The History Of European Jazz: The Music, Musicians And Audience in Context

Ian Patterson By

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The History Of European Jazz: The Music, Musicians And Audience In Context
Various authors/Edited by Francesco Martinelli
741 Pages
ISBN: 13 978 1 78179 446 3
Equinox Publishing

It's taken some time, about a century in fact, but finally, thanks chiefly to editor and jazz historian Francesco Martinelli of Siena Jazz, the first comprehensive, pan-European history of jazz sees the light of day. And what stories they are too -complex, colorful and sometimes tinged with tragedy. Though jazz celebrated its centenary in 1917, what this book demonstrates time and again is the longer historical view, whereby the back and forth migrations of people between continents and across national borders over many centuries, and the cultural exchanges and assimilations along the way, have all fed, and continue to feed, into the complex mosaic that is jazz.

There have been excellent jazz histories of individual countries to be sure, and sweeping—and generally less satisfying—historical overviews of European jazz are not uncommon, but for its scope, detail and academic rigour The History of European Jazz: The Music, Musicians and Audiences in Context is simply unprecedented in its ambition. What also sets it apart from most general European jazz histories is the fact that the jazz histories of the forty-odd countries examined herein have been written by experts native to their respective countries, ensuring an authenticity and insight that would be missing from any single author's necessarily narrow overview.

The chapter authors are, without exception, distinguished jazz journalists, authors, promoters, academics and curators. Mladen 'Mike' Mazur, who contributes to the chapters on the states within the ex-Yugoslavia has been promoting jazz since the late 1950s. Krystian Brodacki, the Polish chapter author, has been a jazz journalist since 1968. These are just two examples, but they typify the insider knowledge and unique expertise that characterize the book.

The book chapters are divided into Western Europe (seven countries), Scandinavia (five countries), Central Europe (seven countries), Eastern Europe (three countries), South-West Europe (three countries), The Baltic States (three countries), South-East Europe (ten countries including the autonomous province of Vojvodina) and Europe/Asia (three countries). Each chapter concludes with a bibliography and a rough listening guide, both of which serve as entry points for further digging. Six themed chapters address early African-American entertainers in Europe, Django Reinhardt and jazz manouche, the influence of Jewish music, the avant-garde and the cross-Atlantic dialog, jazz in films, and finally, jazz festivals.

At seven hundred and forty pages The History of European Jazz... is relatively concise. It seems strange, at first, that any number of historically significant figures, like Swedish pianists Jan Johansson and Esbjorn Svensson, or Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, for example, warrant only a paragraph or two, but limitations of space dictate that the narrative flow does not get bogged down in personalities, and instead highlights significant movements, innovations, recordings and cross-pollinations. Of course, the major figures of each country are duly represented, as are some fascinating, lesser known musicians.

Take for example Aquilino Calzado Gonzalez, a Cuban saxophonist who visited Spain in the 1930s to explore flamenco, anticipating the work of Pedro Iturralde—with Paco De Lucia—some thirty years later. Or Josephine Alexandra Mitchell, an Irish tenor saxophonist who toured Europe in the 1920s with her own ensemble, sharing the stage with Coleman Hawkins and Django Reinhardt. The inclusion of these obscure, though evidently trailblazing musicians underlines one of the book's intended aims as a starting point for further research.

With the centenary of jazz recently computed, it may also seem peculiar that most of the chapter histories conclude at the end of the twentieth century, an acknowledgment that greater perspective is needed to get to grips with the ever-evolving landscape of jazz in the first two decades of the twentieth first century. What is almost certain is that in any similar history written, say, two or three decades hence, female jazz musicians will occupy a meatier narrative role than their peripheral counterparts in this book. As Martinelli explains in a wide-ranging interview related to the book with All About Jazz, the original desire to include a chapter specifically on female jazz musicians was impracticable due to a general lack of archival information.


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