Gender and Identity in Jazz – Call for Papers zum 14. Darmstädter Jazzforum 2015

Das Jazzinstitut Darmstadt kann 2015 auf 25 Jahre Wirkungsgeschichte zurückblicken. Im Rahmen des Jubiläumsjahres findet vom 1. bis 4.  Oktober 2015  das 14. Darmstädter Jazzforum  statt. Thema ist „Gender and Identity in Jazz“. Angesichts der Tatsache, dass Jazzmusik bis zum heutigen Tag eine Männerdomäne ist und dass im künstlerischen eine Frauenquote fragwürdig bleibt, kommt diese internationale Tagung genau im rechten Moment. Die Jazzzeitung veröffentlicht den englischen Pressetext sowie den Call for Papers.

Jazz used to be a predominantly male music. Not only were most of the musicians male, but its aesthetics and social environment was dominated by male ideals and male players as well. In the public perception of this music women as well as other groups or identities not compliant with the male orientation of jazz’s origins played only a minor role. Strong female instrumental voices, for instance, or musicians with a LGBT background were marginalized both by the media and by the jazz scene, seen as an exception or celebrated as a fig-leaf for the alleged openness of the music.

Celebrating the Jazzinstitut’s 25th anniversary, the 14th Darmstadt Jazzforum will approach the gender topic from different sides. We are aware of the fact that there is no „female jazz“ or „male jazz“, that music in itself does neither have a gender nor a sexual orientation. And yet our identity which we acquired in our respective environments are highly influential on how we express our creativity, how we think about art and music, which associations we may have with specific genres if not even with specific sounds. „I don’t care whom you’re screwing“, said the pianist Orrin Evans in September 2014 at the first „Queer Jazz Festival“ in Philadelphia, „as long as you’re screwing somebody“ – music, after all, is a taking place between people, it’s not a hermit’s art.

How, then, is our identity forming our understanding of jazz? Or to be even more precise: Is jazz really a man’s music? And if so, where exactly do its male attributes come from? Is some kind of emphasis on masculinity in the African-American community one of the reasons for the stereotype of jazz as a male art form? How can such an attitude be described – and how does it translate into other cultures? Why, for instance, doesn’t the slow softening of masculine values in global pop music since the 1970s have a stronger effect on jazz? Or is this actually happening and we just don’t notice it because of the general changes we experience around us? Are there musical qualities which are determined through identity (if not through gender)? We know about and acknowledge gender-typical approaches and methods of problem-solving in many other fields; can we identify such in music? Do men play more aggressively, are women more anxious to reach a consensus? Are words such as „empathetic“ or „forceful“ clearly linked to specific gender characteristics? What is the difference between the self-view and the independent view of this topic? How does one deal with the phenomenon that a musician such as Gary Burton makes clear that, of course, he does not play „gay jazz“, yet acknowledges that after his coming-out many of his colleagues told him he sounded much „freer“?

How, then, does one take the roles one is playing in the real world along into an art form which is about „playing yourself“ on the one hand and which deals with an open kind of communication of specific individuals on the other hand? Jazz, after all, is one of the most individual approaches in the music field; it seems odd to argue that one’s personal background has no influence whatsoever on the musical result. „Where you come from is where you go to“, is at least part of the rule: Whoever you are, will define what and how you will play and perform.

At our 14th Darmstadt Jazzforum we plan to look at different views on this complex field of topics. We will focus on three thematic blocks. (1) We will discuss topics such as masculinity / gender / intersectionality / identity. (2) We will invite some analytical case studies, in which the art of specific musicians is being approached without first looking at the gender aspect of their music. (3) A third block is to bring us into the lived-in reality both of days gone by and of today’s world, allow for focused views into jazz history and for conversations with men and women active on today’s jazz scene.

The view of jazz musicians and their art may be distorted if we reduce them to any parts of their identity, be it their gender, their sexual orientation, their ethnicity, or anything else. However, to ignore these facets, be it in jazz history or today’s jazz scene, is a proof of neglect as well. At the 14th Darmstadt Jazzforum we hope to contribute to a discourse which is and remains important in our changing modern world.

Call for papers

The organizing committee welcomes proposals for presentations which focus specifically on the subject as described above. Please make sure to mention which of the three blocks outlined above your proposed paper might fit into.

Presentation length:

between 25 and 35 minutes (including all musical examples)


English (preferred) or German. We strongly recommend English language papers. We will not provide simultaneous translation.

Deadline for proposals:

31 March 2015

A proposal of ca. 300 words should be sent to Wolfram Knauer (

Accommodation / Fees

There will be no conference fee. We will provide accommodation for all speakers and pay a small honorarium which includes the subsequent permission to print your paper in our book series „Darmstadt Studies in Jazz Research“.


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