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Francesco Martinelli: European Jazz - Tales of Etruscan Vases, Arias And Resistance

Ian Patterson By

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Jazz’ arrival reconnected to the Spanish tradition, the Balkan traditions, the Hungarian tradition, etc etc. So, jazz is really a maze of influences coming and going and coming back. —Francesco Martinelli, Jazz Historian
Few have attempted to tackle the history of European jazz in any meaningful way. That's hardly surprising given the size of the task. How do you address the jazz history of over forty countries in a succinct and logical manner?

How do you manage to throw light on all the major personalities at the expense of many lesser known musicans and still retain a balanced narrative? What weight should you give to the geo-political and socio-economic circumstances peculiar to each country as jazz evolved throughout the course of the twentieth century? How do you give due acknowledgment to the influence of Afro-American jazz and its practitioners while trying to get to grips with what is fundamentally European about jazz throughout Europe?

These are just some of the issues that have no doubt dissuaded many a jazz historian/author from taking up the story.

Then you have to ask -can one historian really do justice to the European jazz story without the linguistic skills to delve into the archives, magazines and books of over forty countries? For Francesco Martinelli of Siena Jazz the answer was clearly no. Author, translator, jazz historian, lecturer and former jazz festival director, Martinelli had long stewed over the possibility of creating a comprehensive history of European jazz. Not a history of Americans coming to Europe and playing with local pick-up bands and cutting a few records, but a proper history that explains the myriad roots of European jazz and pays homage to its chief practitioners.

What is more, Martinelli recognized the necessity for the story, or rather the stories, to be told by experts from each country. That realization might have been enough to stop most would-be editors in their tracks. The translations required, the professional editing of English draft texts, the cross-checking of thousands of details, and so on -it would take years, wouldn't it?

Six years, to be precise. After a huge, international collaborative effort lead by Martinelli, and with the invaluable editorial support of Alyn Shipton and Equinox Publishing's Dean Bargh, the 742-page book The History of European Jazz: The Music, Musicians And Audience in Context was published by Equinox Publishing in September, 2018. It's a ground-breaking history that in examining the roots and growth of European jazz also raises important questions about the origins of jazz in the USA. It's in no way a polemical work but the narrative depicts a more complex picture of jazz's birth—both in America and in Europe—than has perhaps hitherto been the case.

It's a fascinating story, but as Martinelli emphasizes, it's really just the beginning.

All About Jazz: You presented the book, The History of European Jazz: The Music, Musicians and Audience in Context, at the European Jazz Conference in Lisbon in September -how did that feel, after such a long process, to present the book before many of your long-standing associates in European jazz?

Francesco Martinelli For me it was a huge satisfaction. It was not only a feeling of satisfaction but of gratitude to the Europe Jazz Network for all the energy and support that they gave me along the way. It was a sort of giving back. Since I proposed the book I have been supported and assisted all along and the book would have been impossible without the Europe Jazz Network asking for European Union money to support the work through the Creative Europe program.

AAJ: You have lectured on the history of jazz for many years, would it be accurate to say that the idea for such a large-scale, pan-European history of jazz was something that you thought about for many years?

FM: In the process of discussing the project with other colleagues the idea for the book, which was a very vague concept at the beginning, took more precise contours, so it was a mutual process of getting deeper into the idea and developing a much more clear plan for it. There are a couple of inspirations for it -indirect inspirations -but I realized their importance later on while reading the book when it was ready. One is something that I guess you know quite well, which are the volumes of The Rough Guides to World Music. I admired that work a lot when I first read it, when it was first published more than twenty years ago. Unconsciously, it became a sort of a model. I remember there was a quote on the back of the book, I think it was Andy Kershaw, and it said 'a work of lunatic scholarship.' I understood that as a great compliment and took it as a model.

So that was one inspiration and another inspiration was the work that Rainer Lotz did in the 1980s when he published on the Harlequin label a series of records devoted to jazz in different countries outside of USA. They were called Jazz and Hot Dance In..., Argentina, Russia, Germany of course, France, Italy etc etc. These are still reference points. They have never been issued on CD.

There was also a feeling of not being satisfied with the way that jazz in Europe, also in Brazil or Japan, and everywhere else, was kind of compressed at the end of the American history of jazz books. There are many excellent American jazz history books but somehow there is always a last chapter where everything else goes in a sort of big stew. That is not a proper way to discuss the subject.

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