Kelsey Klotz, "Dave Brubeck and the Performance of Whiteness" (Oxford UP, 2023)


How can we—jazz fans, musicians, writers, and historians—understand the legacy and impact of a musician like Dave Brubeck? It is undeniable that Brubeck leveraged his fame as a jazz musician and status as a composer for social justice causes, and in doing so, held to a belief system that, during the civil rights movement, modeled a progressive approach to race and race relations. It is also true that it took Brubeck, like others, some time to understand the full spectrum of racial power dynamics at play in post-WWII, early Cold War, and civil rights-era America.

Dave Brubeck and the Performance of Whiteness (Oxford UP, 2023) uses Brubeck's performances of whiteness across his professional, private, and political lives as a starting point to understand the ways in which whiteness, privilege, and white supremacy more fully manifested in mid-century America. How is whiteness performed and re-performed? How do particular traits become inscribed with whiteness, and further, how do those traits, now racialized in a listener's mind, filter the sounds a listener hears? To what extent was Brubeck's whiteness made by others? How did audiences and critics use Brubeck to craft their own identities centered in whiteness? Drawing on archival records, recordings, and previously conducted interviews, Dave Brubeck and the Performance of Whiteness listens closely for the complex and shifting frames of mid-century whiteness, and how they shaped the experiences of Brubeck's critics, audiences, and Brubeck himself. Throughout, author Kelsey Klotz asks what happens when a musician tries to intervene, using his privilege as a tool with which to disrupt structures of white supremacy, even as whiteness continues to retain its hold on its beneficiaries.

Nathan Smith is a PhD Student in Music Theory at Yale University (

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Nathan Smith

Nathan Smith is a PhD candidate in Music Theory at Yale University (

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