Outside In: Wellington jazz among the discourses
The jazz community in Wellington, New Zealand, is vibrant and energetic: this small, geographically isolated city hosts between 90 and 100 jazz performances each month. Yet in terms of both New Zealand music and the international profile of jazz, Wellington (and New Zealand) jazz occupies a curious blind spot, absent from the scholarly and mainstream discourses of both. This absence is reflected in Wellingtonians’ own practice, in which perspectives from overseas (usually the U.S.) are privileged. Combining ethnography, practice-led research, and a variety of theoretical lenses, I examine the Wellington scene and its dynamics. Initially describing the local scene in geographical, economic, and social terms, I examine notions of “scene” and “community”, illustrating the ways in which they privilege dominant perspectives at the expense of a broader, collective identity. Through detailed case studies of central government music funding and the New Zealand School of Music jazz programme, I illustrate the dual hegemonies with which Wellington jazz musicians must contend: underlying discursive assumptions about the nature of both New Zealand music and the jazz tradition combine to leave local jazz in a liminal space, in which it arguably fits both categories, but is present within the discourse of neither. In the second part of the thesis, engaging with the discourses on authenticity in jazz, the tradition, and identity, I consider the nature of jazz expression. On one hand, ‘true’ jazz expression requires the performer to perform their identity; on the other, it is bound by a set of practices and/or aesthetics, deriving from a Black (or Blues) aesthetic. The combination of imperatives is problematic for musicians of other cultures, as E. Taylor Atkins (2001) has pointed out, and it is for this reason that jazz discourse remains largely rooted in the U.S. By turning the concept of authenticity in jazz back on itself, I propose that the creativity mandated by jazz aesthetics allows for new, culturally specific forms of jazz that draw on the individual identity of the performer, and which therefore sit firmly within the jazz tradition, at least in relation to particular definitions. Presenting a number of case studies, I illustrate the concepts of authenticity and identity in relation to performance in the Wellington scene: local musicians imbue the jazz they perform with new, locally specific meanings that derive from their own identity and context, despite overtly drawing on overseas influences. As a result, the jazz performed in local scenes like Wellington may fruitfully add to the discourses of both New Zealand music and jazz, by presenting additional perspectives that challenge preconceptions of both.