2018 NASSS Annual Conference
Sport Soundtrack: Sport, Music, & Culture

Sang Uk Joo

Messiah College
Asian American Jazz behind the Barbed Wire

Asian American jazz musicians involved in the Asian American movement began to weld their musical activities to the struggle for Asian American empowerment and identity during the late 1970s and early 1980s (Fellezs, 2007). Sansei (third-generation Japanese American) film director Desmond Nakano strategically used Asian American jazz as an oppositional musical expression, which could potentially empower Asian Americans and Japanese Americans in particular. In his film American Pastime (2007), Nakano displays jazz and baseball as key parts of life in the Topaz internment camp not only to increase public awareness about the internment of Japanese Americans but also to reveal the overlooked history and heritage of Asian American jazz and baseball. Through postcolonial theorist Homi K. Bhabha’s concepts of mimicry and hybridity, we examine how Asian American jazz is displayed in this film as a hybridized form of hegemonic American jazz and functions as a form of resistance along with Asian American baseball. We particularly pay attention to 1) the main character, Lyle Nomura, gifted at playing jazz and baseball; 2) a jazz band composed of Japanese American internees, and 3) a swing danced by an interned Japanese American couple.