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.

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.

Boy Bands March 8, 2012

Posted by wallofsound in Uncategorized.
add a comment

The singing performance group has a long history in popular music. Although vocal groups dominated the African American tradition from the 1950s through to the 1970s, and harmony singing is important in many forms of folk music, it is in the Tin Pan Alley tradition that such entertainment has had its most successful run. The Boy Band version of harmony vocal group performers is, though, only really apparent from the 1990s onwards and looking for immediate predecessors can easily deceive us. Clearly performing groups like the Bay City Rollers, The Jackson 5, the Osmonds, and even the Beatles, share the adulation of girls and young women that characterises the Boy Bands. However, all of these earlier entertainers were presented as self-contained musical outfits; a band in the sense that we usually mean it. Likewise, gospel and 1950s doo wop singing groups share the ‘singing and dancing only’ characteristics of the Boy Bands, but they are more firmly of the African American tradition in their musical forms and relationships to their audience.

We can better locate the Boy Bands rise to significance in the 1990s in the development of urban music as a way of selling the dancability and emotion of black music to young white audiences. Calling hip hop and R&B forms urban allowed first radio, and then record companies, to sell the entertainment value without having to deal with the fact that the African American tradition dealt explicitly with the politics of race. We can trace the progress of Boy Bands from New Edition, through New Kids on the Block to Take That and Boyzone. A group like Boyz II Men mark the boundary between those groups who mainly work in the African American tradition and those who draw strongest on Tin Pan Alley.
There is, though, a longer-term link back to nineteenth century music hall, through the barbershop singers and amateur glee club performers of the early twentieth century, and the musical theatre and film entertainers that dominated mid-century pop. It is in the antecedents that we can see the songwriter / singer split and standardised song form that characterises Tin Pan Alley’s writing factory methods, as well as the emphasis on entertainment and spectacle for mass audiences.

Case study: The Joy of Disco rewrite March 7, 2012

Posted by wallofsound in Uncategorized.

This documentary history of the music genre of disco was broadcast in 2012 on the UK digital terrestrial channel BBC4 as part of a themed night of programmes featuring disco artists and music from the late 1970s. The corporation policy documents set the station the aspiration to “be the most culturally enriching channel in UK broadcasting” and “the channel of distinction for people who love to think” (BBC, 2011: 29). Such lofty ambitions are strongly within the BBC’s tradition as a public service broadcaster. For analysts of popular music culture a documentary like The Joy of Disco raises a series of questions about the position taken by the documentary, the degree to which it documents the historical events, and the way the narrative is constructed. For a documentary broadcast on a public service channel there is a further question about the degree to which pop history documentaries match the cultural and intellectual ambitions set out by the BBC.

This is certainly a programme which seeks to take a much maligned musical genre seriously and to set it in its cultural context. However, analysis reveals that from this alternative position it produces a totalising story, conforms to standardised tropes of pop history, and anchors potentially ambiguous or paradoxical meanings using standardised television rhetoric.

The documentary is far more than a string of pop videos of well-known disco numbers and it has been made with skill and at some expense. There are interviews with key musicians, singers, producers, DJs and remixers from disco’s heyday, with music journalists, black cultural commentators, and gay and feminist analysts, and with participants who give personal testimony. The programme ranges over the role of gay liberation, feminism and race identity and the shifts in urban politics, and links them strongly to what the programme presents as a hedonistic, sex-driven, drug-influenced music culture. The programme also features a considerable amount of archive footage, much of it capturing moments in the disco culture of the time, or revealing important insights into the politics which contextualises these moments.

The programme title suggests that disco is about pleasure, and many viewers who were young in the days of disco will read the programme name as a pun on a 1970s best-selling book, the Joy of Sex. The politics of pleasure, even if not a fully thought through idea, is used as the totalising narrative through which the story of disco is told. In a succinct summary of the programmes narrative BBC publicity called it a “documentary about how disco music soundtracked gay liberation, foregrounded female desire in the age of feminism and led to the birth of modern club culture as we know it today, before taking the world by storm.” These ideas are established firmly at the outset. In the swift segue of ideas that open the programme the cultural derision that is often applied to disco as a music is countered with personal testament to its joys, before establishing the standard tropes in the hyperbolic claim that disco in the 1970s “changed the world”. The narration, and selected interviewees, explicitly assert that disco was revolutionary music, located outside mainstream radio and the music industry, developed in oppressed gay, black and Porto Rican minority culture, soundtracked by “a never-ending orgasmic music” rooted in black R&B, but moving effectively into the pop mainstream. A further ten-minute assemblage of archive news footage and personal testimony evidences the veracity of the claim, offering a very different story to the oft held view that disco is simply a highly commercialised unsophisticated pop music.

