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Rethinking Jazz Cultures

Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures

By Published: April 30, 2013
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
George Wein
George Wein
b.1925
piano
'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.

Abandoned factories have long served as centers for cultural creativity and community social spaces, and are magnets for subcultures and the marginalized. One need only think of Italy's numerous left-leaning centri sociali, initially squatted abandoned factories, the best organized of which provide child day-care, cinema, affordable food and drink, waltzes for the elderly, live music, recording facilities for up-and-coming bands, workshops and a forum for political debate and discourse.

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 produced—particularly improvised music—and 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.


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