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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.


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.
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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.

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

Posted by wallofsound in Jazz.
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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.
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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.
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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

Contemporary Jazz Collectives in the UK May 8, 2012

Posted by wallofsound in British Jazz, Jazz.
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Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester are broadly comparable UK cities based in the Midlands and the North of England, all several hundred miles from London. They each have self-sustaining vibrant jazz and improvised music scenes built around the activities of an impressively large contingent of young jazz players, many with close ties to the internationally-renown jazz performance courses found in each city. While they share some common features, a comparison between them raises some interesting differences. As we will reveal in greater detail later, these scenes are driven by ideas of jazz as a transnational progressive music, and collective organisation has developed as a means to sustain participation in what is understood by participants to be progressive music-making, even in the face of a difficult economic climate for such activities.

These localized scenes certainly reflect Will Straw’s (1997) suggestion that the local and the global are intertwined in the construction and development of localized music scenes. Straw contrasts a community, which he sees as a stable entity having a geographically-specific history, with a music scene which he presents as developing across geography, ever-changing and characterized by cross-fertilisation. This distinction between community and scene has proven to be a useful justification for the methodology presented here as this research found fluid and ever-changing relationships between all of the components within the scenes. To add further nuance, Sara Cohen’s primary analysis of other geographically-rooted scenes reveals a less confident conclusion: that scenes are fragile and threatened by cultural and technological change (Cohen 2007: 84). This work demonstrates that the fragility identified by Cohen is a central driver to the practices of adaptation and transformation in the music scenes we observed.

For the purposes of this article, the word ‘collective’ can be understood to describe a partnership of individuals who have achieved a creative or political consensus and who typically wish to operate via some sort of egalitarian system. Although jazz ensembles have historically been organized around the notion of a band and its leader, collective organisation is an idea that has had a great deal of power within jazz ideology. Jazz collectives have played a significant, yet neglected, part in the development of jazz having been associated firstly in the late 1950s and early 1960s with mainly black musical cultures in a range of American cities, and later with European approaches to free improvisation from the mid-1960s onwards. More recently, London-based jazz collectives of the twenty-first century, such as F-ire (Fellowship for Integrated Rhythmic Expression) and Loop, have been given attention by the jazz media. This article aims to examine collectives operating in cities outside of London, where the practice has received less attention, and where they take on different complexions and roles. We do, though, use published research on these other forms of collective organisation as a reference point in our discussion of our primary findings.   In particular, we are interested in the degree to which there are continuities or differences in cultural practice and meaning between these the collectives at the centre of our research and those in operation elsewhere or at an earlier time.

The notion of the ‘progressive’ within jazz is less easy to define, and we seek to understand the idea from the perspective of the musicians and scene we have studied, rather than to set a definition against which we evaluate their cultural practices. In DeVeaux’s study, focused upon ideas and practices prevalent in bebop, progress is a personal and collective sense of improvement, often associated with creating new and more demanding musical performances. In particular, this was linked strongly to music education, innovation, African-American identity and an anti-commercialism (36-42; 278-9). Studies of the 1950s and 60s black arts collectives, and of the 1960s and 70s European collectives have also highlighted many of these same ideas (see, for instance, Carr 1973/2008; Wickes 1999; Tapscott and Isoardi 2001; Looker 2004; McKay 2005: 191-241; Lewis 2008). In simple terms progressiveness is the attribute of musicians who make progress. While we see these ideas as part of the discursive repertoire open to young contemporary jazz musicians in Britain, we found that they were adopted and adapted in distinct ways.

In conducting this research, we started with a broad analysis of the political economic structure of each scene, before moving on to examine the cultural relationships and practices which governed music-making in each area. As part of this research we interviewed musicians who self-identified as members of jazz collectives operating in Birmingham, Leeds or Manchester from the lists of artists included in the web pages published by these collectives. We recorded interviews in person, or over Skype, with a range of musicians, promoters and course leaders in jazz studies programmes. In setting out our findings we have organized the article into three sections. We start with an examination of collective organisation in our selected cities, arguing that they developed to create an economically-viable way of pursuing collective interests in playing live jazz and improvised music. We follow this with an investigation of the way that these collectives create a meaningful scene from ideas and music cultural practices drawn from both the jazz tradition and wider popular music. We evaluate in what sense and to what degree this could be understood as a progressive practice. Our analysis suggests that forms of naming drawn from jazz history, along with distinct approaches to live music and improvisation, are used to distance this scene from the dominant organisation of popular music, and from other local jazz activity. Finally, we look at the significance of jazz education revealing that the role of performance courses is both central and yet complex within the scenes. Although a relatively modest, localized study, our findings suggest that the practices of musicians off the bandstand are as important as their live music-making. Equally, we find that the ways that these musicians engage with jazz’s past in the present, the permeability of the boundary between jazz and other forms of popular music for these collectives, and the inter-relationship of this localized improvised music to its global presence are all important in understanding contemporary jazz practice. We also raise some questions about the way that the relationship of jazz education to graduate careers is usually characterised.

