In summer 2016 a small number of us attended and spoke at the 12 Points Festival of European improvised music, which was held in San Sebastian. It was consciously scheduled alongside the annual city jazz festival, as part of a bumper package of summer music befitting the San Sebastian’s status as 2016 European Capital of Culture (along with Wroclaw).
We were with friends and the music was great—we’d already listened to three avant-garde acts from a box (yes) in the Victoria Eugenia Theatre as part of 12 Points Festival, and now we were in a hurry to join in and enjoy the generous free stages of the 51st Jazzaldia, San Sebastian’s impressively longstanding jazz festival.
We followed the people and the music across the river and down to the beach. It was one of those magic nights. The crowds swirled around the various stages, the live music from one stage bled creatively into that from another, there were packed beer tents where you had to shout for a drink, the rain mostly held off and there were glimpses of stars through the clouds, the sound of the waves crashing against the beach could just be made out in a lull between numbers. It was dark and packed like a rock festival, yet the lights of the city and the shade of the sea were all around in brilliant contrast.
We had a few drinks, it’s true. And the music! Someone said Marc Ribot is playing here tonight and I was like, Marc Ribot, I love Marc Ribot! And it’s free, really? In fact it was Ribot and his star Young Philadelphians band, doing the disco project, as cool as uncool can get (for those who preferred punk to soul back in the day). I mean, the bass guitarist, thumping out powerful and heavy lines, was Ornette Coleman’s bassist, Jamaaladeen Tacuma.
The night was so good that there are no photos. We all shouted possibly a little too loud for an encore, and the band came back on. Ribot sat down and alone played the guitar figure from Van McKay’s (I wish. OK, McCoy) 1975 hit ‘The hustle’. Well, we were thrilled and loved it, cheering and doing the hustle for all our worth. It was a perfect choice, for a perfect encore—funny, clever, knowing, respectful of a disco-soul-jazz tradition some of us had not given much thought to.
Fantastic memories of a special night of music, friendship, and festival. Whenever we meet now someone will burst into ‘The hustle’ and we smile, laugh, do a little dance. We were touched by the music, at the jazz festival. It was intangible, in a temporarily transformed public space for culture, a pleasure for everyone there.
Finding myself in San Sebastian again after the summer, I went to look at the public cultural space by the beach where we had had our transcendent collective dance, the recent landmark Kursaal complex (opened 1999) on Zurriola beach. But where were our memories and pleasure, where was the place of our memories and pleasure? Surely not here! We had been Kursaal Flyers in July, but by October this seemed to me a silent barren place, magnified by its own scale and emptiness.
The Kursaal complex from the outside seems a place that is designed to demand transformation, hard and hard up against the golden sand, by an influx of people, by music resounding off its walls. To me, looking for the festal trace, it dramatises the potential of transformation, alongside the difficulty of articulating the intangible. It needs a festival, to live. It really needs to do the hustle.
With my co-author, postdoctoral research assistant Dr Emma Webster, I’m pleased to draw attention to our newest output from our AHRC-funded project, The Impact of Festivals. This project is in collaboration with our research partner the EFG London Jazz Festival. The new output is a peer-reviewed article for Jazz Research Journal focussed on the impact of jazz festivals in particular. (The wider project embraces pop, folk and classical music festivals too.) The abstract is below, followed by a short film in which I talk about the research. You can access freely a copy of the article here.
The full citation of our article is: Emma Webster and George McKay. 2016. ‘The impact of (jazz) festivals: an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded research report’. Jazz Research Journal 9(2), pp.169-193. We hope it will be of interest to CHIME-rs and our international community of jazz researchers at Rhythm Changes.
Festivals are an essential part of the jazz world, forming regularly occurring pivot points around which jazz musicians, audiences and organizers plan their lives. Funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, the purpose of this report is to chart and critically examine available writing about the impact of jazz festivals, drawing on both academic and ‘grey’/cultural policy literature in the field. The review presents research findings under the headings of economic impact; socio-political impact; temporal impact and intensification and transformation of experience; creative impact—music and musicians; discovery and audience development; place-making; the mediation of jazz festivals; and environmental impact. It concludes with a set of recommendations for future research, which identifies gaps in the field. To accompany the article, a 100-entry 40,000-word annotated bibliography has also been produced, which is freely accessible online.
