Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures

Ian Patterson By

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A poster presentation in the foyer by Jamie Fyffe of the University of Glasgow, entitled The European Influences of Pianist Bill Evans: Reassessing Their Impact on Kind of Blue Through Musical Analysis took a fresh look at this seminal album. Acknowledging Evans' impressionistic influence on the music, Fyffe posited that its European influences stemmed compositionally from Miles Davis more than Evans. Another poster presentation, Picturing Blanton: Visual Sources in Researching Jimmy Blanton's Bass Playing offered photographic and video sources that shed light on Blanton's stylistic evolution.

Val Wilmer in Conversation

The final word of Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures went to internationally renowned English jazz writer and photographer Val Wilmer, in discussion with Dave Laing. Wilmer—whose first article appeared in Jazz Journal in 1959—discussed a series of her best known photographs, including portraits of drummer Rashied Ali, trumpeter Louis Armstrong, and saxophonist Johnny Griffin. The title of one of Wilmer's books, As Serious As Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz (Alison & Busby, 1977) sums up Wilmer's lifelong passion for jazz. She spoke candidly about her experiences in America, from New Orleans to the free jazz movement. Discussing a photograph of saxophonist Dexter Gordon having his shoes shined in London in the 1960s, Wilmer remarked: "Of course the photo was set up, but as soon as Dexter started laughing we both knew what it meant—here was a black man having his shoes shined by a white man."

The Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures conference thus ended as it had started, with photographs as the starting point for discussion and reassessment of things we may take for granted, such as the physical space in which jazz is played, and the past, which—as was amply demonstrated in dozens of papers—when considered carefully from multiple angles, can teach us much about what we thought we knew, and help illuminate the present. Jazz, rather than being a still photograph captured forever in time, is more akin to a giant jigsaw puzzle, frayed here and there, faded in some places, shining brightly in others, with perhaps a few pieces annoyingly missing and a few that don't quite seem to fit—a never-ending puzzle where the bigger picture is a continual work in progress. Jazz needs academia and more projects like Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures to help make sense of the picture, to provide greater understanding, and no doubt, too, greater appreciation of jazz music, wherever it is played and listened to.

Photo Credits

Page 1: Paul Floyd Blake

Page 4: Petter Frost Fadnes

All other photos: Ian Patterson


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