Jazz @ 100 | An alternative to a story of heroes
Conference, Concerts, exhibition, 28 – 30 September 2017
In the centenary of jazz – the recordings of the Original Dixieland Jass Band from 1917 are often cited as the first jazz recordings ever – the Darmstadt Jazzforum conference looks at the pitfalls of jazz historiography, which often relies on myths and legends that distort what is even more important: the multi-perspectivity of a music which is being created not only by great masters, but certainly by many individualists.
In all of this, the 15th Darmstadt Jazzforum does not plan to re-write jazz historiography. During the international conference, during concerts and an exhibition, however, we hope for a lively discussion about how our understanding of the music, its history and its aesthetic has been shaped. We see jazz as a music with a history of more than a hundred years, and we know that it’s much more complex than history books usually tell us. Our objective is to unravel some more of this complexity, even though we know that we will only be scratching at the surface. We do not just want to look at the past, either, but are just as much interested in papers that focus on today’s developments and their significance in the cultural discourse jazz always was a part of.
The Darmstadt Jazzforum will focus on different aspects of jazz historiography, such as:
Jazz historiography mostly talks of major cities, of New Orleans, Chicago or New York, of Paris, London or Berlin. An alternative reading might identify other places (such as Charleston, St. Louis, Los Angeles or Lyon, Leeds, Wuppertal) and link these to specific events, movements, or group activities. An alternative reading might also stress the fact that any fixation of cultural activity to a specific place forgets aspects of mobility which are important in a music dealing mostly with cultural encounters. How do “scenes” and connections between scenes work? What does the historigraphic choice of focusing on a specific “place” or the deliberate negation of geographical positioning mean for our understanding of jazz? And what are the specific connections between locations and the music itself?
Jazz historiography often talks about successful or tragic heroes. An alternative reading might move other protagonists into the focus, might talk about temporary networks which enable artistic developments but are much more than mere musical relationships. An alternative reading should not necessarily question the importance of the great personalities but ask what kind of an example they set and/or what examples might have been alternatives from a very different direction. Focusing on people in jazz one needs to ask about the concept of artistic or commercial “success”; one needs to look at the processual aspects of improvisation (as opposed to the “Werk” aesthetic which shines through in most artists’ discographies); and one needs to look at the involvement of artists in the cultural discourses of their direct environments (community, city, scene, politics).
It seems like the those lucky days when jazz history could easily be categorized with clear stylistic distinctions are over since the 1970s. And yet we often search for new descriptions to sum up more recent developments. The designation of stylistic names may be helpful for talking about music, but is it a suitable procedure in the internet era in which genre-hopping is the rule for a whole generation? The discussion about “genre” or “style” needs to take into consideration how such terms and categories have been canonized in the past and are being used in the present, by the music press, the industry, by fans as well as even by those pretending not to like jazz (Branford Marsalis: “People think if nobody sings it’s jazz.”). When questioning the illusion of genre purity, ine has to ask about the general necessity for categories in the first place and speculate about a future with no need “to file under…”
Presentations, Discussions, Concerts, Exhibition
At the 15th Darmstadt Jazzforum all of these topics are addressed by scholars from different disciplines, by journalists and by musicians. An exhibition with photos by Arne Reimer allows a “view behind the scenes” of the public life of jazz musicians. Three concerts will complete the event (and some of the musicians will also talk at the conference). Attending the conference is free. We ask, though, for informal registration.
More about the 15th Darmstadt Jazzforum about “Jazz @ 100. An alternative to a story of heroes” (concerence program, information about the concerts and the exhibition) will be online here in late May.
PS: The language at the Darmstadt Jazzforum conference is English.