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‘Since Tommy Atkins Taught The Chinese How To Charleston’: what is jazz in Jack Payne’s BBC Dance Orchestra 1928-32. October 14, 2018

Posted by wallofsound in Abstracts, British Jazz, Jazz, Music Radio.
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Here’s the abstract for the paper I will be giving at the sixth Rhythm Changes Conference Jazz Journeys, 11–14 April 2019, at the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz.


This paper establishes a case study of the mediation of jazz by British radio in the late 1920s and early 1930s through the music of the BBC Dance Orchestra under Jack Payne. In histories of jazz in Britain the BBC Dance Orchestra tends to be presented as the antithesis of a ‘true jazz’ which became championed by European jazz fans in the late 1930s. It is certainly the case that Payne’s Dance Band’s broadcasts presented a distinctly English form of music which synthesised British music hall and light music traditions with highly selected elements of what was then celebrated as American jazz. As such, though, the band’s musical programmes provides us with a brilliant case of how jazz entered British cultural life, what its main musical characteristics were seen to be, and how it was then, and later, received by the radio listening audience.

By moving the debate about how jazz was received in Europe on from ideas of the dilution of a vibrant form in a journey from black folk form to commercialised commodity, we can unpick exactly how a new music form like jazz was coded adapted and represented in a new cultural home. Using a number of recordings by the Payne band made contemporaneously with the broadcasts, the paper analyses the elements used to signify jazz and jazz culture within this music, and to explore more fully what it meant in British society of the time. The Orchestra’s broadcasts always featured Payne’s own very English singing style carefully positioned within a highly rehearsed band of impressive professional musicians. By examining three specific pieces – ‘I Love the College Girls’ (Regal 8864), ‘The Girl Friend’ (Regal 8983), and most wonderfully ‘Since Tommy Atkins Taught The Chinese How To Charleston’ – a rich picture of jazz’s place in Europe at this time resonates through.

In such a study the institutionalising processes of cultural institutions like the BBC are highlighted and interrogated, and the importance of the visual and written word for the meaning of this audio medium are foregrounded. From today, though, it is the sense that these sounds and images represent the journey that jazz was taking, the exact form of the global circulation of jazz in the 1920s, and its critical reception which shine through. Further, the passage of jazz in Britain from mainly American to mainly British musicians raises intriguing questions about how swiftly jazz was disseminated in its new home. This should lead us to question many of the traditional histories of jazz and provide a template for producing more incisive jazz histories.


Taking Popular Culture Seriously: Public Service Television and Popular Music Heritage July 26, 2012

Posted by wallofsound in Abstracts, Music History.
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An abstract for a proposed article I have submitted to write with Paul Long

This article explores the ways in which the BBC has scheduled popular music programming on BBC4. Launched in March 2002, BBC4 was the Corporation’s first foray into the digital distribution of television programming. For the station’s originators the channel was a site for high-quality and distinctive programming, especially in music, offering a serious approach to its subjects in tandem with a commitment to myriad listening and viewing pleasures. Peter Maniura, the BBC’s Head of Classical Music charged with formulating the channel’s music policy, has said that his intention was to ‘broaden the mix and give more depth and volume’ and to give airtime to popular music genres not usually covered on ‘mainstream’ channels. Janice Hadlow, BBC4’s original controller, has said that the channel aimed to challenge viewers: its goals in music programming ‘allow people to enjoy what they know and love already, but also about introducing an intelligent and discerning audience to new and challenging music’.

The channel offers music-themed nights, or extended seasons of music programming, often acting as a testing ground for new approaches to music broadcasting by the BBC. Friday night has become the point in the week in which popular music programming, and music theming, is concentrated. An evening’s schedule will usually be built around a new BBC documentary production supported by rebroadcasts of material taken from the BBC’s extensive television music archive.

We ask: how have BBC4 programmers managed music commissioning and scheduling across broadcast, online forums and social media platforms? And in what ways is the material presented in the Friday night slot understood in relation to a wider set of practices around popular music heritage exemplified by magazine such as Mojo or Uncut and Simon Reynolds much-discussed Retromania thesis? We suggest that the ongoing ‘curation’ of pop’s heritage (which perforce involves a contribution to defining that heritage) and archival retrieval by the BBC of its own recordings, highlights a history of the treatment of popular music and ways of treating its forms seriously as behooves the public service remit.

The nature of this programming is exemplified by the Britannia documentary series and one-off films which concern the history of musical genres and related cultural activities in the UK. Beginning with Jazz Britannia in 2005, subsequent contributions include similar treatments of folk (2006), soul (2007), dance music (2007), pop (2008), prog rock (2009), synth (2009), blues (2009), heavy metal (2010) and lately punk (2011) (see: Long & Wall, 2010; Wall & Long, 2011). With notably high production values, extensive archival research and interview schedules, such programmes utilise an impressive wealth of media sources, as well as many original contributions from performers and critics. Original documentaries are screened alongside repeats from the BBC TV vaults such as complete episodes from Jazz 625 (1964–65) or compilations of available performances from series such as Monitor (1958– 65), Colour Me Pop (1968–69) or The Old grey Whistle Test (1971–87).

Jazz on BBC Radio 1922 to 1959 May 28, 2012

Posted by wallofsound in Abstracts, British Jazz.
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Here’s an abstract for a book chapter I hope to write if the editors get the green light from the publishers. It’s a development of an earlier proposal that went up to 1980. Your suggestions and comments are, as always, very welcome.

This chapter provides a detailed study of the ambiguous role that jazz has played in the BBC’s broadcasts from its inception as a broadcaster to its maturity as a corporation in the late 1950s. It will examine the institutional politics that lay behind programming decisions, the forms of jazz transmitted, and the programme styles that developed.

Both as a music and as a social practice jazz seemed to defy the cultural categories that the BBC used to organise its broadcast output. From the beginning, BBC staff were in conflict over whether the new American phenomenon should be classified as music or variety, and so whether it deserved to be treated as a new form of chamber music or a turn in an entertainment programme.

The BBC had a dance orchestra as early as 1928, but jazz was understood to be a foreign import: exciting for some, dangerous to British culture for others.  There were broadcasts of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington band performances during their early 1930s tours, and Alistair Cooke’s American Jam Session later in that decade, but the Radio Rhythm Club and Jazz Club programmes did not start until the 1940s. By the end of that decade, the BBC had reorganised its output around three services, and jazz was mostly allocated to the Light programme, where the trad jazz scene was championed along with nostalgic big band programmes.

An interrogation of this history brings into sharp focus significant aspects of the BBC role as a key institution within British life, and the corporation’s uneven relationship with British and American art and popular culture.

The X Factor in 100 words January 19, 2012

Posted by wallofsound in Abstracts.
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The X Factor.
That un-definable quality. The signified without a signifier; connotation without denotation. The un-nameable; preliterate; marked but not said.
The journey; the story; the narrative.
The dream; the chance; the door of fate; struggle.
The voice; the recording voice.
Audition, audience, audient: sounded but not marked; performed but not pronounceable.
The truth teller; the knower of deeper truth (experience); the gusher struggling to be heard. The narrator; the friend. Selecting, discriminating; nurturing, refining; making it.
Capitalism: primary extraction; manufacture; service, the intangible. Investment; capital; work.
The pop process: multimedia promotion; hype; star-making.
Participation, inter-action, your choice.
Myth today.