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Somewhere Between Displacement and Belonging: Jazz, Mobility, and Identity in Europe

Guest edited by Maria de São José Côrte-Real & Pedro Moreira
“Henri Coanda” Air Force Academy Publishing House
José DIAS*
*Institute of Ethnomusicology, NOVA School of Social Sciences and Humanities, New University of Lisbon,
Lisbon, Portugal
Abstract: Jazz in Europe is largely shaped by the mobility of its actors, and informed by both the experiences of
actors on the ground and their projection of what European identity is or should be. The mobility provided for
European Union Member States by the Schengen Area has exploded the ways in which Europeans perceive and
collaborate with each other. Jazz musicians and promoters identify mobility as part of their practices. Contextual
factors such as easier accessibility to communication and mobility –contribute to reshaping the European jazz
scene, by creating a new generation of jazz actors who seem more integrated within Europe and who more naturally
develop collaborations with their counterparts from different countries. The official discourse of the EU often
stresses the notion of ‘Europeanness’ as a set of fundamental abilities. Promoting mobility of its citizens is a key
aspect to ultimately inform the notion of a Pan-European ideal. However, contrasts between European counties,
such as geographical and economic peripherality and centrality, and differentiated cultural and education policies,
still stand as significant challenges to those who operate in the field. The fact that mobility opportunities for artists
across Europe are still irregular raises a number of questions around music practices, identity, aesthetics, and the
role of the different actors within the ecology of jazz in Europe.
Keywords: jazz, Europe, identity, mobility, networks, collectives, cultural policies
To understand Europe you have to be a genius –
or French.
Both Europe and jazz in Europe are intricate
frameworks where different cultures, identities and
negotiations coexist. In fact, one could argue that
there are several Europes, where numerous kinds
of jazz are being made. Europe has developed
itself through history as a constant flow of people
and cultural products. These continuous
interchanges have largely helped to provide Europe
with a sense of cultural unity and identity
(Bohlman, 2004:34). Mobility is a crucial element
of music practices all over the world. Jazz music,
as essentially improvised collective music, is built
upon cooperative creation. Jazz artists constantly
seek and feed collaborations, not only with their
national counterparts but also and increasingly
with others from different nationalities.
Cf. Madeleine Albright, in The Economist, Oct. 21,
In the US, in the beginning of the twentieth
century, alongside radio broadcasting and film,
mobility played an important role in the
dissemination of jazz across its fifty states and the
Western World. In post-WWII, the touring of
American jazz artists across Europe was a
powerful tool for diplomacy and a sonic and
performative metaphor for the establishment of a
‘New European United States’, which would be
shaped in line with the American democratic and
cosmopolitan values as part of the Marshall Plan.
European jazz artists rapidly adopted American
jazz narratives and canons as their own. However,
in the late 1970s, jazz education in Europe began
taking its own path – largely led by the innovative
approach to improvised music studies at the
University of Stavanger and the notion of a
genuine ‘European jazz’ was introduced mainly
due to a challenging choice for iconography, artists
and repertoire by Manfred Eicher at ECM records.
Jazz today is a part of the cultural fabric of
many of the European countries. From its role in
music education, to cultural programming and
academic research, jazz is present in various forms
of cultural production in Europe and in its official
In fact, in the political arena, the official
discourse of the European Union often stresses the
notion of Europeanness as a set of fundamental
abilities. Promoting open trade among Member
States, mobility of its citizens, multicultural
peaceful coexistence, and a European common
foreign policy are key aspects to that ideological
trail. ‘Jazz’ is often used as representation of an
idealised notion that can channel distinctive – and,
in some cases, contradictory ideological
messages: it can be as much a symbol of national
cultural heritage, as of Europeanist policies, or of
international trading partnerships. EU official
institutions not only construct different narratives
around ‘jazz’ at will they also interpret those
narratives according to their agenda. ‘Jazz’ is just a
small part of an immense jigsaw of assembled
narratives that promote an ideal. And ‘jazz’, as an
ideal, legitimises and authenticates national and
European constructed idiosyncrasies: an inherent
engagement to promote culture, multicultural
coexistence, and its citizen’s mobility.
