jump to navigation

Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra live on the BBC June 1933 March 5, 2016

Posted by wallofsound in Uncategorized.
comments closed


In many ways it is intriguing that the Ellington Orchestra got the opportunity to broadcast on the BBC at all, and the decision to include both an interview with Ellington on the day of his arrival, 9th June 1933, and a forty-five minute performance by the Ellington Orchestra three nights into his week run at the London Palladium, really is noteworthy.



Mayfair dance bands, the London Palladium and the BBC’s variety output

The BBC written archives contains very few clues to explain how the Ellington Orchestra live broadcast came about, and published accounts of the event tend to place an emphasis on the chronology or logistics of his BBC appearances within the Palladium shows, outline what was played, or quote the reaction of jazz fans and general radio listeners to the programme at the time. There are no explicit statements about why and how the decisions to broadcast Ellington were taken. In place of such primary materials, we need to ‘read’ the meanings of the Ellington first broadcasts through the scraps of evidence that do exist, framed through a greater understanding of the cultural politics of the BBC in the Britain of the time. The key components here are the very different cultural positions of the entertainment offered by Mayfair hotels and British music hall, the roles of bandleaders Henry Hall and Jack Hylton, and the contrasting cultural sensibilities of ‘sprightful entertainment’ and ‘adorned sophistication’.

The BBC broadcast the Ellington Orchestra between 8.00 and 8.45 on the National Service; the prime time slot for music hall and variety entertainment within the corporation’s output. The very idea of a variety slot in the BBC schedule goes back to the inception of the BBC as a commercial company coordinating regional broadcasters, when it became a standard practice to transmit such programmes from about 7.30 to 8.00 on two or three evenings a week. In many ways this reproduces the tendency of any new medium to present the forms of the dominant media that preceded them[5] . By 1927 these programmes had taken a standardized form and consistent programme name of Vaudeville, and in 1928, the programmed slot was taken up by the BBC’s new national service broadcasting on longwave frequencies from the Daventry transmitter in the Midlands, and most often produced in London. In March 1930, when the new National and Regional services replaced the regional broadcasters as the way the BBC presented itself to its listenership, the survival of the 8.00pm Vaudeville programming signaled a continuity of BBC service, while also shifting the origination of the content from regionally distinctive programming to London’s leading variety entertainers. Up until 1932 Vaudeville had become one of the BBC’s most broadcast forms of entertainment, matched only by the transmissions of jazz and dance music ‘relayed’ from Mayfair hotels in London. The contrast between the two forms marked by the differences in the 8.00 pm and 10.00 pm transmission times was sustained throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. By 1933, though, the name and the format was used far less frequently as the basis of programming. In part this was because radio was itself producing its own forms of entertainment that, while drawing upon the music hall traditions, were evolving into something new[6]. The idea of radio musical comedy increasingly replaced Vaudeville in BBC schedules, and the idea of light music and entertainment – drawing together a range of accessible classical forms of music and drama with music hall stars – emerged as a dominant institutional form within the corporation[7] .

Interestingly, then, almost exactly a year before Ellington’s arrival in Britain, the BBC’s in-house dance orchestra, led by Henry Hall, started appearing on the roster of acts in the (admittedly, now less frequently) broadcast Vaudeville slot. To many jazz aficionados this would have represented all that was wrong with the BBC’s treatment of jazz and dance music. Nevertheless, Henry Hall had actually been key the wider dissemination of dance music in Britain, even if he had placed in more firmly in orientation to music hall traditions and to linked it to a longer process of centralisation of entertainment and culture that had been at the heart of BBC policy for a decade. A Londoner by birth, Hall became a major force in provisional dance music, establishing his career in 1924 as a band leader in the Perthshire Gleneagles Hotel and linking the venue indelibly to BBC 5SC broadcasts of high society entertainment events. He started broadcasts on both the BBC’s Regional and its National Services in late 1930 from Manchester’s Midland Hotel, strangely keeping the Gleneagles Hotel band name he had established in the mid-1920s. Pivotally, though, he took over the BBC Dance Orchestra in 1932, developing it as one of the signature sounds of BBC output. In 1932 and 1933 Hall’s BBC Dance Orchestra broadcast 631 times from the BBC’s London studios, and these programmes started appearing as frequently at 5.15 across the week on the National programme from March 1933; although the regular late evening broadcasts continued on the Regional Programme. What had significantly gone, was the relay broadcast from London’s West End, and the ideas of urban sophistication which it articulated, replaced by a BBC studio music that could be broadcast for the whole range of listeners at any point in the schedule and in any chosen format. The BBC 1933 Year-Book sets out an interesting justification of this move in terms of focusing on the needs of the broadcast over the needs of dancers, the avoidance of poor acoustics found in dance halls and independence from the financial enticements of song-pluggers. The statement also sets out a justification for a “progressive” approach, which while allowing numbers with a “hot style” would accentuate “softer playing … with perhaps special instrumental characteristics”[8].

