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CFP: Gender and Notions of Authenticity in Jazz

Call for papers:
Gender and Notions of Authenticity in Jazz

10th Nordic Jazz Conference
Arranged by Svenskt visarkiv, Stockholm
August 30-31, 2012

Keynote speaker: Simon Frith
Professor Simon Frith is a British sociomusicologist, and former rock critic, who specializes in popular music culture. He is currently Tovey Chair of Music at University of Edinburgh.

Jazz is the musical form that, perhaps, has best accompanied the emergence of modern society over the last one hundred years. Jazz is in many ways “urban music,” a synonym for modernity and urban culture’s quest for total liberation. As a genre, jazz is an aggregate of styles and traditions from near and far that has been well concocted into a music that can be expressed in many different ways. It has brought women and men together in pleasurable urban settings such as dance halls and ballrooms, where social controls that long characterized the countryside, were nearly nonexistent.

Jazz anticipated what was later regarded as rock ‘n’ roll’s youth culture, and the jazz scene could just as well have been described as “sex, drugs, and jazz”; long before the genre of rock music had its breakthrough.

Jazz has, in its various guises, spoken to most people’s attitudes and needs: which could be aesthetic, intellectual, humorous, carnal, political, rebellious, and sensual in their expression. At the same time, jazz has, throughout the whole of its history, propagated myths that have favored certain subjects and rejected others. With this conference we want to focus on a couple of “unwritten laws”: jazz’ gender and sexual politics, and the deep rooted perception of authenticity.

Despite its close connection to modernity and liberation, it is easy to perceive that jazz, for most of its history, has mainly been a man’s domain. This applies to musicians as well as listeners (“cookers”). Among jazz practitioners, women have primarily been, and continue to be, vocalists – from “beautiful” back-up singers meant to promote the orchestra, to independent solo singers with artistic intentions. Female jazz instrumentalists first began to take their place to a greater extent during the 1970s. Even researchers, journalists, and writers within the jazz field have, until recently, been almost exclusively men, which of course impacts how jazz history has been written. Is this situation expressed here the same all over the world within the jazz community?

Theme 1: The gender of jazz

How can a music genre, which offers such a great “potential for freedom” still be so homophobic and contain such strong gender stereotypes? What roles and positions have been possible for both women and men within the jazz world? And how broadminded has the jazz culture really been regarding questions of sexuality?

Theme 2: The myth of artistic authenticity

A related theme is the myth of artistic authenticity that lives on within the jazz tradition. These can include the notion that a musician must have lived “life’s downsides” in order to have something genuine to share through one’s music, or that a musician must find one’s “own tone”, in a broad sense, a tone which is closely associated with a musicians identity. In the earlier days of jazz, a musician’s playing style was often associated with one’s life style. But how is it today, when most jazz musicians come from a comfortable middle class environment, have an academic education, and have chosen to be musicians on a basis different from “an inner necessity”? Can one actually hear that in the music? What about race and nationality? Can jazz from the Nordic countries be authentic?

These are some of the questions we hope to explore during the conference. We welcome presentations that illuminate and problematize the jazz music scene as well as jazz criticism from a gender perspective and/or that deal with ideas of authenticity. The papers may not exceed 20 minutes in length and the conference language will be English. Email your paper title and an abstract (no longer than 1000 signs) to Roger Bergner ( at the latest by February 29, 2012.

We welcome your applications and hope to see you in Stockholm!

Improvisation implies a deep connection between the personal and the communal, self and world. A “good” improviser successfully navigates musical and institutional boundaries and the desire for self-expression, pleasing not only herself but the listener as well.

– Rob Wallace