Destination Unknown:
The future of jazz (blog)

Random thoughts / zufällige Gedanken
zum 28. Darmstädter Jazzforum


31 October 2022
(5) just go ahead ... (women in jazz)

The future, after all, is always the present and the past, because we shape it out of what we have experienced, and because we have to start now changing things that we want to be different. This is what is going through my mind these days, while I read in German and American newspapers about Terri Lyne Carrington's publication "New Standards. 101 Lead Sheets by Women Composers" (e.g. die tageszeitung). The topic of "Women in Jazz", of course, is not a new one. At the same time, it is one that can be used almost as an example for how things change within our scene. Until at least the 1970s, female jazz musicians/instrumentalists were rare - at least that's how it seemed, because the press mainly reported on their male colleagues. die tageszeitung). Das Thema “Women in Jazz” ist ja kein Neues. Zugleich ist es eins, an dem sich die Veränderungen in unserer Szene fast schon beispielhaft nachverfolgen lässt. Bis mindestens in die 1970er Jahre hinein waren Jazzmusikerinnen / Instrumentalistinnen rar – zumindest schien dies so, weil die Presse vor allem über ihre männlichen Kollegen berichtete.

Every now and then there were articles about the subject in the jazz press, then in the 1980s the first publications followed documenting a glaring gap in the narrative of jazz history. Rosetta Reitz's record series "Women in Jazz" (1980-1981), Sally Placksin's book "Women in Jazz" (1982), Linda Dahl's "Stormy Weather. The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazzwomen" (1984) essentially changed this narrative. They documented that throughout jazz history there had always been women musicians, vocalists as well as instrumentalists. They thus changed the perception of history, yet these changes did not so much affect the present, which was still characterized by a fundamental skepticism toward female musicians in a male-dominated world.

At first it was singular, then more and more events, workshops, concerts, festivals that focused on the presence of women in jazz. And there were increasing calls for gender-balanced panels, for programs where the quota of women musicians (or at least bandleaders) was at least as high as that of men. There was an awareness that a desirable future can only be achieved by making changes in the present. Parity within juries is now the norm rather than the exception; festivals or workshops that fail to ensure at least adequate representation of women artists face a well-deserved shitstorm. There is still work to be done in university professorships and in radio big bands, but basically the issue has arrived everywhere. It is an issue not only in jazz, but actually in the whole of society, so it can no longer be pushed aside so easily. At the Darmstadt Jazzforum, we, too, have placed a focus on the topic (e.g., 2015: Gender and Identity in Jazz; 2021: Roots | Heimat: Diversity in Jazz), and yet we, too, must allow ourselves to be reproached for not always having designed our program in an exemplary manner: The lack of gender balance is not only prevalent in jazz, but also in jazz research and jazz journalism.

So now Terri Lyne Carrington's "New Standards": an at least ambiguous title for her book, which on the one hand looks for a different repertoire that makes female musicians more visible (audible), but on the other hand also demands new standards in everyday jazz - and not only demands them, but also provides the necessary material for them. In doing so, however, Carrington is not only changing the present; her book - just like her work at the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, which she founded in 2018 - is directed toward the future of jazz. Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice – ist auf die Zukunft des Jazz gerichtet.

The future, it should be noted, never consists of hope alone; it needs activists in the present. However, this is not exactly new to us; after all we are experiencing this everywhere around us at the moment. Thus, when we talk about the future, we must always look at the discourses of the present, not so much in a critically questioning way than with as encouragement. The more opinions are expressed and involved in the discussion, the more people identify with the topic, the better a future can be negotiated in which everyone feels involved.

(Wolfram Knauer, 31 October 2022)


6 Octber 2022
... "infinite vastness"* ...

Theo Croker recently recorded an original entitled "Jazz Is Dead". Pirmin Bossart headlines his article in the fall issue of the Swiss magazine Jazz 'n' More "Jazz is dead - but creative music is alive" and quotes Croker, who considers genres obsolete and finds that what some hip-hoppers do today "is more jazz than what jazz musicians do".

So there we are, then, with the question that has accompanied jazz for decades and that has become loud again in recent years - under changed auspices: doesn't the label "jazz" tend to hinder the perception of the music as a creative art that reflects the present? Doesn't the label carry far too much ballast around with it and wouldn't we all be helped if we finally stopped dividing music into genres?

