Jazz, Gender, Authenticity

Proceedings of the 10th Nordic Jazz Research Conference Stockholm (August 30–31 2012) 

By Alf Arvidsson, editor

This publication roughly follows the program of the conference; although some of the papers have been modified, expanded, and even have had a change of focus. The arrangement of the articles was made in a rather loose, varied manner, with occasional couplings and practical adjustments as determining factors, rather than an attempt at a strict, thematic plan.

As the following papers will show, such an attempt would have been futile – one strength of the conference was the way in which concepts of ‘gender’ and ‘authenticity’, as well as ‘Nordic’, intersected in various ways in the different contributions. Another dimension of variation concerns the professional status of the speakers and the character of their papers. Here are the voices of musicians, teachers, archivists, and researchers (with many of the contributors combining these roles, in one way or another), and the texts vary between personal experiences, broad overviews, case studies, and poetical representations (this aspect also reveals a combination of roles).

The introductory position was allotted to Marie Selander, for a long time one of the most prominent performers of free vocal improvisation in Sweden, but who also has a broad repertoire and experiences from rock, Swedish folk music, as well as being a pioneer in the “world music” scene. Here she draws on her recent book on women in music, building on her own experiences, on interviews with colleagues from various generations, and surveys of recent research.14 This is followed by some presentations where gender, authenticity, race, and ethnicity are addressed in different ways.

Mario Dunkel proposes critical readings of the early historiography of jazz, noting how the music in the 1930s was racialized, gendered, and class-related in contrast to previous discourses on jazz, thus making us aware of the flaws of narratives we still use, and the potential for new possibilities in the writing of jazz’ development. Annjo Klungervik Greenall, a Norwegian scholar and singer, discusses different notions of authenticity, taking her own translations and performances of songs from Billie Holiday’s repertoire as a starting point. Barry Long focuses on Mahalia Jackson, who did not identify with jazz, but came across as a uniting symbol of authenticity, credibility, and spirituality, for African Americans, especially in during civil rights movement.

The next papers study the problem of jazz in the Nordic countries and the possibility of a ‘Nordic’ character in jazz. Janne Mäkelä discusses the political similarities and different forms of Nordic co-operation that have made a kind of common social context possible. James W. Dickenson presents how the album Østerdalsmusikk, a 1970s project combining jazz with traditional folk music of eastern Norway, has become a classic that, today, is being reproduced in concert. Mischa van Kan as stated above discusses Miles Davis’ take on the Swedish folk song, “Ack Värmeland du sköna.”

A focus on female musicians constitutes the next group of papers. Viveka Hellström, a singer and teacher at Stockholm’s Royal Academy of Music, surveys prominent Swedish jazz vocalists ranging from the 1950s up to 2012, and how they have been reviewed in Orkesterjournalen, the leading Swedish jazz magazine. She notices a pattern of recurring questions on their status as ‘real’ jazz singers.

Alf Arvidsson presents Lill Lindfors, one of the leading vocalists in Swedish popular music since the 1960s, and discusses how her work, though seldom mentioned in terms of jazz, actually is informed with a distinct jazz aesthetic. Olena Huseinova analyses how Azerbaijani singer and pianist, Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, constructs authenticity in the narrative of her life story, linking herself to a national heritage as well as establishing jazz credibility. Elina Hytönen-Ng gives a close analysis of how gender is taken for granted, and how it is staged and performed – both on and off the stage – drawing on interviews with British female musicians.

In the next section, the papers take a more general point of view. Christa Bruckner-Haring gives a quantitative survey of the gender distribution, within jazz in Austria, among musicians, agencies, in professional jazz education, and the awarding of important prizes. She notes, along with her interviewees, a rising number of women, although she still finds a strong male dominance. Ari Poutiainen studies the curricula of fifteen Nordic jazz education programs and notes how different attitudes and preferred qualities are entextualized as being important for the jazz musician. Erik Nylander discusses how jazz can be thought of as a Sprachspiel, or a language game (after Wittgenstein), but stresses that this game also needs the sounds at the center, the auditive dimension, in order to work.

The last two papers have the field of traditional jazz revival in common, although differing in many ways. Jens Lindgren, former archivist at Sweden’s National Jazz Archive (Svenskt visarkiv), writes from his personal point of view as trombonist with the group, Kustbandet. Since the 1960s, Kustbandet has played a music – the big band music of the early 1930s, played by the likes of Redman, Ellington, Henderson, etc. – that falls “betwixt and between” the major categories of jazz history, and the traditionalist and modernist camps that divided the Swedish jazz community for decades. This is apparent in Lindgren’s personal narrative. Henrik Smith-Sivertsen’s study of the tune, “Just Over in the Glory Land,” looks at the many transformations it has gone through, in which its supposed traditionality has been one factor affecting the spread, uses, presentations, and forms of the changes it has been subjected to.

The conference ended with a panel on different ways of representing saxophonist, Lars Gullin (1928–1976), and his music. The discussants were musicians Jan Allan, Mats Gustafsson, Gunnel T. Mauritzson, and author Eva Sjöstrand. The panel closed with Sjöstrand reading the final section of her theatre play on Gullin that toured Sweden in 2008, and the translation is reproduced here. 

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