Documenting Jazz 2019

Ian Patterson By

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As the Portuguese jazz showcases demonstrated at the European Jazz Conference 2018, in Lisbon, Portuguese jazz is in rude health. Dias's 2016 documentary film Those Who Make It Happen, explored the strength of Portuguese jazz as the fruit of a collective effort by musicians, promoters, audiences and researchers. As Dias outlined in this presentation, that documentary has inspired a project of even greater reach. Jazz +351, Dias explained, is intended as a 12- part web series featuring showcase performances, interviews, discussions and advice on how and where to learn jazz.

Dias' documentary has underlined the Portuguese jazz network, even if, he said, some cannot see it for themselves. Partly inspired by the Improvised Music Company's 12 Points Festival, Dias and Carlos Martin, Festival Director of Lisbon's Festa do Jazz, began to investigate all the different agents involved in a festival to find ways to map the social, artistic and promotional practices at play, including fields such as such as audience experience and the sense of cultural identity.

To this end Dias and Festa do Jazz developed a Researcher-in-Residence programme for three years—a practice increasingly commonplace at European jazz festivals—to promote debate on music education and promotion. Out of this initiative the documentary was created, which in turn was an important element in promoting networking and propelling the creation of the Portuguese Jazz Network.

The next project, Dias outlined, was the above-mentioned Jazz + 321. Taken together, Dias said, these projects, which adopt an interdisciplinary approach encourage informal networks to become formal networks, making something fragile stronger. "We are creating a narrative," Dias concluded, a collective narrative documenting the now..."

Day Three Keynote Speech 2: Gabriel Solis: Seductive? Menace? Revisiting the Place of Recordings in Jazz History

Professor of Musicology and Affiliate in African American Studies and Anthropology at the University of Illinois, Gabriel Solis is perhaps best known for his books Monk's Music: Thelonious Monk and Jazz History in the Making (University of California Press, 2008) and Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall (Oxford University Press, 2014). His keynote speech centred on the challenges that records present as documents of jazz history. From the outset Solis acknowledged that his paper was inspired in part by Red Rasula's article The Seductive Menace of Records in Jazz History.

In a fascinating though somewhat dense and academically heavy paper, Solis invited re-evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages of focusing on jazz records as a way to understand jazz history. Solis revisited notions of the production, circulation and proliferation of recordings as significant markers of the music's history.

One outstanding example offered by Solis was the shift in relationship between musician and record epitomized by Miles Davis and producer Teo Macero's post-production work on albums like Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970) and On the Corner (Columbia, 1972). On these records the relationship between live and mediated music was challenged. Fast-forward to today and the question, Solis posed, is: how does the material difference introduced by the advent of streaming media condition our understanding of recordings in jazz scholarship? This in turn raises the issue, he said, of how scholars can develop new research methodologies and theories to address the question.

Jazz history, Solis said, is understood through discographic record, through social histories (biography, interviews etc) and through an examination of the music in the cultural context of the USA and the rest of the world. No one filter for understanding jazz is better than another. Instead, Solis argued they should all inform each other. Rasula's key point, taken up by Soils, however, is that jazz history's key document, the record, has largely been overlooked by scholars. Solis suggested that scholars could adopt the critical lenses of media studies, science, technology and ontology to better understand the implications of the record in jazz history.

Solis referred to Professor Tony Whyton's chapter on the Impulse! label in his book Jazz Icons: Heroes, Myths and the Jazz Tradition (Cambridge University Press, 2010) as a good example of mass media, how the marketing, branding—a key jazz strategy—and consumption of a jazz recording plays an important role in the historicizing of jazz. Solis also noted Professor Catherine Tackley's article Jazz Recordings as Social Text, in which she noted scholars' general failure to recognize jazz records as culturally meaningful artefacts that have meanings and uses quite separate to those attributed them by historians.

In the aforementioned paper Tackley had observed how we can listen to the same records as somebody would have fifty or sixty years ago, but that it may mean something very different to us. The historical, geographical and social circumstances of the listener can impart meanings to the music that may be completely at odds with the canonical historicizing of a record by a label [or indeed, a jazz critic]. A more critical assessment of the reception of jazz is needed, Tackley had argued in her article, to appreciate the music's social potential in the 21st century.

Solis touched on a number of other ideas: the technological innovations in sound engineering and how they have impacted upon the record and its reception; the shift in live jazz over the decades towards the contemporary format whereby the record often frames the performance; the concept album, usually attributed to pop and rock, but which has long been a part of jazz history; the way technology drives musicians' ideas; how 'masterpiece' status in jazz depends on mediation.

One of the most revealing parts of Solis' paper addressed YouTube and. Looking at uploads of live videos by McCoy Tyner and Terri Lyne Carrington, Solis spoke of the challenges of using these live recording videos as historical documents (multiple versions of the same concert, inconsistent dates, lack of information on band etc) although they can tell us a lot, for example, about jazz audiences in history and how they became quiet over the decades. The comments posted by viewers also reveals a lot about gender and jazz, with many of the comments on Carrington's videos referencing her sexuality or patronizing her in 'good-for-a-woman'-type comments.

