Session 10 – Germany/Norway

Saturday 3 September – 10.45-12.00 (Sweelinck)
Chair: Anne Dvinge

William Bares – Way Out East: Cowboys and Pioneer Women on Berlin’s Jazz Frontier

Riffing on historian Frederick Jackson Turner’s influential Frontier Thesis from 1893 that cast the Western frontier as the quintessential site of Americanization, the broad question I will be considering in my paper is how the frontier, like American jazz itself, has been appropriated and recoded as a new site of Europeanization by young jazz musicians in today’s Berlin. If Turner’s frontier was a place where harsh conditions forged strong-willed democratic identities that resisted the conformist pressures of American East Coast overculturation, Berlin has become a veritable frontier for jazz, a function fulfilled in earlier times by places like Kansas City, Oklahoma City, and Los Angeles. Beginning with a comparison of Sonny Rollins’s classic 1957 album Way Out West and East German-born saxophonist Sandra Weckert’s album Way Out East from 2001 (which shows Weckert in an Rollins’-like pose but dressed in an East German farm worker’s outfit), I draw on years of fieldwork with Berlin’s young musicians to explore the ways jazz and the American West figure in Berlin’s contemporary project of redefinition. In the wake of reunification and European integration, the ‘frontier’ has become a powerful trope coding jazz in Berlin as rough, marginal and anti-commercial, and also as free, earthy and opportunity-rich. Canny young Berliner musicians like Michael Schiefel now present an ironic take on American originary images of the hipster and the rugged frontiersman, reflecting a profound shift in self-consciousness and a desire to recode formerly masculinized American ideals as feminine and European.

The intersection of race, nationality, and gender on Berlin’s jazz frontier concern me above all. The musical ‘survival strategies’ adopted by Weckert and Schiefel would seem to be of particular interest for critics of what feminist jazz scholar Sherrie Tucker has called America’s ‘dominant’ jazz discourse, which elevates genius, virtuosity, individualism, blackness, maleness and American-ness as ultimate arbiters of jazz authenticity. I will suggest that the feminist project of opening up dominant American jazz discourse to counter narratives has in fact been a lived experience for Berliners for many years.

Harald Kisiedu – Emancipation Revisited: The Curious Case of Peter Brötzmann

Within histories of post-1965 European jazz, the trope of Die Emanzipation or emancipation, coined by the influential German jazz critic and historian Joachim Ernst Berendt in a 1977 essay, figures prominently. According to the standard narrative of German jazz historiography advanced by music historians such as Wolfgang Burde, Ekkehard Jost, and Wolfram Knauer, beginning around 1965 European musicians emancipated themselves from U.S. hegemonic influences. Severing ties to their African American spiritual fathers— represented by ‘free jazz’ proponents such as Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, and Albert Ayler—European experimentalists eventually came into their own by asserting a pan-European cultural difference and aesthetic self-reliance.

Most historical accounts of this critically important movement assign West German multi-instrumentalist and improviser Peter Brötzmann a prominent role. For many commentators, Brötzmann’s seminal 1968 recording Machine Gun signals nothing less than the hour of birth of a truly independent European jazz. In this paper, I argue that Brötzmann’s musical concepts and practices complicate the prevalent narrative. His engagement with black musical knowledge and his frequent collaborations with Afro-diasporic musicians, such as Don Cherry and Louis Moholo, represent a challenge to notions of exceptionalism that have informed narratives of European jazz. Brötzmann’s experience highlights that the convergence between European and African American systems of musical knowledge was much more prevalent than has often been assumed in historical accounts. These collaborations not only point to the salience of transnational ties for the emergence of the European free jazz movement but moreover reveal that creative impulses deeply embedded in African American musical knowledge informed post-1965 European jazz. Drawing upon archival and ethnographic research as well as secondary sources, this paper points out how European and African American aesthetic belief systems are intimately linked.

Haftor Medbøe – Cultural Identity and Creative Autonomy in Nordic jazz

Historians and educators have traditionally presented the relatively short evolution of jazz in a linear, epochal fashion. Applications of this model are often limited to the music’s domestic evolution, paying little or no heed to activities outside the USA. Even where the existence of non-American jazz is acknowledged, it is more often than not excluded from the parameters of historiography and critique.

Over the past forty years the Nordic contribution to the music has in many ways come to mirror the multicultural melting pot that first spawned jazz at the beginning of the 20th Century. The ‘Nordic sound’ is identified as such despite having firm roots in the American tradition coupled with a ‘receptive ear’ to global influences. In championing ethnically and stylistically diverse fusions under the ‘Nordic sound’ banner, labels such as ECM and Rune Grammofon have established an alternative imagining of the genre. The hybridized outcomes of such projects have confounded traditional conceptions of the jazz tradition, challenging discourses of historical succession and genre identity.

Despite deeply conceived individual national identities, the relative proximity and freedom of movement between the Nordic countries and their neighbours has enabled significant transnational cultural exchange. The sum of such exchanges are arguably more defining to an emergent and evolving jazz than is the case in the USA, where a stronger focus is often given to the reclamation and refinement of the music’s domestic heritage. This paper will use practice-based and academic research to show how an American musical form has been reinterpreted to enable the expression of cultural individuality, at the same time encouraging stylistic crossover and innovation.

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