Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures
Media City UK, Salford
Rethinking Jazz Cultures Conference
April 11-14, 2013
The study of jazz in academic institutions may be a relatively modern trend, but the presence of over a hundred academics from South Africa to Russia and from America to Portugal at the Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures conference, at Media City UK, Salford, underlined that it's an undeniably global phenomenon. It's also a sign of the continuing evolution and maturation of historical, socio-political, anthropological and musicological perspectives on music that is more than a century long in the tooth.
There may be some who feel that jazz and academia make for odd companions, mutually exclusive fields, but if academic scrutiny is good enough for poetry, literature, graphic art, cinema, theater and other forms of music, then why not jazz? And as the Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures project leader and Director of Salford Music Research, Tony Whyton, pointed out, the participation in the conference of jazz media, promoters and performers also afforded an opportunity to rethink the relationship between the academic world and the broader creative industries.
Time for A Rethink
Such rethinking is perhaps overdue, too. Whilst there are still those who believe that the last revolution in jazz was the advent of jazz-fusion in the 1970s, others point to the current age as perhaps the most fertile in the 100-year history of the music. Things have certainly changed and moved on from 1970s jazz-fusion and the neo-traditionalist backlash of the 1980s. The dawn of cheap travel, the birth of the internet, home recording and independent record labels have together conspired to bring about greater cross-pollination of musical styles and a greater proliferation of jazz than ever before. Musicians don't have to meet or even know each other to record a CD, and the click of a button can send the music to jazz loversand the money to the musiciansinstantaneously, to every corner of the world.
If the way the music is produced and disseminated has changed radically, so too has the way it's promoted and consumed. With traditional print magazines and newspapers increasingly faced with a choice between distributing for free and going bankrupt, a significant sea change is also shaking up jazz media. Radio and television largely eschew jazz from their programming, and combined with the decline of major jazz record labels, the era of the jazz star has all but disappeared. Giants like saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter and Lee Konitz, drummer Roy Haynes and pianists Cecil Taylor and Ahmad Jamal represent the last of the so-called golden age of jazz.
The passing of jazz's historically iconic figures, rather than sounding the death knell of the music, may instead announce a new dawn, one where upcoming generations of jazz musicians can experiment unencumbered by the weight and expectation of historical conformity, of carrying on the tradition. This passing of the old guard and the growth of distinctive new voices around the world also offers us the opportunity to rethink jazz's history in a less romantic light, to look beyond the overly simplistic linear history that tends to ignore the often complex, transnational history of jazz, and in doing so, to look at the jazz music of today with fresh eyes.
The Rhythm Changes Projectsetting the scene
The 2013 Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures conference brought together delegates from the world of academia, a few independent researchers and a smattering of jazz media folk to do precisely thatreexamine the music, the forces that have shaped it, its socio-political impact and trends, old and modern, in all things jazz-related. The wide-ranging papers presented embraced a century of jazz across five continents and were delivered withfor the most partthe intellectual rigor and detachment that is the code of academics. That's not to say that the delegates were emotionally detached from the music; on the contrary, many of the assembled are jazz musicians, and all are passionate fans and advocates of the music.
For four days, thinkers from America, the UK, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, Australia, Germany, Austria, Russia, Denmark, Norway, Canada, Belgium, Finland and Holland presented 20-minute papers on a surprisingly wide variety of subjects and engaged in lively, often fascinating debate. In addition, keynote presentations, panel discussions, poster exhibitions and a dash of live music provided a diverse and stimulating package for those in attendance. The majority of attendees conformed to the grey hair/no hair demographic of most jazz audiences at concerts and festivals in America and Europe, though the steady flow of tweets that filled the electronic board in the foyer proved two things firstly, that the social media that's changing the way we communicateand the way jazz is promotedis not the sole preserve of youth, and secondly, that academics are also prone at times to the most banal of pronouncements.
Funded by Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) as part of its Cultural Dynamics: Inheritance and Identity program, Rhythm Changes is a three-year project that uses jazz as a platform to overturn the stones on knottyand sometimes controversialissues such as jazz and national identity, jazz as a political tool, jazz ownership and jazz as a transnational cultural practice. It also challenges reductive binary distinctions such as American versus European jazz, and jazz as art/popular culture.
The Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures project began life in 2011 as a 13-strong team drawn from seven institutions in five European countries. The project has snowballed however, and the ranks have been swelled by an ever-growing number of partners, musicians and scholars. In the short life of the Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures project the team has published a number of important books and articles on salient themes, notably Whyton's own Jazz Icons: Heroes, Myths and the Jazz Tradition (Cambridge University Press, 2010) which, perhaps more than most books in recent years, succeeds in reimagining jazz history and invites new thinking on its iconic figures and their impact and on popular mythologies surrounding jazz.
Three parallel sessions of between three to four 20-minute presentations ran from morning until afternoon, with such a wide and fascinating range of topics on offer it wasn't always an easy task to decide which ones to attend and which to miss. Themes included jazz's fusion with distinct musical forms, jazz and digital media; venues and festivals; improvisation; jazz criticism; jazz education; South African jazz; jazz media; national/transnational discourses; jazz in violent spaces; jazz in poetry and fiction; jazz repertoire; swing and symphonic jazz; historiography and anthropology; jazz vernacular, European identities, and jazz canons.
David AkeMissing Wynton Already?
Friday and Saturday mornings' keynote presentations by David Ake (Director of the School of Arts at the University of Nevada) and E. Taylor Atkins (Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of History of Northern Illinois University) set the tone for many of the discussions that ensued as the three-day conference unfolded. Ake, a jazz pianist and author of several publications including Jazz Cultures (University California Press, 2002) and Jazz Matters: Sound, Place and Time since Bebop (University California Press, 2010), gave the audience plenty of food for thought with his presentation entitled: "After Wynton: Rethinking Jazz Cultures in the Post Neo-Traditional Era." Ake began by acknowledging the appropriateness of the conference's subtitle, saying "it highlights so succinctly that jazz has been created, embodied, experienced and valued in many different ways by many different people and these various communal creations, embodiments, experiences and valuations are ever in need of review and reassessment."
Beginning from the premise that influential trumpeter/educator Wynton Marsalis no longer attracts the same attention or raises the hackles that he once did for his shaping of the neo-traditionalist jazz panorama in the 1980s and 1990s or for his pronouncements as to what constitutes "authentic" jazz, Ake wondered if we might not miss Marsalis before too long. "The clarity, simplicity and widespread acceptance of Marsalis' neo-traditionalist message provided many of us scholars and teachers with a handy reference point from which to offer our own alternative visions of the music," Ake observed.
Addressing the audience, Ake asked: "How many of you, even within the past few years, have cited Wynton Marsalis and the people and institutions with which he's so closely associatedLincoln Center, Stanley Crouch, the Ken Burns' documentary and so onas representing pretty much the polar opposite of whatever else you thought the jazz world was, is, could or should be?" There was a healthy show of hands.
Marsalis definition of jazz as blues and swing is narrow, but if we refuse to accept Marsalis' definitionasked Akethen just how do we define jazz? How can jazz maintain a meaningful identity, when it covers such a vast sonic and cultural terrain? "It behooves us to have a response at the ready," Ake stated, "and ideally that response should be as forthright as Marsalis,' while at the same time reflecting the adaptability that so many of us associate with this music." Jazz, he posited, "is a set of ideas shaped by certain musical forms but also by the way people write, teach and talk about those sounds and who creates, sells and listens to them." This viewpoint was central to many of the conference presentations and inherent in the discussions that took place during coffee breaks, at lunch and over drinks in the evening.
E. Taylor AtkinsHaving Your Cake and Eating It
Atkins has authored a number of publications, including Blue Nippon: Authenticating Jazz in Japan (Duke University Press, 2001) and his talk went under the curious title of Let's Call This: A Paradoxical Platform for Transnational Jazz Studies. In it he advocated an inclusive approach to the new jazz studies, one that rejects reductionist theories of essentialism and nationalism when considering jazz outside America. In a nutshell, Atkins advised scholars to heed "the simultaneous relevance and irrelevance of time, place, and culture when examining the music in diverse contexts." Hence the paradox referred to in the paper's title.