In each city, the collective organisation of musicians, for all its similarities, has had strikingly different orientations. In Birmingham, the collective activity has tended to focus on the organisation of performances in live venues and the use of the internet as a branding, promotion, and connective tool. This activity has been particularly welcomed by the publicly-funded regional promoter, Birmingham Jazz (now known as Jazz Lines), in their attempt to find new audiences for jazz. By contrast, in Leeds, according to our interviews with early activists, the collective activity emerged as a means to create a space for what was seen as a more progressive form of music-making than that supported by existing local jazz institutions. In Manchester the collective action is most apparent as a public face through a record label, and large-scale music ensembles.

The majority of the examples presented here are from the Birmingham-based collective known as Cobweb (Creatives of Birmingham Web). As part of its online branding, Cobweb describes itself as an independent jazz and contemporary music collective made up of around 40 active musicians.[1] The collective attempts to promote its activities and provide a networking context in which Birmingham-based musicians can develop, collaborate and perform. The primary method employed by Cobweb to facilitate these activities is the organisation of regular live music events which have, over the years, taken place at a variety of venues across Birmingham such as the Yardbird and the Lamp Tavern (both in the city centre), the Brown Lion (in the city’s historic Jewellery Quarter), the Spotted Dog (in Digbeth, one of the city’s old industrial quarters redesignated as the cultural quarter), the Edgbaston Tap (in an upmarket suburb), the Drum (the black arts centre north of the centre), and the Cross (in Moseley, a Victorian suburb). Over the years the collective is recognized for its links to the following artists and ensembles: Aaron Diaz and Moon Unit, Chris Mapp and Gambol, Percy Pursglove, Sam Wooster and Husk, Sid Peacock and Surge and Macondo Village Band, Steve Tromans and the Howl Band, Lluis Mather and Noose, Jim Bashford, Rob Anstey, Mike Fletcher, Euan Palmer, Jonathan Silk and Sam Jesson. Many of these musicians are graduates of the Birmingham Conservatoire.

LIMA (Leeds Improvised Music Association) and EFPI of Manchester are collectives also closely affiliated with music schools, namely Leeds College of Music and The Royal Northern College of Music. LIMA (Leeds Improvised Music Association) characterizes itself as an experimental UK music collective engaging in musical activities ranging from performances in rock/DIY clubs, concert halls, and international music festivals, to interdisciplinary collaborations with architecture, dance, and film.[2] There are approximately 25 bands that have permutated from LIMA’s 17 members. The most recognisable name is arguably trioVD, however, the collective claims an association with Matthew Bourne, Chris Sharkey, Christophe de Bezenac, Dave Kane, Petter Fadnes, Chris Bussey, Colin Sutton, Kari Bleivik, Paul Hession, Simon Kaylor, Ståle Birkeland, Richard Ormrod, Maria Jardardottir, Ninon Foiret, Jonny Flockton, Paul Moore, Rus Pearson, Simon Beddoe and Elisabeth Nygård. It also acts as an umbrella organisation for bands like LIMA Orchestra, trioVD, Bilbao Syndrome, Metropolis, The Geordie Approach, Sonic Stories, Sharkestra, Minghe Morte, EGG3, Inertia Trio, Klubbeduppe, Melatonin, Mort Butane, Swinepipe, Røyst, Curious Voice Duo, Bourne/de Bezenac duo, Argentinian landscape project, Le Temps de la Brume, Stockpot Stopcock, The Electric Dr M, The Points System, The Thin Red Line, Conquistador and Dave Kane’s Rabbit Project.

EFPI is a record label based in Manchester comprising musicians and promoters who wish to explore improvised, jazz and experimental music.[3] Founded by Anton Hunter (The Noise Upstairs), Sam Andreae (Freedom Principle) and Ben Cottrell (Beats & Pieces Big Band), EFPI describe themselves as an umbrella organisation with the goal of promoting their own work and the work of musicians connected with them. On its website, the label claims to enjoy ‘healthy professional and artistic relationships’ with other UK musician-run organisations such as the F-IRE, Loop and Cobweb collectives.[4] EFPI have been affiliated with groups like Beats and Pieces Big Band, HAQ, Aaargh!, Silence Blossoms, 265 Quartet and Trio Riot. By way of comparison, London’s F-ire collective names 27 bands from 12 core members including Polar Bear, Finn Peters Quintet and Acoustic Ladyland. Loop collective claims 23 bands out of 17 core members. Outhouse is probably the most recognisable group to have emerged from Loop.

Although jazz as a form of music has been distributed primarily through records, and our understanding of its history and meaning is based upon these texts, at the heart of its music-making discourse is live performance, particularly the celebration of improvisation. In this age of recorded music and online music culture, we found that the notion of ‘liveness’ was still central to the ethos of the young musicians in these jazz scenes. Our analysis suggests that, in all three cities, it is possible to discern in the operations of a collective a clear political economic purpose: to create a financially viable space in which to pursue their interest in the artistic ideals of jazz. We also conclude that this speaks to the motivation of young musicians to work in diverse musical forms and to understand jazz performance, particularly improvisation, as a collective act that represents and communicates important values.

