Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures
Bowler Hats and Waistcoats: British Trad-Jazz
As American jazz was challenging fascist/communist regimesor not, as the case may beand spreading its gospel through U.S. State Department-sponsored tours the world over, the British traditional jazz revival of the 1950s and 1960s sought to color the New Orleans-inspired music with a decidedly British identity. In his paper, Questions of National Identity in the British Traditional Jazz Revival, the BBC's Alyn Shipton discussed the incorporation of English folk songs, typified by trumpeter Humphrey Lyttleton's reworking of "One Man went to Mow" and clarinetist Acker Bilk's red, white and blue waistcoats and bowler hats, to more subtle musical representations of British tradition and also of a changing society influenced by mass immigration from the former British colonies.
Shipton questioned whether the "trad boom" used British stereotypes as marketing devices and whether collaborations with Caribbean musicians were genuine expressions of the growing multi-culturalism of Britain. Certainly, Shipton recalled, the traditional-jazz revival was immensely popular in Britain, with Chris Barber selling out venues of several thousand people every night. One conclusion that Shipton drew was that just as the American jazz musicians of the 1960s had sought to escape the grasp of Charlie Parker's influence by forging new sounds, so too did British traditional-jazz musicians attempt to create a uniquely British brand.
Presenting, Disseminating, Consuming
Shipton, alongside Sebastian Scotney of London Jazz , Alexander Kan from the World Service and this author, took part in the Jazz and the Media Panel, part of a wider conference theme about the way jazz is presented and consumed these days. Just as jazz magazines face increasing competition from on-line jazz sources and social media, jazz radio is also challenged by consumers' new listening habits and by commercial/national radio's preference for more popular genres of music. Shipton's Jazz Library show on BBC Radio 3 attracts 200,000 listeners for the one hour show, suggesting that the audience for jazz is perhaps greater than the ten hours per week that the BBC currently allots for jazz. However, as Shipton noted, the BBC considers itself to be the home of classical music.
There was plenty of food for thought during the discussion and a healthy dose of shared optimism in the future role that the various branches of jazz media will play in advocating jazz. Perhaps, however, the inclusion of a hard-copy jazz magazine writer would have contributed to a wider debate, particularly given the precarious health of printed publications these days.