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Rethinking Jazz Cultures

Tony Whyton: What Does Jazz Do For You?

By Published: October 21, 2013
TW: I'd like to think so. One of the legacies of the project that I wanted to pursue was to talk more broadly with journalists, media and jazz writers and so on about this—the way jazz is written about and understood. It's not necessarily to stand on my pedestal and say you're doing this wrongly, you're representing the music in a limited way—it's more to enter into a dialogue. What are we doing here? I'm not convinced that we're there yet. I think that in a lot of the jazz press or writings about jazz we fall back on these comfort zones. It's a kind of shorthand where we can say a few things about the music and its past, but I think it would be really good to create some sort of forum where we could share ideas and talk more creatively and productively about the way the music is represented. Otherwise, and it's a point I keep coming back to, we're doing the complexity and value of the music a disservice by limiting its representations.

Some jazz journalists or writers might look at my book and say it's academic gobbledygook and too theory-driven. I'm sure there are people who think that scholars live in ivory towers and don't understand the music, but I think the Rhythm Changes conference indicated to me that these perceptions are changing, and that we are at a really important point of writing about the music where we can develop common projects and develop ways of working that benefit the music as well. One of the privileges of working on Rhythm Changes has been not only producing scholarly work and a series of books but getting the opportunity to work with musicians, festivals and venues.

If we can help bring people to the music and enhance their listening, for me, that would one of the triumphs of Rhythm Changes.

AAJ: Rhythm Changes was initially conceived as a three-year project but it sounds like there are good arguments for extending the project; is that a possibility?

TW: It's hard because the initial funding we received was for a fixed period of time. There will be a legacy to the project but it will probably find ias ts way into a number of different activities. Rhythm Changes has provided us with a platform to develop these ideas in different ways. I feel privileged to have been part of it.

Further reading as recommended by Tony Whyton
Steven Feld, Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra: Five Musical Years in Ghana (Duke University Press, 2012)
John Gennari, Blowin' Hot and Cool: Jazz and its Critics (University of Chicago Press, 2006)
J Robert Walser, Keeping Time: Readings in Jazz History (Oxford University Press, 1999)

Photo Credit
Page 1: Andrew Dubber
Page 3: Ian Patterson
Page 5: Paul Floyd Blake
Page 9: Courtesy of Louis Armstrong House Museum

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