Jazz in Portugal: The Legacies of Luís Villas-Boas and the Hot Clube de Portugal

Salwa Castelo-Branco


Hot Clube de Portugal




Jazz in Portugal has only recently been an object of academic research (Martins 2006; Roxo e Castelo Branco in press; Roxo 2009, 2010), notwithstanding a few publications going back to the 1920s (Curvelo 2002; Duarte 2000; Ferro 1924, 1928). The lack of scholarly research on jazz perhaps explains why narratives about jazz in Portugal are primarily based on mythical accounts, perpetuated by journalists, promoters, critics and aficionados. Some of these writers intervened directly in central events and processes contributing to the reception and performance of jazz in Portugal. However, their narratives are frequently marked by subjective and laudatory readings that emphasize specific processes, while neglecting others. As Roxo proposed (2009: 232), the proliferation of laudatory and legitimating discourses, emphasizing the primordiality of contributors (the 1st promoter or jazz club) were the basis for attempts to construct a history of jazz in Portugal. This scenario constitutes the point of departure for this research proposal. Preliminary research by Roxo (Ibid.) and Roxo & Castelo-Branco (in press), suggests that, up to the mid 1940s, “jazz” was a broad and vague concept that denoted music and dance associated with the ideal of the modernity of American popular music. But, it was also used to designate a music ensemble (the ‘jazz’, ‘jazz band') that performed in events centered around dance (going to the ‘jazz’).

Luís Villas Boas’ (1924 – 1999) efforts to disseminate jazz contributed decisively to the delimitation of the concept of jazz. His perspective coincided with the discourse that became widespread in Europe through the contribution of influential French jazz critics in the 1930s and 1940s. Eleven years following the publication in France of Le Jazz Hot (1934) by Hugues Panassié (1912- 1974), Villas-Boas attempted to adapt in Portugal the strategies and conceptions of jazz inspired by the Hot Clube de France (founded in 1932) and by the perspectives and action of French jazz critics and promoters like Panassié and Charles Delaunay (1911-1988) with whom he was frequently in contact and from whom he received support (Santos 2007). In this way, Villas-Boas became predominantly responsible for the formation of a discursive field centered on the practice of jazz with clearly defined aesthetic (and social?) boundaries that was initially based on the concept of “Jazz Hot” as “real jazz music”.
Like Panassié, Villas-Boas started by disseminating “Jazz Hot” in the radio program Hot Club (broadcast in 1945 through the Emissora Nacional, and between 1946 and 1969, the Rádio Clube Português). The program was educational, alternating music audition with information on the historical and social context of jazz. In 1946, Villas-Boas took the first steps to found the Hot Clube de Portugal (HCP). The statutes were approved in 1950 and it integrated the European network of hot clubs. It maintained regular activity until the building in which it was housed burned down in Dec. 2009.
Villas-Boas stimulated the practice and audition of “authentic jazz” by publishing newspaper articles; presenting talks and radio and television programs; recruiting jazz musicians in Lisbon’s night clubs and light music orchestras as well as among American sailors in ships anchored in Lisbon; organizing jam-sessions; importing sound recordings; founding jazz clubs (HCP and the Louisiana Club); organizing concerts in which Portuguese and foreign musicians performed together; organizing international jazz festivals; establishing international contacts and friendships with jazz musicians and impresarios. Despite the fact that the contribution of Villas-Boas and the HCP is recognized by jazz aficionados in Portugal, discourse about the history of jazz is shrouded in mythical representations that reflect the contradictions that marked the action and historical trajectory of both Villas-Boas and the HCP throughout the institution’s 60 years of uninterrupted activities.

This project aims at analyzing the processes that contributed to the constitution of Villas-Boas and the HCP as fundamental references for the practice of jazz since the second half of the 20th century, marking the reception of jazz in Portugal. It will be carried out by a multidisciplinary research team, including ethnomusicologists, sociologists, historians, and archivists. It will also benefit from the collaboration between INET and the HCP, the institution that owns Villas-Boas’ collection, an indispensible primary source for this Project. The Project will integrate Portugal in the international debates on the dissemination of jazz. It will also make available new knowledge, validated through in-depth research using hitherto unexamined primary sources that will contribute to the understanding of the processes associated with the reception, production and practice of jazz in Portugal during the colonial and post-colonial periods.

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