Once the totalising narrative is established the programme abruptly switches to the roles of individual New York-based party hosts, venues and DJs who are presented at the originators of disco as a culture. The evidence and testimony presented clearly points to the importance of these people and places, but the narrative reduces their activities to the singular origin of disco. Key studies of the development of post-1970s US dance music culture (for instance Brewster & Broughton, 1999; Lawrence, 2003) cover the same ground, but as single incidents in a longer, geographically divergent, and more complex history of cultural activity across North America and Europe.

The programme certainly tries to locate a British origin for disco in the Northern Soul subculture, but the logical connections between these cultural activities is unclear and the logic of the story starts to spiral out of control. The British events predate those highlighted in New York, and did not involve any explicit connection to gay black or women’s liberation. Northern Soul was a predominantly white, male working class culture (Wall, 2006), and the sub-story arc is built around the embrace of disco by one DJ. At this point the programme is not characterised by a thoughtful engagement with the complexity of the emergence of a record-based dance cultures, but the use of standardised documentary rhetorical devices to anchor the programme materials to the totalising narrative. It is only voice-over narration and editing that bring a spurious sense of coherence.
Music is more often used as cliché than for insight. A Brass Band rendition of Dvorak’s Largo signals the North of England, and jazz establishes ‘70s down-at-heel New York, but the few attempts to explain disco as music are left stranded within the narrative. For instance, the demonstration of 1970s dance beats by one of the key soul drummers, Earl Young, is really informative; but as none of the music that is played from that point onwards uses Young’s approach, it tantalises but offers no sustained explanation.

At about half way, The Joy of Disco introduces its second theme. By juxtaposing Donna Summer with a feminist culture critic, the programme proposes that disco was also about female sexual desire. The alternative reading that it such music was misogynistic porn chic is ignored even though it could be supported by the examples of record cover art we are later shown. The feminist empowerment reading is emphasised through a montage of interviews and performances from Labelle. The nuanced reading of former porn star Andrea True from one interviewee, and the engineer’s claim that he would not have remixed the record if he had known it had sexual meaning, just hang there until anchored by an incomprehensible voiceover about women’s sexuality, male dominance and 12-inch singles. These are complex issues about sexual politics, but the programme closes down debate about them, rather than using these events to ask some fundamental cultural questions.

Overall, the music we hear here, the things we see, and the points the interviewees make in the documentary actually all point to the fact that there was no coherent thing called disco music. At the simplest level disco it is just music that is played in a disco, and the issue that really needs answering is about why and how this assortment of dance music, dancers and musical artists was organised into a coherent whole. The answer is there in the sidelines of the documentary, of course. Record companies learnt that discos were a new promotional opportunity and dancers were a new market for record sales. The economics of disco is as important as its culture.

The last third of the documentary does deal with celebrity disco glamour and the chart success of records now marketed as disco. However, European dance music and Saturday Night Fever appear from nowhere in The Joy of Disco story. As both have important and comprehensible stories of their own, and offer a partial explanation of the why and how of disco, their abrupt introduction requires analysis. Of course, neither fit within the totalising story of disco as primarily a New York-based African American music through which gay men and feminist women change the world. Instead the programme presents disco as simply the introduction of out gay culture into mainstream culture, even though all their examples were of disco joining other instances of out gay culture in mainstream culture.

If it is true that disco has not been taken seriously for 35 years, there is an interesting bigger question to be asked about the degree to which The Joy of Disco actually takes it seriously. The programme impressively connects the rise of the disco and DJ-based dance music to important liberation struggles, and in doing so challenges the clichés used by dance music’s detractors. It is easy to argue, though, that in seeking a simple and accessible story such documentaries close down thinking about the importance of popular music in our culture, and in doing so make culture less rich and less nuanced. Particularly in a programme on a public service station, we could expect a documentary which explores long-held assumptions about disco, rather than simply replaces them with another set of assumptions.

BBC. (2011). BBC Statements of Programme Policy. London: BBC.
Brewster, B., & Broughton, F. (1999). Last night a DJ saved my life : the history of a Disc Jockey. London: Headline.
Lawrence, T. (2003). Love saves the day : a history of American dance music culture, 1970-1979. Durham, N.C. ; London: Duke University Press.
Wall, T. (2006). Out on the floor: the politics of dancing on the Northern Soul scene. Popular Music, 25(3), 431-445.

The DIY music movement and the internet: a new age for independence? January 26, 2012

Posted by wallofsound in Uncategorized.
add a comment

The term popular music suggests three different sense of ‘popular’. In part it means ‘widely liked’, and it should be clear that the mass popularity that some music-makers can achieve is central to the growth of major record companies, and ultimately, because of the political economy of recorded music, to the increasing tendency to concentration in the record industry. It is also clear that the second sense of popular, as texts of poor cultural value, is often applied to the records produced by these large record companies. It should be no surprise, then, to discover that there is also a whole range of record industry activity associated with the third sense of popularity, the idea that music belongs to ordinary people and should express their aspirations. We can see this idea reflected in some aspects of the idea of independence and alternativeness at the heart of DIY music. That is, the idea that the political economy of music should be in the hands of those who make and consume music; musicians and music fans should be doing it (the music economy) for themselves.