My own opinion: I think "jazz" is a great term, but that is because I've known it for so long and because it stands for the music to which I feel so strongly emotionally attached. I find that labels are needed to talk about something - if I didn't have genre labels, I'd have to redefine what I'm talking about every time (of course, that can be nice too, but it's quite tedious...). The problem - in my opinion - is not the labels, but the tendency of many recipients to make these labels absolute, that is, to confuse the label with the thing itself. The problem is still that "jazz" is understood as a clearly circumscribable genre rather than as a musical practice. The problem has been furthered by the recording industry, which very deliberately used to label - "file under jazz / rock / country" etc. - in order to be able to market its products specifically to potential buyers.

But actually it doesn't matter what you call it, as long as you remain aware of the openness of this music. Personally, I have never quite understood that in the - in my opinion - most open music, jazz, of all things, such rigid aesthetic discussions about the permissibility of stylistic developments were even possible, when this music - again: in my opinion - lives precisely from in- instead of exclusivity. This is then how I understand Theo Croker's sentence. If one recognizes "jazz" as a musical practice, it can be found in all kinds of musical projects. Critics warn that this leads to arbitrariness, but in fact such an understanding simply calls for more open and at the same time more precise listening. And why shouldn't one argue from time to time about whether a recording, whether a concert, whether a musical attitude still fulfills the criteria of what "jazz" is for one personally?

Insofar as art is creative, it changes continuously, and with it the aesthetic criteria. All of us who are somehow involved with this music, whether professionally or not, have to deal with this change. Whether we accept it or not, who cares! Creativity makes demands not only on the creators themselves, but also on their recipients. That's why art, especially music, is a mirror of society. Particularly in art, experiments often challenge us to question ourselves, because they distruct the thought patterns in which we have actually made ourselves quite comfortable.

But back to the Darmstadt Jazzforum. We have titled our conference with a Sun Ra quote: "Destination unknown: The future of jazz". The uncertainty of that destination, it's something we're all kind of familiar with: We usually know where we come from, we know what structures we live in. But how we will shape the future, how this future will influence our own life and thinking, we just don't know. However, the unknown, the indeterminate is not only frightening, it also describes the hope for a "better", a "fairer" world.

Development, at any rate, is actually always a step ... forward.

*"Space: infinite vastness" [Der Weltraum: unendliche Weiten] would be the introduction to the TV series "Star Track" in its dubbed German version where the original has: "Space: The final frontier".

(Wolfram Knauer, 6 October 2022)


4 October 2022
(3) If you have visions...

I have mentioned it twice already, thus, today it's about "visions". And, no, you don't have to go to the doctor if you have visions, as Helmut Schmidt once so beautifully advised. It is enough to regularly compare your vision(s) with reality, i.e. to stay aware of the fact that a vision is possibly a long-term goal towards which one can work, which on the one hand, keeps changing itself, but which on the other hand, already by thinking about it, influences one's own perception of reality, and by working on or by talking about it, actually influences reality.

What, then, are visions? In our context, we could speculate about the musical vision, the idea, for example, of creating a constellation of sounds that is unheard of, at least for oneself, or the idea of an intercultural improvisation in which all participating artists follow the conventions to which improvisation is subject in their respective cultures. A vision could be limited only to one's own instrument, to technical details, to the mastery of it, or to mechanical changes that simplify intended musical processes. Wouldn't it be great, could be another vision to work towards, if our society was completely represented in the field of jazz and improvised music, in all its diversity?

Visions are really just that, the idea of an ideal goal. However, they usually have very practical effects, often already on one's own very current actions. The moment I have something in mind that seems desirable to me, I will already check my current actions to see whether they help or hinder the way to get there. And thus, every vision influences my actions. At the same time, my actions influence the vision as well. The vision has the advantage of blocking out reality. When working on its realization one then recognizes what is really possible, better perhaps: what seems possible to oneself, and automatically one adapts one's own vision. With each step, the vision becomes more of a goal, more of a compromise between vision and reality. So that's the third concept here: Vision - Reality - Compromise. But the compromise is not a slimmed down vision, it is what is feasible in reality (for oneself).

