“Jazz in the Global Imagination: Music, Journalism and Culture,” the day-long, public and free symposium at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism auditorium on Saturday, Sept. 29, is evidently the first international conference of jazz journalists to take place in the U.S. Why did we wait so long?
Even if there’s been one before, the slam-bang panel discussions sponsored as final compent of the 10-day Columbia/Harlem Festival of Global Jazz by the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia, in partnership with the Jazz Journalists Association, will be historic for writers, readers, listeners and musicians of a certain persuasion, me among them. In fact, full disclosure: I’m proud to have consulted to trombonist-composer-improviser-educator-MacArthur fellow George E. Lewis on this project, which brings more than 30 renowned, accomplished senior and emerging journalists from Japan, Russia, Turkey, South Africa, the UK, continental Europe, Canada and Mexico besides the U.S. together in contemplation of the big issues: the intersections of arts reportage and analysis with globalization and new technology, improvisation and fast-morphing traditions.
Jazz — fluid, transcultural, bold, innovative, individually and collective expressionistic, often non-commercial, arguably elite, even if marginalized — is poised on the verge of cultural change, often serving as a canary in the mineshaft of unexplored musical and performance dimensions, a predictor and/or mirror of social and artistic interactions. Jazz journalism — largely the province of wide-ranging and committed, imaginative and street-smart freelance writers, broadcasters, photographers and new media professionals — serves as the first draft of jazz history, often delivering oral history, eye-and-ear-witness testimony, subjective response and philosophic aesthetic theory within easily-absorbed narrative forms such as the concert advance and/or review, personality profile, liner note, report from the trenches, business story, trend piece and historically-pegged essay.
How do jazz journalists — usually a self-selected and self-trained bunch, scraping by with irregular assignments, eager for the rare staff job, day-gigging as teachers, editors, archivists, programmer and such, with responsibilities quite removed from the night-stages of jazz — grapple with a world turning all-digital, overwhelmingly accessible, demanding ever-greater comprehension while insisting content should be free? How do we relate to the plight and solutions of musicians facing similar challenges? How do we construe our personal interests, serve our artistic communities and remain free of conflicts-of-interest? What new music have we each discovered? What crucial arguents continue to course through our works?
Such are the topics of six panel discussions, which will also be subject to simultaneous interactive blogging at Jazzhouse, the Jazz Journalists Association’s website, by an international crew anchored in the J-school lecture hall. Anyone can join this discussion employing JJA’s propriety Interactiview software. A two-camera shoot of the six panels has been arranged, for soon-after webcast — details are still being worked out now.
Besides the talk, talk, talk, the international jazz journalists — JJA members Seda Binbasgil (Turkey), Alain Derbez (Mexico), James Hale (Ottawa), Ashante Infantry (Toronto), Francesco Martinelli (Italy), Cyril Moshkow (Russia), Bert Vuijsje (Netherlands), Kazue Yokoi (Tokyo) as well as Marcela Breton, Francis Davis, Gary Giddins, Dan Morgenstern, Ron Scott, John Szwed and Ted Panken, all of the U.S., and unaffiliated colleagues Gwen Ansell (South Africa), Christian Broecking (Germany), Alex Dutilh (France), Andy Hamilton (UK), Patrik Landolt (Switzerland), Jason Lee (China), Alexander Pierrepont (France), Maxi Sickert (Germany), Lars Westin (Sweden), and Jason Berry, June Cross, Stanley Crouch, Jennifer Odell, Ben Ratliff, Bill Shoemaker, Greg Tate, K. Leander Willliams and George Varga — will enjoy a welcome reception Friday night at the Lenox Lounge, with music by pianist Robert Rodriguez’s trio (thanks to ASCAP) and refreshments (provided in large by by Boosey & Hawkes music publishers), and a Sunday brunch at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, featuring the quartet of Cuban-born pianist Elio Villafranca (courtesy of Jazz at Lincoln Center). We will have opportunities to hear South African saxophonist Zim Ngqawana’s Quartet and American Steve Coleman and the Mystic Rhythm Society )at Museo del Barrio, on Friday night) and if we rush the lunch break, Technodiaspora: An Internet Master Class Performance by reedists Douglas Ewart and J.D. Parran (members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) and Sazi Dlamini, Ndikho Xaba, and Madala Kunene
(University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa), at the Harlem School of the Arts, 645 St. Nicholas Avenue (Saturday, 12-1:30 pm).
Conference producer George Lewis, a product of the AACM, has, by the way, written a forthcoming history of that organizationA Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music, forthcoming immediately from University of Chicago Press. Named last July as director of the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia, a former professor at Mills College and University of California, San Diego as well as some-time-ago music curator of the Kitchen Center in New York, he quickly whipped up an abundance of colloquia, films and challenging music performances (French bassist-composer Joelle Leandre‘s Octet considering Erik Satie and the Globe Unity Orchestra, two extremely “Eurological” ensembles, performing at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center in Harlem, for instance, and the raw, raucous, “Afrological” David Murray-Kidd Jordan All-Star Quartet in a two-night stand at Harlem’s Creole Restaurant and Jazz Cafe). Lewis is all about confounding tired expectations, overturning conventions and generating exciting transformations. If the conference we’ve worked up succeeds in attracting jazz fans as well as journalists of common interests, we’ll have fulfilled the first goals of his agenda.
Please check the Jazzhouse.org blog on Saturday — or see my reports on “Jazz and the Global Imagination” in this space next week, after it’s over.