Final Comments to Michael Kahr “Upper Styrian Big Band Folk: Exploring Local Identity and Authenticity in Jazz “
The idea of exploring authenticity by combining aspects of local culture with a style of music that was distinctly local to a very different part of the world and expanded to a global music is compelling. The author provides an interesting analysis of the unique integration of jazz into the musical practices of a community far removed from the original jazz community. The similarities of the Austrian folk traditions and jazz are exemplified in this piece through the traditions of improvising harmonic parts and impromptu jamming in homes and social gatherings. The fusion of the two traditions as an expression of local identity remains questionable though. Several times we get the reference of being “cool”, meaning the younger generations adopted jazz as their expression of a distinct social status in contrast to their peers. The analysis is also quite personal from the perspective of someone who joined the “cool” crowd to the extent of leaving for several years before returning home due to a job opportunity. While the project is a wonderful example of community engagement and bringing together a variety of art forms, the descriptors ‘identity’ and ‘authenticity’ should be used with caution. In Part III, the author himself replaces these concepts with ‘significance’, which seems much more appropriate. In our current global culture, many indigenous art forms are endangered of losing their authenticity through fusion with other art forms. Hence, I perceive the outcome of the project as a significant collaboration between the practitioners of authentic Austrian traditions and the adapters of the “cool” art form of jazz, hence validating the variety of musical engagements and opportunities in the area rather than an expression of authenticity.
The author mentions meaning and enjoyment as outcome but no specific evaluation methods on how that was determined. Of course, there is no objective evaluation method for such subjective feelings, but an attempt to get feedback in terms of surveys, testimonies from the participants, from the community, from support personnel (i.e. recording engineers, concert producers), numbers for CD sales, distribution methods etc would be extremely useful for the process of transfer. I would be intrigued by a follow-up project that collects comments/ reflections from all personnel involved, the audiences at initial performances, buyers of the CD, as well as statistics on ticket and CD sales and promotional efforts for the project.
Overall, this is a most valuable and current topic and the reader is immediately intrigued by the potential of such combination of distinct art forms. The musical piece is unique and deserves acknowledgement, and the pride of the composer in being able to validate his and his region’s diverse musical background is obvious. The work is reminiscent of Vivaldi’s attempts to capture nature in his music, or the work of nationalistic composers as they combine classical with folk traditions. Now that the composer “gave birth” to this offspring of two separate folk traditions, we would like to learn about the reception of the relatives and peers and the investment of the community.