Contextual factors – such as easier accessibility
to communication and mobility have exploded
the ways in which jazz artists today create
collaborative work within Europe. The digital
revolution in the 1990’s, that led to a radical
paradigm shift in the music industry and in the
ways in which music is produced, disseminated
and consumed, seemed to provide artists with new
tools to produce and gain higher control over their
own recorded music. A world wide access to the
Internet seemed to give musicians and promoters a
chance to publicise their work, their festivals and
their image. Affordable travels between countries
inside Europe and the Schengen Treaty of 1985
seemed to deliver artists the prospect of creating
international links and expanding their live
audiences. In short, physical and virtual mobility
seemed to provide artists with exciting new
scenarios where the industry’s middle man were
finally excluded, where artists could open direct
lines of communication with their fans, where
artistic collaborations would bloom throughout
Europe, and most importantly where the
contrasts between peripheral and central countries
would be smoothen.
Time, however, would prove them wrong. The
economic crisis of 2008 not only exposed the
frailty of the model of the emergent independent
music industry, but also accentuated the schisms
between peripherality and centrality within Europe.
Virtual mobility proved to be effective only when
combined with strategic institutional support for
physical mobility, which, in turn, evidenced that it
was not equally accessible for artists from different
parts of Europe.
What has mobility brought to jazz in Europe?
What kind of impact it has on the aesthetics of the
music? More importantly, how can intra-European
mobility inform the notion of a pan-European jazz
As a result of my personal experiences as a
jazz musician, I approached the field with the
assumption that discourse does not always concur
with practice. Musicians continually build and
reinvent their own narratives and image by
responding to institutional discourse, peer-review,
press and audience reception, so that ‘their’
storyline will help them communicate their music,
capture new audiences, achieve greater media
exposure and/or obtain public funding. In the role
of jazz academic, I believe the phenomenon of
musicians building their own narratives warrants
considerable exploration.
2.1 Europe. In Philip Bohlman’s (2004)
Nationalism and the Making of the New Europe, it
is argued that the process of building national
identities is the key to understand European music,
in the sense that it contributes fundamentally to the
ontology of European music, that is, to music’s
‘way of being’ in Europe (Bohlman, 2004:xxii).
Drawing on Bohlman’s notion that music-making
articulates values and attitudes of social groups
and, therefore, it contributes to celebrate or challenge
identities; I argue that jazz in Europe represents
both a celebration of, and a challenging to European
identity. Moreover, Bohlman suggests that national
identities are constantly being defined and
redefined by different people in different places,
even if the music that sets the process in motion is
originally from someone and somewhere else.
Europe is often represented by its political
institutions as a cultural whole. However it is an
ever-changing and multidimensional entity. In the
same way, cultural products within Europe tend to
serve as complex and, at some points,
contradictory representations of European and
national identities. Europe is, per se, a cultural
network. It has developed as a constant flow of
people and cultural products between different
European cities, which have become, throughout
history, more or less important actors of that
network. However, over time, defining Europe has
proved to be an arduous task and the subject of
extensive academic dispute. More than a
geographical entity, Europe is and always has
been a complex construction and an idealized
projection of ‘political significance and immense
symbolic weight… without agreed boundaries’
(Wallace, 1990:7). Rather than a peaceful harbour
for religious coexistence between northern
Protestantism, southern Catholicism, the eastern
Orthodox world, the Jewish diaspora and the Islam
Europe has built its history upon tangible
discrimination. Caught between its past and its
present, the once ‘Old World’ that introduced and
imposed itself on Africa, the Americas and Asia,
has become the destination for African, South-
American and Asian immigrants, migrating from
former imperial colonies. Today, Europe culture is
composed of some 50 languages and 30-40 ethnic
groups and, while trying to define the ‘self’,
Europe inevitably establishes boundaries to the
‘other’ (Tonra & Dunne, 1998:11). Subsequently,
the official rhetoric around Europe as a cultural
whole is also an intricate construction of thorny
It is safe to say that today Europe’s cultural
identity results from a long line of adjustments to
an ideal set of social and political values
participatory and pluralist democracy, liberal
humanism, freedom of thought, belief, speech and
association. This set of values is very close to
and inspired by the democratic model inherited
from the US.
