“From the New World”?
Eurocentrism in Jazz

We have started preparations for the next Darmstadt Jazzforum conference to take place from 30 September to 2 October 2021. Continuing discussions prompted by the Black Lives Matter movement we want to talk about the idea of “Europe” which had a lasting influence on aesthetics and ethics, the presentation and the reception of jazz. We ask how a possibly Eurocentric perspective has changed and continues to shape our perception of what jazz stands for, how it connects both to the music’s African American origins and to our own individual cultural environment. Our discussions may start with the name “jazz”, we may look at historical examples of Eurocentric tendencies, and we may take into account the current discourse about the relevance of jazz in non-African American communities. We will talk about racism in jazz, reflect on how exclusion and different forms of othering are present in today’s jazz scene, and look at alternate readings of how the example of African American culture has changed and enriched the understanding of music all over the world. We won’t limit the discussion to jazz but also look at similar debates about Eurocentrism or African-Americanism in contemporary composed music or pop culture.

The Darmstadt Jazzforum is an international conference aimed at a more general than just the scholarly community. We hope for papers that spur on discussions beyond the limits of jazz research, expecting an audience of musicians, journalists, dedicated jazz fans as much as students and scholars from different fields. Papers should be no longer than 25-30 minutes to give ample time for discussion. We are also grateful for panel suggestions and will (within limits) be able to help with travel expenses.

Please send any questions or proposals to jazz@jazzinstitut.de

We are looking forward to suggestions for papers or panels or other presentation formats. Please send us an abstract of your project ideas (about half a page) plus a short bio, deatline:  30 November 2020. Oh, and: The text above really is just a starting point for us; we are just as open for topics or presentation ideas that we have not even yet considered.


Some further thoughts on the topic of the 17th Darmstadt Jazzforum

12 August 2020:

As if he read our call for papers, Ethan Iverson has devoted one of his latest blog entries to a discussion of Eurocentric perspectives in music and has linked to some of his own earlier posts relevant to the subject (Do the Math). Iverson gives one aspect of what we are interested in to discuss at our conference in the fall of 2021. Norman Lebrecht highlights another aspect, explaining details of a current debate regarding the music theorist Heinrich Schenker and music theory “historically rooted in white supremacy” (Slipped Disc). Jacqueline Warwick discusses how music education in the USA is dominated by a focus on Western European art music, summarizes the Schenker discussion, and asks for music programs that are relevant to actual musicians wanting a higher education (The Conversation). Finally, we read Howard Reich’s tribute to Charlie Parker’s upcoming centennial in which the author uses a number of cliches, first comparing Bird’s impact on music to Mozart, Chopin and Gershwin, then referring to him (and the others named) as “revolutionaries” (Chicago Tribune).

At our conference, we might ask whether such cliches informed by a “genius” aesthetic the roots of which can be found in 19th century Europe do the music any justice. These, though, are just some of the topics we might talk about at the Darmstadt Jazzforum next year, and in the next editions of JazzNews we will provide further examples of where Eurocentric perspectives shape our view of jazz. In all of this, we are interested in a leveled discussion about the subject, not in a demonization of the European perspective. We are looking to discuss the reality, then, in which power structures, both within the industry and the aesthetic discourse, have favored a specific worldview, and how artists, scholars, critics and fans have developed different levels of awareness for this reality. We have issued a Call for Papers (deadline: 30 November 2020) and are looking forward to diverse approaches, perspectives and proposals.


26 August 2020:

“Eurocentrism in Jazz”? … some more thoughts

At the Jazzinstitut, we continue to discuss the topic of our next Darmstadt Jazzforum conference, while the first proposals for papers, panels and artistic interventions are already arriving. One of the subjects about “Eurocentism” we discuss, for instance, is how the Goethe-Institut has been using jazz as an example of German musical discourse since the early 1960s, and how that official seal of approval has changed the self-image of many musicians who partook in Goethe tours over the years. We like to speak of jazz as (Afro-)America’s biggest gift to the world, precisely because it is so inclusive, asking musicians from everywhere to add their own personal influences to the mix. Yet, what if the acception of this invitation is overdone to the extent that the African American origins of the music are being neglected? Do we, then, need a constant reminder of the roots of jazz? Isn’t it enough that jazz as a musical language to this day inspires so many young musicians in their creativity? Might this be a question of respect vs freedom of the arts, freedom from the need to refer to traditions, that is. Or, to get back to the Goethe example: If there is a form of jazz that is being sold as a German art form, do we meet our responsibility of respecting the musical idiom as an originally African American art form? Are we at all aware of the appropriation process that happened during the global spread of jazz?

While we invite historical papers for our Jazzforum conference that look at how jazz has earned the status it holds today, we also hope for panel discussions and musical interventions offering artists’ perspectives on the subject. Let us know what you think. We are happy for any suggestions! The deadline for all proposals is: 30 November 2020.


9 September 2020

“Eurocentrism in Jazz?”(!)

It’s a bit like when you buy a new car and suddenly see the same model or color everywhere even though you never noticed it before. Since we started announcing the subject of next year’s Darmstadt Jazzforum conference, “Eurocentrism in Jazz”, we realize the many different perspectives this topic involves. One recent reminder was an exhibition shown at Frankfurt’s Museum for Applied Arts, called “German Museum for Black Entertainment and Black Music”. Kurt Cordsen talks to Anta Helena Recke, one of the curators, about the idea behind the exhibition which focuses on stereotypes about black people in the German entertainment industry and the narrative they informed (BR, DMfSUuBM).

Giovanni Russonello’s New York Times essay about jazz as protest music, on the other hand, is an example of how political jazz (music? the arts?) may have become once more in the current political climate in the United States. However, after reading Russonello’s piece, Michael Rüsenberg points out that there are other perspectives on what jazz stands for. We summarized all of this in our entry on “protest music” above (6 September).

Like the (short-lived, so far) German Museum for Black Entertainment and Black Music, the focus on jazz as a political tool has implications that are both based in the music’s history as an African American art form and a European understanding of art pointing to something beyond what can be seen, heard, read, an ulterior purpose, motive, or goal. The differences are deep, and they are far from just being cultural. “Community building”, for instance, has far more importance in a country that depends on market and self-responsibility when it comes to the wellbeing of its citizens than is the case in a social welfare system. Art reflects reality: thus, let us analyze, not judge (!) what influence the manifold Eurocentric perspectives have had on the reception and the development of jazz both in its understanding as an African-American and a creative world music.

If you’ve followed our short introductions to what the Darmstadt Jazzforum might be about, you already recognize the diversity of possible topics. But it’s up to you, as well:

— Call for papers —

We invite you to send us proposals for papers, panels, artistic interventions that look at any of these (or other) topics from your perspective. We also ask you to share our Call for Papers with others interested, colleagues, artists, journalists, activists. We will (within limits) be able to help with travel expenses. The deadline for all proposals is: 30 November 2020.