Atkins warned against adhering to simple jazz nationalisms, the idea that jazz in Japan sounds somehow Japanese (or for that matter that jazz in Norway sounds Norwegian) and if it doesn't then it's merely a pale imitation of superior American jazz. Atkins noted that "jazz is an ideal mechanism for abolishing binary thinking that posits that individual expression isor should bedetermined by something called 'culture.'" In a balanced argument, Atkins first made the case for jazz's multi faceted political, social and cultural meanings according to the time, place and culture, and then proceeded to offer an alternative theory by refuting the possibility that time, place and culture can "fully explain or account for the music produced." Appropriately, in a paper that promoted the acknowledgment of paradox when approaching jazz studies, he highlighted some of the ironies inherent in jazz's story and the complexities involved in trying to compartmentalize it into neat, easy-to-digest packages.
The common denominator of Ake and Atkins' keynote presentations was their encouragement to take a fresh look at jazz, one that excludes either/or stancesnot in spite of the complexities but because of themand one that recognizes the universality of jazz and the diversity of circumstances in which it is, and has been, produced, promoted and consumed. In calling for a rethink, Ake, Atkins and the Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures conference are calling for inclusion rather than exclusion, progression as opposed to retrogression, and universality in place of nationalism.
However, prior to the drawing of lines and the rattling of sabers, there was an opening reception/registration evening at the CUBE Gallery in downtown Manchester, where conference delegates could mingle in an informal setting and negotiate the tricky business of shaking hands whilst balancing wine and a buffet plate. A photographic exhibition by Paul Floyd Blake and William Ellis provided the backdrop to the evening. Ellis is an internationally renowned photographer who has exhibited his work at jazz festivals throughout the world, including two exhibitions at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City. At the CUBE, Ellis was exhibiting samples of his One LP project, a study of artists portrayed with a favorite album accompanied by a bite-sized interview explaining the LP's importance to them. Ellis's "One LP" is now a monthly feature at All About Jazz.
Winner of the 2009 Taylor-Wessing National Portrait Photography Prize, Floyd Blake is known primarily as a photographer inspired by portraiture and landscape. A logical choice to bring a fresh perspective to jazz photography, Floyd Blake was commissioned by Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures to record images of jazz music and its relation to space at the North Sea Jazz festival in Rotterdam, the Copenhagen Jazz Festival and the London Jazz Festival.
In keeping with the aims of Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures to reconsider jazz, Blake's photography eschewed the archetypal "musicians on stage" shots, and invited the viewer to consider different perspectives of the festival spaces and the audiences' relation to those spaces. Jazz festivals have come a long way since George Wein's Newport Jazz Festival model in the 1950s, and in the early 21st century they are staged in locations ranging from civic halls to city-wide celebrations, and in geographic and topographic spaces as diverse as tropical islands, the North Pole and volcanic mountain ranges. Urban performance spaces vary greatly, from car parks and streets to marquees and pubs, from churches to squats and from converted factories to boats.
Spaces, People, Music
Anyone who subsequently attended Petter Frost Fadnes' paper The Performance Aspects of Contemporary Space: Negotiating New Rooms in Improvised Music will have come away with a greater sense of the possibilities of alternative urban spaces to alter both the performance dynamics and the audience experience. Fadnes, from the University of Stavanger, Norway, plays saxophone and electronics in The Geordie Approach, an Anglo/Norwegian trio that plays improvised music throughout a surprisingly large network of Trans Europe Halles or "culture factories" that crisscross Europe.
As Fadnes pointed out, the 'culture factories' that his trio are accustomed to playing in "allow musicians to work outside the restrictions of heavily branded jazz venues or rock clubs." Fadnes described this as a "curious and liberating" experience as the musicians come face to face with an entirely new set of expectations and norms, which, he underlined, "adds to the capacity to fuel new ideas," as many of the restrictions that operate in traditional live music venues are absent, or at least radically different in these alternative spaces.
Some of the performance spaces that were part of Fadnes' slide show included an active train station, abandoned beer and tobacco factories, and curiously, a venue constructed entirely from beer crates (see above). The factory is an obvious metaphor for production and escape from bourgeois concert halls, Fadnes observed, and he went on to say that these alternative scenes are as vibrant as ever because of unemployment in Europe. What is apparent to anyone who has ever visited such "culture factories" is that they tend to promote volunteerism, political thought, and small-scale local economies, and provide a community space that's supportive of the arts.