European leaders have defined ‘Europeanness’
not as a set of distinct ideals, attitudes or symbols,
but as the will to hold together their fellow
members’ disparate sets of values, behaviours and
emblems” (Sassatelli, 2009: 47). Europe can serve
as an ideal place for the construction of an
‘imagined community’, where its members may
have similar interests or identity (Anderson,
1983:72). Therefore, European cultural identity
could be perceived as ‘the nameless and indefinite
stance’ that derives from that precise act of will
(Boylan, 2006:288).
2.1 Americanisation. The Americanisation of
Europe played a decisive role in understanding
jazz practices in Europe. The mutual fascination
between the US and Europe has, particularly
during the twentieth century, nurtured that process.
On the one hand, Europe has been largely
influenced by American cultural products, of
which jazz is an important part. On the other,
Americans welcomed (and to some extent craved)
the legitimation of jazz by European enthusiasts.
America has always been appealing to
Europeans. Since the first settlers’ reports began
arriving in Europe, their accounts fed the desire of
the ‘Old World’ for this ‘New World’ (Pells,
1997). But from the beginning of the twentieth
century – not least due to the growing exposure to
American culture through imported film, literature
and records Europe would ultimately embrace
the myth of America as the paragon of modern
In its 2004 edition, the Berlinale Film Festival
screened a curious set of rediscovered short
documentary films from the late-1940s and early-
1950s. They were part of an extensive film
program made as part of the Marshall Plan,
designed to promote a new beginning for post-
WWII Europe. The benefits of international
cooperation, free trade, democratic (re)education,
multilingualism, tolerance of multi-ethnic
societies, and the promise of a ‘New United States
of Europe’ were translated into audio-visual
narratives featuring boys and girls from all over
Europe, symbolising the future generation
according to American democratic ideas. These
films, alongside radio and advertising, were crucial
elements of mass media propaganda for
democracy, which used recurrent re-enactments of
economic success stories attributed to Marshall
Plan aid (Mehring, 2012:2). By making use of
young people as actors to introduce the ‘new
Europe’, the European Reconstruction Program
the official name for the Marshall Plan – redefined
Europe as ‘young Europe’. Ironically, ‘new’ and
‘young’ seem to have been the European’s chosen
adjectives to define the mythic notion of the
America (Ellwood, 2012).
If, from its early reception in Europe, jazz has
been embraced as a symbol of the exotic (Gioia,
1989) and elevated by Europeans to ‘serious
music’ during the interwar period (Prouty, 2010),
in post-WWII the desire for consuming American
cultural products increased even more.
The profusion of Hollywood’s 1930s and
1940s musical films often featuring jazz musicians
on screen; the dissemination of V-discs by
American troops in WWII across liberated
European countries; the European exile of many
prominent American jazz musicians; and even
French Nouvelle Vague’s mystification of American
popular culture references taking jazz as its constant
soundtrack were only some of a whole range of
contributions to the notion of cultural imperialism.
However, over the course of time, Europeans
seem to have gradually incorporated American
cultural symbols and products as their own and
have abstracted them from many of their American
foundations. American cultural icons in Europe
today are essentially value neutral, perceived as
icons of a global youth culture (Dunne & Tonra,
2.3 Between displacement and belonging.
From Hot Club in Lisbon, to Jamboree Jazz Club
in Barcelona, the Unterfahrt in Munich or La
Fontaine in Copenhagen, we can see the same
iconographic elements: print-memory from
previous local jazz festivals, pictures of jazz
musicians, and even the display of old trumpets or
saxophones on the wall. When combined, these
elements nurture a narrative and convey a very
precise message: you are in a jazz club. Apart from
the local dialect featured on the flyers lying on the
tables, almost everything else loses its locality.
That jazz club could be anywhere else in Europe, if
not anywhere else in the world and even maybe at
any time in history. In most cases, those iconic
elements and narratives seem to be used as ways to
legitimise that place’s jazz authenticity; and as
result of that, local features appear to be constantly
blurred by global communicational codes.
