Research Output
Continental Drift: 50 years of jazz from Europe
  Following popular exposure in France to the proto-jazz of James Reese Europe and his 369th “Harlem Hellfighters” Infantry Regiment during the latter years of WW1, the jazz bug took hold and, in the period that followed, spread throughout Europe. This new music from the USA, drawing on the ethno-cultural melting pot of New Orleans, provided a soundtrack to the new order that was forged following the two world wars. Its spread marked the beginning of Europe’s complex relationship to jazz, a music associated vari- ously with exoticism, vice, youth, cultural decay, liberation, US imperialism, civil rights, nuclear disarmament, and intellectual elitism.

During the past century, the cultural status of jazz has gone from popular to specialist, from entertainment to art, and in Europe, from an imported to an appropriated and repurposed music form. The initial eagerness by European musicians to emulate the American founding fathers of jazz has over time given way to national and regional reinterpretations of the genre. Examples of emergent European sensibilities in jazz creation and perfor- mance can be heard in the German free scene of the 1960s, and the “Nordic tone” associated with the ECM label in the 1970s. These departures from the genre’s American narrative, traditionally so intrinsically intertwined in its understanding, have necessitated the revisiting of the ontology of jazz in its post-globalisation context.

Continental Drift: 50 years of jazz from Europe took place in Edinburgh, Scotland on the 16th and 17th of July, 2016. A co-production between Edinburgh Napier University and the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, the conference was conceived to reflect the festival’s theme, a celebration of fifty years of European jazz. The notion of European jazz as divergently distinct from the genre’s American conception constituted the basis for investigation through a series of panel sessions.

The conference welcomed eminent panellists and presenters from across Europe and the United States drawn from academia, creative practice, and industry to interrogate and unpack the origin story, development, and emerging practices of jazz from Europe. The proceedings opened with ECM recording artist Marcin Wasilewski in interview with Haftor Medbøe as an introduction to the four themed panel sessions respectively titled “People and Histories”, “Places and Events”, Scenes and Networks”, and “Futures”. The chaired sessions probed themes of provenance, authenticity, hybridity, and innovation as applied to Europe’s contribution to the global jazz scene. Video and podcast legacies of these panel sessions are available from the conference website:

On each day the conference gave the floor to contributors on a variety of specialist topics. These took the form of 20X20 slide presentations and provided the basis for lively audience discussions. The conference organisers subsequently invited contributors to ex- pand on their presentations, and the resulting papers are collated in this publication.

  • Date:

    20 February 2017

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    M1 Music

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    780 Music

  • Funders:

    Edinburgh International Jazz & Blues Festival


Medboe, H., Bares, W., Webster, E., Frost Fadnes, P., Inglis, C., Kahr, M., …Heyman, M. (2017). Continental Drift: 50 years of jazz from Europe. In Z. Moir, & C. Atton (Eds.), Continental Drift: 50 years of jazz from Europe - Conference Proceedings. , (v-vi)




Jazz, New Jazz Studies

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