(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.

Welcome to our Music, Festivals, Heritage conference, Siena

This week the major international gathering of the CHIME project takes place, in Siena, Italy. We welcome everyone attending and contributing. Our conference, titled Music, Festivals, Heritage, seeks to explore a number of key themes, questions or problems for the field, including:

  • Established and innovative uses of heritage sites and public spaces
  • Festival sites and cultural memory
  • Transformations of place: music festivals as utopian sites
  • Questions of music genre (e.g. jazz, opera, folk, rock, classical) and the construction of heritage at festival
  • Festival as dull culture: repetition, predictability, boredom
  • The tension between the conservation and the use of heritage sites
  • Festivals and cultural tourism
  • New models of engagement between festivals and cultural heritage
  • Festivals as sites that explore the relationship between tangible, intangible and digital heritage
  • Critical perspectives from festival programmers, producers, organisers
  • The mediation and representation of (heritage and) festival
  • Festival as exclusive community; festival as marginal space
  • From carnivalesque to festivalisation: theoretical approaches and questions of festival
  • The cultural politics of festival sites.

Our location is the Siena Jazz Archive, which holds the most important specialised collection in Italy; it includes more than 25,000 sound and video items, over 2,000 books, and thousands of magazine issues including the only complete collection of the Musica Jazz magazine. Here is a feature in the Italian press about the conference.

On behalf of the CHIME project and the organising commitee, conference convenor Prof Walter van de Leur says:
We are hugely excited about the international conference here in historic and beautiful Siena this week, in collaboration with the Siena Jazz Archive. The conference is a major part of our EU Heritage Plus programme CHIME project. We are delighted to be hosting around 70 speakers coming from 23 countries across Europe, Canada and the US,  South Africa, Colombia, and Australia. We look forward to stimulating, enjoyable and productive discussions around music, festival and heritage from the perspectives of academic research, the festival and music industries, and cultural policy.
Further information, including the daily schedule of papers and presentations, exhibition, lectures, plenary, reception, and screenings is available here, where you can also find travel information for international delegates coming via Florence and Pisa airports, for instance.

In preparation of the festival exhibition

Some serious preparation by photographer Foppe Schut, in search of the perfect picture of the SummerJazzBikeTour brooche.The brooche is part of the travelling exhibition "Dutch jazz festivals in 30 objects" for the researchproject CHIME and will be on view in Siena, Groningen and Amsterdam (for more info, see http://chimeproject.eu).For the exhibition we are collaborating with the Dutch Jazz Archive (http://www.jazzarchief.nl) and indeed the impeccable Foppe! Great to be part of this.

Posted by Loes Rusch on Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Some serious preparation by photographer Foppe Schut, in search of the perfect picture of the SummerJazzBikeTour brooche.

For the exhibition we are collaborating with the Dutch Jazz Archive (http://www.jazzarchief.nl) and indeed the impeccable Foppe! Great to be part of this.

A history of Dutch jazz festivals in 30 objects

The last couple of months the Dutch CHIME team together with the Dutch Jazz Archive has been working on a travelling exhibition on Dutch jazz festivals.

As a starting point we have used a concept that is modeled after “A history of the World in 100 objects,” a 100 part series by Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, exploring world history from two million years ago to the present. This model allows us to engage with questions of tangible and intangible cultural heritage, such as ‘How to translate intangible cultural history into tangible objects?’ Also, the great variety of objects (t-shirts, flags, jury reports, scrap-books, etc.) opens up ways of exploring the festival from different perspectives, including audiences, musicians, organizers, and journalists.

The past week Dutch Jazz Archive curator Ditmer Weertman and Walter van de Leur have made a final selection at the Dutch Jazz Archive, which includes the cassettes of the October Jazz Meeting, a 1948 jazz competition award and the scrap-book from the wife of North Sea Jazz Festival initiator Paul Ackett.

Foppe Schut

We are also very proud to introduce photographer Foppe Schut, who will make an artist impression of the objects.

The exhibition will be on view at the CHIME conference in Siena (25-28 May), in Groningen (ZomerJazzFietsTour, 26 Aug) and in Amsterdam (Rhythm Changes Conference, 31 Aug-3 Sep).