There is an intriguing mention in the Detector’s Melody Maker review of the live Ellington broadcast that earlier that week Henry Hall’s BBC Dance Orchestra had played Ellington’s ‘Best Wishes’, presumably in his 5.15pm broadcast on the 10th April[9]. The Ellington band played it themselves in their BBC broadcast and Detector claims it was dedicated to Great Britain. This may be repeating a claim Ellington made himself, because in an article published after his departure from the UK he asserts that he wrote the song while in the UK and played it for the first time in his BBC broadcast[10]. Of course, Detector may well have been wrong about the performance of the number by Henry Hall’s orchestra but, as the song had been recorded in New York the previous year, Ellington’s claim is rather undermined.

The Vaudeville programme title is itself interesting because, while French in origin it became the widespread name in the US for a public entertainment form that was more often called music hall or variety in Britain. The BBC department responsible for the Vaudeville programming actually took the more British name Variety, which tended to be used more widely to refer to the form of entertainment rather than the institution in which it was presented. The American-ness of Vaudeville was a constantly debated issue amongst senior staff within the BBC and, from memos stored in the BBC Written Archive it is clear, that for these managers, jazz and the wider body of music entertainment termed dance music, was located in this institutionalised space. As Kate Lacey puts it “the specter Americanization haunted the minds of many involved in shaping the output of the BBC” [11]. By 1933 these particular qualms had been neatly resolved in the new concept of light entertainment. This was a self consciously contrived ‘British’ rebuff to the perceived American-ness of Vaudeville, drawing upon selected scenes from Shakespeare, operetta, Noel Coward and popular dance bands to create an accessible radio culture. There was even a place for jazz soloists like Tatum as long as they played Tea for Two (No, No, Nanette)[12]. And Henry Hall was central to this development of light musical entertainment, no doubt drawing upon his experiences of organising the entertainment for the wealthy clients of the expensive provincial hotel chain in which he had learnt his craft.

Into this cultural politics of live and broadcast music sailed the Ellington band, docking at Southampton on 9th April 1933. Although Ellington and his band had developed their music in a very different kind of establishment, The Cotton Club Black and Tan, in the UK the band’s main performances took place in the fading grandeur of the best-known British music hall, the Palladium. By programming Ellington in its own ‘music hall’ slot, the BBC not only positioned his music as a particular form of entertainment, it drew on a whole set of institutionalised assumptions about what his music meant and how it would be presented and heard.

It is easy to imagine the alternative physical and cultural location into which the Ellington Orchestra could have been placed for its broadcast. Given the band’s strong association with The Cotton Club, it could have been booked to appear at one of the Mayfair hotels and particularly easy to envisage the BBC broadcasts being based upon a relay from the Savoy hotel; the mainstay of the BBC’s dance band remotes through the 1920s. Both the relay and the jazz age Mayfair hotel music venue seemed to have been in decline by 1932, but far less so than music hall, with its nineteenth-century origins. And while the palm court ambience of the Savoy was somewhat removed from The Cotton Club’s slave plantation-themed setting, it fitted exactly with the ideas of English aristocratic sophistication that Ellington had assumed as a personal persona and increasingly asserted in his compositions. I have argued elsewhere that Ellington’s success in the US can be seen as a product of his ability to negotiate the competing tensions of American ethnic and cultural discourse[13] , and we can see a very different version of this in relation to his meaningfulness to British audiences as well. I do not intend to suggest that he had the ability to be something to everybody; by 1933 he had, in fact, become a highly controversial figure within fields of both US and European cultural discourse of the time. Instead, I propose that his personal and musical meaning seemed to embrace the paradoxical and often contradictory tributaries of musical and cultural value that were in play at the time. From this position we can better make some speculative contributions to exploring this moment, and informed by a rich understanding of this cultural politics of music in the Britain of the 1930s and its institutionalization in live venues and broadcast organisations we can begin to tease out what Ellington meant in Britain at this time.

[1] Parsonage, Evolution of Jazz in Britain.

[2] The Radio Times 15th June 1925, pnk

[3] Duke Ellington, Music is My Mistress (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1973), 122.

[4] Godbolt, History of Jazz in Britain, 98.

[5] Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973).

[6] The analysis of BBC out put presented throughout this chapter is derived from the information provided in The Radio Times and made available through the Genome Project (http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk).

[7] See Simon Frith, “The Pleasures of the Hearth – the Making of BBBC Light Entertainment.” In Music for Pleasure: Essays in the Sociology of Pop (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1988).

[8] BBC. “The British Broadcasting Corporation Seventh Annual Report.” (London: BBC, 1933), 166.

[9] Detector, “Radio Reports.” In The Duke Ellington Reader, edited by Mark Tucker, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 78-79.

[10] Duke Ellington “My Hunt for Song Titles.” in The Duke Ellington Reader, edited by Mark Tucker (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 87-89.