In panel conversations between musicians, researchers, journalists, organisers and promoters we found and heard about a range of approaches to trying to revitalise the (jazz) festival experience and the jazz scene during the 12 Points Festival discussion days on ‘Jazz Futures 2016’ here in San Sebastian this week. This was felt important for a number of reasons, including that in some countries the big all-star jazz festival is fading, its audience diminishing, while elsewhere, perhaps ironically, perhaps in a connected way, there is a surfeit of festivalisation of culture, in that festival in its ubiquity has become everyday, even banal, and no longer the intense, heightened and exceptional. Here are some of those diversifying approaches, familiar and perhaps not so.
Jazz festival or event as immersive experience—music, yes, but also costume, design, actors and dancers, food, theatre and masque, historical reconstruction of scenes from jazz past with a promenading audience
Jazz apps, and audience interactivity via mobile digital technology
Electronic deconstruction of the live music event in the very next concert that follows, so the audience hears fresh the new music it just heard, where sometimes the remix is better than the original (though, yes, “sometimes it’s shittier”)
An emphasis on creative curation rather than simply programming or organisation and presentation of a series of concerts
Cross-cultural and cross-arts dialogue. Whether improvised arts (music, dance, animation) working with each other in the moment, or a festival of improvised music that must include literature and vice versa
A continuing struggle with the Jazz word: a European jazz festival director says I don’t want to use the term “jazz festival”, it’s off-putting for a new audience, others saying we lose something worth cherishing and celebrating if we reject it (i.e. a century of live and recorded music)
The on-going core relevance of jazz and music education: new musicians, new networks and events, new energy, and new audiences
The regular inclusion of academic research in the festival programme, an openness to it in the scene more generally.
The history of the jazz festival in Europe goes back to the early post-war years, when one visionary city organised a set of concerts over a few days in seafront venues round the resort. These featured both national musicians as well as a sprinkling of US headliners, including the transatlantic star Louis Armstrong. We can think of it as a gesture of cultural futurity, with the aim of sounding a better international situation after the war years. They called it the ‘festival international du jazz’, the year was 1948, and it happened in—Nice, France. Thus the European ‘jazz festival’ was born, in Nice.
In England the earliest jazz festival would be Beaulieu Jazz Festival (1956-61), while perhaps the most famous European event, Montreux Jazz Festival, was founded later still, in 1967. (A book marking 50 years of Montreux is published this year.) But it was Nice Jazz Festival, in the late 1940s, that set the template.
Within a few years Nice would do something else marvellous for jazz, for jazz’s heritage and sense of place and relation to the past: Nice located its festival of jazz, that clashing music of modernity, in the Roman amphitheatre to the north of the city. Go there today and you can see busts of famous jazz musicians who played there in the park next to the amphitheatre, a neat public recognition of that jazz moment in that great city by the Mediterranean.
This year’s festival was due to start today, hundreds of musicians and thousands of festival-goers coming to Nice, under the sun and stars, by the sea, for a celebration of a music which, at its very best, is an outernational music of dialogue and listening where we might just for a second glimpse or hear another, better world. I know that sounds like a jazz utopia but, you know, we had a conference recently on the very theme of #jazzutopia, so it’s in the air.
But the 2016 Nice Jazz Festival was cancelled yesterday, as a result of the terrible atrocity on the Promenade des Anglais on Thursday night. Nice est en deuil. We should listen to the silence of the jazz not happening there this weekend. From another festival city, Edinburgh, where a group of scholars and musicians is meeting this weekend during the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival at a conference marking ‘50 years of European jazz’, we send wishes of sympathy and solidarity, anger and love, and the desire for peace and a different sort of future that jazz can sometimes still sound, and that a festival can still capture. Vive Nice Jazz Festival.
