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Rethinking Jazz Cultures

Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures

By Published: April 30, 2013
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
Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
b.1937
bass, acoustic
's arrest in Portugal in 1971 after a concert with saxophonist Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
'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 regimes—or not, as the case may be—and 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
Acker Bilk
Acker Bilk
b.1929
clarinet
'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
Chris Barber
Chris Barber
b.1930
trombone
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
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
'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.


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