[11] Kate Lacey, ” Radio in the Great Depression: Promotional Culture, Public Service, and Propaganda.” in Radio Reader: Essays in the Cultural History of Radio, edited by Michele Hilmes and Jason Loviglio, 21-40 (London: Routledge, 2001), 27.

[12] The Radio Times listing 15/02/33.

[13] Wall, “Radio Remotes”.

Exploring and understanding jazz and British radio in the 1930s February 27, 2016

Posted by wallofsound in British Jazz, Jazz, Music History, Music Radio, Uncategorized.
comments closed

On the 14th June 1933 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra broadcast live from the BBC studios on the National Service as part of the band’s first tour of Britain. A few days earlier, the BBC had interrupted its usual flow of programmes to broadcast a five-minute interview between Ellington and the sponsor of his whole visit, the British bandleader, Jack Hylton. The broadcasts represented an important moment for both jazz in Britain and for the BBC. The live June 1933 broadcast is widely cited in Ellington biographies and histories of British jazz, but it has almost no presence in the literature on the BBC’s development. This post explores some of the background to this broadcast in the political economy and organisational culture of the BBC at the time.

Ellington Orchestra in BBC studio 1933?

Understanding jazz and radio in the 1930s

Radio and jazz emerged at the same time, and they were each significant in the development of the other. Susan Douglas explains this link between medium and music as cultural transformation:

“it is in radio’s relationship to jazz that you see the beginnings of this invention’s nearly century long role in marrying youthful white rebellion to African American culture”.[1]

For Stephen Barnard , in Britain, jazz was a ‘problematic’ music for the BBC, caught between categories of entertainment and serious music and between notions of American and British culture[2]. In his account, jazz fitted uneasily into the BBC’s drive to domesticate popular music as a form of post-work relaxation, to centralise its production in London and to tame, for British listeners, those elements of American and African American cultural exoticism perceived to pervade hot jazz. However, these more sophisticated takes on the radio-jazz relationship tend to be overwhelmed by more totalising narratives about their historical correspondence. As I show, it is common in histories of jazz to suggest that the BBC ignored jazz in the 20s and 30s, a contention easily contradicted by the evidence of its broadcasts. Likewise, histories of broadcasting have tended to position the BBC as an overly culturally homogeneous organisation (which is easier to sustain as an argument) but then leap to the assumption that it was therefore overly dominated by its first Director General and narrow and paternalistic in its programming. To understand the Ellington Orchestra’s broadcast we need a sophisticated sense of how the BBC’s music programming operated in the early 1930s.


The BBC’s treatment of jazz

Early British radio, and its institutionalisation in the British Broadcasting Company from 1923, and the British Broadcasting Corporation from 1927, tends to be presented as stable, sometimes even monolithic, driven by common professional practices and a single, often personified, ideology. Of course, in the case of the early 1930s BBC this is the proposition that the BBC was a paternalist monopoly broadcaster dominated by the ideas of its Director General, John Reith. From this perspective, chroniclers of jazz in Britain have tended to dismiss the prewar BBC’s treatment of jazz as “haughty”, “niggardly” and “aloof”[6] and even “suppressing the whole spirit of individuality that was to be central to the future development and longevity of jazz”[7] . Even Barnard, in his otherwise insightful discussion, mistakenly allocates the Ellington live 1933 broadcast to the regional service and so erroneously draws the conclusion that it represented a lukewarm attitude to jazz[8]. Reith only occasionally made public announcements on jazz and the BBC, and the interpretation that these represented an antipathy to broadcasting jazz is not supported by what he actually said. Most often his statements rhetorically assume that jazz and popular music are staples of broadcast output, arguing that such programming offers a respite from hard, morally-improving work, but nevertheless he proposes that such output should not be the only content of radio programming[9]. Such a position is reflected in the output of the BBC at the time of the Ellington band’s tour. Each of its regional and national services typical daily broadcast for 13 hours, featuring between 90 minutes and two hours of live dance band broadcasts and some presence of jazz in the 45 minute programmes the BBC designated as ‘gramophone recitals’. At around 15% of programming this is far greater than any other type of output, including the widely perceived to be dominant forms of cultural-uplift programming, even on the London-originated National programme.

There was a precedent for Ellington’s 1933 tour and BBC broadcast, in a similar tour by Louis Armstrong exactly twelve months before, and the continuities and comparisons are useful in grounding our understanding. Parsonage’s study positions the arrival of Armstrong and Ellington as a culmination of a half-century of the Evolution of Jazz in Britain, and provides just such a detailed contrast of the reception and meaning of the two tours[10]. However, these visits perhaps better represent a rupture in the way that jazz was understood in Britain. These two innovators of jazz subsequently came to personify the two main trajectories in which jazz played out in European culture through the 1930s and into the war years. Put succinctly, Armstrong was increasingly taken to represent the notion that jazz was a folk music which needed to be understood through its origins, while Ellington was constructed as a modernist, and jazz as a new art form. These two new discourses became the dominant perspectives of British jazz fans. As I detail below, within the BBC a third trajectory is apparent in the BBC, in which the early elements of jazz form were incorporated into the BBC’s idea of light musical comedy, which itself would form the basis of the later idea of light entertainment.

