Session 17 – Transnationalism 2

Sunday 4 September – 10.00-11.45 (Blue Note)
Chair: George McKay

Panel Abstract

This panel introduces some of the underlying objectives and research activities of the HERA-funded Rhythm Changes: Jazz Cultures and European Identities, a trans-national research project involving a team of 13 researchers working across 5 European countries.

Tony Whyton – Jazz as Transnational Practice

This paper examines the concept of national sound in jazz and the ways in which European jazz practice has previously been understood as a vehicle for asserting national identity. Drawing on musical examples and perspectives from a range of European contexts, I argue that European jazz practice works more effectively as a model for challenging cultural stereotypes and geographical boundaries than as an embodiment of a particular national sound. Jazz is a practice that developed in Europe both through transatlantic influences and exchanges, so is ideally placed to explore wider issues surrounding identity and inheritance, enabling unique perspectives on how culture is exchanged, adopted and transformed.

I explore how discourses of national jazz scenes are often plagued with essentialist qualities, constructing an idealised and romanticised view of the development of jazz outside the US. Paradoxically, European perspectives that challenge the canonical model of jazz in the US often serve to reassert European identities as immovable constructs set up in contrast to the African American mainstream. By critically examining jazz in relation to issues of nation and identity, concepts such as “the Nordic Tone” or the “Dutch Sound” can be understood as socially determined categories that can be used to explore the underlying dynamics of European culture today.

Anne Dvinge – Transmodal Identities: Jazz, Race, and Transnational Musicking at the Jazzhus Montmartre

In May 2010 Jazzhus Montmartre reopened on its original address of Store Regnegade in Copenhagen, some 34 years after it closed and ended one of the most important periods of Danish jazz. Since its existence, it has continued to reverberate in Danish as well as international jazz, creating not just a musical, but also social and cultural space where musical and cultural exchanges took place. Thus, the years of Jazzhus Montmartre reside as something deeply constituent in the Danish jazz community’s self understanding. The reopening of the club came in the wake of a renewed interest in the club and its place in Danish jazz history. This resonates with recent trends in jazz historiography, particularly outside the US, staking a claim against the narrative of jazz as an essentialist and monolithic American art form. In seeking to create national or regional sub or counter narratives, this trend constitutes what one could perhaps call a “postcolonial” moment in the jazz world; including the ensuing identity politics and essentializing discourses.

However, the attempt to formulate a particular Danish branch of jazz history inevitably comes up against the fact that one of the most fruitful periods in Danish jazz, the Montmartre years, was defined largely through the presence of African American musicians. This creates ambivalences in the discourses surrounding the club: On one hand, the epitome of “Danish egalitarian humanism”, on the other an international hotbed of music – and thirdly, perhaps, something larger and more complex. This paper seeks to investigate the meanings of the club as a simultaneously physical, historic location and as a discursive site wherein there is more at stake than simple nostalgia. Rather, it can be perceived as a distinct prism illuminating some of the dynamics of jazz as a transnational art form.

Nick Gebhardt – When Jazz Was Foreign

For most of the twentieth-century, jazz was inseparable from definitions of African-American identity and culture in the Americas, the Caribbean and parts of Europe. It has served as a metaphor for and expression of racial differences, but also a means of overcoming those differences. This paper addresses some of the basic premises through which we study jazz musicians and their music in terms of wider claims about its cultural significance within the history of the Atlantic world. In particular, I examine what it means for jazz musicians to understand themselves as trans-national subjects, participating in new global discourses of identity and power.

In the first part of the paper, I will summarise several recent attempts to tell the “story of jazz,” especially those that rely on the concepts of “creolization,” “hybridisation” and “diaspora” to explain both the origins of the music and its current identity. The second part of the paper focuses on the British jazz collective, The Jazz Warriors. Through an analysis of “Warriors”, the introduction to their first album, Out of Many, One People, I will examine the ways in which Afro-Caribbean musicians negotiated key issues of post-colonial and transnational identity in European societies.

View the full conference schedule.