14th Darmstadt Jazzforum


Conference, exhibition, workshop, concerts
Gender and Identity in Jazz

Darmstadt Jazzforum 2015 GENDER_IDENTITY from Jazzinstitut Darmstadt on Vimeo.

The speakers have been chosen; here is an overview of the papers.


Jazz used to be a predominantly male music. Not only were most of the musicians male, but its aesthetics and social environment was dominated by male ideals and male players as well. In the public perception of this music women as well as other groups or identities not compliant with the male orientation of jazz’s origins played only a minor role. Strong female instrumental voices, for instance, or musicians with a LGBT background were marginalized both by the media and by the jazz scene, seen as an exception or celebrated as a fig-leaf for the alleged openness of the music.

Celebrating the Jazzinstitut’s 25th anniversary, the 14th Darmstadt Jazzforum will approach the gender topic from different sides. We are aware of the fact that there is no “female jazz” or “male jazz”, that music in itself does neither have a gender nor a sexual orientation. And yet our identity which we acquired in our respective environments are highly influential on how we express our creativity, how we think about art and music, which associations we may have with specific genres if not even with specific sounds. “I don’t care whom you’re screwing”, said the pianist Orrin Evans in September 2014 at the first “Queer Jazz Festival” in Philadelphia, “as long as you’re screwing somebody” – music, after all, is a taking place between people, it’s not a hermit’s art.

How, then, is our identity forming our understanding of jazz? Or to be even more precise: Is jazz really a man’s music? And if so, where exactly do its male attributes come from? Is some kind of emphasis on masculinity in the African-American community one of the reasons for the stereotype of jazz as a male art form? How can such an attitude be described – and how does it translate into other cultures? Why, for instance, doesn’t the slow softening of masculine values in global pop music since the 1970s have a stronger effect on jazz? Or is this actually happening and we just don’t notice it because of the general changes we experience around us? Are there musical qualities which are determined through identity (if not through gender)? We know about and acknowledge gender-typical approaches and methods of problem-solving in many other fields; can we identify such in music? Do men play more aggressively, are women more anxious to reach a consensus? Are words such as “empathetic” or “forceful” clearly linked to specific gender characteristics? What is the difference between the self-view and the independent view of this topic? How does one deal with the phenomenon that a musician such as Gary Burton makes clear that, of course, he does not play “gay jazz”, yet acknowledges that after his coming-out many of his colleagues told him he sounded much “freer”?

How, then, does one take the roles one is playing in the real world along into an art form which is about “playing yourself” on the one hand and which deals with an open kind of communication of specific individuals on the other hand? Jazz, after all, is one of the most individual approaches in the music field; it seems odd to argue that one’s personal background has no influence whatsoever on the musical result. “Where you come from is where you go to”, is at least part of the rule: Whoever you are, will define what and how you will play and perform.

At our 14th Darmstadt Jazzforum we plan to look at different views on this complex field of topics. We will focus on three thematic blocks. (1) We will discuss topics such as masculinity / gender / intersectionality / identity. (2) We will invite some analytical case studies, in which the art of specific musicians is being approached without first looking at the gender aspect of their music. (3) A third block is to bring us into the lived-in reality both of days gone by and of today’s world, allow for focused views into jazz history and for conversations with men and women active on today’s jazz scene.

The view of jazz musicians and their art may be distorted if we reduce them to any parts of their identity, be it their gender, their sexual orientation, their ethnicity, or anything else. However, to ignore these facets, be it in jazz history or today’s jazz scene, is a proof of neglect as well. At the 14th Darmstadt Jazzforum we hope to contribute to a discourse which is and remains important in our changing modern world.

Please find Darmstadt Jazzforum on Facebook    GENDER_IDENTITY

„GENDER_IDENTITY“ is hosted by the Jazzinstitut Darmstadt, a cultural institution of the City of Science Darmstadt.

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The 14. Darmstädter Jazzforum is fonded by the Kulturfonds Frankfurt Rhein-Main, the  Hessischen Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kunst and the jubilee-foundation of the Sparkasse Darmstadt.

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hr2 Kultur, JAZZTHETIK and MELODIVA are media partners of the 14. Darmstädter Jazzforums

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We are co-operating for the 14. Darmstädter Jazzforums with the „Frauen machen Musik e.V.“, the Kulturzentrum Bessunger Knabenschule, WAGGONG Frankfurt e.V., the Centralstation Darmstadt and the Romanfabrik in Frankfurt/Main

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