This new report about the impact of British music festivals, launched at CHIME partner Cheltenham Jazz Festival in April 2016, is now available online. We hope festival researchers and organisers will find it of use and interest. This is what some people are saying about it already:
“This report is an irrefutable qualification of the value and impact of our sector and an amazing resource for anyone involved in the organisation of a music festival.” Steve Mead, Artistic Director, Manchester Jazz Festival
“Within festivals we need and value the criticality of academic research. A report like this helps us shape, make sense, rethink what we are doing.” John Cumming OBE, Director, EFG London Jazz Festival
“This report is excellent—a pleasure to read, and I will be recommending it to my students and colleagues.” Professor Stephanie Pitts, Head of the Department of Music, University of Sheffield
The report was produced as part of The Impact of Festivals, a 12-month project funded under the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Programme, working with research partner organisation the EFG London Jazz Festival. Professor George McKay is the Principal Investigator for the project, as well as AHRC Leadership Fellow for Connected Communities at the University of East Anglia. Dr Emma Webster is the Research Associate for the project, and co-founder and director of Live Music Exchange.
The findings are drawn from an extensive literature review of existing work in the field, from academic research to ‘grey’ policy literature, economic impact assessments to festival and industry publications. Not only that, but there is a 170-entry annotated bibliography of these outputs accessible here. We think that, taken together, the report and the annotated bibliography will be an important reference point for industry and academia alike in the future.
The report is is freely accessible here. If you would like a paper copy please contact Rachel Daniel, email@example.com. Do let us know what you think of it!
[Blog by Dr Emma Webster, University of East Anglia, postdoctoral researcher on AHRC-funded The Impact of Festivals project, where this was first posted]
I have just returned from the Rhythm Changes ‘Jazz Utopia’ conference in Birmingham (14-17 April 2016). The majority of the one hundred plus speakers really engaged with the theme of the conference and grappled with jazz’s potential for exploring and achieving utopia from a wide variety of perspectives: historical, musicological, sociological and interdisciplinary.
My paper gave a brief overview of a literature review currently in review with Jazz Research Journal about the impact of jazz festivals; based on the final part of my paper, this blog post will consider briefly the ways in which jazz festivals have been or could be considered to be utopian.
To begin, how jazz festivals have been considered in utopian terms in the literature. In his introduction to a collection of essays on pop festivals, for example, George McKay writes that festival, at its most utopian, can be ‘a pragmatic and fantastic space in which to dream and to try another world into being’ (2015: 5). As another example, in a paper on the Montreal Jazz Festival, Michael Darroch describes a ‘utopian inner city music village’ into which the festival organisers have imported various forms of music to the city, as well as tropes from New Orleans such as trad jazz and second line parades (2003: 133).
Helen Regis and Shana Walton, in work on the New Orleans Jazz Festival, argue that the festival ‘was and is a utopian project’ whilst recognising that, in its practical realities, its utopian aspirations are somewhat problematic. They argue that whilst the jazz festival seeks to transform existing social structures, particularly around race and gender, instead it reinforces them. In addition, whilst making large amounts of money for the organisers, the festival does not necessarily enhance either the economic or social prospects of those who provide the music and entertainment (2008: 428). Instead, as the authors say,
Rather than helping New Orleans avoid poverty and inequality, the city’s role as playground to the world continuously reproduces unequal social structure. Even as it offers opportunities for a national audience to experience our culture, the festive state of the city has muted the voices of those who try to focus attention on urban issues (2008: 432).
As Regis and Walton suggest, the New Orleans Jazz Festival maintains its power because of the fact that its many festival-goers return year after year in search of moments of transcendence; indeed, in a separate paper, Walton reveals how for some participants, the festival has had such an impact that they have even upped sticks and moved across the country to be closer to it (2012).
The anticipation of the festival throughout the year means that festivals exist as both a real and an imagined – idealised – event. The ways in which audiences perceive such ‘ideal’ jazz events is highlighted in the work of Karen Burland and Stephanie Pitts on jazz festivals and jazz clubs, in which they conclude that audiences have in mind an ‘ideal’ jazz gig which they aim to replicate when deciding where and when they would decide to go; such ideals relate to instrumentation, the atmosphere and venue, the performers and the other audience members (2012: 537). Work by Gail Brand et al into the performer–audience relationship at a jazz club highlights the importance of the venue to how much audiences enjoy the gig, who in general tend to prefer smaller, more intimate venues, although interestingly their research also highlights that this is not necessarily what is wanted by the musicians who don’t necessarily want such intimacy with the audience (2012: 643).