In this formulation it is easy to see why independent companies were seen by many to avoid the tendency (as they saw it) of mass music popularity to undermine its cultural value. This is clearly the basis of the support for those independents in the 1950s, 60s and early 70s. DIY music culture is often traced back to the late 1970s, as ideas of the alternative society were applied more systematically in popular culture, and especially in anarcho-punk culture. The punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue, and Mark P’s (1976) encouragement to DIY activism, is often seen as an emblematic moment in the development of DIY: “don’t be satisfied with what we write. Go out and start your own fanzine or send reviews to the established papers. Let’s really get on their nerves, flood the market with punk-writing!”
However, as George McKay (1998) has shown the idea of DIY music culture goes back much further, and is not restricted to anarcho-punk or punk. His example from skiffle, mod culture and house music, along with Tony Mitchell’s (2007) examination of Australian Hip Hop, show how widely idea has been used. Nevertheless, the idea has been particularly strong in anarcho-punk. Lucy Nicholas (Nicholas, 2007: 1) has summed this up succinctly thus:
“This DIY ethic originates from the rejection by punk bands of the apparent compromise of signing to major music labels, choosing instead to record, release and distribute music, and organise gigs, themselves. It has been extended by participants in the punk scene to other cultural creations and to everyday politics, wherein participants avoid the ethico-political compromise of participation in institutions and practices they consider exploitative, doing as much as possible themselves, according to an autonomous anarchist ethos”.
Pete Dale (2008) has shown how these important parts of anarcho-punk ideology grew out of earlier punk and continued in less politically charged forms. Most helpfully he examines the connection of the idea from earlier decades with its deployment in connection to online technologies and social media. Dale engages with the utopian perspective which sees the internet as ‘circumventing’ the sorts of restrictions that were outlined above, casting doubt on the extent to which such optimism is rooted in reality and asking important questions about how we could research the area further.

If doubts have been cast on the potential of DIY music initiatives to secure independence, other theorists have opened up the question about the degree to which cultural aims as well. In particular the very male nature of many DIY music cultures has been highlighted by a number of commentators. Setting aside that this is a criticism that can, and has, been made against other music cultures which aspire to alternativeness, and to mainstream popular music, these authors make important points about the ability of DIY cultures to engage with questions about alternatives that go beyond the economic in anarcho-punk and dance music (Nicholas, 2007; Rietveld, 1998). The final section of this chapter picks up the questions about the degree to which the internet has increased the potential for DIY success.

There has always been a degree of utopianism about independence within the music industry, then. Since 2000, though, this became an increasingly strong theme in the way that both journalistic commentators and scholars have approached the potential of the internet within the record industry. While twentieth century small independent companies faced difficulties in getting records pressed in significant numbers, limitations in accessing funding, and the physical problems of distributing CDs or vinyl records, twenty-first century record companies could use the internet to distribute their records as digital files, removing these problems completely. Beyond this practical transformation, many writers have used Chris Anderson’s (2006) promotion of ‘selling less of more’, which he developed out of the idea of the ‘long tail’ (see Anderson, 2004). He suggests that the internet changes the economic imperative within the record industry, detailed earlier in this chapter, to sell large quantities of a very small number of releases. He argued it was possible to make money out of the ‘long tail’ of record releases that only sell in small numbers, and so transform the political economy of music. More generally, writers have pointed to the potential of the internet as a new medium of communication for musicians and small record companies to increase awareness of their music without the ‘gate-keeping’ role of traditional media.

This has lead writers such as Kembrew McLeod (2005) to contend that the falling costs of recording, production and distribution, and what he calls the ‘consumer-led file-sharing explosion’, has enabled small labels and independent artist-entrepreneurs to challenge major record companies and radio. However, like most of the contributions to this debate, McLeod offers only assertion and quotations from numerous advocates of independent record companies, rather than empirical research to support these claims.

Matt Manson (2008) picks out file-sharing as one of a number of ‘youth-led’ activities which he believes has radicalised the music industries. In particular, he cites the punk and DIY movements we discussed earlier, along with counterculture ideas, pirate radio, and street-level remix and re-use artistic culture, being transformed through the computer and the internet to offer artists and musicians as way of resolving what he calls ‘the pirate’s dilemma’. For Manson, this is the tendency of one group of capitalists to sell pirated products to undercut over-charging major corporations. Although this is strictly the dilemma faced society, rather than by producers who impinge on copyrights to produce facsimile goods, Manson believes an independent and alternative capitalism can undercut ‘pirated’ goods and promote artistic vitality at the same time.

