Category Archives: Conference

Rhythm Changes 6 conference: Jazz Journeys

This week, at the University of Music and Performing Arts, Graz (KUG), we hold the 6th of our international jazz conferences, on the overarching theme of Jazz Journeys. There are around 180 delegates coming, which is we feel a big deal. I’m a member of the Rhythm Changes organising team, and have been since we first had EU project funding for our European jazz research. So looking forward to being back in Graz. You can download the conference programme here.

Jazz has typically been the music of journeys and mobility. Its history is inseparable from global patterns of migration and changing demographics, as well as new forms of media communication and cultural production. The music speaks as much to dreams of escape as it does to the desire to put down roots; it continually seeks new pathways to meaning, even as it reinforces old boundaries. Jazz Journeys seeks to critically explore how ideas of mobility, movement, travel, exchange, voyaging, border-crossing and odyssey have shaped – and continue to shape – debates about the music’s past and future. We welcome papers addressing the conference theme from multiple perspectives, including cultural studies, musicology, cultural theory, music analysis, jazz history, media studies, and practice-based research. Within the general theme of Jazz Journeys, we have identified several sub-themes. 

Journeys: mobility and travel

This theme addresses hemispheric or global cultural movements in jazz, from the legacies of transatlantic slavery to the emergence of jazz communities throughout the world. We invite papers that engage with the different kinds of journeys that musicians undertake, from stylistic development to their involvement in the processes of migration and mobility, cross-cultural exchange, colonialism, and empire(s).

Journeys: journees

This theme explores jazz as a companion to everyday life in private and public spaces, in the light of changing modes of interaction with the music. Are new technologies and platforms such as Spotify and Facebook changing the way we deal with jazz? How does jazz feature as a soundtrack to our ordinary existence? How do such regular interactions (or the avoidance of such interactions) reveal ideas about the meaning and value of jazz?

Journeys: journal/diary: history, narrative, (auto)biography

This theme explores the ways in which the experience of music is captured and the story of jazz told, from dominant narratives to (auto)biographies, popular tales to hidden histories. We welcome papers that interrogate dominant forms of causal and linear narration and engage with the ways in which the stories of jazz are written, adapted and changed through time. The theme seeks to engage with the underlying values that shape understandings of jazz and influenced what is celebrated and what ignored.

Journeys: journals/research

Fifty years ago, the founding of Jazzforschung / Jazz Research and Beiträge zur Jazzforschung / Studies in Jazz Research in Graz positioned jazz studies as an important area of musicology and related disciplines. We invite papers that explore the gaps, limitations and tensions in our understanding of jazz research, as well as new directions in the field.

Journeys: journalism, media, technologies

This theme investigates the role of writing, mediatisation and technological change in the production, dissemination, and experience of jazz. We invite papers focusing on the ways in which ideas, sounds and images about the music circulate globally between artists, critics, audiences, and producers.

Journeys: time(s) and temporalities

This theme explores concepts of time and temporality in jazz, from the uses of multiple tempos and time signatures to theories and practices of repetition and revision. We invite papers that respond to the different times, temporalities, tempos, moments, instances, junctures, speeds, passages, and movements in and out of time that characterise jazz history and its practices.

The seduction of alliteration

This theme addresses the many journeys in language, sound, gesture, and image that shape our understanding of jazz, including spontaneous writing, creative writing from the Harlem Renaissance, and Beat literature. We welcome papers that experiment with how to get from A to B, that sound out new ways of speaking of and thinking about jazz, and envision new practices and processes of writing about, and performing with, the music.

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‘Festivals’ chapter in new book, The History of European Jazz

I am delighted to announce the publication of Francesco Martinelli’s long-awaited EU Creative Europe-funded book, The History of European Jazz. It’s an impressively massive collection, in terms of scope and content, and has 40 chapters, one of which, on European jazz festivals, I wrote. My chapter is an output of the CHIME European jazz festivals project. The new book was launched at the 2018 European Jazz Conference in Lisbon a couple weeks ago. Here is an extract from the opening of my chapter.