Jazz, Jazz Jazz.... For me, jazz has always been a visionary music. I can only speculate about the individual visions of the musicians; even if they talked about it, "expressed" visions are something different than the idea itself. For me, Duke Ellington had the vision that music could capture the reality of the African-American experience and thus enhance understanding of the ills of U.S. society. For me, Charlie Parker had the vision of a musical language in which the coming together of melodic, harmonic, rhythmic aspects with the moment of complexity that came with it, especially through the technical mastery of his instrument, could produce new sonic worlds. Miles Davis and his vision of sound - of his trumpet as well as of his band and his productions. Peter Brötzmann and the / a vision of free interplay. The vision of nationally or regionally connected sounds (Garbarek, Stanko). The vision of a folklore that cannot be assigned (Louis Sclavis, Erika Stucky, ARFI). The vision of jazz as an example of democracy (Willis Conover or the U.S. State Department of the 1950s and 1960s) or as an example of a just society (John Lewis, Billy Taylor, Gunter Hampel). The vision of gender justice - also in jazz (Terri Lyne Carrington). The vision of jazz as a political and social positioning (Abbey Lincoln, Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp, Sebastian Gramss). You don't have to know the visions the musicians had in mind to enjoy their music, but knowing about them adds information to the recordings and concerts. Duke Ellington die Vision, dass Musik die Realität der afro-amerikanischen Erfahrung fassen und damit das Verständnis für die Missstände in der US-amerikanischen Gesellschaft verstärken könne. Für mich hatte Charlie Parker die Vision einer musikalischen Sprache, bei der das Zusammenkommen melodischer, harmonischer, rhythmischer Aspekte mit dem Moment der Komplexität, das insbesondere durch die technische Beherrschung seines Instruments mit hineinkam, neue klangliche Welten hervorbringen konnte. Miles Davis und seine Vision des Klangs – seiner Trompete genauso wie seiner Band und seiner Produktionen. Peter Brötzmann und die / eine Vision des freien Zusammenspiels. Die Vision national oder regional verbundener Klänge (Garbarek, Stanko). Die Vision einer nicht zuordbaren Folklore (Louis Sclavis, Erika Stucky, ARFI). Die Vision des Jazz als eines Beispiels für Demokratie (Willis Conover oder das US-amerikanische State Department der 1950er und 1960er Jahre) oder als Beispiel für eine gerechte Gesellschaft (John Lewis, Billy Taylor, Gunter Hampel). Die Vision von Geschlechtergerechtigkeit – auch im Jazz (Terri Lyne Carrington). Die Vision des Jazz als politische und gesellschaftliche Positionierung (Abbey Lincoln, Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp, Sebastian Gramss). Man muss die Visionen nicht kennen, die den Musikern vorschwebten, um ihre Musik genießen zu können, aber wenn man um sie weiß, gibt das den Aufnahmen und Konzerten noch zusätzliche Informationen.

The examples show: Sometimes it is really about visions, sometimes the musicians - who, I hope you are aware, are only mentioned as examples - have already set out on the path, sometimes you can follow the comparison of vision with reality almost simultaneously. What they all have in common and what the 18th Darmstadt Jazzforum will also be about is: Jazz is a music that is directed towards the future. Musicians want to create something new together with others. They want to generate new sounds, new constellations, new experiences, and ones that reflect their respective present, that - like perhaps every kind of avant-garde - contribute something to the current cultural discourse. But in order to have the freedom to develop artistic visions at all, structures are needed that at least promote them. Such structures can be artists' collectives as well as educational institutions, funding programs as well as state institutions. Visions without the possibility to realize them remain - mostly - visions.

So what is needed to encourage musicians, organizers, journalists, music curators to tackle their visions? We hope to be able to discuss concrete proposals, especially in the panels of the Darmstadt Jazzforum, not about what we don't like in the present, but about how we imagine a better future.