Jazz artists live between displacement and
belonging. On the one hand, both jazz and jazz
communities have been and are, more and more,
global and nomadic, less and less associated to a
particular culture. On the other hand, part of an
artist’s jazz identity is his or her nationality.
2.4 The white canvas. This paradox is even
more evident in the case of European jazz artists.
In the course of my PhD research on jazz networks
in Europe, from 2011 to 2015, I interviewed many
jazz musicians from different parts of Europe and
some from the US. In contrast to American jazz
musicians, most European jazz musicians thought
of themselves as free from the weight of the jazz
tradition. However, at the same time, when asked
to elaborate on why they choose to play jazz, they
often engaged in a discourse very close to the
American narrative, justifying their choice through
their assertion that jazz is a symbol of
multiculturalism, pro-active democracy, and
struggle for the individual voice.
This seemingly ambivalent discourse and
puzzling, at first – between rejecting a parallel with
the ‘other’ while adopting his narrative is
ultimately the core of theories developed around
the notion of identity from authors such as Jacques
Derrida, Stuart Hall and Simon Frith. Derrida’s
(1982) principle of ‘constitutive outside’
establishes that it is impossible to draw an absolute
distinction between interior and exterior every
identity is irremediably affected by its exterior. In
a markedly similar approach, for Hall (1996)
identity is built through the relation to the ‘other’
the relation to what it is not, to precisely what it
lacks and to what it does not want to be.
While elaborating on the reasons for their
choices to play jazz – as Europeans –, the musicians
may have done precisely that: they reject jazz as
their musical tradition but they take its idealised
narrative – thus projecting their own ideal of what
jazz should or might be. In fact, an identity is
always already an ideal, what we would like to be,
not what we are (Frith, 1996:121-123). And for
European jazz musicians, in the face of a musical
genre that is traditionally assumed as not their
own, jazz may work as a white canvas on which
they impose their own narrative on musical
Identity is a dynamic process constructed both
internally and externally. Similarly, it is crucial to
assume that the establishing of an official jazz
narrative may be a key element to that process.
Jazz’s official narrative has been largely built by
instituting differences and finding similarities
between jazz and other music genres. Moreover,
the narrative around music may verbalise social
and political ideals, thus providing music its
meanings. The European jazz narrative is deeply
rooted in its historical reception of American jazz
and the appropriation of its anecdotes, styles, and
its glorification of individualism. The European
jazz narrative is deeply rooted in absorbing the
American liberal capitalist metropolitan ideology.
Any official narrative is the construction of a
myth, which may or may not concur with practice.
It is a goal, constantly in construction as is the
case with the myth of Europe.
As argues, the construction of identity is a
‘form of self-understanding’ that is ‘accomplished
when identities are being changed’ (Rice,
2007:26). Perhaps jazz actors tend to construct
their discourses around their métier as a form of
better understanding it and defining their role
within it. Europe’s identity, as Bohlman (2004)
debates, is ever-changing. Maybe jazz actors in
Europe create narratives around what jazz in
Europe is by projecting their idealised notion of
what Europe should be.
3.1 European mobility and all that jazz. In
2004 the European Parliament together with the
European Council issued the Directive
2004/38/EC, which granted EU citizens the right to
work and reside freely within member states. Three
years later, when the implementation of that
Directive was on the agenda, the EU Cultural
Programme for 2007-2013 established three main
objectives: ‘transnational mobility of cultural
players’; ‘transnational circulation of artistic and
cultural works and products’; and ‘intercultural
dialogue and exchanges’. Shortly after, the
Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive
Agency (EACEA) issued the Programme’s official
brochure, introducing some of the projects that had
been granted financial support. One of those was
Europe Jazz Network a trans-European umbrella
organisation with around 90 members, which
includes national and non-national organisations
venues, associations and festivals (Goh, 2011),
whose info made very convincing links between
‘jazz’ and ‘mobility’ inside Europe. In fact, the
whole notion of jazz networking across European
States is very close to the Programme’s motto and
the brochure’s title: Crossing Borders
Connecting People (2007).