It was Armstrong’s semiotic legacy that came to define jazz in the immediate post-war period but, as I will show, in the meantime it was to be Ellington’s approach which dominated both live and broadcast notions of jazz in Britain for a decade. The small group Chicago sound, which was extricable linked to Armstrong through his early 1920s recordings, became the foundation for the jazz fan Rhythm Clubs, their radio recreation in the BBC’s Radio Rhythm Club, and subsequently the distinctly European post war trad jazz movement. However, as I detail below, the BBC’s role in using Ellington as the reference point for a model of symphonic jazz created what became the prevailing notion of jazz in Britain in the 1930s.

Both Armstrong and Ellington went to the UK relatively early, and yet at key points in their rising US careers. Both were relatively poorly known in the UK only months before their arrival. Armstrong had already left behind the small group Chicago music he would be linked to so strongly by British jazz fans, and by 1930 he was recording with Dickerson’s band on Okey, had become a noteworthy performer in legitimate musical theatre and major Harlem dancehalls and adopted the crooning singing and recording style pioneered by Big Crosby[11] . As the 1920s turned to the 30s, Ellington had made appearances in two films, taken on Irvin Mills as his manager, extended the reach of his live radio broadcasts and signed an exclusive deal with Brunswick records, and in 1931 he left his residency at the Cotton Club to tour ballrooms and theatres across the US. When the Ellington Orchestra walked into the BBC studios in London just before 8.00pm on the 14th June 1933 they did so with the full weight of all these economic, cultural and musical practices swirling around them. What the next 45 minutes, and the following six years would mean for Ellington, jazz and the BBC were rooted in all that had come before and all that things could mean in the future

[1] Susan J. Douglas, Listening In : Radio and the American Imagination: From Amos ‘n’ Andy and Edward R. Murrow to Wolfman Jack and Howard Stern (New York, N.Y.: Times Books, 1999), 90.

[2] Stephen Barnard, On the Radio: Music Radio in Britain (Milton Keynes; Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1989).

[3] Michel Foucault and Colin Gordon, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980). Michel Foucault and Alan Sheridan, The Archaeology of Knowledge (London: Tavistock Publications, 1972).

[4] Foucault and Sheridan, Archaeology of Knowledge.

[5] The BBC’s Genome project, which makes full programme listings from The Radio Times available in an online searchable database (http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk) is an invaluable source for rich data source of information on planned programming and the way these programmes were framed by the BBC.

[6] Jim Godbolt, A History of Jazz in Britain 1919-50 (London: Paladin, 1986), 98, 109, 200.

[7] Catherine Parsonage, The Evolution of Jazz in Britain, 1880-1935 (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2005), 49.

[8] Barnard, On the Radio, 13.

[9] See, for instance, John C. Reith, Broadcast over Britain (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1924), 18.

[10] Parsonage, Evolution of Jazz in Britain, 221-260.

[11] William Howland Kenney, Chicago Jazz: A Cultural History, 1904-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993) , 164.

City culture and cultural identity and its role in economic success June 7, 2013

Posted by wallofsound in Cultural critiques.
comments closed

On Monday I am speaking at one of the Birmingham Made Me seminars.  This one, entitled Back to the Future – Our Heritage Brands is on 10the  June 2013 8:30 am to 2:00 pm at Millennium Point. BCU, Faculty of Technology, Engineering and the Environment Room 388

My presentation is on city culture and cultural identity and its role in economic success.  Here’s a short flavour of what it’s about:

This You Tube video is an extract from a 1965 American television spectacular which features the Motown singing group Martha Reeves & The Vandellas miming to their single ‘Nowhere To Run’ as they weave in and out of Ford’s Mustang assembly line at the Dearborn plant in Detroit. It links together the two things Detroit is most famous for to outsiders: the enormous international success of the late-1960s Motown Records, and the city’s dominance in the American car industry. This is the point at which mo(tor)town meets motor city.

It’s common when people see this video for them to ask, “did Motown pay Ford, or did Ford pay Motown to make the film?”  Actually, it was made to promote something entirely different. It’s an extract from a CBS TV 90 minute spectacular made for the US Office for Economic Opportunity, and broadcast on June 28, 1965. You’ll immediately get a sense of the whole programme from the title: It’s What’s Happening, Baby. This was an attempt by the television producers to bring together President Johnson’s ‘Great Society’ initiative with the idea of youth culture.

The sense of Birmingham, England as a motor city and producer of some great popular music may not have embedded itself so strongly in people’s consciousness, but it is, of course, part of our cultural and industrial heritage.

