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Documenting Jazz 2019

Ian Patterson By

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One of the most significant jazz publications for many years has been The History of European Jazz: The Music, Musicians and Audiences in Context (Equinox Publishing, 2018). The driving force behind this impressive 650- page tome is Francesco Martinelli of Siena Jazz Archive. In a presentation entitled The Jazz Archive in Europe Martinelli explained the challenges of putting together a work of such scope- -the first of its kind. Finding appropriate writers was one thing, but not all countries have organized and catalogued jazz archives. Material stored in national libraries often doesn't have detailed enough information on, for example, photographs or recordings.

In many countries, Martinelli noted, a personal archive is often the seed for a national archive. Inevitably, when individual, private archivers pass away some or all their material may be lost, which is why organized national jazz archives are so necessary. "We would not have a jazz history today if not for the 78 [records] collectors of the '40s", Martinelli said, "because the Library of Congress was not holding those records."

Essential in the research and writing of The History of European Jazz: The Music, Musicians and Audiences in Context, Martinelli stressed, was finding contributors not only native to each of the twenty-seven countries in question but immersed in the jazz scene and the culture of their respective country.

The ability to source and research original language material, to converse with jazz musicians in their own language, and so on, was a prerequisite for the book from the start and was vital to what Martinelli described as the "vibrancy of connection to the local culture that can't be duplicated by somebody who comes from somewhere else."

Twenty minutes was a short time to talk about and discuss such a major document but for anyone interested to learn more about the making of the book then Martinelli's in-depth interview with All About Jazz may be a good place to start.

The second presentation of the jazz archive session saw Frank Ferko, Sound Archive Librarian at Stanford University, give a talk entitled Collaborative Documentation: The San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation Collection at Stanford University. The SFTJF has been collecting information on all kinds of jazz in the Bay Area since 1981. The jazz-loving individuals behind the collection are heading towards old age and wished for the material to be preserved for posterity. The ensuing collaboration with Stanford University resulted in a two-year project that saw the digitization of much of the material.

The digitized material has been converted into an on-line exhibit, which can be viewed at www.exhibit.stanford.edu The material includes features, photographs and multiple audio recordings. To put the exhibit into context, Ferko, with the use of slides, gave an overview of the history of traditional jazz in San Francisco, whose roots go back to social dancing in the 1890s. Many musicians made their way from New Orleans to San Francisco, including Bunk Johnson, Freddie Keppard, Kid Ory and Jelly Roll Morton, heavily influencing the Bay Area musicians.

Swing and big-band music pushed the traditionalists aside, though a revival came in the late 1930s, led by Turk Murphy, Lu Watters and Bob Helm. Ferko namechecked the clubs, personalities and recordings that marked the history of the traditionalists in San Francisco. Many of the leading figures of the jazz scene donated material to the Stanford collection, some of which, Ferko acknowledged, had little or nothing to do with the traditional jazz scene and therefore was weeded out, including, perversely enough, underwear and a full- size gorilla suit.

The Stanford University and San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation held monthly meetings, a timeline was established, and goals were marked, such as digitizing over two thousand items and, with the aid of sophisticated software, creating an on-line repository. Some items have restricted access—items that are copyrighted, for example—but for research purposes, Ferko said, access can be granted in most cases due to the notion of fair use enshrined in copyright laws.

Ferko then summarized the main content of the online exhibit, including feature articles on traditional jazz musicians, the clubs, photographs, manuscript scores, audio documentation and links to videos etc.

Ferko's presentation was an example of the vital role that both individual collectors and national institutions play in the archiving and presevation of jazz history. Without the individuals much of the traces of jazz, especially the ephemera of jazz, would be lost. Without the funding and expertise of institutions, such material would not be widely available for future researchers.

Documenting Improvisation

Two very different papers were presented under the banner of Documenting Improvisation. Anja Bunzel, from Maynooth University spoke of free improvisation in the German Democratic Republic, while Marian Jago of the University of Edinburgh addressed Lennie Tristano's extended studio techniques.

Bunzel's paper, The Petit Jazzwerksttat (1873-1982): Documenting Free Jazz in the German Democratic Republic was based on an exhibition in Peitz and examined the documentation surrounding the Petiz Jazzweksttat (jazz workshops/festival) between 1973 and 1982 These workshops and festivals were organized by Uli Blobel and Peter Metag until the GDR authorities shut it down. In 2011 Blobel relaunched the festival, which takes place every year in June.

Bunzel began by examining jazz in the context of post WWII Europe, particularly in the Eastern Bloc countries, where jazz was for some time, though not uniformly, considered subversive. Not surprisingly, perhaps, in the divided Germany of the Cold War years, nearly any music could be viewed as politicised to some degree. Bunzel then referenced some of the most significant German publications on jazz in this period, most of which viewed jazz as a socio-cultural phenomenon.