Such alternative performances spaces are certainly not new and are to be found in the USA and Japan too, but what is new, Fadnes noted, is that they're increasingly organized. Indeed, Fadnes observed, local councils, national funding bodies and the EU are diverting funds into such cultural centers with the justification of arts funding (local sustainability), regeneration (gentrification) and branding (cultural capital and image building).
With many jazz venues closing down, musicians and the communities they come from are increasingly forced to be ever more resourceful in creating performance spaces, something which is bound to have an impact on the music producedparticularly improvised musicand the way in which audiences relate to both the music and the new spaces they inhabit. These themes were also examined in freelance musician Ove Volquart's paper, Developing A Local Scene by Self-Organized Concert Series: Relations Between Performing Venue and the Development of (Jazz) Music, based on what he's seen from the perspective of the small, yet multi-national musical community in the German town of Göttingen.
The different spaces used to accommodate the live music that was part of the conference illustrated perfectly how music, space and people act on each other. Artist-in-residence, pianist/composer Matthew Bourne performed alongside saxophonist Christophe de Bezenac in a nook of the CUBE gallery on the opening night reception. The general hubbub of dozens of people socializing and networking and the unfriendly acoustics of the confined space rendered the electronic/acoustic music something of a sonic disasterhardly conducive to background music, if that was ever the intention. The performance of guitar duo Haftor Medboe and Alanda Williams was held in the foyer of the conference center and the large, high-ceilinged space was a perfectly suitable setting for acoustic renditions of jazz standards. It was possible to enjoy the duo's impressive interplay at close quarters but also as background music whilst engaging in conversation. The more formal setting of the main conference hall with its sophisticated sound and lighting systems promoted exactly the kind of quiet concentration conducive to full appreciation of the subtleties in the play of improvising trio of Bourne, drummer Steve Davis and bassist Dave Kane.
South African Stories
Jazz spaces are often mythologized as "the place to have been" or "the place to be seen" one need only think of Storyville, Bourbon Street, 52nd Street and how they, and spaces like them, have helped frame jazz's history and mythology. Jostine Loubser from the University of Salford gave a fascinating paper entitled You Are Now In Fairyland: Jazz from District Six, which examined the relationship between space and music in the particular case of District Six, Cape Town, South Africa in the 1970s. As related by Loubser, District Six was a vibrant community of colored residents, black Xhosa residents, Malay immigrants, Muslims, Christians, Afrikaans, whites and Indians. Pianist Abdullah Ibrahim once described District Six as "a city within a city," and interestingly, Loubser questioned Ibrahim's perceived role as a pioneer of South African jazz, citing instead guitarist/singer Cliffie Moses as one of the pioneers of the Cape Town sound, which was influenced by carnival music. For Loubser, District Six was comparable to Storyville, New Orleans, and a place where human activities and music intertwined successfully, with music and dance as the glue in the integration of the people.
Loubser described how the apartheid government systematically removed District Six's 60,000 inhabitants in accordance with its policy of racial segregation, almost entirely leveling the neighborhood in little more than a decade. The racial integration of District Six was cause for celebration, and in fact the neighborhood has been immortalized in film, poetry and song. In terms of significant worldwide migration, waves of refugees fleeing conflict, and an exodus from the countryside to the cities, Loubser's paper served as a timely reminder of the possibilities of integrated communities and music's role in fostering and cementing integration.
The question of a Cape Town jazz sound, as alluded to by Loubser, was examined in a paper entitled New Ways of Being South African: Canon Formation in South African Jazz and Elsewhere, by Marc Duby of the University of South Africa. Duby drew attention to the existence of the Cape Jazz Real Book, though he admitted that trying to define South African Jazz, "is like walking a tightrope between essentialism and nostalgia." Authenticity and essentialism were recurring themes throughout a number of papers and one of the more illuminating ones was You Ain't Gonna Hear Me 'Cause You Think You Hear Me: South African Jazz's Struggle Against European Cliché, by Jonathan Eato of the University of York. Taking the South African group the Blue Notes as his starting point, Eato assessed the influence of the group in Europe and the subsequent splinter groups, notably pianist Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath, but the central tenet of his paper was the nature, or rather the perceived natureof these South African exiles' music that has influenced more than one generation of European jazz musician.
