AUTHOR: IVO MARTINS
EDITION: Guimarães Jazz Journal #16 - Câmara Municipal de Guimarães/ Associação Cultural Convívio/ A Oficina DATE: November 2021
Senses feed us the primordial information, the bricks that our brain uses to build the houses of knowledge and the cities of thought. In those elaborations, words are the streets that connect and weave our behavior, and whose structure eventually becomes narrative. To listen is to be alone and accompanied at the same time, an adventure that implies engaging on a committed and reflexive relation with music. Each person’s brain is unique, and so is our genetic heritage; each and every person’s experience of the world is likewise diverse in content, which means that nobody listens to music the same way as another person, because human ears, being an open door to the outside of oneself, receive and process sounds differently. When in contact with at least more than one person, and even though the bricks we use are essentially the same, the same music is capable of generating very different kinds of architectural configurations because every and each person’s competences, skills and cultural backgrounds are uncopiable.
The ability to listen does not automatically imply a stronger critical sense. A yet to be deciphered mystery underlies such assumption; and, in fact, it is very difficult to explain why certain individuals with no knowledge of music whatsoever exhibit a highly sophisticated sensibility when dealing with the musical phenomenon. Art is not an exact science and jazz, being improvisation at its core, presents itself as a sort of black hole, an infinite and limitless space devoid of form. When we are confronted by a jazz live performance, we enter an obscure and unmapped zone; when affected by jazz, people liberate their thoughts, and ideas leap from word to word regardless of their evoked consequences and experimental conditions. In jazz things are not obvious and remain untouched by logic or meaning, therefore preserving its charm and blaze. In that sense, jazz’s language owes its beauty to the luxury of the signifier; it is only the excess of the signifier that allows music to preserve its magic, poetry and seductiveness.
In short: it is not necessary to possess a great theoretical knowledge of music to understand jazz. In order to capture the essence of improvisation we must look at it semiotically: the signifier, represented by the enclosure, is more important than its inner content, and relegates thediscovery of meaning to an ulterior moment. In jazz, the more we delay the presentation of thecontent, the more everyone involved engages on intense communion, which means the process of understanding is, in this case, endless. In that sense, the understanding of jazz may be perceived as a life project.
Narratives are basically assertive formulas we use to render ideas compatible with reality; they are communal experiences of participation that, despite its partiality and incompleteness, leave infinite presential testimonies behind them. In the end, a narrative is no more than the device we use to engage in the search for possible futures, alternative solutions conceived by an immense collective of individuals who, despite the absence of connections between them, are nevertheless capable of writing together a shared text. Such a text is therefore composed of countless fictions stimulated by the moments that form the history of Guimarães Jazz, fictions that are later integrated within a common totality of words, ideas, thoughts and actions.
In order to describe a complex structure, whose narration will eventually be lost in endless enumerations, unimaginable contingencies and ungrounded speculations, words are an essential tool of understanding. Like words, numbers are also incapable to explain everything: inescapable constraints, inevitable situations, surprising moments, unexpected results, unthinkable consequences, irreverent attitudes, creative acts, everything interferes with the reality of any living or cultural being. In the case of Guimarães Jazz, we must transcend the limits of common language and the cruelty of numbers if we want to describe or explain it.
A festival is a sort of hypertext, mostly obscure and unspeakable. If we follow this assumption, Guimarães Jazz appears as an anonymous and generic document whose content was built by many different people. Our connection with reality is based on the inclusion of distinct models of intervention, often suggested by their participants. As Bertrand Russel notes, there are two kinds of knowledge: that which is acquired by report and that which is lived in real time and in direct contact. The festival has always given priority to persons and to entities, ignoring distinctions; it was therefore capable of uniting the musicians, the public and the several entities which supported it since the beginning and throughout the last thirty years.
In the end, we are an extended experience of jazz music, manifested in polyvalent, transgenerational, complex, multidisciplinary choices that allow us to surpass the genre’s frontiers. The festival is open to all sorts of audiences and artists, from the younger generations to the fundamental musicians of jazz’s history, all comprised within a wide spectrum of musical horizons. By embracing all kinds of options, we achieve the public’s commitment to jazz while at the same time avoiding the perils of entropy. Each individual finds in Guimarães Jazz a form of expression, an open door to the world. Through diversity it is possible to form unprecedented and exquisite cohabitations that overlap each person’s individual status. This regime of proximity creates unique relations between everyone involved, elevating the festival to higher levels of human interaction.
