Cultural Values in International Jazz Competitions

Cultural Values in International Jazz Competitions

A research project (2019–2021) funded by the Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO), hosted by the University of Antwerp (Belgium) - project number 208720N

This project aims to enrich our knowledge of the cultural value and artistic meaning surrounding jazz by investigating how international jazz competitions can be used to (re)produce, articulate, and negotiate specific values and beliefs about the music, such as collectivity, exceptionalism, and tradition. This is achieved through a multi-layered comparative analysis of two of the most prestigious and longest-running international jazz competitions, the B-Jazz International Contest (1979, Belgium; formerly the Jazz Hoeilaart International Contest) and the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz International Competition (1987, US; formerly the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition).

Competitions have thus played a crucial role in mediating many of the cultural ideologies identified with jazz, i.e. the core beliefs and values that have come to define jazz’s meaning and significance. Identifying, mapping, and analysing these beliefs and values is vital for understanding the multiple tensions that exist within the music’s history between different social groups and classes, between European and American approaches to the music, and between local and global perspectives on its development. The project will primarily concentrate on an analysis of the organisational, operational, and artistic dimensions of both competitions. Specifically, I want to understand how three critical groups of people involved in these events — the organisers, the judges, and the competitors — navigate general issues such as the selection of participants, artistic and technical standards, choice of repertoire, and performance practices. But I also want to observe how these competitions mediate more substantial claims about jazz, its history, and its traditions: its cultural significance, its social value, its aesthetic qualities, and its political meaning.

As research on jazz contests is virtually non-existent, this project will extend and expand our understanding of the meaning and significance of jazz practices by gathering historical and demographic data about music competitions and offering innovative interpretations of the cultural values on which they are based. As such, it aligns with recent scholarly concerns with cultural dynamics and meaning-making, and its results will be of particular interest to music scholars, professionals from the cultural and creative industries, and conservatoire educators and students.

This project was funded by the Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO) under the project number 208720N. It was hosted by the University of Antwerp (Belgium) within the Media, Policy, and Culture research group, and ran from 2019 to 2021.