Finally, Anne Dvinge uses Christopher Small’s concept of ‘musicking’ to show how the Detroit Jazz Festival transforms Detroit once a year via the interactions of the musicians and the people, which reflect the ideas of ‘ought-to-be-relationships in the world’ for its participants (2015: 195) and becomes a time in which ‘joy takes root annually’ in the city (ibid.: 185). Borrowing from Small’s ‘musicking’, then, it could be said that ‘festivalling’ becomes a particular type of activity or process in a particular type of space in which festival-goers’ ideal forms of society are imagined and explored.
When considering whether jazz festivals are or can be utopian, then, the larger question is whether we mean the festival itself or the wider society in which the festival exists. Jazz festivals, by their very nature, are transient, albeit often cyclical, therefore any utopia they offer is rather fleeting. Jazz festivals, can perhaps be utopian for jazz fans in the sense of providing an actual and imagined ideal place dedicated to the enjoyment of jazz; as acts of ‘musicking’ they form part of the pilgrimages and rituals of jazz.
A perfect festival is certainly easier to achieve than a perfect society, perhaps, although whether the social structure, rules and politics of a jazz festival or gig can ever be ‘perfect’ is debatable, especially the larger the event becomes and, perhaps, the more diverse the audience and the more broad the understanding of an ‘ideal’ gig. As the New Orleans Jazz Festival example I gave earlier shows, even a festival with utopian ideals can end up inadvertently recreating the inequalities of the society in which it exists, particularly around issues of race and gender. In this way, perhaps without a perfect society to start with, there can be no perfect festival.
To conclude, then, a jazz festival is most likely not a site of utopia for wider social transformation, or even for a perfect jazz experience, but it has a number of significant impacts which mean that, for a short time, for some, ‘festivalling’ may be a glimpse of a jazz utopia.
Brand, Gail, John Sloboda, Ben Saul, and Martin Hathaway. 2012. ‘The reciprocal relationship between jazz musicians and audiences in live performances’. Psychology of Music 40/5: 634-651
Burland, Karen and Stephanie E. Pitts. 2010. ‘Understanding jazz audiences: listening and learning at the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival’. Journal of New Music Research 39/2: 125-134
Darroch, Michael. 2003. ‘New Orleans in Montréal: the cradle of jazz in the city of festivals’. Géocarrefour 78/2: 129-137.
Dvinge, Anne. 2015. ‘Musicking in motor city: Reconfiguring urban space at the Detroit Jazz Festival’. In The Pop Festival, ed George McKay. London: Bloomsbury: 183-197.
McKay, George. 2015. ‘Introduction’. In The Pop Festival, ed George McKay. London: Bloomsbury: 1-12.
Regis, Helen A. and Shana Walton. 2008. ‘Producing the folk at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival’. Journal of American Folklore 121/ 482: 400-440.
Small, Christopher. 1998. Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.
Walton, Shana. 2012. ‘“I only go to church once a year”: transformation and transcendence in jazz fest narratives’. Southern Journal of Linguistics 36/1: 104-126.
A position paper (no. 1) presented to the CHIME project team meeting, Amsterdam Conservatory, February 4 2016
Here are the opening sentences of the EU Heritage+ joint call grant application that the project team wrote in 2014, and which formed the basis of CHIME’s successful submission.
‘What an amazing experience, the clash of seeing Miles Davis in the Roman amphitheatre during the Nice Jazz Festival. The ancient stones and arches are re-sounded, the music somehow more resonant, old and modern at the same time. I’ll never forget that.’ This first-hand experience of a European festival-goer provided the initial inspiration for CHIME.
I (George McKay) want to interrogate the cultural space we have chosen a little further, which I hope will throw further light on my question, why look at jazz (and not, say, rock or folk) festivals?
There was a nice line tweeted on the CHIME Twitter feed recently, a quotation from Chris Goddard’s book Jazz Away From Home that sought to describe the experience of jazz in southern Europe, as a music ‘cut[ting] through the warm, humid Mediterranean night like a chainsaw through cheese’ (1979). Is jazz more cheese wire than chainsaw, do you think, though? If we want chainsaw music we need really to go to something more industrial—or agricultural—starting with the excessive, aggressive culture of rock music. Rock does after all sometimes feature a chainsaw: see southern US rock band Jackyl, who still finish each live set with their signature song ‘The lumberjack’ (the video is great and indeed a little Pythonesque, have a look: Jackyl 1992) in which the lead singer does a chainsaw solo (though not through cheese). (Here is a pressing question for the New Jazz Studies: has a jazz band featured a chainsaw solo, ever?)
