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This dissertation engages with scholarship in musical semiotics and hermeneutics to offer insight into the aesthetics of hard bop (c. 1954–65), a jazz genre often characterized as a return to jazz’s roots. By synthesizing the semiotic perspectives of Raymond Monelle, Danuta Mirka, and Stephen Rumph on the notion of musical topics (style references), I posit a generalized model of topical signification that is sound regardless of stylistic context. From this theoretical stance, I infer three categories of topics in hard bop: vernacular topics, nostalgic topics, and exotic topics. This study culminates with a reading of the 1963 Jazz Messengers recording of Wayne Shorter’s “One by One” (Ugetsu: Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers at Birdland) that questions the narrative temptations that topics may elicit. This reading draws on Lawrence Kramer’s notion of “narrativity”—a meaningful teleological impulse (e.g., a power struggle)—but does not espouse any master narrative or plot. Instead, my eclectic interpretation draws on the philosophical and psychoanalytic writings of Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, and Slavoj Žižek to establish a network of associative meanings.