Why Jazz (and not, say, Rock or Folk) Music for Thinking about Festival and Cultural Heritage?

chime-logo jpegA 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. Read More

How does CHIME chime? Producing an impact map

PrintWe 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.

[Thanks to Rachel Daniel, administrator at University of East Anglia for George McKay and the Connected Communities Programme, including the Impact of Festivals project, for her work on this.]

Links to reports and resources about the impact of festivals

Library Jazz Event noticeI 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.

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Reporting on the CHIME inception event

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 12.45.33A 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.

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Short film of CHIME project at Lancaster Jazz Festival, 2015

One mid-September day I decided to stroll from my home, a Victorian town house on the edge of Lancaster city centre, into town to see some of the bands playing on the free outdoors stage in the 2015 Lancaster Jazz Festival.

I was going anyway—it’s my local festival, I’m a jazz scholar and musician, and I usually do something in the festival each year, and always look forward to it—but I thought today I would take a videocamera to film the short journey. You can see the short film I made here, and below are some notes about it.

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