The musicians that have contributed to this study tend to view the life of a jazz musician as an attempt to fulfil artistic ideals. Describing the personal motivations of musicians in these local collectives, one Cobweb member remarked: ‘we decided that we wanted to be true to an artistic vision rather than to have something stable in a financial sense’ (interview with authors[5]). Given that a large number of musicians earned part of their living outside the collective scene, in teaching and doing the occasional lucrative function, gig or tour, it is notable how much of their interviews focused on the importance to them of the collective, and that the latter opportunities were most often presented as ways to earn enough to carry on with the artistic practices they valued.

The place of the musicians in our study within this semiotic and organisational field of practice is of interest here. First, the musicians we studied self-identified themselves as ‘collectives’ eschewing the naming systems in use in our pop and rock examples, which most often deploy nouns associated with larger forms of commercial production: ‘corporation’, ‘factory’, or ‘organisation’. It is also notable that the names of jazz collectives under analysis here specifically relate back to the first and second generation of jazz collectives. Cobweb, LIMA, and EFPI, along with London-based collective F-ire, use initials or acronyms to formulate their names in echo of AACM, BAG and PAPA or ICP and SME. Second, the contemporary collectives share an emphasis with the earlier collectives on a political economy and culture of live music-making, while these other examples broadly operate in the mediation and dissemination of music as recordings.

Nevertheless, none of the musicians who contributed to this research presented their activities as a serious attempt to reproduce the practices of jazz collectives from the past. A co-founder of LIMA remarked:

I don’t think we sat down and discussed the links with other collectives. What we saw with F-ire and the earlier European collectives was that it was a useful brand, and that if we stuck together under a certain umbrella, people would notice us.

In fact, as we have shown, the idea of collective organisation in the UK tended to be a London-based phenomena, and the bands that carried it into the 1980s and 1990s dispensed with the collective tag when they named themselves Jazz Warriors[6] and Loose Tubes, emphasising a black American post-bop tradition and a more British humour respectively. Collective organisation, as it pertains to jazz music making in Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, is a localized phenomena with intrinsic links to city spaces, cultures and individuals. One thread that ties together most of this activity is the notion of achieving creative independence, expressed in these terms by a member of LIMA:

It’s the independence that you get. You don’t have to answer to anything or anyone. It’s empowering being able to do these things without having to ask for handouts. We had the ability to go out there and perform without spending any money on it.

While most jazz musicians within these scenes engage with collective practices in an attempt to sustain their artistic growth and remain true to an artistic vision of self-expression, in practice, the organisational work has as much in common with a DIY independent punk or rock aesthetic than typical pop or jazz production routines. Through the attention that these jazz musicians award to live performance and improvisation, it is evident that distribution and consumption are intentionally woven into the experiences shared by live audiences. Unlike labels such as Motown, jazz musicians tend to avoid repeat use of a stable cohort of musicians in different musical settings. Instead, each ensemble starts out with its own individual musical and artistic goals. Again, though, the young contemporary musicians do not connect their activities to the more overtly political founders of the DIY rock ethos, like Crass, nor do the activities themselves represent the sorts of collective political action promoted by the anarcho-punk movement.

For the jazz musicians who have participated in this study, the practices of collective organisation do signals independence, financial sustainability and artistic growth, even if these are not understood in the political terms of the past. Nevertheless, these are values that have great power in the lives of contemporary jazz musicians and are frequently employed and reflected upon by those working within urban jazz scenes. It is within these urban scenes that most live performance activity takes place and collective activity within jazz typically orientates around live work. When jazz musicians self-consciously describe themselves as being members of a collective, they are drawing upon, and pointing to, a range of attributes that they have identified as desirable, such as ideas of collective power, reinforcement of creative goals, shared economic resources and resistance to commercial influences.

An important aspect of this study is the role of jazz studies courses in these regional jazz scenes. The role of jazz education in jazz culture has been the subject of some debate since such courses became institutionalized in universities, schools of music and conservatoires. Stuart Nicholson’s contribution summarizes the common accusation that a standardized US approach encourages stylistic conformity contrasted with a more eclectic European approach (Nicholson 2005: 99-127). Nicholson’s discussion is limited only to issues of musical style and does not address questions that relate to the political economy and culture of self-sustaining scenes. In contrast, David Ake’s (2010) more thoughtful discussion of the role of jazz education notes its absence or marginalization as a theme in both jazz histories or contemporary analyses. He argues that jazz education is seen unfairly by its critics as ‘unhip’, stifling of innovation, and associated with conservative tendencies in jazz However, there has been very little research on the actual relationships between college jazz programmes and vitality or diversity in jazz scenes.

