What constitutes a music festival? The answer to the question would likely generate a number of answers, for example a limited geographical space, a question that soon turned out to be focal while conducting fieldwork on the 2016 installment of the GMLSTN JAZZ festival.
The 2016 installment of the festival took place on no less than 17 stages. The festival was dispersed all over the town of Gothenburg; spanning from pubs and churches in the suburbs, to established, renowned venues in the core cultural center. During the festival week in April 2016, we tried to map the festival as a whole in order to depict how it was distributed in the urban space and, equally important, how it appropriated it.
By interviewing members of the audience and analyzing answers from the online query we (Olle Stenbäck, Niklas Sörum and Helene Brembeck) made accessible during the festival week, we soon found that the lack of a limited, geographical space, raised questions among the festival goers. Some said that the festival, due to the dispersion, lacked a sense of community; a festival atmospheric.
Focus soon turned towards the theoretical term festivalisation, which is often used as a tool for critique. Researcher Nikolay Zherdev observes that urban planners attempt to “galvanize local cultural life” and “build a continuity of ‘happening’” to attract creative individuals (Zherdev 2014:5). Festivalisation have become a key concept for urban cultural production, whether it’s within the sports sector or city development; a part of the creative economy. Festivalisation marks a translation of sorts; transforming an ordinary event into something else, to differentiate. The term can also be used as an empirical, investigative tool to map the audience’s understandings of what a musical festival is and what it can be, which is how we operationalized it during the festival week.
“There is no generally accepted typology of festivals (Getz 2010:2, Mackley & Crump 2012:16f). From a North European perspective, there are several easily distinguishable types of musical events that are labelled festivals. One, especially common in the field of rock and pop, presents many acts on a few large stages over a rather short period of time (often a weekend) and in a limited, often fenced, space” (Ronström 2016).
Though there might not be a generally accepted typology of festivals, there’s obviously some understandings more dominant than others; the limited, often fenced space, being a distinct example of such.
While conducting fieldwork we were especially interested in finding out how – and/or if – the GMLSTN JAZZ festival committee worked to communicate the festival as part of the temporally translation of the Gothenburg jazz club scene into a more coherent festival space.
However, one of the focal ideas behind the GMLSTN JAZZ initiative is to function as a promotor, a unifying network, for the local jazz scene. Emphasis is put on tying scenes and venues together, where jazz – as a musical (yet broad) genre – is the unifying factor. The scenes/venues are not necessarily transformed into something else, but remains the same. They’re made part of the festival mainly by being represented in the festival program.
Apart from posters and festival programs, there wasn’t much that glued the 2016 installment of the festival together. In terms of communicating unity, there could have been more obvious visual-symbolic cues, moderating the festival goer’s experience, thus generating a uniform festival atmosphere.
GMLSTN JAZZ is still looking for its form. The festival is a young player on the musical festival field, which means there’s more – for them and us – to explore. In terms of branding mechanisms, the festival currently act mainly as an occasionally prominent, other times subtle, jazz promotor.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org. Do let us know what you think of it!
A report from Merja Liimatainen, University of Gothenburg
According to the members of the Classic Jazz society, Gothenburg is the New Orleans of the Nordic countries. When jazz music became known over large parts of the world in the 1920s and 1930s, it also found its way to Sweden. Jazz music probably came to Gothenburg via Svenska Amerikalinjen, the New York-Gothenburg shipping line. Gothenburg was thereby jazz music’s first port of call in Sweden.
“One important contributing factor was that we had the “America ships” here in Gothenburg and Swedish musicians took jobs on these boats purely so as to be able to get across to New York and go and listen to famous jazz musicians, buy records and bring them back to Sweden. Likewise, many of the jazz bands from the USA came over on the ships to Sweden and often played in Gothenburg when the ships were berthed in the port.” (Tom, Classic Jazz society)
Around 1920, there were several foreign bands in Gothenburg and probably local bands as well that played at underground clubs, restaurants and cafés. At that time, jazz was associated with modernity, sophistication and decadence. This part of the city’s jazz history has been very sparsely documented. The main focus has been on the 1940s and 1950s which was the heyday period of traditional jazz music in Sweden. By then, musical influences were coming from England, not New York. The Swedish term tradjazz comes from the English term traditional jazz. Referring to Dixieland, Tom explains that many influences have been exchanged between Gothenburg and London and there were strong links between jazz scenes.
“That is perhaps why the music that is called traditional or classical jazz has been somewhat more firmly anchored here in Gothenburg than in Stockholm and many musicians here play in the same way as this kind of jazz was played in England.” (Tom, Classic Jazz)
The 1940s: the wave of traditional jazz
The 1940s saw the start of the era that Ingemar, another of Classic Jazz’s mainstays, calls the revival period. The young musicians of that time went back to the roots of jazz music in order to rediscover the original and genuine style of jazz and revive the music that black musicians played in New Orleans in the early 20th century. It was during the revival period that modern jazz, bebop, came to Gothenburg. This was also a reaction against “commercial” swing music. Ingemar explains that bebop changed jazz from dance-friendly popular music to innovative art, the music of musicians, that is to say, music to be listened to which was regarded even then as being of a better and finer class than the old, traditional jazz. Both camps believed they were “tremendously hip” in the early 1950s. At the same time, people were not so obsessed with different styles initially. There were several jazz competitions where the same musicians could perform in both the modern and Dixie categories.