(Wolfram Knauer, 4 October 2022)


28 September 2022
Soothsaying

Ted Gioia has made our 18th Darmstadt Jazzforum the subject of his blog entry today - well, not really, but his post on "20 Predictions for the Music Business in 10 Years" (The Honest Broker) at least makes you wonder what can be said about the future at all. Gioia, partly tongue-in-cheek, predicts that the music of the future will once again be more focused on the music itself, or at least that's what marketing would have us believe. Record labels will no longer play a role in the careers of artists who instead will find ways to capture 80-90 percent of the revenue from their music. The number one hit on the Billboard charts will have been generated by artificial intelligence. The individual tracks of a new album (by a major star) will be auctioned off as separate NFTs before release. Streamed music will generate more revenue than live concerts (isn't that already the case?). There will still be record labels, but they will mainly market their back catalog and worry about the expiration of copyright protection for their products. The new music industry hubs will be in Seoul, Kinshasa and Jakarta. Gioia also goes on to predict that in ten years, trombone sales will skyrocket "after the instrument is implicated in a high-profile celebrity scandal".The Honest Broker) lässt einen zumindest darüber nachdenken, was sich überhaupt über die Zukunft aussagen lässt. Gioia sagt augenzwinkernd voraus, dass die Musik der Zukunft wieder stärker auf das Musikalische fokussiert sein wird, zumindest will uns das Marketing so etwas weismachen wollen. Physische Tonträger werden keine Rolle mehr für die Karriere von Künstler:innen spielen. Diese entwickeln Strategien, beim Vermarkten ihrer Musik im Internet immerhin 80-90 Prozent der Einnahmen für sich behalten zu können. Der größte Hit auf den Billboard-Charts wird von Künstlicher Intelligenz erzeugt worden sein. Die einzelnen Tracks eines neuen Albums (von großen Stars) werden vor Veröffentlichung als NFTs versteigert. Gestreamte Musik wird mehr Umsatz bringen als Livekonzerte (ist das nicht schon heute so?). Es wird weiterhin Plattenfirmen geben, die allerdings vor allem ihren Backkatalog vermarkten und sich um das Auslaufen des Urheberrechtsschutzes für ihre Produkte sorgen. Die neuen Hubs der Musikindustrie werden in Seoul, Kinshasa und Jakarta liegen.  Gioia sagt außerdem noch voraus, dass in zehn Jahren Posaunen zum großen neuen Ding werden, weil es einen groß gehypten Celebrity-Skandal gab, bei dem das Instrument eine zentrale Rolle spielte.

Hmmm, hopefully we will all see. For our topic, at least, one important aspect is emerging: music seems to have been inescapably linked to the development of the recording industry since the 1920s - so much so that technological developments automatically have an impact on musicians' lives, incomes and art. This is true for the entire music industry, but perhaps even more so for jazz because, as improvised music, it has always sold NFTs, non-fungible tokens. Every recording, every performance by jazz musicians is unique. There were and are artists who actually record as much as possible, partly for their own archive (e.g. Duke Ellington in the 1960s), partly to make them accessible to an audience that knows about the singularity of each performance (e.g. Gunter Hampel). Duke Ellington in den 1960ern), teils, um sie zu pressen und einem Publikum zugänglich zu machen, dass um die Singularität eines jeden Auftritts weiß (z.B. Gunter Hampel).

The dystopia of a future music might indeed be the idea that art produced by artificial intelligence could have similar emotional impact as art produced by humans. I'm relatively relaxed about it: Sure, it will be possible to generate music that sounds "like" something else, music that refers to sound clichés of the past, Parker, Coltrane, Miles, but mixes them in a new way. Surely AI will eventually be able to generate music that sounds "like an experiment," like what we find exciting about current improvised music. But can a machine take risks? Improvisational risks, when musicians get involved with the reaction of other colleagues, to which they themselves react; aesthetic risks of the success of a previously presented concept, in the development of which in improvised music one never plans to the end, but rather consciously relies on risktaking? Some experiments with AI exist already, after all (George Lewis' Voyager; Dan Tepfer's "Natural Machines" project). Voyager; Dan Tepfers “Natural Machines”-Projekt).

I don't like comparing music and sports, but still: Sure, a machine can run faster than a human. But will it sweat? Will you smell the excitement? Will you feel the emotional exertion and the joy or disappointment about the result? You can also "smell" music. It is created by musicians acting together, leading to ever new musical conditions, to new sonic connections, to unexpected or also expected reactions, to joy, incipient boredom, thrills or that indescribable becoming-part-of-the-creative-process.

