Mid-Century Modern Jazz: Music and Design in the Postwar Home

Perchard, Tom. 2017. Mid-Century Modern Jazz: Music and Design in the Postwar Home. Popular Music, 36(1), pp. 55-74. ISSN 0261-1430 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This article takes an imagined, transnational living room as its setting, examining jazz’s place in representations of the ‘modern’ middle-class home across the post-war West, and exploring the domestic uses that listeners both casual and committed made of the music in recorded form. In magazines as apparently diverse as Ideal Home in the UK and Playboy in the US, a certain kind of jazz helped mark a new middlebrow connoisseurship in the 1950s and 60s. But rather than simply locating jazz in a historical sociology of taste, this piece attempts to describe jazz’s role in what was an emergent middle-class sensorium. The music’s sonic characteristics were frequently called upon to complement the newly sleek visual and tactile experiences – of furniture, fabrics, plastics, the light and space of modern domestic architecture – then coming to define the aspirational bourgeois home; an international modern visual aesthetic was reflected back in jazz album cover art. Yet to describe experience or ambience represents a challenge to historical method. As much as history proper, then, it’s through a kind of experimental criticism of both music and visual culture that this piece attempts to capture the textures and moods that jazz brought to the postwar home.

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Music > Popular Music Research Unit


1 December 2016Accepted
1 January 2017Published

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Date Deposited:

12 Dec 2016 13:27

Last Modified:

25 Jan 2021 20:00

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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