Twitter sucks, so change your friends

In our research meeting today, we watched and discussed this video, recorded three years ago, in which Steve Lawson (@solobasssteve on Twitter) talks about Twitter for music and musicians. This was one of the catalysts for our new approach to the internet as a conversational space – so I thought this would be a good place to post it.

Defining Jazz

Horace Parlan’s right hand was partially crippled by polio in his childhood.

Yesterday, at a jazz research seminar at the University of Salford, the discussion focused on Alex Lubet’s recent book Music, Disability and Society (Temple University Press, 2010).

Towards the end of chapter 2–Let”s Face the Music and Dance”–Lubet writes that the possibilities for jazz musicians with disabilities to pursue successful careers is due to “…jazz performance practice, whose essence is the embrace of difference…” (p.65).

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More on jazz and capitalism

I came across this quote by Ornette Coleman, which raises a number of important problems about the relationship of jazz to publicity, ownership, control of the music, the exploitation of artists, and so on.

Coleman: “I’ve had record companies record me, I’ve had publicity written about me, and I’ve had musicians and other people admire me; but according to my production output, I haven’t earned anything. The problem is in this business that you don’t own your own product. If you record, it’s the record company that owns it; if you play at a club, it’s the nightclub owners who charge people to listen to you, and then they tell you your music is not catching on. Let’s say I’ve made eight albums; if one company owns six of them and the other owns two, then who do you think made the most money from them? Me or the two companies? Maybe that’s what business is, taking something and making money from it. It seems that production and publicity are so closely related that they turn into the same thing. What I mean is, in jazz the Negro is the product. The way they handle the publicity on me, about how far out I am and everything, it gets to be that I’m the product myself. So if it’s me they’re selling, if I’m the product, then the profits couldn’t come back to me, you dig? This has been my greatest problem – being short-changed as a Negro, not because I can’t produce. Here I am being used as a Negro who can play jazz, and all the people I recorded for and worked for act as if they own me and my product. They have been guilty of making me believe I shouldn’t have the profits from my product simply because they own the channels of production. They say, “Here is a guy who can play off the top of his head and he’s not part of the structure, so we’ll take it and use it for our own betterment and let him feel that he’s just becoming a human being, you known, expressing himself.” They act like I owe them something for letting me express myself with my music, like the artist is supposed to suffer and not live in clean, comfortable situations. The insanity of living in America is that ownership is really strength. It’s who owns who’s the strongest in America. It’s strategic living. That’s why it’s so hard to lend your music to that kind of existence.

Ornette Coleman in A.B. Spellman, Four Lives in Bebop (New York: Limelight Editions, 1990), p.129-131

‘Making themselves heard:’ Some initial thoughts on post-WWII European jazz collectives

I have recently been re-reading Attali’s Noise (Minnesota UP, 1985), and I came across this statement: “Free jazz created locally the conditions for a different model of musical production, a new music. But since this noise was not inscribed on the same level as the messages circulating in the network of repetition, it could not make itself heard.” (p.140) The conflict Attali identifies, between a locally created ‘model of musical production’ and the transnational network of official jazz institutions and corporate media (whether state-backed or private), seems to be a good starting point for analysing the cultural politics of European jazz and, specifically, the politics, practices and values of post-WWII jazz collectives. Of particular relevance to the Rhythm Changes project is how conceptions of identity figured in the claims these groups make about jazz, and the implications their claims have for rethinking jazz practices and scholarship. The most influential examples are the Loop Collective, the London Improvisers Orchestra, the Jazz Warriors, the Globe Unity Orchestra, the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, and the Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra; but I’m sure there are others. Aside from Attali, my immediate reference points are two recent studies: Mike Heffley’s book, Northern Sun; Southern Moon (YaleUP, 2005), on the influence on free jazz on European jazz musicians, and George Lewis’s history of the AACM, A Power Stronger Than Itself (ChicagoUP, 2009). Both authors locate the sources of what Attali refers to a “new practice of music among people” (p.141) with free jazz and its challenge to existing notions of musical value and influence. As Lewis writes: “[A Power Stronger Than Itself] documents both the ongoing relevance of 1960s changes in power relations, and the effort to erase the importance of those changes via corporate-backed canon formation…” (p.xxxv)

The way in which we’ve conceptualised this project assumes (as does the European political project and the research funding that flows from it) that the nations of Europe share a modern ideology-a common set of ideas and values-but that they also differ among each other enough so that we can speak of national subcultures or ‘national variants’ of modern ideology. The initial work in this strand will involve setting up a general comparative perspective through which to establish the ideological movement of jazz within the various national contexts and then examining how these ideological movements relate to or inform specific set of claims about the cultural value of jazz.

The Kitchen Orchestra – Norwegian collective with Dave Kane, 2006

In terms of the themes for the research strand: nation, identity and inheritance-my primary concern is the relationship of jazz collectives to the dissatisfactions of European high culture. More specifically, I think this research turns on explaining how and why (free) improvised jazz became a privileged medium for expressing those dissatisfactions, and identifying the often contradictory forms this dissatisfaction took in various national contexts. The focus on jazz collectives is especially important in so far as it challenges the usual stylistic or formal boundaries that separate studies of music in European societies.

This has several implications for thinking about the relation of jazz musicians to their social and cultural context:

  1. To demonstrate the significance of jazz to conceptions of national culture, but also their transformation in the context of the formation of the European Union – but also more widely, taking in Africa, the Caribbean, and other regions central to the development of European jazz.
  2. To offer a structural and ideological account of the emergence of various jazz collectives through comparative analysis of the histories of these groups/projects.
  3. To determine the general cultural patterns through which European jazz musicians and their audiences made sense of jazz’s history, and the cultural values ascribed to it, in terms of the broader dissatisfactions with modernity.
  4. To establish how the consolidation of the corporate entertainment industry, and the technological and bureaucratic innovations on which it was based, caused a re-organisation of existing relationships between artists and their audiences in post-WWII European societies. The aim of this research strand, as I take it, is to investigate how and why those relationships were often explicitly challenged by jazz collectives and the cultural implications this had for the wider conceptions of jazz as a countercultural or oppositional form.
  5. To approach jazz as a cultural form that emerges from the dynamic interaction between musical conventions and practices sui generis. If jazz arises from discernable patterns of cultural interaction then it is not a question of privileging certain forms or traditions above others, but to understand how their difference was produced in and through their relationship to existing practices.A? A major point to consider is that at no time were these jazz collectives ever isolated from the wider culture in which they performed; they drew their general theories and constantly sought renewal from it (even when they explicitly renounced aspects of it.). Attali claims that in the 1960s these collectives “…eliminated the distinction between popular music and learned music, broke down the repetive hierarchy.” (p.140)

Which prompts the question: Is this what really happened? And, if so, how and why did it happen? And is it still happening?