Many other cities summon up links in people’s minds between a place and a distinctive culture.  In music there’s New Orleans and jazz; Austin, Texas or Seattle and indie rock; and Chicago and Blues. But Venice, Paris and Bilbao make equally strong claims on culture as part of their identity. On a recent visit to China, I found that culture and the city are major preoccupations in discussions about the swift processes of industrialization and urbanization currently under way in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong

We have, though, to be careful about exactly what we mean by culture. Almost exactly 100 years before It’s What’s Happening, Baby Matthew Arnold was writing his proposition that culture is the “best that has been thought and known”.  And we keep that idea today in our museums and galleries, our conservatoires and concert halls, and our libraries and archives. In more modern times Raymond Williams offered a very different definition when he wrote in 1958, that “culture is ordinary”.  By that he meant that culture is our way of life, the bonds that tie us together as a people, the sense we have of ourselves in our everyday lives. We know what that means when we talk about Birmingham as a multicultural city, or when we discuss how we can promote a productive culture in our place of work.

I think that actually we need these two senses of culture: our traditions and our achievements, as well as our current senses of ourselves. And we need to understand how they play out in the city as sights, spaces and sounds. By that I mean we see our culture in the landmarks of our architecture, in the iconic buildings and in the skyline. We also see it in the spaces we inhabit, through which we walk as part of our working life or our leisure.  It is often neglected that we also experience it in the sound of the city. That includes the music soundtrack of the city, but also the sounds of everyday. In a recent series of radio programmes, David Hendy examined the way that sound structured our world, and made some interesting observations on the soundscapes of Amsterdam against, say, Los Angeles.

You may be asking what this has to do with the economic vitality of the city.  In fact there has tended to be an opposition between people interested in our economic well-being and those interested in our cultural life. The first can often see the latter as people out of touch with the realities of life, while the second dismiss the former for their philistine tendencies. In reality both are intimately linked. I trained first as an economist, and it is a core idea of the social sciences that culture is only possible once we have taken care of the basic requirements of life: shelter, clothing and food. We make culture out of the surplus of making things. And yet our built environment, our bodily adornments, and our celebrations and rituals are the place that culture starts. Culture is often the reason we work so hard, its what enriches our lives and makes us feel like us, and it is a major reason people give for wanting to live in a particular city.

So, in simple terms, if we want a prosperous city we must also want a culturally vibrant city. And we need a city which balances our traditions and our faith in the future, that matches the best that we have achieved and what we all have in common, and one that embraces our diversity as an engine of our vitality: an openness to new ideas, a sense that change is good, and a conviction that we are a city of the world.

For me one of the best examples here is Chicago, where I have looked at these questions of culture in some detail, and where the city council has developed sophisticated plans and invested heavily to realize the ideas I have been talking about so far. As I noted, Chicago and blues are intimately linked. It’s Chicago’s heritage, developed in the everyday life of Chicago’s black population in the South Side, and then shared across the world. This identity has played a part in Chicago establishing itself as one of the main conference and event centres in the US. If you have to go and talk business, you also want to involve yourself in culture. And so the city invested in bringing its culture up to date, to increase its diversity, and to add to its greatness. In just one example, they covered up the railway, built a world-class outdoor performance venue designed by Frank Gehry [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Gehry], a garden by the internationally-renowned designer Piet Oudolf [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piet_Oudolf], and sculpture that includes Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_Gate] that together attracts hundreds of thousands of people a year. The whole thing then steals the skyline of some of the best buildings in the world as its very own. There’s no better example of how the sights, spaces and sounds come together for a cultural experience that’s become a cultural attraction.

Hong Kong is showing even greater ambition in the development of the West Kowloon Cultural District.  The ambition here is just mind-boggling: the 40 hectares site is created out of land reclaimed from the sea, above the new high speed train to Shanghai and Beijing, and the district will include 17 large and prestigious arts and cultural venues.

What should this mean for Birmingham? Well it is pleasing to see that culture has played a role in the development of the city over the last twenty years. The Birmingham Made Me event takes place in one of the products of that aspiration, the new library and railways station development is just part of a remodeling of space, and the university I work in is making its own contribution at Parkside next to Millennium Point. I would like to add three of my own observations to our thinking about our cultural future as a city.

One of the most neglected parts of our heritage is the intellectual tradition that used to characterise the city. It gave birth to both the University of Birmingham, and many of the institutions which formed the basis of my own university, along with the ideas of the municipality which in the late nineteen century made us a model for the rest of the world. I note that all these strands put an equal weight on both industry and commerce, and culture and identity. We desperately need a re-birth of this culture in a model for the twenty-first century. We will all need to play our part in doing so, but I would like to challenge my colleagues from the city’s five universities and its other institutions of learning to take some leadership in such a project.

Secondly, we need to find ways in which we could make better use of the great things we have made in the past in order to help rethink our future. I very much welcome these series of Birmingham Made Me events because they both celebrate this past and ask what is there for designing the future. At the same time we should look at ways in which we can all participate in using examples from across the world that could enrich the signs and spaces of our city centre and its suburbs.