‘The World of jazz’ was perceived here as an
embodiment of Europe’s ‘mixing and cross-
fertilization of cultures’, and of ‘the positive impact
of migration patterns on Europe’s culture’.
Towards the end, the short text concluded that
‘the positive experience of jazz encouraged a more
widely held appreciation of the enriching impact of
migration on European culture in general’
(Crossing Borders, 2007:32).
3.2 Cultural, economic and geographic
peripheries. Mobility is indeed an essential part of
jazz practices in Europe. However, cultural,
economic and geographic factors establish crucial
differences between European jazz artists. On the
one hand, there are substantial dissimilarities
between the levels of commitment and investment
that each European country makes towards cultural
policies to support its national jazz sector. On the
other hand, the geographic factor within the
European Continent is also a significant one.
Scandinavian countries have a long history of
cultural policies designed to promote their jazz
artists domestically and abroad. Such fact is
particularly evident in the Norwegian case, where
specific funding schemes allow artists to tour
around Europe as part of the country’s
commitment to export national culture. Artists
from Central European countries such as The
Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and
Austria have the proximity factor on their side,
which allows them to surpass the impact of
distance when touring abroad. Contrariwise, artists
from peripheral countries such as Ireland,
Greece, Spain and Portugal suffer the
consequences of both the distance factor and the
lack of cultural policies that support the export of
national music.
These three differentiating factors cultural,
economic and geographic – are crucial to establish
contrasts in the impact that mobility has on the jazz
sector of each European country.
3.3 Erasmus and jazz education. Jazz
education in Europe has developed widely over the
past three decades. Institutions offering high
education in jazz performance have multiplied.
Some have established themselves as important
references to European jazz and became young
international talent attraction poles. The mobility
provided by Erasmus exchange programmes and
the growing demand for higher education have
created a new generation of musicians who seem
more integrated within Europe and who more
naturally develop collaborations with musicians
from other countries. Nevertheless, significant
differences between the kinds of education each
country offers seem to exist, which appears to be
closely linked to each country’s cultural and
educational policies.
Many young musicians perceived studying jazz
outside their countries a rite of passage. This
concept introduces an interesting angle on how
young musicians today perceive their process of
building a professional career. For them, mobility
is a fundamental part of their professional and
personal development. Studying and living abroad
are perceived as life experiences that can enable
easier access to a wider labour market and,
therefore, to wider prospects of success.
However, once arrived to that market, many
quickly realize the dimension of the competition
they now have to face. That competition has been
raised up to both trans-generational and trans-
European levels – trans-generational, because older
musicians have already settled their own space;
and trans-European, because mobility is now
3.4 Tracing movable objects. Musicians’
mobility may add new challenges. For local
cultural programmers, mobility may signify an
added difficulty in retaining a regular basis of
artists who they could create consistent
collaborations with. This fact may also
compromise the notion of national jazz identities,
which are the base for national culture export
policies. On the other hand, mobility also encourages
new aesthetic crossovers in European jazz. And
because jazz is in itself an essentially permeable
music genre, the outcomes of these crossovers will
surely be interesting to analyse in the future.
The fact that the construction of jazz identities
– as all others – is constantly being negotiated and
functions as a form of self-understanding through
music (Rice, 2007:26)
Mobility is an essential aspect of jazz practices
in Europe. Europe has been built as a culture of
networking cities, and as result European jazz
actors function within this logic.
Across countries, the very perception of what
jazz is as sound and as cultural experience
finds different meanings. Mobility opportunities
for artists across Europe are irregular. The intricate
set of factors associated with mobility deepens the
complexity of jazz practices in Europe. The
paradigm shift in the music industry; cultural,
economic and geographic peripherality and
centrality; the booming of jazz education across
Europe; Erasmus and similar programmes that
promote mobility for EU citizens are crucial
elements in mapping and understanding jazz as a
European music practice.
Jazz is created and reinvented in the process of
its dissemination and practice (Johnson 2002). I
suggest that jazz identities in Europe result from
the negotiation between discourse and practice
(Sassatelli, 2009). As such, jazz catalyses the
process of defining and redefining national and
pan-European identities somewhere between
displacement and belonging.
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Full-text available
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