So, for questions of the clash or disjunction between heritage, festival site and popular music, the jarring re-sounding when both our ears double-take in stereo, rock music would be very good to think about. Though its history as a popular music has been shorter than folk or jazz (50-60 years as opposed to 100-120, very approximately)—does that mean its heritage is reduced?—rock music can supply a very powerful shock of the new, not least through its characteristic of being superloud, via a practice of extreme volume and a competitive rather than functional culture of amplification. (Even to the extent of rock deafening its bands and fans: McKay 2013, chapter 4.) And its use of chainsaws.
In order to pursue the comparison with Miles in the amphitheatre in Nice, consider an archetypal rock festival-style concert / documentary film, Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (concert 1971, film 1972).
Filmed with the band playing live, over 4 days in October
Used their full and extensive tour amplification
Performances were filmed in front of no audience, an empty auditorium (rationale: in part a reaction against festival films like Woodstock, which had contained so many shots of festival-goers, the crowd)
It’s a slow, spacey music the band plays, with some very slow long camera focuses in/out and pans (2-3 minutes)
Located in the ancient Roman amphitheatre and with a backdrop of Vesuvius
Some key resonances: volcano/volume; block architecture of amphitheatre/PA/amp stacks
Grandeur of the location fits with the grandeur (or pretentiousness) of Pink Floyd’s musical vision and its filming. (To return to the comedic end of rock, we could think here instead of Spinal Tap and their Stonehenge stage.)
Or consider Glastonbury Festival, originating at much the same time as the Pink Floyd concert (legendary Glastonbury Fayre was held in 1971, also filmed). Near Glastonbury, in the deep green English countryside, there is the invention of tradition and what I’m calling the instant ancient: mist and myth, a stage in the shape of the Great Pyramid of Giza, set on a ley line, with a crystal on top, a Neolithic stone circle—built around 1990. (more…)
We want to capture in different forms ways in which the project is having impact — this can be through its collaboration between academics researchers and our parter organisations, including festival, music and sustainability / heritage groups.
For one of these we thought it would be a good idea to have a map of impact — of collaborations, relations — and to revisit this mapping exercise periodically through the project (e.g. on an annual basis) in order to visually capture its scope and spread. Click here to see the higher resolution version of our map of impact at the very start of the project.
This map is made from information gathered from project partners at our inception day event at EFG London Jazz Festival in the Royal Festival Hall in November 2015. We asked all academic partners present to identify up to three key activities, events, other projects, organisations, they were involved with in relation to the project, and to tell the rest of the room a little about each. We noted these down and subsequently produced an infographic-style version of them.
We aim to revisit and (this is our assumption…) add to this map in 2016 and again in 2017, producing a more complex version as work and collaboration takes place. Yes, more dots and curvy lines (we hope)! We anticipate that such an exercise will also illustrate the development of a project.
I thought some people interested in CHIME would like to know of a very useful page on the website of a related new Arts & Humanities Research Council-funded project from the University of East Anglia, The Impact of Festivals. The post-doctoral researcher on The Impact of Festivals is Dr Emma Webster, who spent much of November acting as researcher-in-residence at the EFG London Jazz Festival, and contributed to the CHIME inception event there in November.
A group of international scholars and festival organisers and music producers gathered at the Royal Festival Hall in London during the EFG London Jazz Festival to launch the project. I took some notes, both for the record and to help us shape 2016 meeting agendas and work.
Project leader Prof Tony Whyton (Birmingham City University) introduced the day, reminding us of the project’s key questions around heritage sites, jazz festivals—ranging from jazz as a heritage music from itself today to urban regeneration to difficult questions of the intangible impact of festivals on festival-goers.
Prof Helene Brembeck and Merja Liimatainen (University of Gothenburg) talked of the place of consumption at festival as a core experience for festival-goers, in particular in the context of the presentation and consumption of heritage, memory, the past, at jazz festivals. How does music re-sound the architecture of the city at festival? The Swedish team will be looking at contrasting jazz festivals in Gothenburg, Gamlestaden Festival and the Classic Jazz Festival, a process of embedded research within the organisations and ethnography and cultural history, critical interrogation of festival imagery, publicity and events and venues.