The exhibition, Bunzel said, reflected a predominantly male environment in those years, both among the musicians and in the audiences. Jazz was covered only sporadically in the media during this period. What archival material does exist is often difficult to locate, due to changing archival structures since Germany's reunion. Radio listings from 1973 show that three programmes were dedicated to the Petiz Jazzweksttat that year, though no details as to the programmes' contents are displayed.

Bunzel concluded by advocating further research on jazz in the GDR, stating her wish to publish recordings of GDR jazz festivals. Bunzel mentioned the website www.liebo.de, an online archive by Robert Liebo which includes twenty-nine recordings made by his father from the Peitz Jazz Festival between 1974 and 1981.

The second paper, by Dr Marian Jago was titled Lennie Tristano and the Use of Extended Studio Techniques in Jazz. Jago's paper was based on the controversy aroused by Tristano's album Tristano (Atlantic, 1956), a recording that employed studio techniques including multi-tracking, overdubbing and the manipulation of tape speeds on the first four tracks. In jazz circles, the studio techniques Tristano used were divisive, to say the least.

For Jago, the album and the reaction to it, offers an opportunity to consider notions of genre and labelling. Tristano's embrace of extended studio techniques, Jago said, was a bit ahead of its time. Jago posited that a lot of Tristano's artistic decisions were related to his blindness, and raised the question as to the place of disabilities in jazz studies.

Sidney Bechet employed overdubbing techniques in the early 1940s, but the difference to note, Jago said, is that those recordings were marketed as novelty records. Tristano had used extended studio techniques as early as 1951, but, Jago noted, these were releases on minor labels and failed to stir much attention. With Tristano, by contrast, so great was the controversy that Downbeat dedicated an entire issue to an interview with Tristano in which he defended his artistic choices.

Whether music is considered by critics to be jazz, or non-jazz, or jazz-inflected music, Jago intimated, seems to depend on the 'authenticity,' or 'purity' of the performance. On hearing the general hype surrounding Kamasi Washington, Jago related being surprised at the level of disinterest among certain jazz critics and musicians she contacted to get their opinion on his music. The conclusion Jago seemed to draw was that if pop-type recording techniques are employed, then many of those who position themselves in the jazz mainstream are often or dismissive or simply disinterested.

In discussing Tristano's blindness, Jago offered a rebuttal to those who would suggest that blindness is not an impairment when it comes to playing jazz. Whilst blindness doesn't affect sound production, Jago agreed, it does limit one's professional opportunities. And, in the context of small jazz ensembles blindness obviously cuts out visual cues between the musicians. In the Q&A that followed, the BBC's Alyn Shipton argued that blindness isn't necessarily an impairment in a small combo, citing the chemistry in George Shearing's groups post-1960.

Day Two

In the coffee breaks and during lunch there was opportunity to take in several exhibitions. Jazz on the Terrace, a collection of concert/festival posters and photographs, highlighted the efforts of Allen Smith in promoting jazz in Dublin for over thirty years. Jazz on the Terrace was the forerunner to Improvised Music Company and Smith was involved the founding of both.

Jazz Heritage Wales, a poster curated by Deborah Checkland and Jen Wilson, highlighted the work of the Jazz Heritage Wales Collection. Since 1986, JHWC has archived thousands of audio and visual documents, books and scores, and much more relating to jazz in Wales. It also serves to promote the history of women in jazz and African-American music in Wales.

Coltrane in Pop Culture, a poster exhibition by Ramsey Castaneda of Los Angeles College of Music, highlighted mass media representations of John Coltrane and how Coltrane's name has come to signify things other than just jazz music.

Keynote Speech 1: Professor Krin Gabbard: Representing Jazz in the Twenty-First Century

Global attitudes towards jazz are about as diverse as the music itself. Musicians, fans and critics will have their opinions and disagreements, but for Krin Gabbard, author of Better Git It in Your Soul: An Interpretive Biography of Charles Mingus (University of California Press, 2016), perhaps a more revealing insight into global attitudes towards jazz may be found in the novels, films and TV programmes of popular culture.

Gabbard identified a number of associations or myths that surround jazz in the twenty-first century. Often in films and literature jazz is used to provide atmosphere, typically in film noir. Jazz in film is also used as a nostalgic device, signifying, as Gabbard put it, "the good ol' days. Jazz in literature, is sometimes used to denote transcendence, where the musicians and the audience are transported to a near out-of-body experience. Then there is jazz as exotica; here, Gabbard cited the figure of Charles Mingus, known for his antics and troublesome reputation by people who may not have heard his music. Knowledge of Mingus's music, on the other hand, means esoteric knowledge, of belonging inside a small circle and outside the rest of the culture for whom Mingus doesn't exist.

Gabbard gave examples of detective novels where jazz culture is employed for atmospheric effect. One standout example tells of a serial killer who is bumping off light-jazz musicians, leaving haikus at the murder scenes to toy with the cops. Baffled, the cops turn to jazz detective Evan Horne.
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