Session 7 – The Netherlands

Friday 2 September – 16.15-17.30 (Blue Note)
Chair: Kristin McGee

Floris Schuiling – The High Wire Act of European Improvised Music: The Dutch Reception of Free Jazz and Black Nationalism

Since around 1970, musicians, journalists and historians have spoken and written about ‘Improvised Music’ as a specifically European development of free jazz. In his article ‘Gittin’ to know y’all’, George Lewis has criticised this construction of a pan-European identity because it erases the African-American history of the genre. He urges historians of jazz in Europe to be aware of this construction and to critically interrogate its origins and cultural politics. In my paper I investigate how and why jazz musicians in the Netherlands have constructed this European identity at a time when many African-American avant-garde jazz musicians often performed in Europe, taking into account pan-African constructions of identity, which Lewis seems to ignore. I focus on two important figures of avant-garde jazz in the Netherlands, Misha Mengelberg and Willem Breuker. In doing so, I criticise Lewis’ concepts of the ‘Eurological’ and ‘Afrological’. Although designed to confront issues of race and identity, his logics seem only to be constructions themselves, which assume two fundamentally different ways of thinking. As such, they are too inflexible to account for the dynamics of transcultural exchange. Although he is right to point out problems with accounts that stress the novelty of ‘European’ jazz, it is equally problematic to describe its history as essentially a case of ‘theft’.

Instead, I take what Cook and Born have recently described as a ‘relational’ approach, in an attempt to negotiate between universalism and relativism. Cultural encounters are seen as an exchange in which people recognise each others’ similarities and differences, and transform their practices accordingly, rather than according to certain ideologies or ‘logics’. As Mengelberg and Breuker had different backgrounds and concerns, and have made very different music, they are a good example of how meanings, musics and identities that emerge in such encounters are very varied.

Loes Rusch – Identifying Dutch Jazz: Mediating Jazz from the Netherlands in Downbeat 1960-1970

At the beginning of the twentieth century jazz entered the Netherlands as an (British-) American music practice. In the 1960s and 1970s, however, Dutch jazz musicians, governmental institutions, audiences and journalists began addressing jazz on their own terms. Musicians such as drummer Han Bennink and reed player Willem Breuker challenged the African American mainstream and sought for renewal, while musicians such as pianist Pim Jacobs and singer Rita Reys presented themselves as more conventional proponents of mainstream jazz. National and international media played a significant role in the construction and differentiation of jazz practices in the Netherlands. By defining jazz-related activities in the Netherlands in terms of continuity and discontinuity, the foundations were laid of a complex infrastructure of meanings that shaped the understanding of Dutch jazz practices.

Surprisingly, there has been no in-depth research that considers these broader cultural and political processes. This paper explores different ways in which jazz practices in the Netherlands in the 1960s and 1970s were mediated and represented by journalists through processes of selection, different emphases and perspectives. By exploring different perspectives on concepts such as national and culture identities, low and high class, continuity and discontinuity, these writings on jazz give insight into the construction of cultural identities. In addition I’ll investigate how journalists contribute to the generation of new meanings within different cultural settings. I will give special attention to the balance in these writings between social, historical, geographical and commercial particularities and commonalities. By examining how international differences in the representation and mediation of jazz practices in the Netherlands reflect discourses of identity, authority and ideology over time, this paper aims to demonstrate the fluid character of musical and national identities. The data are based on qualitative research of national and international jazz periodicals, published between 1960 and 1980.

Walter van de Leur – ‘Improvisors versus Cliché machines’ Jazz and Identity in Jazzwereld (1965-1973)

In July 1965, a new Dutch jazz magazine was launched. The title of this bi-monthly periodical, Jazzwereld (Jazz World), however, was not new. From 1931 till 1941 the same name had graced the cover of one of the oldest jazz journals in the world. When the monthly De Jazzwereld folded in 1941 — in response to the ‘new order’, i.e., the Nazi occupation — it had survived ten years of often vehement debates of what jazz was and wasn’t. Its 1965 successor came at a time when jazz practices in the Netherlands underwent dramatic changes. The new so-called impro-scene was establishing itself, with such illustrious figures as Willem Breuker, Misha Mengelberg, and Han Bennink, founders of the ICP orchestra, and partly, of the Bimhuis. They challenged existing jazz practices, which did not always go ever well with the post-war Dutch jazz generation.

The debates in the columns of Jazzwereld reflected these changes, and similar to the discourse in the 1930s, the main issue often was ‘what is jazz’? This time, other questions were thrown into the mix as well, which sprang from the heightened political awareness in the late 1960s. Should jazz engage with politics, and vice versa, should politics engage with jazz (for instance by providing subsidies)? Jazzwereld folded in 1973, an impressive 43 issues after it had started. It had been a hotbed of jazz criticism and many of its contributors would assume leading roles as jazz publicists in the ensuing years. In this paper, I will look at how issues of jazz genres, identities, and politics played out in the revived Jazzwereld.

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