European critics typically referred to a perceived South African sonic cultural identity, using non-specific terms like "township," to cite one example, to describe the music's rhythms. Referring to Tony Herrington's review of the Brotherhood of Breath's Country Cooking (Virgin, 1988) in The Wire magazine, Eato highlighted the reviewer's negativity to the music in suggesting that McGregor had abandoned the "radical, cross-cultural hybrid" of his earlier albums in favor of a mainstream European sound. Eato pointed out that McGregor himself regarded Country Cooking as his most successful South African recording and the presenter went on to question the qualifications of European reviewers to decide what does or doesn't sound South African.
Country Cooking was broadly panned at the time by critics for being too bland and for using Ellingtonian arrangements but the short audio clip of the album that Eato played in the session was a reminder that so much of the character of South African music is defined by melodies, and that the search for dominant, or complex rhythmic patterns in all South African music is perhaps a European expectation of a projected authenticity. An equally poignant title for Eato's paper might have been "Whose Authenticity?" The paper also sounded a cautionary note to reviewers and critics, reminding them of the poverty of sweeping generalizations.
Warring Factions, Hot and Cold
The timing of the Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures conference, coinciding with Smithsonian Jazz's annual Jazz Appreciation Month may have been a coincidence, but as one conference academic pointed out, the Smithsonian Jazz's slogan started out in 2002 as "Jazz, Made in America, Enjoyed Worldwide," morphing in 2005 to "Jazz, Born in America, Enjoyed Worldwide"an improvement, but a position that nevertheless suggests that jazz is only authentic if played by Americans, and by extension, that jazz is passively consumed around the world.
The questions of authenticity in jazz and that of national jazz sounds were two recurring themes throughout the conference, and judging by the global reach of the papers, ones of universal concern. There were several papers on Russian jazz, of which Diana Kondrashin writer for Jazz.Ru, the Moscow Times and a recent recruit to All About Jazzgave an insight into the shifting perceptions of jazz in Russia over the course of the last 90 yearsand the challenges it faces todayin her paper Contemporary Russian Jazz: Adaption, Tradition or "High Treason"? According to Kondrashin, jazz grew in popularity during WWII as it was associated with Russia's allies in the war against Hitler, but as the Cold War emerged jazz was seen as "alien music," and playing or listening to it was akin to collaboration.
The end of the Cold War ushered in a revival in jazz in Russia with several dozen jazz festivals of all stripes popping up since the 1990s and a Russian language magazine (and website), Jazz.Ru launched in 2007. Russian jazz, as Kondrashin observed, is not exempt from the type of feuding that has characterized the various branches or movements of jazz in America over the years, with Russian free-jazz musicians running afoul of more traditional, mainstream jazz musicians.
The Cold War that Kondrashin referenced in her broad sweep of the history of Russian jazz lay at the heart of Rudiger Ritter's paper, Broadcasting Jazz into The Eastern Bloc: Cold War Weapon or Cultural Exchange? The Example of Willis Conover. Conover's famous Voice of America jazz broadcasts, the paper stated, have always been mythologized as playing a part in the fall of Communism in the Eastern Bloc, but echoing keynote presenter David Ake's premise that jazz is experienced and valued differently by different cultures, the author challenged the popularly held notion of Conover the liberator. This thought-provoking paper presented a number of alternative scenarios, ranging from the innocuous, less heroic narrative (jazz appreciated simply as a valve to let off steam) to the more controversial (jazz utilized by the then Soviet government to stabilize society).
Jazz was inspired to a degree in the 1960s and 1970s by the Civil Rights Movement and Anti-Vietnam war sentiment, exemplified in Ritter's account of bassist Charlie Haden's arrest in Portugal in 1971 after a concert with saxophonist Ornette Coleman's group for dedicating his composition "Song for Che" to the liberation movements in the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau. At around the time of the colonial wars, as was illustrated in a paper entitled Jazz and Television in Portugal in the 1960s and 1970s, by Pedro Cravinho of the University of Averio, the TV JAZZ series was broadcast in Portugal. Cravinho suggested that music with a strongly African-American identity was at odds with the values of the regimes of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar and Marcelo Caetano, and represented an apparent contradiction in a state where censorship was the norm. Jazz per se was clearly not considered as subversive in Portugal at that time, and as E. Taylor Atkins remarked in his keynote speech, the symbolism of freedom, individualism and equality often projected by American writers on jazz may instead be replaced by the values of discipline, conformity and nationalism in other countries.
