The Kitchen Orchestra project

Over the next week, several of the Rhythm Changes team members are working together on a web and performance project. There will be a performance at the Maijazz festival in Stavanger featuring the Kitchen Orchestra and two Japanese visual artists. Leading up to that event, I’ll be live-blogging, using video and other online tools to provide an insight into the process and the thinking behind that event.

I’ve explained it in a little more detail in the above video.

Follow the project at http://kitchenorchestra.tumblr.com or here on Twitter.

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

Rhythm Changes at Tou Scene

The Bjergsted Jazzensemble at Tou Scene, January 2011. Photo by Karina Gytre

The first in a series of European Rhythm Changes concerts took place on 14 January, as Irish composer and bandleader Dave Kane conducted the Bjergsted Jazzensemble at Tou Scene in Stavanger, an ex-brewery that has now become a cultural centre and hub of creativity in the Norwegian city. “It was one of those magical live moments where space, audience, and musicians, blend together into a genuinely communal experience”, said Principal Investigator Dr Petter Frost Fadnes.

The concert, co-promoted by Tou Scene and the University of Stavanger, generated a large amount of press interest, resulting in one national radio broadcast on NRK P2’s Kulturnytt, one newspaper article, and two magazine articles to be published shortly. Frost Fadnes continued, “All the journalists I’ve spoken to are genuinely interested

Dave Kane and the Bjergsted Jazzensemble, January 2011. Photo by Karina Gytre

in the potential outcome of the Rhythm Changes comparative study. The question of, for example, whether particular aesthetic qualities stand out between different ensembles, cities or national scenes, seems to fascinate the public, professionals and students alike.”

The NRK P2 Kulturnytt show, broadcast on 14 January, features interviews with Petter Frost Fadnes and Dave Kane as well as music from the event.
The programme can be accessed for a limited period via the following link:

Call for papers: JRJ special issue on jazz collectives

Call for Papers: Jazz Research Journal special issue on jazz collectives

(Guest-editor: Nicholas Gebhardt)

Globe Unity Orchestra, 1975 by Gerard Rouy

The interdisciplinary Jazz Research Journal invites contributors to a special issue on post-World War II jazz collectives. The aim of this issue is to explore the various ways in which collectives such as the Jazz Composer’s Guild in New York, the A.A.C.M. in Chicago or the Globe Unity Orchestra in Berlin opened up new possibilities for making music and redefining the relationship between jazz musicians and their audiences.

Although not restricted to specific themes, possible topics could include:

  • The collective as social, political, or cultural phenomenon
  • Performance practices
  • The history of specific collectives
  • Community music
  • The relation of improvisation to composition
  • The role of collectives in recording, radio and publishing
  • The artist-audience relationship
  • Organizers and activists
  • The politics of venues
  • The artist-business relationship
  • Collectives and jazz education
  • Theories of collectivity
  • Mobility and cultural exchange
  • Trans-national practices/theories

If you are interested in contributing an essay, interview, or review please email a short proposal to n.gebhardt@lancaster.ac.uk.

Deadline for proposals: 4 March 2011

‘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?

Rhythm Changes at the London Jazz Festival

Rhythm Changes hosted its first UK public event on Sunday 21 November as part of the London Jazz Festival. The event, a panel discussion entitled Another Place? Why Jazz Festivals Matter, included contributions from John Cumming (Serious/London Jazz Festival), Tony Dudley-Evans (Birmingham Jazz/Cheltenham Jazz Festival) and Hannibal Saad (Jazz Lives in Syria) alongside Anne Dvinge and Tony Whyton from the Rhythm Changes team.

Taking place at the Barbican Centre in London, the panel attracted an engaged and knowledgeable audience ranging from international festival directors to jazz journalists, writers and jazz advocates to enthusiasts, and the discussion focused on the contribution that festivals make to the creative economy in Europe and beyond.

The panel discussed how festivals can provide a celebration of place and encourage innovative programming and also gave examples of jazz as a catalyst for social change. John Cumming, for example, discussed the way in which the London Jazz Festival had expanded its reach in recent years to encourage new communities to participate in festival events and also described the scene in Istanbul, where a jazz festival and venue had transformed part of the city through creative programming.

