Category Archives: Jazz

Rhythm Changes VI conference: Jazz Journeys, Graz, Austria, April 2019

I’m delighted once again to be involved in the next Rhythm Changes international jazz studies conference, as part of the organising committee. This is the sixth conference we have put on as a team over almost a decade, in Amsterdam, Salford, Amsterdam, Birmingham, Amsterdam and now Graz. 

Here is the call for papers. 


Keynote Speakers

Prof. Jason Stanyek (University of Oxford)
Prof. Marie Buscatto (University of Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne)

Closing Address

Prof. Alan Stanbridge (University of Toronto)

We invite paper submissions for Jazz Journeys, a four-day multidisciplinary conference bringing together leading researchers across the arts and humanities. The event will feature academic papers, panels, roundtables, and poster sessions, as well as an exciting programme of performances by students and staff of the Jazz Institute of the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz.

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. Please clearly identify which theme you are referring to in your proposal.

Journeys — Mobility and Travels

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 — Journées

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 and 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.

Jazz Journeys — The Seductions 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.

Please submit proposals (max. 250 words), including a short biography (max. 50 words) and institutional affiliation, as a Word document to Christa Bruckner-Haring at rhythmchanges@kug.ac.at.

The deadline for proposals is 15 September 2018; outcomes will be communicated to authors by 15 October 2018. All paper submissions will be considered by the conference committee, consisting of Christa Bruckner-Haring (Chair; Graz), André Doehring (Graz), Nicholas Gebhardt (BCU), George McKay (UEA), Loes Rusch (Amsterdam Conservatory), Catherine Tackley (Liverpool), Walter van de Leur (Amsterdam Conservatory/UvA) and Tony Whyton (BCU).

Jazz Journeys continues to build on the legacy of the research project Rhythm Changes: Jazz Cultures and European Identities (2010–2013), which was funded as part of the Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) Joint Research Programme. In the spirit of Rhythm Changes, the project team continues to develop networking opportunities and champion collaborative research in transnational jazz studies.

Updates on the conference and information about travel and accommodation will be available on the Rhythm Changes website and via our Facebook page. 

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Jazz, race and JB Souter’s ‘The Breakdown’ (1926)

I had the pleasure last night of attending the private view for a terrific new exhibition about the Jazz Age in Britain, curated by Prof Catherine Tackley. Called Rhythm and Reaction, it’s at Two Temple Place, London until 22 April, and is free. Do go. (A photo/postcard from a 1919 ‘Famous Jazz Band’ in Cheshire which is in my possession is included in the exhibition.)

I was most excited about seeing this painting, which is we can say notorious in jazz history. In fact, there are no less three versions of it on display in the exhibition, which was thrilling to see. (This doesn’t include the original, as shown in the Royal Academy in 1926—that was destroyed by the artist himself following the public outrage below.) But this one, a small-ish pastel sketch from 1926, in its roughness and age, really caught my eye. I’ve never seen it before. 

It got me thinking again about the jazz story of the painting. In a chapter on whiteness and jazz in 2004’s Circular Breathing: The Cultural Politics of Jazz in Britain, I’d drawn on Jim Godbolt’s work on it from his excellent History of Jazz in Britain vol. 1, and followed that up with material supplied to me from the Royal Academy archive. Below is what I wrote about John B. Souter’s ‘The Breakdown’, with a little material at the start to draw the context of jazz and race at the time. (From chapter 2, a section called ‘(White man) in Hammersmith Palais’: jazz, racism, white empires. For references, go to the book.)

‘A reason of state and not of art’ (nor music, of course) indeed…


… Through the 1920s, the Jazz Age, those in the business—of music education, and the burgeoning jazz and dance criticism—arranged themselves to present a solid white line of outrage—a certain sign that consensus was in crisis, transition imminent, and not only in the cultural arena. Jazz was the musical metonym of hegemon. Uniting the authority of Christianity and of an ancient university for the benefit of assembled music teachers, the Rector of Exeter College, Oxford welcomed delegates to a 1926 summer school with the advice: ‘Don’t take your music from America or from the niggers, take it from God, the source of all good music.’ The public racialised discourse of the consumption of jazz in Britain was frequently channelled through the (dancing) body, (black) masculinity and the fascinated threat to white female sexuality. This is evidenced in a Sunday Chronicle article from June 1924 by one Violet Quirk, in which she describes for readers her ‘disturbing impressions’ of a jazz dance.

 The negro musicians knew well how to recapture the inflaming noises made by their far-back ancestors, and which are still enjoyed by cannibals during their most important ceremonies.… [T]he animal devotees of jazz, who like to be maddened … [s]ee how it whips them about! They obey it like slaves.… These women … shuffle round the room with striding legs too far apart, rigid bodies, and fixed staring eyes.…

Animals, slaves are whipped. Young white women are enslaved, sexualised, narcotised, through the bodily experience of dancing to that primitive, that cannibalistic music. The transcendent music transports them to Africa, a colonial Africa of white nightmare (the horror), via the jazz dance as some kind of voodoo rite. This is an important point: at this time in Britain black jazz was articulated as a threat within the framework of the imperial experience. It was less to do with America per se than to do with continuing white anxieties about the blackness of empire, and how to control it.

Moreover, the crisis in whiteness was explicitly gendered and generational: it was young (fertile) white women that were depicted as threatened, through an implied miscegenation. Being white and weak was not an acceptable combination in a discourse of British imperial masculinity, but John Bull’s flapper grand-daughter, holder of the future of the white race if she would only realise it, only protect her privileged position as well as her virtue, was the ideal(ised) chosen symbol for the transmission of such neuroses.

In a further sign of the extent to which black jazz had entered the white imagination, and was beginning to impact on what it meant to be white, two years later a controversy led to the withdrawal of a painting from the Royal Academy spring show in London. John B. Souter, a member of the Pastel Society, submitted a painting called ‘The Breakdown’, which showed a naked young white woman dancing as in a trance to the music of a saxophone played by a formally dressed black man, who is sitting on a broken white classical statue.

issue no. 1, January 1926

The first editor of Melody Maker (founded that same year, 1926) was Edgar Jackson, real name Edgar Cohen, a London-born Jew. Because of the signified jazz of the saxophone, and probably also for the pragmatic reason that he wished his new publication to be recognised as a mouthpiece for the scene, Jackson felt it his duty to speak out against the painting—on behalf of all British jazz musicians:

We jazz musicians … protest against, and repudiate the juxtaposition of an undraped white girl with a black man.… We demand also that the habit of associating our music with the primitive and barbarous negro derivation shall cease forthwith.… ‘Breakdown’ is not only a picture entirely nude of the respect due to the chastity and morality of the younger generation but in the degradation it implies to modern white woman there is the perversive danger to the community and the best thing that could happen to it is to have it … burnt!

A Royal Academy Annual Report describes what followed.

At the request of the Secretary for the Dominions an oil painting (No. 600) entitled ‘The Breakdown’, by J.B. Souter, was removed from the exhibition on May 8, as the subject … was considered to be obnoxious to British subjects living abroad in daily contact with a coloured population. The gap was filled by a portrait of Lady Diana Manners, by Sir J.J. Shannon, R.A., lent by Violet Duchess of Rutland.

The justification was for the painting’s withdrawal was that it would make difficulties for white officials in the colonies, and indeed the Academy’s Council minutes explain the removal as ‘due to a reason of state and not of art’. That it should have been replaced by such an establishment piece as a portrait of a Lady painted by a Sir and lent by a Duchess suggests an ostentatious desire to re-establish the dominant order following its temporary breakdown.

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