The fact that all three jazz scenes we examined were based in cities with internationally-known jazz programmes, and that large numbers of the collective members had studied on those programmes is prima facie evidence of the importance of jazz education in each of the scenes. As researchers, we initially speculated that perhaps the young musicians were applying lessons from their studies by taking direct inspiration from American or European collectives of the 1960s or 1970s. However, this is not the case. The jazz collectives in Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester are not coherently or consciously operating in a tradition; the process is more organic and autonomous than expected and the inspiration for collective activity is more widely diffused. Neither do musicians appear to be learning didactic lessons from jazz history courses about how to organize themselves, but are instead taking inspiration from what is absent in the courses, such as a focus on free playing, improvisation, self-marketing and live work with a host of different musicians. To refer back to Straw’s comments about the construction and development of music scenes, the collective organisation of contemporary jazz musicians in the UK is less about the localized community and more about learning how to operate within an existing infrastructure in order to develop new, eclectic, potentially global scenes.

Historically, one way that musicians have learned about the philosophies and objectives of music collectives is through the free training programmes instituted by cooperatives like AACM and BAG. Dave Laing describes collectives like the AACM as ‘musicians’ self-help bodies’ (2002: 325), and these organisations have done a great deal to educate and empower musicians living in cities like Chicago and St. Louis. Likewise, the work of UK based collectives have long been associated with ideas of community music, or with the educational jazz outreach programmes of music schools (Carr 1973/2008; Higgins 2007; McKay and Higham 2011). While not overlooking the importance of self-help learning within the collectives, the existence of the jazz programmes is important at three levels. First they attract a sizable number of new and talented musicians from across the world to the cities each year. Many remain in the area, and these graduates form the backbone of each collective. Secondly, the structure of a jazz education, in which musicians must play with a range of other musicians in different combinations and playing different forms of jazz provides an encultured blueprint for the operation of the jazz collectives; members permutate themselves into different ensembles to enable them to play in a variety of different ways. The college courses, along with the institutions of the local scene, also seem to establish some sort of notion of the jazz establishment against which the activity of the collective is meaningful.

Members of Cobweb have noted that there is very little overlap between Conservatoire students and older, more established, Birmingham jazz artists. One Birmingham based jazz promoter saw this partly as a generational divide, but also a sense that the younger musicians view experimental expressions of avant-garde free playing to be their domain versus the more traditional straight-ahead jazz played by the older generation. One Cobweb member described his perception as follows:

People who go to music colleges tend to be younger, or perhaps a bit more open to learning new things about the music. If you’re prepared to waste thousands of pounds studying jazz at a Conservatoire, then you are probably more open to exploring things as an artist. If you haven’t had that, you’d probably be a bit more mainstream and go where the work is.

Contemporary jazz musicians who are also members of Cobweb characterize their pursuits as passion-led. A local jazz musician and member of Cobweb stated: ‘wanting to be better at your instrument and express yourself more easily is really the main thing. I don’t think anyone would go to the Conservatoire thinking ‘I want to be a jazz star and this is my route to it’. It’s more of a self-exploration thing.’ Indeed, these routes to self-exploration are rarely rewarded with personal fame or commercial success. The desire to explore the boundaries of artistic freedom can even conflict with the requirements of educational assessment, as one Birmingham-based jazz musician noted: ‘the more creative musicians might find it hard to exist at the Conservatoire because it’s hard for what they are doing creatively to be assessed within that criteria.’

We should first explicitly answer our version of DeVeaux’s question that we posed at the outset of this article. For these locally-based musicians at least, collective activity gives them an identity as a progressive jazz musician, the means to participate in the sorts of regular and diverse music-making situations they desire, and the opportunity to use improvisation as means of achieving a satisfying aesthetic experience. This is a notably different sense of progressive than that used by either DeVeaux’s bebop musicians, or the earlier generations of collectives. On could almost say it was an idea of progressiveness with out an overt political notion of progress. While use of the term collective, and the naming of the groupings themselves, ties back to other historically-located collectives, the practices adopted by the groups are not directly modeled on these collectives, but on ideas of the less politically-motivated end of the spectrum of DIY activities within rock music. The music colleges from which many of the collective musicians have graduated offer important lessons about the purity of musical experience and the technical skills to deploy them but, in the musicians’ minds at least, much of their activity is set in opposition to the colleges, and indeed the older local scenes.

This article has examined the conditions under which the production and dissemination of music are organized by young jazz musicians in three major UK cities. In particular we examined how collectivisation is institutionalized in the working lives of young jazz musicians to organize a series of live venue club nights into a viable scene, and allow then to play in a multiplicity of settings in what some of them understand is a postmodern take on jazz improvisation. We argue that the semiotics of collective organisation is as important to the musicians as its political economics. Both are more important than any sense of political progressiveness. This certainly suggests that the role of the European conservatoire, in Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester at least, has a more complex relationship to graduate music-making than suggested by Nicholson.