We believe it is very important to avoid myopic fragmentations and to elude collective visions. Jazz must be put at the service of a general knowledge and not of limited conceptions that tend to exhaust themselves; it must extend to all creative strategies in order to avoid falling into the pattern of mere reproduction. It is, therefore, due to its humanist charge that the identity of the festival is somehow distinct; these are the details that grant Guimarães Jazz its reputation of a cultural event where reflection and critical questioning of dominant narratives are always welcome.
Jazz is not an unchangeable musical formula. It was upon this assumption that Guimarães Jazz was structured throughout time. It is obvious that such premise can be refuted; however, the festival was built upon this controversial and relative presupposition. We do not believe in strong and solid convictions; we do not condone extreme positions of orthodoxy and conservatism; we do not seek support in collective uniformity, where simple and easy certainties blend with undebatable matters and voices of reason. We dare thinking and deciding according to a basic principle of diversity in jazz, in music, in every artistic form of expression. We defend every style of jazz, of all its categories and classifications. We believe that the scope of this musical genre is not confined nor determined by factions, groups or elites, precisely because we know that nowadays jazz flows in confluence. In short, we believe that there are many things yet to be invented, therefore remaining nameless for the time being. Now, more than ever, the festival must represent a place open for intervention, transformed in an inclusive mechanism of shared ideas; it must, in other words, aspire to make the world a more plural, tolerant and democratic place, adapted to both the present and the future.
Guimarães Jazz is not a thematic festival but an open and multidisciplinary event, a platform that is not constrained to the presentation of only one type of music. We believed in this strategy from the beginning but this model of approach brought forth, throughout the festival’s history, some extreme and blunt criticism. Some important journalists and critics of the time believed in a more orthodox, preconceived and formatted approach to jazz; by presenting musical projects which were supported on abstract and more open aesthetic ideas, Guimarães Jazz collided with those predominant conceptions, and, consequentially, many concerts were subject to negative reviews. But in our hearts, we knew that these immutable positions of uncompromising defense of certain forms of jazz in spite of others were not susceptible of relativizing models or categories.
When a person acts according to extreme points of view many important things are lost, because there is no room for thought or doubt. Whoever is guided by pre-established concepts is not open to the speed of change and does not admit dialoguing with the surrounding environment. Artistic trends are constantly changing; today, it is impossible to make the same music that people did fifty, forty, thirty, twenty or even ten years ago. Circumstances developed rapidly, even though there are recognizable analogies between different genres; therefore, those whose thought and assimilation are crystallized in narrow formulas are not capable of doing any «concessions to the present reality of jazz music. Radical thinking lacks creativity, which ultimately leads to the incapacity of manifesting an ethical attitude towards art. The ethics in art are defined by the possibility of a given cultural actor to put himself in the shoes of the “other”; when we face the responsibility of a choice, we must therefore be clever and know how to minimize the weight of such a position. By acting this way, we are contributing to enable the thinking of the “other”, his ideas, opinions and testimonies, thereby offering them the opportunity to be the protagonists in our own scenario.
Nowadays it is easy to find in the cyberspace all kinds of musical groups, according to styles and categories that are related to jazz’s history: swing, bebop, free jazz, fusion jazz, electric jazz, etc.; if we look at the selling platforms, we often find new playlists accessible to every user. The algorithmic suggestions are extracted from those which are considered the fundamental masterpieces of jazz, now realigned in a new, more generic and uncompromised, almost exclusively utilitarian, segmentation regime – JazzRelax, LateNightJazz, JazzClassics, JazzX-press, JazzRomance, SmoothJazz, ChilledJazz, etc. Such reorganization of taste prevents the understanding that jazz is much more fragmented, diffuse and rootless. Within this sort of conjecture, the essential aspect of construction is dependent on the expression of weak identities; new nomenclatures, based on acritical and more flexible and pragmatic notions, arise.