In summarizing Soli's major conclusions, jazz has moved from the 78 and LP to multiple-format historical re-releases and fan-driven, crowd-funded recordings, form the tangible LP to streaming, from audio to YouTube (with its global availability), from print to on-line media. The changes in the production, mediation, reception and social meanings of jazz documents in the twenty- first century require, Solis argued, fresh scholarly approaches to better understand the music's historical narrative.


In this session three papers shone light on very different figures in jazz history. The first of these was by Yuji Numano of Toho Gakuen School of Music. He delivered a paper titled Free Form as a Symbol of Pluralistic Activities: Youske Yamashita's Artistic Trajectory.

Pianist Yosuke Yamashita was arguably the first Japanese jazz artist to become known to European audience, when his trio with Akira Sakata and Takeo Mariyama appeared at major European jazz festivals in 1974, such as Moers, Berlin and Ljubliana. The success of these appearances brought subsequent European tours on an annual basis.

In Japan, before Yamashita, free jazz had been considered as esoteric and marginal. Yamashita's major achievement in Japan, Numano said, was to make free jazz and avant-garde sensibilities more acceptable, and in Yamashita's case, more popular than more mainstream jazz performers.

In response to the free-jazz movement in Europe, the form began to take hold in Japan, as early as 1962. By 1965, Numano noted, Yamashita began his free-jazz trajectory. Seeing John Coltrane in Japan in 1966 emboldened his path in free-jazz. The pianist did not see free-jazz as an art form, Numano related, but as a live act. Quoting Yamashita, Numano related that: " Jazz is like boxing or soccer with sound...".

Yamashita's artistry, however, was multi-faceted. His fame in Japan was due also to his status an essayist, academic and novelist. Yamashita worked with comedians and in 1990 he wrote a science-fiction novel about jazz. Numano showed a video from YouTube documenting one of Yamashita's most famous performances, Burning Piano from 2008, where the pianist, covered in protective clothing, plays the piano on a beach as it is consumed by flames.

Burning Piano was a repeat of a performance Yamashita had enacted in 1973, the film of which is housed in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Given that Numano highlighted Yamashita's humour as an essayist on jazz, and given the pianist's collaborations with comedians, it's not a stretch to view Yamashita's pyrotechnic free-jazz act as a Monty-Python-esque parody of avant-garde art, though this may also be far from the truth.

From the 1980s, Numano explained, Yamashita's main vehicle, both in the studio and live, was a trio with Cecil McBee and Pheeran akLaff, expanded at times to include Joe Lovano. In Japan, Numano said, jazz has lost some of its former status enjoyed in the 1960s and 1970s as a serious art form, and for many people "jazz is nothing more than mood music played in the bar or restaurant...". In the 1980s when jazz was going off the radar in Japan, Numano related, Yamashita began to appear in the mass media, notably on television, his wit and invention making him a well-known musician in Japan, to the point that for many Japanese 'jazz' meant free-jazz

Yamashita's broad range of artistic outlets, Numano said, were complimentary to his free-jazz, where 'free' meant freedom to express himself as he saw fit. Perhaps one of his greatest achievements, as part of a wider avant-garde circle, was to challenge the rigidness in Japanese society.

The second paper, given by Per Husby of the Norwegian Jazz Archive, was titled Filling in the Gaps: Curating Randi Hultin's 'Biographic' Jazz Collection. The focus of Husby's paper was the internationally renowned Norwegian jazz writer, impresario and enthusiast Randi Hultin (1926-2000). Since 2016, in the Norwegian National Library's jazz division, Husby has been curating, digitalizing and archiving Hultin's private collection of photos, interviews, writings and personal correspondence with jazz musicians.

Husby argued that Hultin's informal, enthusiastic and non-discriminatory approach to jazz and its practitioners, as opposed to a formal, journalist, research-based approach, provided unique insights into the many years Hultin was involved in the jazz scene. Hultin documented things, Husby said, that other journalists didn't see as important at the time. Husby played a rough recording of a ragtime piano recital in Hulton's home by Keith Jarrett from 1966 and showed photos of Jarrett and the rest of the Charles Lloyd band whom she had invited for spaghetti. These were typical of Hulton's documentation, which captured jazz musicians in relaxed mode off-stage.

Hulton's interview technique, or rather her interview manner, was a little rambling and chaotic. She mothered the musicians and told her own anecdotes but, Husby said, the musicians opened up to her in ways they rarely did in more formal, journalistic interviews. The musicians loved Hultin, many of them corresponding with her for years. At least three songs were written in dedication to her by jazz musicians. A Downbeat article from 1971 on Sonny Rollins noted: "Nobody knows where Rollins is...", but in fact Hultin knew, as a photograph she took of Rollins mowing her Oslo lawn attested.
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