Bowler Hats and Waistcoats: British Trad-Jazz
As American jazz was challenging fascist/communist regimesor not, as the case may beand spreading its gospel through U.S. State Department-sponsored tours the world over, the British traditional jazz revival of the 1950s and 1960s sought to color the New Orleans-inspired music with a decidedly British identity. In his paper, Questions of National Identity in the British Traditional Jazz Revival, the BBC's Alyn Shipton discussed the incorporation of English folk songs, typified by trumpeter Humphrey Lyttleton's reworking of "One Man went to Mow" and clarinetist Acker Bilk's red, white and blue waistcoats and bowler hats, to more subtle musical representations of British tradition and also of a changing society influenced by mass immigration from the former British colonies.
Shipton questioned whether the "trad boom" used British stereotypes as marketing devices and whether collaborations with Caribbean musicians were genuine expressions of the growing multi-culturalism of Britain. Certainly, Shipton recalled, the traditional-jazz revival was immensely popular in Britain, with Chris Barber selling out venues of several thousand people every night. One conclusion that Shipton drew was that just as the American jazz musicians of the 1960s had sought to escape the grasp of Charlie Parker's influence by forging new sounds, so too did British traditional-jazz musicians attempt to create a uniquely British brand.
Presenting, Disseminating, Consuming
Shipton, alongside Sebastian Scotney of London Jazz , Alexander Kan from the World Service and this author, took part in the Jazz and the Media Panel, part of a wider conference theme about the way jazz is presented and consumed these days. Just as jazz magazines face increasing competition from on-line jazz sources and social media, jazz radio is also challenged by consumers' new listening habits and by commercial/national radio's preference for more popular genres of music. Shipton's Jazz Library show on BBC Radio 3 attracts 200,000 listeners for the one hour show, suggesting that the audience for jazz is perhaps greater than the ten hours per week that the BBC currently allots for jazz. However, as Shipton noted, the BBC considers itself to be the home of classical music.
There was plenty of food for thought during the discussion and a healthy dose of shared optimism in the future role that the various branches of jazz media will play in advocating jazz. Perhaps, however, the inclusion of a hard-copy jazz magazine writer would have contributed to a wider debate, particularly given the precarious health of printed publications these days.
If the internet is reshaping how jazz is presented and promoted, then it is certainly exerting a major influence on the way it is consumed. In his paper Tuning to A Different Channel, Jonty Stockdale, from the University of West London examined new and emerging trends in the digital dissemination of music. Though CDs haven't disappeared yet, despite recent prophecies to the contrary, Stockdale stated that a tipping point has been reached whereby downloads now account for over 50% of music sales. By analyzing data from online content streams, Stockdale demonstrated that the large masses of individuals streaming are perhaps changing the perception of jazzparticularly when a '"jazz" search throws up Michael Bublé as the genre's number one representative. Another concern that Stockdale raised was the question of who will be responsible for the future digitization of old jazz recordings. If old jazz recordings are not digitized, Stockdale posited, there will come a day when they simply cease to exist. How, Stockdale asked rhetorically, will this affect the canon of jazz?
Cosmopolitanism & Essentialism
Repeatedly, discussion centered around essentialismthe search for or perception of a national jazz sound. In his paper Rethinking "European Jazz" through the work of Steven Feld, Tim Wall, from Birmingham City University took as his starting point the conclusions of anthropologist Feld's 5-year study using jazz cosmopolitanism to investigate the way musicians in Accra, Ghana absorbed and used the American jazz idiom. Wall turned his attention to saxophonists Jan Garbarek, Courtney Pine and Dudu Pukwana, and using the tools of cosmopolitanism, essentialism and re-enculturationwhich Wall described as turning something from another culture into something that is your ownhe addressed the idea that European jazz may have a distinctive sound and how individual cultures or countries in Europe may exhibit an approach to jazz distinctive to that in the United States.