The panel addressed the relationship between year round programming and festivals programming, and also talked about the way in which festivals relate to a sense of cultural memory (for example through using established venues and tapping into the legacy of previous events) at the same time as offering musicians and audiences visions of the future. The audience responded enthusiastically to the notion that jazz offered a model for celebrating diversity and cultural hybridity, and the panel concluded with a lively question and answer session where the audience exchanged ideas and experiences.

As Rhythm Changes first Knowledge Transfer forum, Another Place? Why Jazz Festivals Matter demonstrated the relevance of the project’s research questions which explore the changing Europe and the value of jazz as a transformative force. As Anne Dvinge stated, jazz is a conversational medium that, in certain contexts, has the ability to offer alternative notions of place and identity. Anne described the way in which jazz festivals offer audiences a means of encountering things that are outside their everyday experience and also argued that the view of jazz as “high brow” (or difficult) did not play out in reality once audiences engage with the music first hand. Festivals in particular can encourage people to take risks or to sample things that are unfamiliar; in this respect, jazz festivals really do offer access to another place where people can feel differently about both the music and their environment.

Click below to hear an audio recording of the event:

Another Place? Why Jazz Festivals Matter by Tony Whyton

Tchicai in Town

Last week I experienced the full force of cultural dynamics at work… and all within walking distance of my home in a Yorkshire Pennine town! For me, the visit of the John Tchicai Trio to the Trades Club in Hebden Bridge demonstrated how jazz can take on a significance that goes beyond the physical and temporal parameters of performances themselves.

The event threw up a range of interesting examples of how jazz scenes are not only born out of cultural exchanges and the convergence of widespread influences but also how performances themselves can develop a symbolic quality, enabling people to experience their environment in a different way.

The event had a particular resonance for me as a scholar and jazz fan – Tchicai’s work is of direct interest to my two main ongoing research projects – my book project Beyond A Love Supreme for Oxford University Press, which examines the impact and influence of A Love Supreme and late Coltrane recordings, and the Rhythm Changes project, which continues to provide insights and analysis into jazz practices and the dynamics of European culture. Tchicai was one of the central players of the “New Thing” in jazz in the mid-1960s. His playing featured on a number of influential albums including Archie Sheppa’s Four for Trane and Coltrane’s iconic album Ascension and he was the founder of the New York Contemporary Five and a member of the Jazz Composers Guild, immersed in a vibrant and politically-charged scene that included musicians and artists such as Archie Shepp, Sun Ra and Amiri Baraka.

Meeting John the morning after the gig, it was fascinating to talk both about his life in the political hotbed of the US in the 1960s and about his experiences as a Danish national living in different locations and working with musicians from different cultures and settings. Tchicai talked about his cultural influences and the concept of national sound moving from Denmark to New York in 1962 and now living in France, he had clearly developed a number of valuable insights into national jazz scenes and transnational interactions. As part of our conversation, we talked about the way in which, as an artist, you become aware of subtle differences in approach between musicians working in different scenes and national settings. However, there is an obvious romance and pigeon-holing associated with national sounds, particularly when discussing European jazz; Tchicai made some interesting observations about the jazz scene in Scandinavia in the 1960s, claiming that, in Copenhagen in particular, there was no sense of boundary or policing of different types of jazz, and this creative environment led to some valuable interactions, cross-fertilisations and cultural exchanges. During this time, Tchicai encountered figures such as Albert Ayler and Bill Dixon during their visits to Scandinavia and received personal invitations to move to the US. Relocating to New York, Tchicai commented on the race politics of life at the time stating that, as a Dane, he was surprised by the change in context but didn’t feel the same way about the black nationalist agenda as colleagues such as Archie Shepp.

Tchicai[‘ appearance at the Trades Club was also the result of other types of cultural exchange taking place. Now living in the South of France, Tchicai has developed a friendship with neighbours who are also of Danish descent, and those neighbours happen to have a daughter living and working in Hebden Bridge. In turn, Tchicai’s performance brought together a small Danish ex-pat community, a film-maker, a German record producer who had previously recorded Tchicai as part of a German festival, and a variety of musicians and artists, all of whom live within five minutes of the venue but who had not met until the event itself. Finally, and in some remote way, the fact that that the performance took place in a venue such as the Trades Club, with its Trades Union history and socialist ideals, offered a window in to thinking about the political backdrop of the 1960s, and an appreciation of the power and impact of performances of jazz musicians working as part of the New Thing itself.

John Tchicai Trio from Tony Whyton on Vimeo.