Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures
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."