We have also been able to point to questions in wider popular music studies about the economic organisation of music, and the relationship between the global and the local. These young musicians, at least for a while, turn their back on the traditional career paths of the recording industry, while at the same time using some of the basics of live music promotion and an approach to the branding of the music which gives a prominence to venue and collective over the single stable band or the single musician. Equally, it asks us to produce a sophisticate approach to understanding how contemporary practices relate to those of the past, to education, and the actions of an individual musician in a local scene to the globalized ‘planet jazz’.


Ake, D. (2010). Rethinking jazz education. Jazz matters: sound, place, and time since bebop. Berkeley, Calif.; London, University of California Press: 102-120.

Carr, I. (1973/2008). Music outside: contemporary jazz in Britain. [London], Latimer New Dimensions.

Cohen, S. (2007). Decline, renewal and the city in popular music culture : beyond the Beatles. Aldershot, Ashgate.

Higgins, L. (2007). “Growth, pathways and groundwork: Community music in the United Kingdom ” International Journal of Community Music 1(1): 23-37.

Laing, D. (2002). The Jazz Market. The Cambridge Companion to Jazz. M. Cooke and D. Horn. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 321 – 331.

Lewis, G. (2008). A power stronger than itself : the AACM and American experimental music. Chicago, University of Chicago Press ; Bristol : University Presses Marketing [distributor].

Looker, B. (2004). Point from which creation begins : the Black Artists’ Group of St. Louis. St. Louis, Missouri Historical Society Press.

McKay, G. (2005). Circular breathing: the cultural politics of jazz in Britain. Durham, Duke University Press.

McKay, G. and B. Higham (2011). Community music: history and current practice, its constructions of ‘community’, digital turns and future soundings. Swindon, Arts & Humanities Research Council.

Nicholson, S. (2005). Is jazz dead? : (or has it moved to a new address). London, Routledge.

Straw, W. (1997). Communities and scenes in popular music. The subcultures reader. K. Gelder and S. Thornton. London ; New York, Routledge: 494 – 505.

Tapscott, H. and S. L. Isoardi (2001). Songs of the Unsung: the musical and social journey of Horace Tapscott. Durham [N.C.], Duke University Press.

Wickes, J. (1999). Innovations in British jazz. Volume One, 1960-1980. Chelmsford, Soundworld Publishers,.

[1] http://cobwebcollective.com/wordpress/about

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leeds_improvised_music_association

[3] http://efpirecords.com/about-efpi

[4] http://efpirecords.com/about-efpi

[5] All quoted statements are from interviews with the authors. We have not included references to specific individuals, and in most cases the quotations represent views expressed more widely within our dataset.

[6] Jazz Warriors alumnus Courtney Pine, for instance, has pointed to the importance of Wynton Marsalis for the young black London jazz musicians in episode 3 of the Jazz Britannia (2005) documentary.

Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center March 7, 2012

Posted by wallofsound in Cultural critiques, Jazz.
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As a black American jazz musician Marsalis obviously owes a strong debt to the African American tradition, but he has become a somewhat controversial figure within American jazz because of his commitment to presenting jazz as America’s classical music. In doing so he is aliening his own music, and of jazz as a whole, with traditions of the European art discourse. This position is further emphasised by the role that he takes at the prestigious New York Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, a vast complex of theatres for symphonic, operatic and theatrical arts in Manhattan. Jazz performance spaces within the center rival those for art music, and this physically asserts the cultural significance given to jazz. As Artistic Director and leader of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Marsalis has a strong influence over the performances, educational and broadcast work undertaken there.

A technically impressive trumpet player, Marsalis has tended to play forms of jazz that were associated with a period from the 1930s through to the late 1950s. He has been particularly critical of jazz that took influences from rock and later R&B or hip hop, using ideas from European art theory to argue that jazz reached its classic zenith during the period he champions. Like those of classical musicians, his performances are highly skilful interpretations of older music, and he performs in concert halls rather than clubs. The trumpeters is also associated with some important US cultural critics like Stanley Crouch and Albert Murray who argue that jazz is a uniquely American music created by black Americans and should be celebrated and nurtured as the equivalent of great European composers. Marsalis played a central role in the influential Ken Burns music documentary, Jazz, which was based upon exactly this idea.

The key ideas of the European art tradition are clearly apparent in this approach to jazz. Commercial use of jazz is criticised, and Marsalis sees himself as an artist, rather than an entertainer. The Lincoln Center has a strong commitment to excellence in performance technicalities, a cannon of great music has been developed, and there is an emphasis on educating audiences as well as musicians. From this position jazz is definitely not a popular music. There is little room for the idea that art can be a disruptive influence, or that artists should be breaking rules in the Marsalis/Lincoln Center discourse, and both musician and institution have been heavily criticised by contemporary jazz players who see their music as progressive or avant guarde.

