November 16, 2015
Jazz Debates/Jazz Debatten /Wolfram Knauer (editor)
Darmstadt Studies in Jazz Research
By Ken Waxman
An ongoing conference that has taken place every second year since 1989, the Darmstadt (Germany) Jazz Forum gathers scholars from Europe and the US to discuss aspects of the current jazz scene. Jazz Debates/Jazz Debatten gathers 10 talks in English and German from the most recent (2013) conference, where the participants deal with the place of jazz in musical culture, touching on aspects of race, nationality, gender, acceptance and even definitions of the word itself.
The English abstracts of the German language debates seem parochial to the international reader since they deal with perceptions of jazz and in-fighting among critics and gate keepers in post-war and present-day Germany. More substantive arguments are advanced in the English talks, but not always. Peter Elsdon’s “The Potential of the Jazz Record”, for instance, is an essay on Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert record and its reputation as prototypical new age music and its use for relaxation and in retirement residences.
More perceptive are three other chapters. Citing jazz musicians in and out if the proverbial closet, John Gill’s “Miles in the Sky: Dismantling the Glass Closet in Jazz”, creditably disagrees with “the cultural coding of jazz as masculine art”, and says, for example that reinterpretation of some landmark discs would show varied gender strains in their creation. Tony Whyton’s “Crosscurrents: the Cultural Dynamics of Jazz” uses Ken Burns’ Jazz series and Julian Benedikt’s Play Your Own Thing, The Story of Jazz in Europe as cinematic examples of problematic representations of the music that erroneously contrast European jazz’s so-called northern sensibility with American jazz’s supposed insistence on promoting blues and swing. Illuminatingly, Wolfram Knauer’s “’Jazz’ or not ‘Jazz’, From Word to Non-Word and Back” deals with similar concepts from a linguistic standpoint. Considering innovators from Duke Ellington to Anthony Braxton disliked the word, would replacing it with “Black American Music” force others to play “European Black American Music”, for example? Each musical generation should “re-invent and re-appropriate jazz according to their own standards”, Knauer maintains.
Other thought-provoking concepts are discussed in the book, making it worth investigating. Like an extended jazz session among top-flight musicians, the volume showcases absorbing solos despite a few dry spots.
—For The New York City Jazz Record November 2015