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.

In the introduction of the book I also say that it is an act of respect in honouring the lives of people all across Europe who fought for their freedom -for their artistic and musical freedom in very difficult circumstances. Many of them paid for their integrity, commercially in terms of their career, and sometimes even worse than that. Those stories were worth telling and that is the main point of my introduction.

AAJ: The book could have been a multiple-volume epic running to thousands and thousands of pages; was it your intention from the outset to "streamline" the histories and keep the book relatively concise?

FM: It's about one and a half times what we had in mind for the original project. We wanted to do it in five hundred pages but it proved impossible. It proved impossible because the stories were so good. Alyn and I didn't have the heart to cut it. In the end almost every chapter is slightly longer than planned, so the book is two hundred and fifty pages longer than originally planned.

My plan was to ask the contributors not to focus on a complete picture but to focus on the crucial characters and moments of the music. You know, in many countries there is one name that comes up. When you think of Hungary, Gyorgy Szabados comes to mind, for Poland Krzysztof Komeda, and the like. Focus, at the risk of omitting some names, on the people who actually changed the course of the music in their country.

That's why we limited our scope to the year 2000, because this way, twenty years after, we can have a slightly better perspective of what was really important in the '90s -the last decade that we discuss. Attempting to discuss last year's records or last year's musicians is much more difficult.

AAJ: You mentioned Alyn Shipton. Can you tell us about his role in the book and what is was like working with him?

FM: In Italy we co-produced a series of books together in Italian. My school in Italy, the Siena Jazz University co-produced with a local publisher a series of translations. During this work I realized how important it was to work with a proper publisher and not to try and do it ourselves. Inside the Europe Jazz network we have many people with know-how, many people with knowledge, but we don't know how to make a book. It's important to find the right material and then to find someone who's able to put it out in a correct way.

Alyn embraced the idea from the very beginning. In fact, he mentions in his introductory note that one of his roles in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz was to enlarge the coverage of European jazz, so he was already interested in the subject.

His role, of course, was the liaison with the publisher because he was already the editor of the series. We had three types of work. I was commissioning the chapters and the chapters were sent to me. I was going through them and asking some questions of the contributors, including the answers in the text and then passing it to Alyn. Alyn was also checking the congruity, the logic of the article itself, and he was also trying to straighten up the language because about ninety per cent of the people wrote in English -we only had to translate two or three chapters -but of course the competence in English was very variable, so Alyn had to make it understandable and smooth it.

At that point it was the role of Dean Bargh, the copy editor, and he put everything into shape, so what you see is Dean Bargh's work and he did a fantastic job. He really went into it, worked with a great passion. Alyn also found the translators in English when it was needed, including from Polish, which was a real issue. Sometimes he also rearranged the content of the articles. All the articles in their final form were approved by the contributors. So, it was a huge exchange of material over the course of six years. Working with Alyn was a fantastic experience because I learned a lot about how to produce a book. He has invaluable experience as an author and editor. He was the perfect person for the job. He was always asking very direct questions that really went to the heart of the matter.

I was very lucky that Alyn accepted and then Equinox Publishing accepted the challenge. Alyn was also instrumental in keeping the publisher happy going along because the project was bigger than we thought and more expensive than we thought but it came good in the end.

AAJ: The general, dominant histories of jazz, usually written by American authors, tend to emphasize the Afro-American roots of the music and its adoption by Europeans after the event -this however, is a simplification, if not a distortion of the complex roots of jazz, is it not?

FM: It is and it is inevitable because you have so much territory to cover but to be fair we also have to say that there was not enough information available about many countries, or the information was very spotty. So, in fairness, it was very difficult for everybody, and if you are writing on a global scale it is even harder to collect the proper information. A journalist maybe visited a Norwegian festival so he knew a few Norwegian musicians, another went to Bulgaria and so knew a few Bulgarian musicians and so many articles, and sometimes books about jazz outside the USA were written from the visitor's point of view, and on second-hand information. There was not an organic point of reference, written by people who knew the language and had access to original material. Now we have it.
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