In such circumstances, any movement we may undertake requires abandoning the old vocabulary and inventing a new digital world, a new reality supported on a disruption of categories. However, and despite social media, people still need groups in order to solidify their identity and existence; they need communities that they can use to extenuate the nefarious effects of a multitudinal solitude. It is impossible to regress this unstoppable path towards the abyss; freedom and spontaneity were sold out and, as result, music is currently facing an explicit crisis of identity.
When we compare the most recent musical categories with the old ones, we become perfectly aware of the economic changes and dependencies generated by the economic system, and notice that the old notions were intimately connected with creativity and freedom. The history studies and researches carried out by countless academics certify the veracity of the concepts that were perfected throughout time. Such a nomenclature of names and denominations was a sign of internal cohesion; nowadays, on the contrary, the categories are superficial and directed towards consumerism. Those categories buy out feelings of belonging and ensure ephemeral and easy-access sensations of security based on feeble links. These relations are immediate and disposable; the pretense cosmopolitism of such nexus, often referred to by contemporary culture as one of its most beautiful manifestations, collapsed into an illusory romanticism aiming only the promotion of musical entertainment, idleness and profit. Contemporary identity is homogeneous and depends on clicks; this is a zombie culture under the aegis of an inconsequential and painless psychic stupor. Right now, the old formalities and protocols of identification are no longer applicable because everything is derisive; to be pragmatic is to participate in consumerism and, indirectly, to zeal for revenue growth; as for the rest, any person can be inconsequential because nobody risks facing accusations of heresy.
As we said before, jazz is not a culturally or geographically determined reality, it is not a fixed state constrained by a set of immutable rules or by an easily detectable structure. Art, like music, is a disinterested activity devoid of an end in itself; it is not useful in practical terms. But it is precisely because of that that art can convey a worldview susceptible of being incorporated in a redeeming way in our existence – against arbitrariness and contingency. In order to liberate us from our fragile human condition, the work of art must be supported by enduring commitments and genuine emotions; in this sense, tradition is a constantly evolving territory, where new and unexpected creations germinate. In its essence, what Guimarães Jazz aims is to explore the strength of the work of art, fomenting the enduring commitments and genuine emotions that are the fundamental condition of freedom of the individual from his subservience to consumerism.
In living beings, perceived as biological systems, the functioning of the organism depends on the various elements’ capacity to establish relations according to an internal organization. This happens through processes of survival, meticulously selected by the species’ evolution. We know that the brain is controlled by an exquisite harmony between excitement and inhibition; if any of its parameters exceeds the discharge of nervous impulses to the point where it starts generating new pathologies, a compensation is immediately activated. Therefore, any biological organism suffers since its birth to its death several alterations in its relations of control, disturbing the balance between the organs and the outside environment. Aging is another factor of disruption, but it is such a slow process that it may remain unnoticed. The elementary parts of an organism, which worked harmoniously during the most part of the organism’s life, begin to lose control of the former order, falling into an irreversible state of disorder; in that sense, it is possible to sat that every organism is subject to the laws of physics, whose principles regulate all processes according to the passage of time.
Science has analyzed this problem and found out general laws susceptible of explaining such phenomenon; biologists went even further in their studies and introduced an easy measure of understanding the degree of disorder observed in a system in transformation. The notion of entropy was invented in order to establish the notion that when the organism starts to lack the ability to incorporate new external energies into the system, it will necessarily collapse. Throughout history, the human body was used as a metaphor to explain the movements of social bodies; in fact, organizations form systems formed by parts, where individual or collective entities interact according to common goals. The scientists discovered that by maintaining a good mode of organization, they will be able to produce more and in better conditions; in short, they understood that an organism working alone is much more limited in its control of the elements, and that every organ plays a specific fundamental role. But it is obvious that, when the system is unable to regenerate, problems emerge from the discrepancies between internal and environmental mechanisms.
Guimarães Jazz is, like any other living or social being, a kaleidoscope that becomes transparent when perceived retrospectively. The festival changed throughout time, fearlessly facing the inevitable discrepancy between reality and fiction. In the course of three decades of existence we put into practice utopian visions, having both failed and succeeded. We took risks without ever losing the perspective of reality. The audience, that anonymous and abstract entity, was never represented as an immutable group of individuals and interests devoid of content, because our intention was always to revive an idea of public space perceived as a social and cultural integrated sphere. All the structural changes that took place in Portuguese jazz are the consequence of concepts emanating from all sorts of meditations; Guimarães Jazz is exempt from the task of classifying thought because each individual who participates in it is at the same time an agent and an observer, and the ideas that he constructs are the fundamental element of understanding of change.