The future of the music industry, and the involvement of musicians in it: certainly an important topic for the Darmstadt Jazzforum. Actually, it has been an important topic in jazz for a long time, at the latest since Charles Mingus and Max Roach wanted to take the marketing of their recordings into their own hands with the Debut record label. What is possible, what is desirable, what is inevitable, what should be prevented at all costs? Or shouldn't we rely on the creativity of our field, which can generate something exciting out of every situation, because it ideally reacts to the present and explores future possibilities instead of regurgitating the past?

Ah, actually I had wanted to write about "Vision and Reality", but now Ted Gioia has lifted me onto another horse for the time being. Next time then...

(Wolfram Knauer, 28 September 2022)


26 September 2022
(1) The devil You (don’t) know…

Foreseeing cultural developments has never really worked out. We are far too stuck in the thought structures that shape our cultural present for that, but we would not only have to foresee artistic discourses, but also alternative spaces in which such discourses can be conducted, topics that we perhaps do not consider that important at the moment, a changed (self-)conception of art. We would have to think about institutions and their changes (cf. e.g. the demands made at the Darmstadt Jazzforum 17 regarding diversity in institutions), political sensitivities (cf. e.g. the discussions about Documenta 15 and the control obligations of curators as well as politics), changes in the perception and recognition of artists and their creative work in society. And of course we would have to think about the artistic statement itself, the creative process and its result, in the case of music the concert, the studio production, the connection with the audience.

What would all this look like in jazz? We have agreed on identifiers for "our" music, albeit in different ways. For example: improvisational, research-oriented, reinterpreting the intensity that ist often defined as "swinging" or "energy play" or by other ways of interlocking rhythmic, melodic and harmonic impulses. A reference to the African-American origins of the music and all the connotations associated with it, especially that of community: that is, that jazz is a music that needs community, the response of the audience. Such a reference can happen quite directly (melodic, harmonic or sound quotation), but equally indirectly ("with the awareness of..."). Currently, this respect for the African-American origin and experience of jazz is increasingly demanded over here (especially in Germany) as well, for example in terms of ethnic diversity in concert and festival programs.

But will this still be the case in ten years, or will the current tendency to actively compensate for social and cultural injustices no longer be considered so important by then, and instead perhaps more attention will be paid to what improvised music can tell us "today," that is, in 2032? Will the House of Jazz be a reality in Berlin and will similar concert spaces be available elsewhere in the republic, either highly subsidized by the public sector or privately financed by commercial financiers who have recognized that artistic research is no less important for their field than that in the analog or virtual laboratory? Will we still have club concerts in front of live audiences, or will the developments of virtual reality enable us to have corresponding shared experiences in a different way? Will the musicians' life still consist primarily of travel, research and teaching, or will they be able to pursue their creative work more and more from home in a co2-neutral way?

Arrghhh... I'm not good at science fiction. Maybe I'm too much of a realist, maybe I'm too fearful, maybe I'm just not enough of an artist.... Anyway, every "Why not!" in my head is followed by a lot of question marks. It is easy to prefer the security of the current reality to the uncertainty of the experiment: "the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know...". I'll leave it at that and suspect: just as I can't imagine the future of jazz, I can't really imagine the discussions we might have about it in September 2023 at the Darmstadt Jazzforum. What makes me feel better is that I know I'm dealing with creative artists who aren't afraid to take a thought and simply spin it further, no matter how much adjustment of the context is necessary. That, after all, is one of the strengths of jazz (as well as other artistic avant-gardes): that it is able to focus on individual motifs, on rhythmic structures, on emotional inklings, to dissect these in each case, and in the process to create something new, as it were, along the way.

Which, however, immediately makes me wonder again whether the future isn't always, well, at least "also" coincidence? But that would be the topic of another blog entry - by the way, just like the topic "vision meets reality", which I would like to think about next time...

Wolfram Knauer (26 September 2022)


All photos on this blog page come from the Sun Ra Archive of the Hartmut Geerken collection at the Jazzinstitut Darmstadt.

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