Issues in Jazz Studies March 1, 2012

Posted by wallofsound in Academic reflection, Jazz.
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http://pastelsbeeman.blogspot.com/2010_04_01_archive.html Beemanmj@Bresnan.net

I’m developing a new module in Issues in Jazz Studies for an MA in Jazz Studies. Students will also do modules: in Music as Culture; Music as Commerce, or Creative Industries and Cultural Policy, or Music Heritage; Research Methods or Production Lab; MA by Dissertation or MA by Project

It is aimed at individuals who want to develop an academic or professional career in jazz as an industry and culture. There isn’t a performance element as we already have a fine MMus Jazz (Performance or Composition) at the university. The new MA Jazz Studies programme will be based in the Birmingham School of Media, and will have a strong media and cultural studies emphasis. It will share modules with our current MA Music Industries.

I emailed a group of jazz and popular music academics and then collated their suggestions about what they would include in such a module. Your productive comments are very welcome.

Distilling the contributions into ten topics

Jazz as a music and as a cultural concept [contesting the boundaries of jazz as musical form, terminology, concept, ideology]

Historicising jazz

Jazz as a world music [The diasporic process, globalisation, european vs american developments]

Hybridity and fusion

Jazz as organised work [professional; collectives]

Jazz as an industry

Cultural position of jazz

Jazz and and identity [including constructs of race, gender and sexuality (especially picking up on David Ake’s and Julie Dawn Smith’s work)]

Recorded performance and record production

Mediation of jazz [jazz and radio/journalism/photography/TV&Film/t’internet]

Tony Levin Discography 2000s February 20, 2011

Posted by wallofsound in British Jazz, Discography, Jazz.

Mujician & Georgian Ensemble Bristol Concert (What Disc, 2000) x

Paul Dunmall – Saxes
Keith Tippet – Piano
Paul Rogers – Bass
Tony Levin – Drums
WITH 11-piece jazz group The Georgian Ensemble

Brass Wind Bells 7:48
Thoughts to Geoff 7:44
Dedicated to Mingus/Tortworth Oak 19:47
A Loose Kite 8:05
Slowly the Sunrise 6:50
Cider Dance 11:42
The Irish Girl’s Tear 4:11
Septober Energy 7:32

MujicianSpacetime Cuniform 162 2002

Paul Dunmall (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone);
Keith Tippett (piano);
Paul Rogers (double bass);
Tony Levin (drums).

1 Spacetime, Part 1
2 Spacetime, Part 2
3 Spacetime, Part 3
4 Spacetime, Part 4
5 Spacetime, Part 5
6 Spacetime, Part 6
7 Spacetime, Part 7
8 Exquisitely Woven Spiritual Communication, Part 1
9 Exquisitely Woven Spiritual Communication, Part 2
10 Exquisitely Woven Spiritual Communication, Part 3
11 Exquisitely Woven Spiritual Communication, Part 4
12 Exquisitely Woven Spiritual Communication, Part 5
13 Exquisitely Woven Spiritual Communication, Part 6
14 Exquisitely Woven Spiritual Communication, Part 7
15 Exquisitely Woven Spiritual Communication, Part 8

Victoria Rooms, Bristol, England (02/24/2001).

Paul Dunmall Octet The Great Divide 2001 Label Cuneiform Records √

Paul Dunmall Tenor Saxophone
Evan Parker Saxophone
Elton Dean Alto Saxophone
Oren Marshall Tuba
Simon Picard Tenor Saxophone
Lee Goodall Alto Saxophone
Keith Tippett Piano
Paul Rogers Bass
Tony Levin Drums
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
A Passage Though the Great Divide

Paul Dunmall/Philip Gibbs/Paul Rogers/Tony Levin Simple Skeletons 2001 DUNS Limited edition 014 x

Paul Dunmall, soprano and tenor saxophone;
Philip Gibbs, guitars;
Paul Rogers, bass;
Tony Levin, drums.

Simple Skeletons (05.12)
Logers Rocked Out (35.20)
Salt Licks (17.12)

Recorded on 7 May 2001 in the Victoria Rooms, Bristol.

Philippe Aerts Quartet Back To the Old World 2002 Igloo IGL162 √

Philippe Aerts bass
Bert Joris trumpet
John Ruocco sax tenor, clarinet
Tony Levin drums

1 Keep hope alive 07:31
2 Circle step 06:22
3 Forward 05:37
4 Riff-raff 09:04
5 Landsmark 04:09
6 Mr.Jones 06:11
7 Giant steps 07:31
8 Upper west side 05:47
9 For heaven’s sake 04:58

Gerd DudekSmatter 2002 PSI Records x

Gerd Dudek (saxophone);
John Parricelli (electric guitar);
Chris Laurence (acoustic bass);
Tony Levin (drums).

Recorded in 1998.

Paul Dunmall Octet Bridging the Great Divide Live 2002 CLEAN FEED CF017CD √

Paul Dunmall – Tenor Saxophone, Bagpipes;
Paul Rutherford – Trombone;
Malcom Griffiths – Trombone;
Gethin Liddington – Trumpet;
Simon Picard – Tenor Saxophone;
Keith Tippett – Piano;
Paul Rogers – Bass;
Tony Levin – Drums.

The Great Divide

Recreates the 2000 five-part movement recording of Great Divide (Cuneiform) live at the 2002 “Jazz em Agusto” festival in Lisbon.