Finally – and I would say this as Professor of Radio and Popular Music Studies, wouldn’t I – but we need to pay more attention to the sounds of our city.  How can we design our spaces so that they bring forth both tradition and future, greatness and everyday living, and help make sense of our diversity. The way we communicate and express our sense of localness and our place in the global world need media to reflect that. There are good new examples of more local media, but too often our radio is becoming part of a world in which our localness is less important than our global-ness. We need media that represent us as twenty-first century Brummies. And finally we need to re-engage with our musical past and ensure that we have a musical future. The best popular music has always arisen in cities characterised by diversity and change, innovation and adaptability. There are lots of recent examples of trying to represent our past, but there needs to be equal weight on how we best support the sounds of the future. Again, there is a major role for institutions like the Birmingham Conservatoire, as well as our entertainment districts and media quarters.

Culture may well be only possible once we have paid attention to the basics of economic life, but it is more than simply the creation of a surplus of industrial and commercial activity; it is part of a cycle of economic regeneration. If we want a vibrant economy in Birmingham and the West Midlands we need culture that will attract the brightest to stay, or even move here, and we need culture to consolidate the bonds between us, because we need culture as the engine of change and innovation.

Tony Palmer’s All You Need Is Love: Television’s first pop history April 3, 2013

Posted by wallofsound in Music History.
comments closed

Music doc

My colleague Dr Paul Long and I have been working on a project to analyse the way popular music history is represented on television. The latest stage of that project has been work on what is probably the first documentary history of pop music on British television.  That’s Tony Palmer’s All You Need Is Love.The chapter is first up in a newly published book The Music Documentary: Acid Rock to Electropop edited by Ben Halligan, Kirsty Fairclough-Isaacs and Rob Edgar.  You can find out more at the Routledge publisher page.

‘All You Need Is Love’ is a 17-episode documentary on the history of popular music. Expensive to make and expansive in scope, the series was originally broadcast in 1977 in a prime time Saturday night slot on UK commercial TV. It was written, directed and edited by journalist and programme maker Tony Palmer.

Palmer formed his filmic sensibility with the BBC’s ‘Monitor’ series as a documentarist concerned with high cultural forms. He achieved renown and notoriety as the ‘Observer’ newspaper’s pop music critic, suggesting that the form should be taken seriously, and for the controversial and impressionistic documentary on rock music ‘All My Loving’ (1968).

While his early film was an experimental filmic essay in comprehending contemporary music, ‘All You Need is Love’ developed and crystalised Palmer’s ideas about pop music – its origins, status, direction and value.  As Cordell Marks suggested in a preview article in ‘TV Times’: ‘Palmer will be to popular music what Lord (Kenneth) Clark was to Civilisation’. Such claims reveal the contemporary tendentiousness of treating popular music seriously at all, let alone dedicating to it the kinds of resources represented by this series.

In many ways Palmer established a type of approach that many subsequent popular music documentaries emulated (and indeed, his work is endlessly appropriated across televisual documentary). In its scope, use of archive material and original footage, as well as Palmer’s distinctive position on popular music, ‘All You Need is Love’ can be understood as an important moment in music documentary and a serious contribution to the historiography of pop. Nonetheless, although the series has been made available on DVD, and the accompanying book is back in print, this work, and indeed Palmer’s wider project, is little studied or even acknowledged in documentary or popular music studies.

Our chapter argues that ‘All You Needs is Love’ is a seminal documentary in applying techniques of television history to popular music, in interpreting a series of discourses about popular music’s cultural importance and modes of production, and in establishing pop as a suitable topic worthy of serious documentary investigation. We ask questions about the origins and implications of the programme content and form, both for television and popular music, apply questions about historiography to make assessments of the construction of the past in the series, and relate the editorial line of the programmes to the way popular music studies has changed over the last thirty years.  In particular we draw on arguments we have made elsewhere to examine the narrative structure, role of the diegetic and meta-narrator, and the relationship between existing stories about popular music and the visual and aural material out of which the series is constructed.  Fundamentally, we seek to demonstrate how seeing television documentaries as mediations of mediations of the past enables us to think beyond the usual approaches to understanding this document of pop’s past.

Studying Popular Music Culture [Second Edition] now available March 24, 2013

Posted by wallofsound in Music History, Music in the media, Music Industry, Publishing.
comments closed

Pop Book Cover

The second edition of my book Studying Popular Music Culture is out now.

At the publisher’s site

or at Amazon sellers

Here’s what the very generous Nathan Wiseman-Trowse had to say about the new edition:

Tim Wall’s Studying Popular Music Culture is that rare thing, an academic study of music that seeks to tie together the strands of the musical text, the industry that produces it, and the audience that gives it meaning. Wall acts as a wary guide to an industry that is currently in total flux, showing the reader how conventional histories of popular music are shaped by social, industrial and technical factors that ultimately leak over into the ways in which we listen to and interpret music. The new edition provides a timely account of the history of the recorded music industry as it responds to new technologies and industrial approaches, with an ever-keen eye on how industrial practice relates to the ways in which audiences consume and use popular music in a variety of ways. Wall’s lucid style provides a coherent summary of a cultural form that is never easy to grapple with at the best of times. Studying Popular Music Culture is a vital read for anyone interested in the changing nature of popular music production and consumption, whether as student, an industry insider or just a fan of popular music.

