. I claim two things: first, aspiring puro musicians establish themselves within a jazz tradition through musical references to African American identity and a rhetoric of jazz as universal music. Second, I claim that universalism as a core aesthetic creates additional obstacles to puro status for certain musicians in the Tokyo scene.