Two issues on the history of jazz in Europe in half a years time
A conversation with Indriķis Veitners about European perception of Latvian jazz, its history and changes — new reads
I remember last year at the jazzahead! trade fair a man approached me and with a very serious facial expression gave me a book on the history of jazz in Europe. Turned out he was one of the authors, and the gift came with a condition — to pass it on to someone who digs the topic and to ask that person to do a review. Without any hesitations I accepted the book and dove straight into reading, after all I was incredibly curious to know what exactly those authors wrote about my own country, but when I started reading I realised that I will not be able to comment at all, probably because I’m not a historian. And also the fact that the book had only 9 lines about Latvia made me think. At first my feelings were quite negative — how is it that a researcher did such a poor job and mentioned only two artists as noticeable, is that it? But then I thought maybe it’s because we ourselves don’t do enough to make our history known outside our inner circle…
Back in Riga I went straight to our «Dr. Jazz» Indriķis Veitners, and turned out that the issue I brought from Germany isn’t the only one that was published that year, also dedicated to European jazz, but the main difference is that instead of three authors writing about the whole continent (as «my» book was written), the other one was a compilation of articles by specialists from the countries featured in the book — each one had its own representative. In the conversation with Indriķis we tried to understand which one would give more accurate information and why people on our own continent know so little about us.
So, tonight we are discussing two books, one of them I brought back home from jazzahead!, this one is called Jazz in Europe: New Music in the Old Continent, for the other book you were the person to write about our local history, The History of European Jazz (editor — Francesco Martinelli).
Yes. Francesco Martinelli is an Italian jazz historian, a very famous musicologist. He is the chief editor of this book, a person who lead this project till the end, and the second editor was Alyn Shipton, also a famous jazz historian, an author of several books, such as The New History of Jazz, which is a big issue on the subject.
However this project was mostly lead by Martinelli, the publisher is Europe Jazz Network in collaboration with Equinox Publishing.
Yes, and the other book was written by Igor Wasserberg, Antonin Matzner and Peter Motycka, authors from Slovakia. What can you say about both books?
First of all, when you look at both books you can see that finally things have started moving. It is a huge contribution to the knowledge about the jazz in Europe, its development and history, and the history of jazz outside the US. Literally a year ago there were no books at all. Also both books represent a tangible result of all the projects dedicated to the research of the history of European jazz, and that has lasted for several years. Especially this Martinelli book, which was a huge international project that took three years to conclude. Or at least what I know of, because I was approached exactly three years ago and proposed to write about Latvia. These books show a serious interest in researching the history of jazz outside the US. And the end result is a physical thing — two books, and that is wonderful. It also represents the fact that jazz in Europe has finally started to realise its identity, that is different from an American one. It is being seriously researched, proving the fact that it started and continues to develop outside of the US, and that America isn’t the only determinant of its growth and that jazz also very interesting as a cultural phenomena, that it’s a part of European cultural life, not just a copy of the one that the States have. Both of the books are proof of that.
If we speak about the different concepts to creating the book — Slovakian was written by three authors, that split the regions between them, ours was researched by Antonin Matzner.
And that is also not about our region, but rather the Soviet Union. That is why it’s important to note that Martinelli’s book has highlighted all Baltic states with their own chapter, which is very important. Both books have completely different concepts. In Martinelli’s book a chapter about a certain country was written by a researcher from that very country, and the main task wasn’t to write a scientific text, but to give an understandable and popular description about the development of jazz in the country. Thereby the book is written in a pretty non–fiction–like manner, to engage a wider range of readers. That was a very successful solution to the main problem of European jazz — a lot of different countries. Because there’s no such country as «Europe», but rather a unique history of jazz in each of them, their own noticeable musicians, different peculiarities and etc. That also can be said about the rest of the world as well. And that’s why it’s not possible to write only one book about jazz outside the US, because that just doesn’t exist. We can maybe talk about some principles, about «fashion» tendencies, socially political situations that influenced it all. For instance, it is absolutely clear that World War II has greatly influenced the development of European jazz and so on. But then every country has its specifics, and that’s why it’s very important and right when each country finds a representative that provides his opinion and describes the development of jazz in his own country.
