European Jazz Conference 2016

Ian Patterson By

Sign in to view read count
The question of how to grow jazz audiences and specifically how to attract younger generations—so that the music has a viable future—is a recurring theme of panel discussions at jazz meetings around the world. The salient themes of this discussion, chaired by former Demos director, An De bisschop, were: how jazz festivals can connect more meaningfully with communities; finding ways to develop and encourage broad participation in the arts; using music as an educational tool. Although the proposed framework for the discussion—that's to say, how our cities are changing/evolving,—wasn't really addressed in any depth, there were still plenty of ideas to tussle with.

The panel, featured Pérez, Francois Matarasso, an independent writer, artist and researcher, and Stephanie Toure from Banlieues Bleues, Paris, who has been conducting projects involving artists with a wide variety of youth and marginalized groups. Social Interaction, promoting inter-personal skills and improvisation, empowering and educating youth may be common aims of the Danilo Pérez Foundation and Banlieues Bleues, but to your average European jazz festival the main concern is often about balancing artistic and commercial concerns and not about addressing social inequalities. A lot of jazz festivals struggle from year to year to obtain the financial support just to continue.

Even if a jazz festival wished to reach out to the marginalized sections of the community, what does 'community' even mean in our rapidly evolving, bulging cities, where diversity—and diversity of lifestyles—is ever greater? 'Communities' may be a slightly better term, but as Matarasso pointed out, 'community' is a very fluid dynamic, and often temporary (as in the EJC). Jazz festivals pop up annually for a few days or perhaps a few weeks at most before hibernating—perhaps not the most suitable organs to aspire to charitable/educational functions.

However, as access to the arts is generally agreed upon as a basic human right—indeed a necessity—at the very least a proportion of affordable tickets (for the main gigs) for socially disadvantaged groups would be a simple and laudable way to make jazz festivals a little more inclusive.

Pérez' suggestion to consider opening future conferences to the public, as a means of fostering key partnerships with interested groups [those working with the disadvantaged and socially marginalized, youth groups, immigrants etc] provided food for thought. So too, a rhetorical observation by Matarasso, who asked: "What are we listening to? Who are we listening to? Unless you go into to this with the idea that you might change what you do I think there's very little point in doing it. If all you want to do is be a missionary...and take your faith out to other people and indoctrinate them to appreciate and join your faith...then you're like a radio that's only ever broadcasting. But radios can receive as well, you just have to turn the dial in the other direction."

Jazz music is often trumpeted as being the most democratic of musics, a liberal, tolerant music—the music of freedom and equality. Lofty claims perhaps, for a music in which women have long been marginalized figures and where jazz is often perceived, rightly or wrongly, as high-brow music practised and appreciated by a fairly hermetic community of cognoscenti. That's a difficult position from which to preach inclusiveness or to practise outreach.

One suggested way to practise meaningful outreach that surfaced from the floor—one that would involve relinquishing a little power—was to bring people in to co-curate festivals, certainly a direct way to open new routes of collaboration. It echoed a point made earlier by Pérez, who said that with the right partners positive synergies emerge.

Perhaps we ask too much of jazz, of any music, as a tool of social change. On the other hand, as Matarasso noted: "Art doesn't change the world but it changes people who change the world."

Parallel Working Groups

The EJC 2016 featured nine working groups split over the two days. Themes included audience development and engaging children/youth in creative music; working with new communities/impact on programming; music as therapy; developing collaborations between presenters, managers and booking agents; co-commissioning works; building strategic cultural partnerships.

In the afternoon of the second day's working groups were divided according to the typology of organisations: clubs/venues; festivals; national organisations; managers/agents; research, etc.

These groups threw light on some of the working projects of EJN members—of which there are many—and doubtless helped form some synergies to birth future collaborations. One obvious weakness in the format, noted by many of the attendees, is that being present in one working group meant missing out on all the others. A simple solution that occurred to many would be to record each working group and make the recordings available on-line.

The Healing of Communities through Music

This working group was led by Patricia Zárate Pérez, musician, music therapist, ethnomusicologist and founder in 2013 of the 1st Latin American Music Therapy Symposium in Panama City. Pérez also serves as Executive Director of the Panama Jazz Festival, and in conjunction with husband Danilo Pérez, is helping to evolve a music therapy program at Berklee College of Music.

The modern music therapy movement, Zarate Pérez noted, began in World War I, though music has been believed to harbour magical/healing properties since ancient times. Zarate Pérez recounted how 90% of the paintings in the Niaux Caves in the French Pyrenees—one of the most impressive Palaeolithic rock art galleries in the world—were painted at points where the caves' acoustics are best, suggesting, as others have noted before, that the cave dwellers were aware of the positive properties of good acoustics.