… There is something quite remarkable across Europe about the contribution of promoters, producers, musicians and jazz enthusiasts to the development of jazz festival culture, which may have been overlooked in the scholarship, and which we can identify via a brief consideration of the pivotal US jazz festival, at Newport, Rhode Island. The inaugural Newport Jazz Festival, held in July 1954, was actually advertised as the ‘first annual American jazz festival’—and in that sense of ‘first … American’ festival rests an acknowledgement that the term jazz festival, and the very idea of an event such as a festival of jazz music, had already been invented elsewhere. This was made clear to the restless crowd in the opening speeches at Newport that first night (the start of the live music was already running one hour late. Organisers and musicians alike were learning how to do a festival). The master of ceremonies was big band leader Stan Kenton (Duke Ellington wasn’t available), who was reading, and sometimes diverting, from a script written by Downbeat contributor Nat Hentoff. Kenton talked about the history and evolution of jazz in the US, and then turned to the subject of the new kind of event everyone had come to Newport to be at, saying:

This country has taken jazz for granted. Europe has recently held several jazz festivals, for abroad they recognise jazz as a distinct form of music. But only recently has this country accepted it as such. The Newport Festival is the first [jazz festival] to be held in this country and tonight makes history.

Impressively, Newport has gone on in the decades since to make a good deal more musical history. Yet prior history had already been made, as Kenton and Hentoff had informed their new festival audience, and it happened across the Atlantic: ‘Europe has recently held several jazz festivals’. So: can we say that the jazz festival was born in Europe? The jazz festival, which is today a near ubiquitous form of seasonal musical gathering and celebration, with common practices and features, networks, infrastructures, people and opportunities, took off in and echoed around Europe, and its burgeoning popularity was recognised and then swiftly imitated in the US.* Among any other claims of jazz innovation Europe may feel it can make, this one may be worth sticking with. This is not an argument made for the purpose of cultural chauvinism—rather it is one presented to encourage us to think further about the complexities of innovation, transmission and circulation of live jazz music in the transatlantic frame.                                                                                                         

That the early jazz festival was innovated and developed in Europe is striking—from the late 1940s on, that is, the very early postwar years in a devastated continent, the organisation and advertising of the new cultural event of the festival of jazz music began to take place. At the jazz band festival ball there was felt to be a good new buzz, and there was a collective spirit, and the idea spread quickly through the 1950s, and would go on to influence also the innovative rock and pop festivals and mass musical gatherings of the 1960s and 1970s counterculture. In the space of only half-a-dozen years the jazz festival spread, from, notably, Nice (1948) to Paris (1948 and 1949) and on to the Belgian coast at Ostend and Knokke (also 1948), to London (1949) to Newport by 1954. Following that, the journey behind the Iron Curtain took only a couple of further years (Sopot, Poland in 1956). Of these earliest festivals, we can reasonably say that Nice and Newport are the most notable, because of their extraordinary longevity. Nice and Newport have been with us most years, on and off, here and there, for many decades….


* Almost all originary claims are flawed, it is in the nature of the project. There is a plaque in a square in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania proclaiming it the site of ‘America’s First Jazz Festival’: ‘On February 23 1951 history was made…. Eight jazz bands got together for “The Cavalcade of Dixieland Jazz” which became the country’s first Jazz Festival’. Or perhaps this one: Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing, back in 1938. As reported in the New York Timeson May 30, ‘For a full five hours and 45 minutes, 23,400 assorted jitterbugs and alligators—more conservatively known as swing music enthusiasts—cavorted yesterday … to the musical gymnastics of 25 swing bands’. Or perhaps we should consider the Tournois de Jazz, live music competitions between dance bands with excited crowds, held in Belgium and the Netherlands in the 1930s, as versions of proto-jazz festivals. By the 1939 event the Tournoi was ‘a full-blown spectacle’, and included band contests, cutting and jam sessions, a dance-off, and even a Miss Swing competition.

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