Who Represents Jazz? Exemplars and the Dichotomy of Intra-Professional Purity and Extra-Professional Appeal

Damon Phillips

Damon J. Phillips
Robert Steinberg Professor of Management
The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania

This research explores the relationship between an artist’s reputation amongst her peers and the degree to which she is as an exemplar – one of the few artists representing their genre in broader culture. While it is not surprising that exemplars are seen in high regard by their peers, there are also many artists who seem to have a similarly high regard but who are obscure. To better understand this relationship, we combine the results of a rare industry poll of leading jazz musicians with 45 years of musician collaboration data to examine how appeal among two key audiences – a musician’s peers and the public – interact to shape her categorical exemplariness. We find that a musician’s public and elite peer appeal have opposing relationships with their categorical exemplariness. Public appeal is positively associated with the extent to which an artist is seen as an exemplar of their field. In contrast, appeal among elite peers playing the same instrument is negatively associated with their categorical exemplariness. However, the most exemplary musicians are those that appeal to both elite peers and the public. We also find that musicians with greater collaborative distance from their elite peers are more likely to be exemplars because they are less likely to appeal to same instrument peers. Combining these sets of findings with qualitative evidence we draw inferences about how the relationship between public and peer appeal lead to either exemplariness or obscurity.