Tag Archives: academic research

Rhythm Changes 3: Jazz Beyond Borders conference, Amsterdam, September 2014, call for papers

Amsterdam ConservatoryCall for papers

The Third International Rhythm Changes Conference, hosted by the Conservatory of Amsterdam. The event is delivered in partnership with the University of Amsterdam, University of Salford, Birmingham City University, Open University, and Amsterdam World Jazz City 2014.

Keynote speakers

Steven Feld (musician, filmmaker and Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Music at the University of New Mexico)

John Gennari (Associate Professor of English and Director, ALANA U.S. Ethnic Studies Program, University of Vermont)

Conference outline

Jazz Beyond Borders (and: Beyond the Borders of Jazz) seeks to critically explore how borders – real and imagined – have shaped, and continue to shape, debates about jazz. Rhythm Changes: Jazz Cultures and European Identities (www.rhythmchanges.net) sought to question traditional ways of understanding and articulating jazz history and the concept of moving beyond borders – whether geographical or aesthetic – has played a key role in the project’s research strategy. Borders can be multifaceted and fluid, from geographical boundaries, to disciplinary fields, there can be theoretical or institutional borders, which permeate discourses relating to the cultural, social, political, national and ethnic as well as artistic, performative, canonical, aesthetic, stylistic and genre-related understandings of jazz. Because of the music’s inherent hybridity, jazz provides an excellent lens through which such borders, and border-policing processes, can be questioned and analysed. The music is ideally placed to think about the dividing lines between, for instance, academia and journalism, popular and art music, ‘new jazz studies’ and ‘traditional musicology’, the sonic and the visual, and so forth.

RC 2014 conference_logoJazz Beyond Borders is a three day multi-disciplinary conference that brings together leading researchers across the arts and humanities and is the largest event of its kind world-wide. Based on our previous conferences (Amsterdam 2011 and Salford 2013), we expect well over 100 participants. The Conference committee invites papers and panel proposals that feed into the Conference theme and is interested in featuring perspectives from a range of international contexts. Although not restricted to specific themes, possible topics could include:

  • Exploring borders: framing, understanding and policing borders; transnational, transcultural, postcolonial, and global perspectives; jazz and its musical others; jazz beyond jazz (jazz as lifestyle from cooking to comedy); genre politics; “frontier” myths; reconfiguring gender, race, ethnicity, disability
  • Challenging binaries: questioning perceived antonyms such as Afrological/Eurological, composition/improvisation, professionals/amateurs, musicians/audiences, theory/practice
  • Jazz historiographies: exploring origins, mythologies, cultural memory, and the different constructions of jazz history
  • (Re-)Mediating jazz: evaluating jazz in film, advertising, literature, art, journalism, criticism
  • Jazz futures: questioning disciplinary boundaries; new directions for jazz research; changing status jazz studies within musicology

The Conference Committee welcomes individual papers and proposals for panels and round table discussions. For individual papers, abstracts of no more than 300 words should be submitted. Panels and round table proposals should include a session overview, participant biographies and description of individual contributions. Abstracts and proposals (as well as event queries) should be sent to Professor Walter van de Leur (W.vandeLeur@ahk.nl) by 1 March 2014.

Conference Committee

Walter van de Leur (Chair, Conservatory of Amsterdam and University of Amsterdam), Nicholas Gebhardt (Birmingham City University), George McKay (University of Salford), Loes Rusch (University of Amsterdam), Catherine Tackley (Open University), Tony Whyton (University of Salford)

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Apartheid and South African jazz in the 1960s

Blue Notes in exile from S Africa, c 1965Like the rest of the world, I have been thinking about Nelson Mandela. I remember, must’ve been early 1980s, joining the 24-hour protest outside the South African Embassy in London, as well as boycotting South African goods, and British companies that traded there during apartheid. In particular I’ve been thinking about the relation between South African music and politics, and anti-apartheid campaigning and the important place and power of popular music, of jazz music in it. In Circular Breathing: The Cultural Politics of Jazz in Britain, there is lot about the musical, cultural and political impact of the South African musicians who came to London in the 1960s. Here is an extract, focussed on what they were escaping.

Also below is a video of Louis Moholo and Barbara Pukwana talking about their experiences of exile. And here, from LondonJazz, is a really good piece by Gwen Ansell about Mandela and musics of protest. And here also is Mike Fowler’s really interesting website dedicated to the Blue Notes, jazzers from South Africa.


… Apparently regardless of the extent to which they were as individuals ideologically articulate or politically active, by virtue of the music they played, their preferred cultural expression alone, South African jazz musicians were positioned politically, in opposition to the state. For white pianist Chris McGregor, playing in a mixed race band in Cape Town in the late 1950s—simply because they were ‘the best musicians I could find’—‘was already a quasi-political orientation’ on the part of all the musicians involved.

As a music student though, McGregor had been directly politicised by the authorities’ proposals to restrict access to the university for black students in 1957. Combined with the call for equal democratic rights articulated in the Freedom Charter of 1955 by the likes of Nelson Mandela, white and black jazz musicians began to play together for demonstrating crowds, education and dances in the townships, as well as at the limited bohemian white cultural spaces still available. Drummer Louis Moholo recalls some of the absurdities of musicians’ experiences of playing and socialising together in a multiracial band under apartheid, one more twist on minstrelsy, or Leonard Feather’s ‘white curtain’ closed again:

 sometimes Chris McGregor would have to play behind a curtain, and vice versa, I would have to play behind a curtain if we got hired by some white cats. And Chris McGregor used to come to this place where we would drink some beer, in the Zulu quarters, but white people were not allowed in here; Chris would paint his face with black polish to come in there.

McGregor, Moholo, and saxophonist Dudu Pukwana looked to jazz to move beyond the increasingly strict apartheid structure of racial classification and oppression that defined their whiteness and blackness. With the epiphany of Duke Ellington and his big bands, McGregor stated simply that he ‘heard in him [Ellington] a certain solution to the problem of black traditions in a white world’. Primarily this involved the invention of a social community—elsewhere he would talk of his big bands as the creation of ‘my own village’—a repertoire of joyous music based on African traditions, and the Ellingtonian generosity of offering in the written arrangements the style and a space to best meet the individual voice of the soloist.

In a country imposing a serious and violent racialised social classification—symbolised most shockingly at Sharpeville on March 21 1960 when 69 protestors against the pass laws were killed by the police (many shot in the back), and nearly 200 injured—such multiracial grouping, cultural celebration and sensitivity could only be political. Micropolitically, when band rehearsals were subsequently raided by police, it was essential to clear up the teacups, because socialising between blacks and whites was no longer permitted.

At the same time, when a small group began to form around one of the clusters of musicians in Johannesburg and they called themselves the Blue Notes, even the band’s name was a double coding: on the one hand it clearly signalled the music of black American jazz, on the other the very word blue was intended to camouflage the colour issue. The young white South African pianist Manfred Mann was himself then exploring jazz in Johannesburg, and being educated in the complex etiquette of apartheid-dominated multiracial relations.

When I shook hands with Lewis Nkosi in the street we were both very, very conscious of everyone looking at us. The simplest human action was a contrived gesture. On another occasion the brilliant saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi came to my house, I was 18 years old, now why would he do that? It was an enormous privilege for me, but my stepmother made him come into our house through the back door. It was a terribly shaming experience…: Kippie himself was so used to this kind of thing, he handled with a dignified resignation. In rehearsals it was even very difficult to argue with a black musician. So although music was a sort of space we could carve out, it was fraught with difficulty.

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