Zarate Pérez presented examples of known benefits of music, from jogging memory in people suffering from dementia, to playing a contributing role in the regeneration of parts of the brain following traumas—as was the case with American politician Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in an attempted assassination in 2011.

Zarate Pérez highlighted how music can serve as a political rallying cry and an act of defiance, as during the Civil Rights Movement, [think also Dimitri Shostakovich's 7th Symphony, premiered in Leningrad while the city was under siege by the German army in 1942]; music can serve to uplift the impoverished and disadvantaged, as in El Sistema, Venezuela's publicly financed education program, which to date has provided free classical music education to nearly three quarters of a million children in 400 centres countrywide; music can cross otherwise insurmountable socio-political barriers, as in Daniel Barenboim's West-Eastern Diwan Orchestra, which unites musicians from Israel, The Palestinian Territories and other Middle Eastern countries.

A striking example of music as resistance and symbol of hope was presented in a video clip [see Youtube] of Karim Wasfi, cellist and Director of the Iraqi National Symphony, who plays solo cello at the site of bomb blasts around Baghdad, turning sites of terror and devastation, for a brief moment, into places of beauty, compassion and peaceful contemplation.

In an engaging presentation, Zarate Pérez recounted once more the history of the Pananma Jazz Festival, from its humble beginnings in 2003 to its current status as a government-sponsored symbol of national pride. The educational component of the PJF has grown significantly, with around 250 students in 2003 rising to 4,000 in 2016. It will be fascinating to see how many students of the program go on to develop careers in music in the coming years and decades.

The extent of the benefits of music are not fully understood by scientists/neurologists but its ability to stimulate speech and rhythms in people suffering from Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's Disease, autism or strokes is no secret. The video of Henry, the elderly gentleman in a near-vegetative state in a nursing home, remarkably reanimated by his favorite music, has been seen on Youtube over two million times, and provides truly poignant testimony to the power of music and the need for ongoing research into its multiple physical and neurological benefits.

Keynote Speech by Georgina Born: Music Space and Listening

There can't be too many academics who previously enjoyed a career in avant-garde jazz, rock and improvised music. Cultural theorist and Professor of Music and Anthropology at Oxford University, Georgina Born is one such person. Born cut her professional teeth in groups such as Henry Cow and the Feminist Improvising Group, as well as playing in Michael Nyman's band for the UK Premier of Terry Riley's "In C."

In recent years Born has conducted extensive research in the developing and developed world into the way that music and musical practises are changing due to digitization and digital media. Everybody will be aware of the profusion of cell-phones recording sound/images during concerts but the ubiquitous cell phone is not the preserve of the developed world: "Cell phones throughout the developing world have become the platform for the mediated experience of music," Born emphasized.

Even in the Massai desert of Kenya, Born related, "every Massai adult has a mobile phone," and thanks to affordable prices some thirty million people in Kenya—out of an estimated population of forty five million—are able to access music from the net.

With this background in mind, Born proposed that we need a new term in place of 'listening' to describe modern practises. For Born, a broader term would be 'musical experiences.' Much of the presentation drew form Born's edited book Music Sound and Space: Transformations of Public and Private Spaces (Cambridge University Press, 2015), and if the language was occasionally overly academic for a largely non-academic, multi-national audience, the messages were, nevertheless, thought-provoking.

Though collective live music experiences of a concert, festival or political gathering bring diverse people together, Born highlighted how a sound-system event in Harlesden, North West London is "all about the affirmation of male Afro-Caribbean social identity. " With women largely staying away, these gatherings are also about marking territory and erecting boundaries, which, in other settings, Born noted, can be drawn along gender, age, race and ethnicity. "We should all be very concerned with that," she cautioned.

Drawing from a 1984 paper by Shuhei Hosokawa entitled The Walkman Effect, which studied the then new-found control over musical environment, Born underlined the duality of the "creative process" of today's i-pod users (creating/streaming the soundtracks to their lives) and also their conscious decision to "block out" other experiences and stimuli. Born's example underlined how mass listening practise can have a decidedly individual character.

Multiple listening experiences, summarized Born, co-exist: from live to mediated listening; offline and online; individual and social; inclusive and exclusive. Our listening experiences, Born added, also depend on our socio-economic position, our education and culture, and our technological predilections and literacies. "All of these things come in and they mean that we hear and experience things differently."

Effectively, Born posited that we should perhaps no longer confine our aesthetic experience just to sound, but to conceive it more expansively to include the space, the material, "the embodied and audio-visual and social extensions of musical sound—how it comes to us...."

Parallel Working Groups: Engaging Children and Young Audiences in Creative Music


Jazz Near Wroclaw
Events Guide | Venue Guide | Get App | More...

Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.

Related Articles