Today, there are no active bands from the 1940s anymore. My informants and many of the Classic Jazz society’s active musicians and members were born in that decade. They were not active on Gothenburg’s jazz scene until they were teenagers in the 1950s and 1960s.
The 1950s: the golden era of school band jazz
“This is for those of you who remember the school dances of the 50s and 60s” proclaimed one of the members of Peoria Jazzband from the stage at a jazz evening on S/S Marieholm, organised by the Classic Jazz Göteborg society. In the 1950s, most musicians and traditional jazz bands got to know each other at upper secondary school and they started out by playing at school dances. Later, new constellations could arise via meetings and jam sessions at jazz clubs.
It was almost exclusively young men who played in these bands. Most of the traditional jazz musicians were self-taught and after upper secondary school and then studies at university/college, some of them continued to play in their spare time alongside their professional careers. For most of them, music-making has never been a job; it’s been a hobby that has been pursued together with the people they socialised with. Several of the people who started playing in school bands at the end of the 50s and in the early 60s are now members of the Classic Jazz Göteborg society.
In 1950, Gothenburg’s most talked about and famous traditional/ revival jazz band, Landala Original Red Hot Stompers, was started up (1950-1969). The band is described as being a collective of art students and Valand pupils who played New Orleans/revival jazz and lived together in Kåken, a large, dilapidated house in an old part of Gothenburg. The house became a meeting place for art students, artists, writers, actors and bohemians in Gothenburg. It no longer exists today, nor are there any recordings of Landala Original Red Hot Stompers. The band played for the last time at the end of the 1960s, at a time when pop and rock music had begun to take over more and more of the music scene and had become the new popular music in Gothenburg. Jazz began to be increasingly seen as being highbrow culture and art music. Very few traditional jazz bands survived but Peoria (1960) and Tant Bertas Jasskapell (1963), founded in the early 1960s, are two of the oldest traditional jazz bands in Gothenburg that are still active today.
1970s and 1980s: a new chapter
In the 1970s, school band musicians from the 50s and 60s had grown up and many of them had left the jazz scene or gone over to other forms of music. In 1977, the Tradjazz Göteborg society was founded; it later changed its name to Classic Jazz Göteborg. The Jazzhuset club organised many activities including jazz evenings several times a week. In 1988, the owner of Jazzklubben, Ulf Albrektsson, organised the first jazz festival in Gothenburg, Tradjazzfestivalen i Göteborg, which was the predecessor of today’s Göteborg Classic Jazz festival. In the 1990s, Jazzhuset was struck by the recession, the changing tastes of the general public and declining audiences which led to 1960s rock music coming back and taking over the scene. By the end of the 1990s, there was no longer any jazz at all in Jazzhuset. Since the 1990s, traditional jazz has been called “rocking chair jazz” and is viewed as “no longer being culture” in the media and by reviewers. Nevertheless, every year Classic Jazz organises a handful of activities that are linked to classical/traditional jazz in Gothenburg: jazz evenings on S/S Marieholm, jazz cruises to Denmark, summer jazz in the city’s parks and church concerts. Little attention is paid to these activities by the “official” Gothenburg and the city’s cultural elite. There is also a new generation of young musicians and bands, such as The Gentlemen & Gangsters. This band plays traditional New Orleans hot jazz with a touch of swing. Playing mainly for the lindy hop community, they perform all over Europe on a regular basis.
An interesting closing comment is that up to now, the jazz history of the city has been written almost exclusively by men and about men, but women have always been present as dancing partners, listeners, mothers, wives, girlfriends and daughters with their own memories. From the perspective of cultural history, people who have been on the side-lines of the traditional jazz scene should also be given their fair share of space in the history of jazz.
Translated by Helene Brembeck
Wågerman, Ingemar (2010) Down by the Riverside: den traditionella jazzen i Göteborg med omnejd. Hönö: Ingemar Wågerman
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.
Following the inception event, CHIME team members also delivered public engagement panels as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.
At the Barbican Centre, Prof. Tim Wall (Birmingham City University) chaired a panel on jazz and cultural heritage, featuring project team members Prof. Walter van de Leur (University of Amsterdam) and Dr. Beth Perry (University of Salford), together with Eric Arellano (Gamlestaden Jazz Festival) and Emily Jones (Cheltenham International Jazz Festival).
The panel explored jazz as part of cultural heritage and music as a tool for regeneration and social change. Questions that were asked included: How can the arts and arts festivals play a role in addressing issues of environmental and social sustainability? In which ways could or should grassroots cultural activity contribute to further urban development. Can jazz address a wider audience, except for middle-aged white men? Audience members vividly contributed to the discussion, giving insights into the many ways in which jazz is interpreted (i.e. both as a political and a non-political music) and experienced (i.e. as a music of the past and/or the present).
As a prelude to that night’s concert of Ice-T and Ron McCurdy and their Langston Hughes Project, CHIME member Dr. Nicholas Gebhardt (Birmingham City University) chaired a panel discussion on the legacy of Langston Hughes.
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.