Wall posited that Garbarek sounds the way he does not because he can't help it but because he has actively pursued his sound through hard practice, thus steering wide of the essentialist viewpopular in the mediathat there is an inherent Nordic sound. Another angle of Wall's paper was precisely the role the media play in propagating such notions.
Gerry Godley, founder and artistic director of the 12 Points Festival one of the most important platforms for emerging European jazz talentbetter described the so-called Nordic sound as "the sound of uninhibition" and acknowledged that in the first few editions of 12 Points "we were taken with the essentialism of European music," perhaps reflecting a wider trend in Europeand possibly to some degree a self-conscious oneof celebrating sounds distinctive from that of the United States. Goldey added, however, that "as the festival has gone on we've moved further and further away from this idea." It would seem that European jazz, as vibrant and diverse as it is, is still juggling with its sense of identity.
An example of this is what Wall termed Pine's "multi-faceted identity"; when one thinks of Pine's transition from the sharp suits of the neo-traditionalist era of the 1980s to the Rastafarian look of the 1990's, his embrace of urban rhythms and his forays into music inspired by his Jamaican ancestry, his Afro-British and Afro-European identity then Walland Feld'sideas on the affects of cosmopolitanism and trans-national jazz culture come more sharply into focus.
Old Faces, New Light
Several papers invited a reexamination of musicians of historical note: Barbara Bleij, from the University of Amsterdam, made a strong case for recognizing the contemporary ideas that saxophonist Wayne Shorter drew on, in her paper The Stellar Composer: The Intersection of Musical Cultures in Wayne Shorter's Music. Placing the Shorter pieces "E.S.P.," "Virgo" and "Infant Eyes" under the microscope of musical analysis, Bleij argued that Shorter's musical modernismwhich has subsequently influenced so many jazz musicians around the worldhas been conveniently overlooked by jazz critics, or else interpreted as his "genius," which Bleij suggested conforms to the predominant jazz narrative that celebrates "original voices" and "creative genius."
A poster presentation in the foyer by Jamie Fyffe of the University of Glasgow, entitled The European Influences of Pianist Bill Evans: Reassessing Their Impact on Kind of Blue Through Musical Analysis took a fresh look at this seminal album. Acknowledging Evans' impressionistic influence on the music, Fyffe posited that its European influences stemmed compositionally from Miles Davis more than Evans. Another poster presentation, Picturing Blanton: Visual Sources in Researching Jimmy Blanton's Bass Playing offered photographic and video sources that shed light on Blanton's stylistic evolution.
Val Wilmer in Conversation
The final word of Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures went to internationally renowned English jazz writer and photographer Val Wilmer, in discussion with Dave Laing. Wilmerwhose first article appeared in Jazz Journal in 1959discussed a series of her best known photographs, including portraits of drummer Rashied Ali, trumpeter Louis Armstrong, and saxophonist Johnny Griffin. The title of one of Wilmer's books, As Serious As Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz (Alison & Busby, 1977) sums up Wilmer's lifelong passion for jazz. She spoke candidly about her experiences in America, from New Orleans to the free jazz movement. Discussing a photograph of saxophonist Dexter Gordon having his shoes shined in London in the 1960s, Wilmer remarked: "Of course the photo was set up, but as soon as Dexter started laughing we both knew what it meanthere was a black man having his shoes shined by a white man."
The Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures conference thus ended as it had started, with photographs as the starting point for discussion and reassessment of things we may take for granted, such as the physical space in which jazz is played, and the past, whichas was amply demonstrated in dozens of paperswhen considered carefully from multiple angles, can teach us much about what we thought we knew, and help illuminate the present. Jazz, rather than being a still photograph captured forever in time, is more akin to a giant jigsaw puzzle, frayed here and there, faded in some places, shining brightly in others, with perhaps a few pieces annoyingly missing and a few that don't quite seem to fita never-ending puzzle where the bigger picture is a continual work in progress. Jazz needs academia and more projects like Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures to help make sense of the picture, to provide greater understanding, and no doubt, too, greater appreciation of jazz music, wherever it is played and listened to.
Page 1: Paul Floyd Blake
Page 4: Petter Frost Fadnes
All other photos: Ian Patterson