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Documenting Jazz 2019

Ian Patterson By

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Most jazz isn’t about jazz, at least in terms of how it’s consumed —Professor Krin Gabbard, Columbia University
Documenting Jazz
Conservatory of Music and Drama
TU Dublin
Dublin, Ireland
January 17-19, 2019

Jazz music, which has pretty much always meant different things to different people, has been comprehensively documented since its arrival in the first decades of the twentieth century.

The most obvious form of documentation, that's to say studio recording, is almost as old as the music itself, whilst live recordings, both official releases and bootlegs, radio and television broadcasts, provide copious evidence of what live jazz has sounded like at almost any given point in its history.

Add to that the histories, biographies, autobiographies, individual country studies, plus all the live reviews, photographs and opinion pieces from specialist journalists the world over and it's safe to say that jazz has been extremely well served by the documenters. Or so it seems.

The academia-driven New Jazz Studies—surely in need of an updated moniker a quarter of a century on?—however, thrives on the premise that there is an awful lot about our understanding of jazz that merits serious analysis or revision.

To that end, over a hundred academics, authors and independent researchers gathered at the Technological University Dublin Conservatory of Music and Drama, where, for three days, they presented multiple papers on a broad range of subjects related to the documentation of jazz.

Documenting Jazz is the brainchild of Dr. Damian Evans. Jazz bassist, academic and one of the original founders of the Galway Jazz Festival, Evans has been a key figure on the Irish jazz scene, both as a musician and a researcher, for over a decade. In welcoming the delegates Evans acknowledged the Rhythm Changes project as the major inspiration for Documenting Jazz. Since 2013, the annual Rhythm Changes conference—held in a different city each year—has brought together the world's foremost thinkers on jazz, shedding much light and raising just as many questions about the music's history and attendant cultures.

The inaugural edition of Documenting Jazz was no less ambitious, attracting high-profile keynote speakers and an impressive range of international delegates. Alongside the dozen or so Irish presenters were academics and researchers from Australia, Russia, Indonesia, The USA, the UK, Italy, Norway, etc. Three of the delegates no less, Francesco Martinelli, Tish Oney and Bruce Lindsay are contributors to All About Jazz.

Subjects addressed included: jazz and gender; jazz archives, documenting improvisation; jazz critics; jazz photography; jazz in film; jazz in the digital age; jazz and the BBC; recording jazz; transcription, and, jazz events and identity.

"Most jazz isn't about jazz, at least in terms of how it's consumed." This thought-provoking statement was written by Kirin Gabbard—one of the keynote speakers at Documenting Jazz—in his book Jammin' at the Margins: Jazz and the American Cinema (University of Chicago Press, 1996), and it's a statement that invites reflection. How jazz is presented by musicians, promoters and labels, how it is consumed by jazz fans and perceived by the wider world in general, raises multiple questions as to the meaning of jazz. The meaning of jazz? Well, in truth that should be meanings, for after all, as Documenting Jazz demonstrated, jazz often means quite different things to different people at different times.

Day One

The formalities got off to a nicely informal start in the Technological University's basement canteen, where Dr Evans, Dr Kerry Houston (Head of Department of Academic Studies) and Dr Lorraine Byrne Bodley (President of the Society for Musicology in Ireland) bid a warm welcome to delegates, without too much fuss or fanfare.

Jazz and Gender

Gender is one of the hottest topics in jazz, in fact in music in general, with numerous festivals of all stripes signed up to the Keychange/PRS Foundation's manifesto for 50-50 gender equality on festival programmes by 2022. This initiative reflects wider societal awareness of gender inequality, and the world of jazz is no exception.

The first paper in this session, presented by James Reddan of Western Oregon University was entitled Perceiving Gender in Jazz: Documenting the Past, Present and Theorizing of the Future. Reddan began by stating that perceptions of gender in jazz have been influenced by documentation—or lack thereof—and how such documentation has been perceived with regards to gender stereotypes.

Whilst acknowledging that there has been an increase in the roles of both men and women in jazz since the 1990s, Reddan noted that jazz documentation still presents a perception of clear gender differences. How jazz is taught, the images students see, the material they read and the music they hear, is key in establishing notions of gender in jazz.

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