Tag Archives: jazz

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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‘Jazz and disability’: new chapter

I am pleased to announce that a chapter I wrote on jazz and disability has now been published, in Nick Gebhardt et al’s rich and rewarding new collection, The Routledge Companion to Jazz Studies (2019; London: Routledge; chapter 17; 173-184; 3 b&w images). The chapter is freely downloadable by clicking the link above. It opens with a question from 1920s bandleader Paul Whiteman: ‘What is jazz? Is it art, a disease, a manner, or a dance?’ And it continues:

Art or disease? This chapter both draws on and seeks to extend recent interdisciplinary scholarship in music and disability studies (DS) by looking at the case of jazz. Consider here a definition of the musical instruction alla zoppa, which is usually employed in western classical music to signal a physically impaired character: zoppa in Italian is ‘lame’, ‘limping’, and so it has been applied to music. But it can also mean ‘syncopated’—and so the rhythmic feature at the heart of much jazz has a musical connection with a physical disability, a disability which is about moving differently.

A small body of work has been exploring the relation between jazz and disability; the approach has tended to be around a particular artist (Stras on Connie Boswell, Lubet on Oscar Peterson), or a specific period (Johnson and Stras on early jazz and dance music in the 1920s), or a particular disability (Rowden on visual impairment, Pearl on neurological issues). Some of this work is intersectional, in particular, unsurprisingly for jazz, around disability and race. I want to draw on that as well as extend it in order to make a case for jazz as a music of disability. 

The chapter is in two parts, focusing first on discussing aspects of jazz as a music of disability, from its earliest days, even pre-history, in both the United States and Europe, on. I then look a small number of representative and contrasting major jazz figures who were disabled in some way (and there are many others). I have chosen to write about these not just because they are representative and contrasting, but also because of their foundational status in the development of the music, or because their creative practice—which is a facet of their life experience—has something particular to say about negotiating disability in the entertainment world.

One can say, I think, that each of these artists explored what it meant to be (or to become) disabled through their music and performance, whether this exploration of self-hood and expressive representation was an intended or conscious one or not.  I seek here to answer a question I raised largely in passing in Shakin’ All Over: Popular Music and Disability: ‘Shall we say … that jazz music is predicated on disability?’ 

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