If we judge solely by the size, the second one is more informative.
What can you say about the quality of the information?
Well, that question isn’t very appropriate, because after all, I’m one of the authors!
I know that, but you’ve read both books, and if we skip talking about Latvia, what can you say?
The greatest differences are in the concept of both books. Martinelli’s has a discography list in the end of each chapter, a book and literature content list, which is extremely valuable. References are the main thing that makes the difference, it distinguishes a scientific issue from a non–fiction one.
Slovakian book doesn’t have any references? At all?
There is some bibliography, but it’s minimal. There’s no discography, that Martinelli’s has one after each country, as I’ve already mentioned. And also here (in Martinelli’s book) the concept and the task were clear — to give a deep description of each country, but here (Slovakian book) the concept isn’t very clear to me. The ambition is huge, to undertake such a task, to designate only three authors to write a history of the whole continent… Furthermore, while relying on a pretty limited resources that are only available to them. Without going too deep into the content of the whole book, but judging by the chapter about the Soviet Union, we can see that Latvia is mentioned on one page only.
Yes, I’ve read that paragraph.
Also this paragraph mentions only two names — a very noticeable Latvian jazz saxophonist Vadim Vjadro and Raimonds Pauls. If we judge by this book, Pauls and Vjadro were the only jazz musicians in the country!
But Vjadro left Latvia in the beginning of the 1970s…
Exactly! Of course, it somehow also represents the amount of available information about Latvian jazz, unfortunately. What people are able to find outside of Latvia. Obviously that was the only thing they were able to find. In fact, Latvian jazz history in the 1960–70s doesn’t have this many names, mostly it’s an orchestral history, with Riga Stage Orchestra (Rīgas estrādes orķestris — REO) and Latvian Radio big band, which dictated the main development, but those names aren’t even there, in the Slovakian book. As a result we have a pretty absurd view of Latvian jazz. This book can be considered a personal opinion of the three authors. The’ve written a quite disputable text, a book that is their vision, but is absolutely incomplete from the factological and historical sides.
And what about Estonia and Lithuania?
Nothing more about those countries as well, although Lithuania was mentioned separately, but also as a part of the Soviet Union. All in all this book can be viewed as a reflection of what foreigners think and know about Latvian jazz and its development.
What the international academic society knows?
Yes, more or less. How well informed they are. The conclusion is very unsatisfying and just sad — they are not informed at all.
Why do you think it is so?
Because no one has done anything before. No one did any research, the wider popularisation of the information never happened. Also during the Soviet times everything was labeled Soviet, and for some people from the side it isn’t a known fact, that there were differences between regions, stylistics, that there were republics and etc. I think that this question is still relevant. There are still people that perceive the Baltic States as a part of former Soviet Union and know close to nothing of our history.
But that’s more of a political topic.
Yes, but that’s the results we get. I can say that in fact this book is a bunch of stereotypes. My version is that those authors wanted to be the first to write such a book, to include the whole Europe.
Well, they succeeded in that.
But the result isn’t very good.
But if we return to this Martinelli’s book, it looks like a solid encyclopedia.
It was the intention from the start. The whole all consuming picture of the development of European jazz. This topic also has its nuances, because right now two projects happen at the same time. I can say that the research on the history of Europe and jazz has become a trendy thing some time ago. Everyone talked about it for years, and now finally managed to start doing projects, because the funding has been found. It took a while, because such books — encyclopedias and research conduct — without any doubts is a very expensive thing for many reasons. Organisational ones, for instance.
The concept of Martinelli’s books was to create a full overview of European jazz. At the same time with that another project is taking place, it is conducted by Oxford Publishing — a very famous publisher in the USA. They have planned a four volume huge monograph about European jazz, where each volume is dedicated to one period of time. Right now the first volume is in its final stages, it will feature the period prior to 1940s. I also wrote an article for that volume — about Latvia, of course. Next volumes will cover everything up until the 2000s. Oxford Publishing is one of the most recognised publishers of academic literature, and an issue of that level — that is very important. I think that the first book will be even thicker than Martinelli’s book.
