Jazz music in children’s television
Keywords:Carl Stalling, Hoyt Curtin, Scott Bradley, The Muppet Show, Sesame Street
Jazz music in children’s television communicates complex and subversive messages about the constructed notion of the child. As a musical and visual style, jazz has the potential to create a semiotic space for young viewers to explore a range of issues in ways not possible by more widely used genres of music for children. Whether as soundtrack, theme song or live performance on children’s television, jazz music provides the opportunity for resistant readings that undermine the very construction of childhood. I examine the use of jazz in early Hollywood cartoons and in the Hanna-Barbera productions of the early 1960s (The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear and Top Cat) in order to explain how sub-genres of jazz were used to signify age, social status, race and gender. This is followed by a discussion of jazz on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show and how it has been used in didactic, instructional and progressive educational programming, often strategically for its connotations of race and sexuality. I argue that jazz in children’s television offers a forum in which often-complex and contradictory issues of adulthood can be accessed, contextualised and negotiated by the child. The experience that jazz represents negates innocence, the main defining quality of Western childhood. However, as an abstract art form, jazz on television captures the fluidity of childhood and challenges the puritanical and Romantic foundations of its white hetero-normative construction.
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