JUCERich Core 2004 JUCE Records √

Pete Saberton (piano)
Fred T Baker (bass)
Tony Levin (drums)

1. You Do Something To Me – Cole Porter
2. Rich Core – Pete Saberton
3. Afternoon In Paris – John Lewis
4. Beautiful Feeling – Fred T . Baker
5. In Your Own Sweet Way – Dave Brubeck
6. Change Partners – Irving Berlin
7. Inner Urge – Joe Henderson
8. Processional – Fred T. Baker

Ali Haurand and Friends Ballads 2005 Konnex KCD 5145 x

Charlie Mariano
Gerd Dudek
Jiri Stivin
Alan Skidmore
Rob van den Broeck
Daniel Humair
Tony Levin

Deep Joy Trio Deep Joy Trio 2005 DUNS 041 x

Paul Rogers – 7-String Doublebass
Paul Dunmall – Bagpipes And Sax
Tony Levin – Drums

Disc A: 1. Don’t look down;
2. One more ledge to overcome;
3. Music for well being;
4. T.L.;
5. What have you seen yourself?
Disc B: 1. We care about this;
2. For you, us and them
Disc C: 1. The big giving;
2. Deep joy;
3. The eyes have it
Disc D: 1. The juggler;
2. One lifetime’s work;
3. Music for the Buddha;
4. How precious it is;
5. Courage friends courage

Mujician There’s No Going Back Now 2006 (Cuneiform) √

Paul Dunmall – Saxes
Keith Tippet – Piano
Paul Rogers – Bass
Tony Levin – Drums

There’s No Going Back Now

Recorded at Victoria Rooms, Bristol, England (06/12/2005).

European Jazz Ensemble 30th anniversary 2006 x

Charlie Mariano altosax
Stan Sulzmann saxophone
Alan Skidmore saxophone
Gerd Dudek saxophones
Jiri Stivin flutes & sax
Pino Minafra trumpet
Manfred Schoof trumpet & flugelhorn
Eric Vloeimans trumpet
Matthias Schriefl trumpet
Conny Bauer trombone
Rob van den Broeck piano
Joachim Kühn piano
Ali Haurand ld. & bass
Sébastien Boisseau bass
Daniel Humair drums
Tony Levin drums

Paul Dunmall, Miles Levin, Tony Levin The Golden Lake 2007 DUNS DLE055 x

Miles Levin – Drums
Paul Dunmall – Saxes
Tony Levin – Drums

Duke Ellington on WHN 1927-29: ‘Serving the masses, not the classes’ September 26, 2010

Posted by wallofsound in Jazz, Music Radio.
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As most Ellington fans and scholars will be well aware, on the 4th December 1927, Ellington’s band, the Washingtonians, opened at the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York City (Haskins 1985, 47). They were soon featured in the broadcasts of the local Manhattan-based radio station, WHN. The band could actually be heard on the station for some years leading up to their Cotton Club debut: from 1924 at the Hollywood Club, and again in January 1927 at the same location, by then renamed the Kentucky Club (Collier 1987, 55 & 96; Lawrence 2001, 81 & 409). Collier suggests that these broadcasts had been instigated by a young fan working for the radio station, although it is more commonly believed that the initiative belonged to Ellington’s manager, Irvin Mills. Collier’s story works well as mythology because that fan is identified as Ted Hushing, who became perhaps America’s best known ‘sportscaster’ from the late 1920s, while the Mills angle misses the point that the Washingtonians had broadcast before he took over the reigns of their careers. Lawrence states (but without a cited source) that the band played on Mondays between 11.30 and midnight, and on Wednesday and Friday evenings between 7.00 and 7.30 (Lawrence 2001, 113), while Collier is less precise, although he concedes that accuracy is difficult when relying on anecdotes from contemporary listeners.

As biographers and jazz writers, the authors of such accounts of Ellington’s life and music naturally focus more on the developing story and recording details. However, a more complex and more interesting sense of the social world in which Ellington operated emerges if we seek to understand both the nightclub and the radio station broadcasts in greater detail. In fact, by the time The Washingtonians were broadcasting from the Hollywood/Kentucky club, their shows were part of WHN’s extensive remote broadcast initiative, which embraced perhaps thirty theatres on Broadway and a good number of clubs in Harlem, including the three biggest: Connie’s Inn, Small’s Paradise and the Cotton Club (Doerksen 2005, 32). The Washingtonians were broadcasting mainly because of where they were, rather than who they were. A similar argument, by the way, could be made for their records. Ellington’s Vocalion releases were swiftly assigned first to the Kentucky Club Orchestra, and then to the Cotton Club Orchestra within a few days of his first appearance there. Their associations with key clubs was clearly very important in signalling who they were.

