Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures
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