Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures
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.