Travelling Exhibition: A History of Dutch Jazz Festivals in Thirty-Some Objects

This exhibition tells a story of jazz festivals in the Netherlands through objects. It is a story that originates in the jazz competitions held in the 1930s and which encompasses about 85 years of music, people, festival sites, and objects. While over the years jazz festivals have grown to cover a wide range of musical styles, performers, audiences, and venues, some consistency can be found in these festivals’ ambitions to engage with international musicians and to connect with local communities.

Both a creative space and place for cultural consumption, the festival is also very much a material culture. What remains of a jazz festival when the music, the musicians, the organizers, and the listeners have left? How does intangible cultural heritage of jazz turn into tangible heritage? How does a festival materialize in objects, and what can we learn from this? To engage with these questions, we have used a concept modelled after ‘A history of the world in 100 objects,’ a series by Neil MacGregor, director of the British
Museum, that explores world history from two million years ago to the present.

A collaborative project between CHIME, the Nederlands Jazz Archief (NJA, Dutch Jazz Archives), and photographer Foppe Schut, the exhibition is designed as a digital travelling exhibition, to be projected at festivals and conferences. We have focused specifi cally on awards, merchandise, jury reports, and other artefacts that have been produced as part of the festival, or which – in the case of the scrapbooks – have been made with festival artefacts. Most of these objects are in the repository of the NJA. Consequently, this selection excludes other parts of material culture that are indisputably part of festivals, such as festival sites, instruments, music stands, gear, clothing, portable toilets, food, or beer stands.

Click here to download the Exhibiton brochure: CHIME-travelling-exhibition-2017

25 Years of London Jazz Festival book published

In the dialogic spirit of cross-pollination, I thought I would share with the CHIME project the key output of another jazz festival-related project I have been working on recently. The Impact of Festivals (2015-16) was a 12-month Arts & Humanities Research Council-funded project at the University of East Anglia in collaboration with the EFG London Jazz Festival. With postdoctoral research assistant Dr Emma Webster, we researched the history of the London Jazz Festival and the wider story of London as a city of jazz festivals. Emma was also Researcher-in-Residence at the 2016 festival.

Our history of the festival is now published;  it contains archival research, interviews with musicians and festival workers, around 100 images including posters and programme covers, and a preface by founding director John Cumming.

Music From Out There, In Here: 25 Years of the London Jazz Festival is FREE to read and download by clicking here: 25 Years of London Jazz Festival.

From the cover blurb:

Webster and McKay have pieced together a fascinating jigsaw puzzle of archival material, interviews, and stories from musicians, festival staff and fans alike. Including many evocative images, the book weaves together the story of the festival with the history of its home city, London, touching on broader social topics such as gender, race, politics, and the search for the meaning of jazz. They also trace the forgotten history of London as a vibrant city of jazz festivals going as far back as the 1940s.

We have a small number of FREE paperback copies available for suitable libraries, cultural organisations, festivals, researchers. If you would like one, get in touch with me,

We hope you enjoy our new book; do let us know. This is what other people think. In his foreword John Cumming writes:

The meticulous work … in this history charts the festival journey across decades, and probes the bigger picture that surrounds it…. The outcome is I think an immensely valuable piece of work that informs our practice as a producer of live music, and at the same time marks the essential role of academic research in evaluating the impact of the cultural sector in a wider context

Jazz Journals Bruce Lindsay (November 2017) reviewed Music From Out There, in Here thus:

A new, freely downloadable book on the history of the London Jazz Festival mixes insights, controversies and plenty of photographic evidence…. McKay and his co-author Emma Webster have produced an eminently readable book, its 100 or so pages filled with excellent photographs, amusing and fascinating tales and intriguing insights into the genesis, growth and popularity of this major jazz festival…. The book takes a positive look at the festival, but doesn’t shy away from discussing issues of concern, for example around funding and programme repetition.

Ian Paterson’s review in All About Jazz (December 2017) includes this:

This illuminating history is the result of a year’s digging by researchers and co-authors Dr. Emma Webster and Professor George McKay, and represents the final outcome in the Impact of Festivals project funded by—take a deep breath—the AHRC’s Connected Communities programme, which included studies on the socio-economic impacts of British music festivals and more specifically of jazz festivals. The authors’ linear narrative of the LJF—jam packed with colour photographs—captures the sense of a great adventure unfolding, a romance, if you like, between the festival and its host city. Placing London and the LJF within the wider context of jazz in Britain, the authors point out that whilst London was late to the party in terms of establishing a jazz festival that reflected the city’s global status, there has been a fairly constant history of jazz festivals in or around London since the Festival of Jazz in 1949.

Note: a large-print version of Music From Out There, In Here: 25 Years of the London Jazz Festival is available here.

(Not) the Wherever Jazz Festival: Rhythm Changes presentation, September 2017

[conclusion of my presentation on the CHIME panel at the 5th Rhythm Changes international jazz conference, Amsterdam, 3 September 2017. Other speakers from the project: Walter van de Leur, Tony Whyton, Loes Rusch; panel chaired by Francesco Martinelli]

… The relationship between the festival and the city is really intimate. It can never be separate. It’s the Kongsberg Jazz Festival, not the Wherever Jazz Festival. Martin Revheim, Kongsberg, Norway director

Yet, writing about ‘urban spectacles’ and celebrations which include the jazz festival, the ‘paradox’ of the touristic festival is that, according to Kevin Fox Gotham, ‘whereas the appeal of local celebrations is the opportunity to see something different, celebrations that are designed to attract tourists seem more and more alike’.