Today, thirty years after its foundation, the festival lives in a different time because many things nhappened around it, forcing us to engage on constant adaptations and changes. Currently, we are witnessing a silent paradigm shift; the anthropological conception that elevated mankind to the unique status of autonomous producer of knowledge was replaced by a system of mass extraction and processing of data. In face of the technological power of intelligent machines, mankind was forced to resign its role as sole creator of knowledge; therefore, we ceased to be sovereign cogent subjects to become mere users of a knowledge produced by super-intelligent mechanisms. This new mode of production of a sort of knowledge activated by data renders human’s activity and conscience useless; major quantities of information are extracted from the digital track of our behavior, thereby excluding the individual from a realm of reality that was once based on his capacity to think and understand. With the emergence of methods of quantification and parametrization, subjects almost disappear, becoming dependent of a set of algorithms formed by colossal flows of information and managed by extremely powerful computers. The new knowledge produced by big data goes far beyond our wildest imagination; our cognitive capacities cannot be compared to those of super-intelligent machines; we feel as if we were being overcome by computerized devices that focus all its activity on calculus.
In the future, Guimarães Jazz, as an event imagined and planned by human beings, may well be reduced to a mere set of data; however, nowadays we know the pure access to information does not give people more freedom because the ability to communicate is directly correlated to the power of surveillance. The processing of information produces a kind of totalitarian knowledge, and that means we are living strange and complex times in which people are controlled and influenced in every decision. While the algorithm numerates, the narrative that is set in motion by thinking enumerates; on the other hand, the reduction of every human activity to data renders people’s choices transparent, transforming them into totally pornographic forms of ostentation. The human being is a player by nature, but in the context of data processing he lacks the space to engage in his games; how many times did we desire that our contact with the world would overflow our chains of rationality?, how many times did we aspire for the emergence of new shapes, a magnificent precipitation of chaos and spontaneous events? Guimarães Jazz came out of this belief that music is capable of stimulating new cognitive faculties and, through them, generating new knowledge based on games of imagination and creativity. Considering our current circumstances, we must admit that we live in difficult times as far as culture is concerned; the role of mankind, perceived as the unique owner of the marvelous ability to think, is on the brink of extinction; what will follow, we do not know.
We live in times when our survival is dependent on the anticipation of trajectories of evolution. Several questions come to mind: how can we preserve the festival’s coherence in the face of all these threats to its integrity? Will we be able to overcome the prevailing logic of the system? Will Guimarães Jazz continue to be a unique event, an unprecedented and unclassifiable being whose founding strength is still alive? How can we conserve its inventive energy, allowing it to climb through the obstacles of time? We often come across doubts and self-questioning; the best way to analyze Guimarães Jazz is by not talking about it explicitly, but by discovering its main features as if they were archaeological findings. We must probe our memories and extract strange stimulus from them, original and even unimaginable thoughts; the festival then becomes unprecedented in the sense that it smudges within the horizon of time, but this particular discovery does not convey a meaningful knowledge of its logic, problems, perils, vices, defects and detours. Guimarães Jazz is understandable because it escapes the eye; the understanding of its structure invests us with the power of distorting reality, rendering it harder to expound the essential preludes of its construction. In order to articulate an effective selfcriticism, we are forced to support our narratives on lucid and convincing refutations; in order to understand something, it is necessary to introduce actions in structures of time that appeal to narration.
What is admirable in Guimarães Jazz is the fact that it overcame the dream-phase; it became a project because, due to its resilience, it went beyond the barrier of inconsequential acts. The festival was not afraid of taking risks in the context of a globalized world; it did not allow itself to become a phantom device, obsolete and maladjusted to the world’s current requirements. In that sense, perhaps one of the festival’s most relevant features is the feeling that it still envisions yet to be discovered future possibilities. There are still many things to accomplish in order to inscribe this festival in a continuous current of time devoid of pre-established stages. At its core still vibrates a peculiar movement of expansion, based on a non-sequential and nonchronological dynamic, proponing perception as a both viable and imaginable thing, guided towards what will come.
TRANSLATION: MANUEL NETO