Research Theme (Jazz) Reception, Criticism and Identity

Prof. dr. Walter van de Leur

As soon as jazz surfaced in the United States, the music found its way to our continent. Europe has always been far from homogeneous, whether socially, politically, economically or culturally, and therefore the meaning of jazz always varied, both between countries and within countries. Since jazz clearly comes from elsewhere, and because of its strong racial connotations, the music has always been understood as something foreign, so local European cultures inevitably reacted to it. Jazz, whether embraced or rejected, invited commentators to (implicitly) position themselves culturally. The reception of jazz has therefore been profoundly influenced by different political, religious, racial, and ethnic constellations, prompting the debate about the music to reveal a range of ideas and ideologies about local identity, high and low art, aesthetics, race, class, gender, etc. Consequently, jazz has always had different meanings for different social groups. For example, in the 1960s, jazz in the Eastern Bloc was a symbol of freedom and democracy, while in Western Europe, young people rejected jazz because of US international politics.

Precisely because of its "otherness," jazz provides an interesting angle from which to think about this multitude of local, ever-changing historical situations. The reception of jazz in Europe also provides an insight into the history of media (radio, television, film, photography, new media), and jazz criticism, found in magazines, books, documentaries, and films. Everywhere stakeholders were active (promoters, agents, journalists, studios, musicians, fans), all with their own cultural agendas and aspirations. Some brought (black) Americans to Europe, whose presence led to all kinds of racial fantasies, others started magazines, festivals, competitions, archives or study programmes (an important reception history is contained in jazz education).

The research connected to the Chair in Jazz and Improvised Music uses jazz as a lens through which to look at questions surrounding the meaning of jazz, as expressed in reception of the music, both in historical perspective and in the present. That reception gives rise to critical questions about cultural exchange, changing aesthetics (from popular music to canonical art music), hybridity, transatlantic influences, exchanges and transformations, identity and heritage, and education. The focus is on the European domain in general, and the Netherlands in particular. This has resulted in a number of projects funded by the EU: Rhythm Changes, CHIME, and Jazz and Everyday Aesthetics. Loes Rusch's PhD research also addresses these questions.

Cultural Heritage and Improvised Music Festivals in Europe (CHIME; 2015-2018), an interdisciplinary research project with partners in Sweden, Italy, England and Netherlands (Amsterdam & Groningen), funded by the EU, examined the role of tangible and intangible cultural heritage in jazz festivals at heritage locations, including, for the Netherlands, the Summer Jazz Cycle Tour and the Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival. Outputs: Conference (in Siena, organized by the Dutch team), publications, fieldwork, traveling exhibition (in cooperation with Dutch Jazz Archive).

Jazz and Everyday Aesthetics (2016-2018), with partners in England, Scotland and the Netherlands, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, examined the role of jazz in everyday life. Output: four network meetings, including one at the CvA (September 2017, with a concert by Sanne Huijbregts).