Nicola MacLeod’s argument about the ‘placeless festival’, as she terms it, does warrant attention, particularly in a jazz music context. For MacLeod, the authentic space or significant situatedness of a festival location is actually often today displaced or dislocated, as a result of globalisation. In this critical reading, international festivals feel the same, are homogenised—‘placeless’. MacLeod even compares the touristic global festival to the airport lounge, its necessary other, in the sense that ‘festival formats may now be replicated in a series of international venues around the world’. Such a reading is a useful counter to more celebratory claims of festival, local space and community offered by many festival publicists, say.

Arguably such a critical view of the festival has further resonance in the context of jazz music, because jazz itself is sometimes accused of a homogenising worldliness, whereby either it all sounds kind of the same, or the same headline acts are seen across the continent’s international festivals in a single festival season. Catherine Tackley and Pete Martin are more polite than MacLeod, perhaps, but all three seem to point to the danger of (airport) lounge music:

concerns have been expressed about the consequences of presenting jazz on the festival platform…. It has been argued that this leads inexorably to a routinisation of performances and to musicians becoming risk-averse.

However, I do want to end on a rising note. The importance of the curatorial role of the festival director is articulated by British organiser Nod Knowles, drawing on his programming experience at Bath Festival, as a means precisely of creatively disrupting the lounge, of vitally re-sounding the festival. For Knowles,

a festival should be an opportunity to do things that don’t otherwise happen. It’s no good just presenting, like so many festivals do, your touring band ‘rent a festival—we’ve seen them, they’re on tour so they’re in the festival’. So the idea [is] to present what doesn’t happen.… [It’]s the discovery of things that you never knew about…. I really think that a festival is no good if it’s just a bunch of gigs that you could have heard anywhere.

So, after 60 or 70 years what more is there to this thing we call the jazz festival? Beyond its role in tourism, urban regeneration, economic impact, social inclusion agendas, repetition year on year? Surely there is more, or why do we still go, why do we remain interested, hopeful?

We can do worse than reflect on the wise words of Dr Martin Luther King Jr., from his opening address to the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival, addressing European festival-goers and drawing on civil rights to present an understanding both of jazz music and, more importantly for us I think, of the special gathering of the jazz festival itself. ‘Jazz,’ King told the Berlin festival crowd in 1964,

speaks of life. The Blues tell the story of life’s difficulties,… [and m]odern jazz has continued this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence…. And now, Jazz is exported to the world…. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy.… In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.

We talked in the Call For Papers for this Re/Sounding Jazz conference about wanting to ‘celebrate’ jazz, we hoped for papers that could be ‘celebratory’. ‘What are the achievements—the resounding successes—of jazz?’ we asked. Could we say, in festival (or—carpe diem—on a sunny Sunday morning by the side of the Amstel), alongside escape or transcendence, cyclicity and cycling, the history of being the first and second lining, that we might just find or hope to find a little meaning … a little love… clap hands … be happy.

Jazz in a Norfolk church, during a music festival

Most villages in Norfolk have at least one ancient church, flint-built, with round or square tower. So I was looking of such a building when driving to the gig last night in the village of Spooner Row, as part of this year’s Wymondham Music Festival. But surprisingly the church here is built of brick, slate rather than lead roof, no tower, just one bell, that hangs outside (and was taken from another church). I looked it up: Spooner Row church was built in 1847, in the Victorian period when many of the Saxon and medieval churches (which had managed to survive the English Civil War) were themselves having their interiors ‘improved’.

The band I was in is called hymn, a trio of trumpet/loops, percussion/electronics and double bass. As the name might suggest it’s a slightly slow music, harmonies and simple melodies, layered but spacious, perhaps contemplative or immersive. Kinda fitted the venue. The other band, Arthur, consist of alto sax, tuba, drums; their repertoire is inspired by the music of the late African-American saxophonist Arthur Blythe, and is somewhat more fiery, driving, and loud than hymn’s.

I filmed a bit of Arthur’s set standing in the rather sparsely populated graveyard of Spooner Row church, in the early evening summer sunset, at the end of a glorious English day. I wanted just to think for a moment about the location, the mature trees all around and fields beyond, the quiet graveyard, the setting sun, a nearby row of cottages, the striking building of this unusual Norfolk church, at one of the outlying events of a music festival centred on the local market town of Wymondham.

I realised that this concert I was playing at was a CHIME event in a modest way, in the manner that all of these re-soundings in mild surprise of musical gatherings that are organised in festivals everywhere are CHIME events. The warm clash of sound and setting, improvisation (music) and solid foundation (building), are one of the things we can expect of a festival.

At this one I thought, too, of how in fact this church and the jazz are not so very far apart in their chronology, or originary narrative, both being made, sort of, arguably, in the same century for a start. Made me think, as I stood in the English churchyard last night, how old that music of modernism is—modernism is—then how very recent.