The evidence also suggests that the first Ellington broadcasts were made live from the radio studios in the mid-evening, while the later ones took the form of ‘radio remotes’ from the Cotton Club at around midnight, the time at which we know that the Ellington Orchestra was featured. Owned by a Brooklyn newspaper entrepreneur, but programmed by the publicist for the down-market Loew vaudeville theatre group, Nils Thor Doerksen, WHN developed a form of ‘cabaret broadcasting’, promoting first Loew acts and then those of other entertainment businesses through performances based in the studio, and subsequently relaying their performances live from the venue itself (Granlund 1957). In addition, WHN time-shared their frequency with two, and subsequently three, other stations up until 1934 (Jaker, Sulek et al. 1998, 124). In 1926, the station was broadcasting from 12.30 pm until midnight, and its programme schedule featured two ‘Dance Orchestra’ programmes: one at 7.00 pm and one at 11.30 pm (Jaker, Sulek et al. 1998, 84). However, its published schedule for late 1929 reveals that, by that date, one of the other time-share stations broadcast on the frequency from 9:30 pm to midnight (New York Times 1929). It is very likely, then, that the loss of the night-time broadcast slot meant that the Cotton Club remotes were no longer possible, and that this was the reason that, by February 1929, the Ellington band could be heard on WABC.

While it might have only been possible to hear Ellington’s WHN Cotton Club remotes for about a year, it is still significant that they started on that station. WHN features prominently in early radio histories, mainly for two controversies: one around its on-air style; and a second, but connected, dispute around its compliance with patents. Both highlight the adverse reactions to the station’s forceful commercial approach to the then new medium. We should therefore see the station, and the Ellington Orchestra’s musical broadcasts, as being at the centre of a series of connected struggles over the future of radio, struggles that were themselves indicative of competing cultural discourses of value in American society. In fact, it is not too fanciful to suggest that Ellington’s cultural practices at this time can be read as those of a bricoleur, manipulating visual and aural signs to construct a persona which he hoped could (but never would) resolve the tensions between competing black and white cultural values. The result was experienced by audiences through the mediation of a set of new technological forms of communication – records, radio and film – that would come to define what it was to be a modern American.

Perhaps what I mean by this will become clearer if I provide some background to radio, to its technological and economic base, and to the debates that raged around its implementation as a broadcast medium. In the early part of the twentieth century, it was not clear what purposes the relatively new wired and wireless technologies would be used for, and while by the 1920s wireless had been established as the basis of broadcast radio, and wired technology as the basis for point-to-point telephony, the owners of the patents in these areas were keen to ensure they controlled and exploited them for profit. The point at which Ellington’s band were broadcasting, then, was a transitional period, where radio broadcasts were dominated by small independent stations but the right to exploit the potential of these broadcasts was dominated by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). This corporation was an alliance of patent-holding companies, who pooled their technology with the radio assets of the US military to determine the post-war development of domestic radio and telephony. For land-based radio, the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) was the most powerful, as they held the right to license the transmitter technology and approve the commercial exploitation of both wired and wireless broadcasting. In addition, the broadcast stations came under the regulatory control of the Department of Commerce, and after 1927 the Federal Radio Commission, with the former emphasising content and the latter frequency allocations.

WHN was, then, part of a much more diverse and unsettled radio system than that which would be apparent in the network systems of a decade later. At the time Ellington’s band first broadcast, only 7% of stations were profit-maximising commercial broadcasters like WHN (Dimmick 1986), and radio content was produced by broadcasters run by universities, religious groups, political parties, wireless manufacturers, and newspapers (Barnouw 1966, 4). Further, WHN could not broadcast when and to whom it wanted. It was allocated a time-shared frequency with another station based at a New Jersey Amusement Park (WPAP), with the Calvary Baptist Church (WQAO) and, after frequency re-allocations in 1928, with a station run by an electronics magazine publisher (WRNY) (Jaker, Sulek et al. 1998, 84).

The station was far from typical of the time. WHN’s experiments with remote broadcasting were a novel use of both wired point-to-point technology (to relay the performance to the transmitter) and wireless broadcast technology (to get the performance to listeners). Further, compared with even its time-share stations, WHN stood out for its emphasis on using broadcasts as a basis for direct revenue generation, its collaboration with New York clubs and cabarets, and its exuberant presentation style, which many saw as crass or even indecent.

It was these characteristics which defined the way in which radio listeners would interpret the Ellington band’s performances. While other stations followed WHN in establishing remote broadcasts of music, these tended to relay performances from midtown upmarket venues like the Waldorf Astoria, Biltmore, Lafayette Hotel, and Hotel Roosevelt, and when dance music was featured it would be from bands led by the likes of Paul Whiteman, Ben Bemie, Meyer Davis or Paul Specht. The Ellington band’s WHN broadcasts were in the company of other black entertainers like Ethel Waters, Clarence Williams and Eva Taylor, Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, Florence Mills, LeRoy Smith, Charlie Johnson, Wilbur Sweatman, Leona Williams, and Fletcher Henderson’s Club Alabam’ Orchestra featuring Louis Armstrong (Doerksen 1999, 88). While other stations, in other cities, also broadcast such ‘hot’ jazz bands, it was far from a common activity (Barlow 1995).