I have to say that both projects also reveal some «backstage» rivalry of the academic society, because both require substantial fundings, and probably are in competition with one another. At the same time there are not so many researchers in this field.
Martinelli’s book was published by the Europe Jazz Network. I think that the result turned out to be pretty impressive, beautiful and adequate. Also correct from the factological side, because the requirement was to provide a wide discography and bibliography. Several countries, that have a very rich history of jazz, like Great Britain, are even divided into multiple parts and have different authors. That also demonstrates the level of the research conducted previously in those countries…
Well, yes. You also can’t compare nine pages with one paragraph.
I think this all brings the whole understanding of the evolution of jazz outside the US on a completely new level. That is the main point of this book, why it is so important. And also the fact that every person interested can find correct information about a certain European country and its jazz history. What I found interesting is that the publishers conducted a slightly wider range of research, because the book also features a part called «Europe/Asia», where one can find Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia. It’s interesting that they are missing Georgia, probably because they weren’t able to find any authors. It’s a pity, really, because they have a very interesting and exciting jazz history.
But then there’s a part called «Themes», which is dedicated to certain specific aspects of European jazz, for example — and article by Rainer Lotz «Early African American Entertainers» about early African American musicians in Europe. There’s a separate chapter about Jazz Manouche and Django Reinhardt, that could be included into the chapter about France, but is outlined separately. There’re also articles about Jewish music, avant garde music development, which is truly a totally independent topic, and then there is an overview of movies and festivals. This is a truly unique material.
Considering the price and the number or copies imprinted, I suppose an ordinary Latvian inhabitant will not be able to afford such a book?
Not right away, no. But I think that this book should be included in the collection of Latvian National library. The academy of music will have a copy, though, we have already ordered one.
You are familiar with a couple of writers, correct? Can they be trusted?
Yes, I know authors from Estonia and Lithuania (Ruta Skudiene & Tiit Lauk). Tiit, by the way, had written a doctors’ dissertation about the early Estonian jazz. Some of the authors I’ve met at different conferences, for example, Jan Bruer from Sweden, who’s a very nice man, a wonderful jazz teacher and researcher, he has been to Riga as well. I know of Cyril Moshkow, in this book he wrote the part about Russia. I have met Pedro Cravinho, who’s a jazz researcher in Portugal, and of course I know Francesco Martinelli. Armen Manukian is also a very known name, that’s probably it.
Are you acquainted with the researchers from Slovakia?
No, never heard of them.
Ok, so another impolite question — is the Slovakian book worth those 60 euros? If we don’t consider it an academic publication.
Let’s say that this book gives a certain picture… I’m not able to evaluate the quality of representation of other countries, but I can say for certain, that the information about Latvia isn’t objective. In fact, there’s no information about the development of Latvian jazz at all, because there’s only one paragraph with only several names in it, but the important ones are missing, such as Raimonds Raubiško, Gunārs Rozenbergs, REO and others. I think that the concept that Martinelli used is the right one when the country is described by a competent person, who is well educated in his topic and can take responsibility for the information he provides.
What surprised me the most about this Slovakian book is that yes, it’s fantastic that they have this ambition and bravery, I wouldn’t be brave enough to write about, for example, Portugal, I know nothing about it. It would be extremely hard to find information and understand the development of a completely different country when I have no connection to it whatsoever. But that is exactly what these three gentlemen did. That is surprising.
200 euros (Martinelli) — is it worth it?
I think yes.
To an ordinary reader or a jazz musician?
Well, the topic is pretty specific, of course, but also if you are interested in European jazz and its history, then it is worth its cost. For now it’s the only edition that summarises information about every country, the research is quite deep and thorough, data is true. This book truly is about the whole Europe.