Here’s the reviews of the first edition at Amazon:

I bought this book at request of my (soon to be) course leader at University where I will be studying Popular Music. I found the book very detailed and unlike a lot of these types of books not at all boring. Well written and divided into different sections focusing on many aspects of the Music Industry, with every subject spoken about in depth. Would definitely recommend to anyone wanting to study anything music related.

If you like the book once you read it, I’d appreciate an Amazon review if you can spare the time.

Here’s what’s in the book:

Introduction: Definitions and Approaches
1. Constructing Histories of Popular Music
2. Musical and Cultural Repertoires
3. Social, Economic and Technical Factors
4. Writing Popular Music History
5. An Overview of Popular Music Production
6. Taking Issue with the Record Industry
7. Popular Music and the Media
8. Form
9. Meaning
10. Representation
11. The Sociology of the Music Consumer
12. Listening, and Looking
13. Dancing
14. Acquiring, Organising and Sharing music

South African Jazz Cultures: indaba / discussion day University of York, UK on Saturday 20 April 2013 March 24, 2013

Posted by wallofsound in Jazz.
comments closed

SA Jazz

There’s  a really interesting event on South African jazz coming up at the University of York in the UK on Saturday 20 April 2013

The programme is as follows:

09:00-09:50 registration / coffee

09:50-10:00 welcome

10:00-10:45 presentation and discussion 1: Brett Pyper ‘Jazz Stokvels’

10:45-11.30 presentation and discussion 2: Matthew Temple ‘Hidden Heritages’

[11:30-12:00 coffee]

12:00-13:00 Emmanuel Abdul-Rahim in conversation: ‘On working with Mbizo Johnny Dyani’

[13:00-14:00 lunch]

14:00-15:30 film / response and discussion 3: Aryan Kaganof ‘The Legacy’ / Jonathan Eato respondent

[15:30-16:00 coffee]

16:00-17:00 ‘Unheard Music, Unseen Images’: recordings and photographs from the Ian Bruce Huntley SA jazz archive

17:00-18:00 Roundtable / closing discussion: Emmanuel Abdul-Rahim, Darius Brubeck, Brett Pyper, Matthew Temple

They say themes will include:

Artistic heritage in post-authoritarian, post-censorship societies

The artist in exile

Vernacular intellectuals

Informal / underground knowledge transfer structures

Artistic modes of resistance

Navigation Links

Registration | Programme | Abstracts | Presenters | Subscribe to email list

To register (free) email jonathan.eato@york.ac.uk by 15 April 2013.

Studies of British Jazz February 17, 2013

Posted by wallofsound in British Jazz, Jazz.
comments closed

Up until recently studies of jazz in Britain have been few and far between. Here’s a selection of those that I’ve been using recently.

Harris jazz

Jazz – Rex Harris [Penguin, Pelican Books, 1956]
There are four and half pages devoted to jazz in Britain.

Decca Book of Jazz

The Decca Book of Jazz – Peter Gammond [Frederick Muller Ltd., London 1958]
There are two chapters on jazz in Britain and one on jazz in continental Europe.

Boulton Jazz in Britain

Jazz in Britain – David Boulton  [W H Allen, 1958; Jazz Book Club 1959]
The first extensive study of the development of jazz in Britain.

Newton Jazz Scene

The Jazz Scene – Francis Newton  [A Penguin special, 1961] 

Francis Newton was the pen name for British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. Includes an interesting study of the British Jazz Fan, 1958.

Carr Music Inside

Music Outside: Contemporary Jazz in Britain – Ian Carr [Latimer New Dimensions, 1973; Northway Publications 2008]

Important polemic about the state of British jazz in the 1970s

Cotterrell jazz Now

Jazz Now – Roger Cotterrell [Quartet Books in association with the Jazz Centre Society]

Godbolt 19-50

A History of Jazz in Britain: 1919-1950 – Jim Godbolt [Quartet Books, 1984]

Godbolt 50-70

A History of Jazz in Britain: 1950-1970  – Jim Godbolt [Quartet Books, 1989]

Innovations In British Jazz Volume One 1960-1980 – John Wickes [Sound World 1999]

McKay Circular

Circular Breathing: The Cultural Politics of Jazz in Britain – George McKay [Duke University Press 2005]


The Evolution of Jazz in Britain 1880-1935 – Catherine Parsonage [Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series, 2005]

Moore Brit Jazz

Inside British Jazz: Crossing Borders of Race, Nation and Class – Hilary Moore [Ashgate 2012]


Trad Dads, Dirty Boppers and Free Fusioneers: British Jazz, 1960-1975 – Duncan Heining [Equinox  2012]

Duke Ellington band on BBC Radio 14th June 1933 8.00pm January 16, 2013

Posted by wallofsound in Jazz, Music Radio.
comments closed


Photograph of Duke on-route to England published in the Melody Maker 17th June 1933

This is a list of numbers played by Duke Ellington’s band in their 1933 broadcast. They are listed by order as set out in a contemporary Melody Maker review. While Jim Godbolt (2005; 105) when citing the review says there were 14 numbers, it is more likely there were nearly 20 including the seven song ‘Blackbirds of 1930’ section and a suggestion that there were other popular songs later in the broadcast. Ulanov (1946, 131) states the programme was 45 minutes long. The Radio Times says 14/6/33: Duke Ellington and his Orchestra and says the broadcast is on the BBC National Service 8.00-8.45pm. Godbolt says it was broadcast on the Regional Service at 8.30 (109), but he also correctly cites that “He (Ellington) was preceded by a talk on Industrial Relations, by Professor John Hilton, and followed by Philis Clare and her Boys, a polite song and instrumental act.” Godbolt’s confusion may have arisen from the fact that he seems to have been using the Daventry listing which refers to the National Services English Midlands transmitter.


The Radio Times listing says:

“Duke Ellington, the famous American coloured dance-band leader and composer arranger, is now on his first visit to this country, under the auspices of Jack Hylton. Tonight listeners all over the country are enabled to hear the first direct broadcast of this famous band from the studio in England. A relay of the band from New York was included in the Birthday Week programmes last November. Ellington has a dual title to fame : his original orchestrations and arrangements for the dance music played by his band, and his original compositions in the jazz idiom, notably Creole Rhapsody, Mood Indigo, and Hot and Bothered”.

East St. Louis Toodle-Oo (theme)


Creole Love Call

Old Man Blues

Rose Room

Limehouse Blues

Best Wishes

Medley of tunes from Blackbirds of 1930:

I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby

I Must Have That Man


Doing the New Low Down



I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby (reprise)


Sophisticated Lady

It Don’t Mean a Thing

I’ve Got The World on a String (in a selection of popular tunes)

Mood Indigo

Rethinking ‘European jazz’ through the work of Steven Feld December 22, 2012

Posted by wallofsound in Uncategorized.
comments closed

Here’s the abstract for my paper at Rhythm Changes II: Rethinking Jazz Cultures

11-14 April 2013, Media City UK/University of Salford

Steven Feld is an anthropologist, who in 2012 published his book length study of “five musical years in Ghana”. His book takes the idea of jazz cosmopolitanism as a way of investigating the way that individual musicians in Accra have utilised sounds and discourses from American jazz in their own music making and in their interaction with Feld as an American anthropologist.


I take his conclusions and disposition as a researcher, rather than his research method, as a way to open up our thinking about jazz in Europe.  Employing a variety of examples, including Jan Garbarek, Courtney Pine and Dudu Pukwana, and the European scenes in which they made their music, I use the ideas of cosmopolitanism, cultural essentialism and re-enculturation to reimagine some of the standard approaches to thinking about the place and role of jazz in, and of, Europe.

In particular, I address the idea that European jazz may have a distinctive sound or set of practices, and that individual cultures or nations within Europe may provide an accented, or maybe even alternative, approach to jazz, distinct from those that developed in the US. I will explicitly address the relationship of Europe to the USA, and investigate the notions of influence and transnational jazz culture.  Specifically, though, like Feld I ensure that this discussion is rooted in actual examples of music-making and cultural practice. Included in this rethinking of European jazz is the role of European jazz media in representing and mediating what it is to be a twenty-first century European jazz musician and jazz fan. My position, therefore, will be that of a media and cultural analyst, rather than an anthropologist.

Prepublication review for the second edition of Studying Popular Music Culture August 31, 2012

Posted by wallofsound in Music History, Music in the media, Music Industry, Publishing.
comments closed

Tim Wall’s Studying Popular Music Culture is that rare thing, an academic study of popular music that seeks to tie together the strands of the musical text, the industry that produces it, and the audience that gives it meaning.  Wall acts as a wary guide to an industry that is currently in total flux, showing the reader how conventional histories of popular music are shaped by social, industrial and technical factors that ultimately leak over into the ways in which we listen to and interpret music.  This new edition provides a timely account of the history of the recorded music industry and the challenges it faces as it enters the twenty first century.  Readers are provided with ways to understand the changing nature of the music industry as it responds to new technologies and industrial approaches, with an ever-keen eye on how industrial practice relates to the ways in which audiences consume and use popular music in a variety of ways.  Wall’s lucid style provides a coherent summary of a cultural form that is never easy to grapple with at the best of times.  Studying Popular Music Culture is a vital read for anyone interested in the changing nature of popular musical production and consumption, whether as student, an industry insider or just a fan of popular music.