However, we know far too little about the effectiveness of these new forms of online distribution and promotion to judge what their likely role in industrial change is likely to be. Given that CDs sold through conventional means still remain a buoyant sector in 2012, and the major companies still remain dominant, the utopian position clearly is not sufficient to understand what is going on. On the other hand, these new technologies clearly provide opportunities for small-scale enterprise, and many of the positive examples provided by McLeod and Manson, amongst other, show that imaginative entrepreneurs can make a living in this new virtual space. What is clear is that the internet and this utopian perspective have provided the basis for a whole range of technologies and services, which offer musicians the opportunity to be a DIY record industry. Putting aside that this often means that independent artist-entrepreneurs are not doing it themselves if they are signing up to online services which seek to replicate the activities of a record company, they do point to the importance of the internet as a space in which new forms of record industry activity take place.

Perhaps the more important conclusions that need to be drawn are three fold. Firstly, it is clear that this is an area which badly needs less hyperbole and more research. Secondly, the major change is not in the activities of record companies online, but in the consumption practices and culture of music fans. This in turn leads to the third conclusion, that the internet, and the way digital and online distribution change the cost structure of the record and radio industries, are enabling new forms of economic activity, rather than simply online ways to repeat the practices that developed to make money out of physical records on vinyl and CD. Certainly the development of the music services – like Spotify, Pandora and Last FM – and the role that new companies from outside the traditional record industries have had in this new economy, suggest this is the case.

Creativity, music production and A&R January 22, 2012

Posted by wallofsound in Music Industry, Uncategorized.
add a comment

A&R stands for Artists and Repertoire which, of course, means the singers and musicians and their songs and music. The term is a long-standing one within the music industry indexing the old Tin Pan Alley practice of finding separate individuals to perform songs from those who wrote them. It refers to the department within a company who finds and signs artists to the company, or licenses recordings from independent producers, foreign divisions or other smaller companies, and then decides which records should be released on the label.

A&R staff tend to express their role in relationship to the artists they work with, succinctly summed up by one A&R staffer’s self-description as “a groupie with a cheque book” (Frith 1983: 102). But they often also share the notion with popular music scholars that they are gatekeepers who decide who to sign, what to record or licence and what to release with a keen sense that only one in eight of the records they release will make a profit (Negus 1999: 32). Following the analogy of a gatekeeper, who decides who will go through, some theorists have examined the way that the discourse of A&R workers constructs their activities as a transformational process in which music is turned into other organisational products – ‘property’, ‘demo’, ‘tape’, ‘cut’, ‘master’, ‘release’, ‘product’, and finally (they hope) ‘hit’ – through each stage of production (Ryan and Peterson 1982).

Negus argues that the analogy of the production line is too superficial, and instead casts A&R staff following Bourdieu (1984) as ‘cultural intermediaries’. This emphasis shifts the attention from the function of A&R as part of a popular music system and to the relationships of A&R within a wider popular music culture. Negus suggests that “the boundary between the recording industry and potential artists is not so much a gate where aspiring stars must wait to be selected and admitted, but a web of relationships stretched across a shifting soundtrack of musical, verbal and visual information” (Negus 1992: 46). This allows him to present such record company workers as far more creative and autonomous than in other analyses (Negus 1996: 36-65). He is particularly interested in the way that the roles of A&R staff, musicians, other intermediaries such as DJs, managers and journalists, and and the roles of fans are blurred, often within the person of a single individual, and how networks of contacts, and knowledge about pop’s past and potential future are utilised to exchange information (Negus 1992: 47).

Musicians themselves are often presented as working with an idea of creativity and commerce as polar opposites. In an interesting ethnographic study of bands playing in Liverpool in the 1980s, Sara Cohen observed that the musicians made strong distinctions between the creativity in music that they wanted to pursue, and the commercial restrictions they felt limited them (Cohen 1991). Of course Cohen’s study focused on local bands who did not necessarily have a record contract at all, and it may be one of the characteristics of commercially successful performers that they do not make such a distinction, or that they are far more concerned with the pursuit of celebrity and fame, than they are with their own creativity. Jason Toynbee (2000) has attempted to rethink the idea of creativity through the notion of ‘agency’, and what he sees as ‘institutional autonomy’. In his analysis agency is the possibility to ‘select and combine’ musical material, and to speak with a distinctive musical ‘voice’ within a restrictions set by the popular music system and popular music culture.

However we understand A&R – either as gatekeepers in a production process, or as parts of an autonomous and amorphous network of cultural intermediaries – an issue remains about the implications of their ideas and practices for the kind of music the corporation records and releases. Negus suggests that staff classify artists into one of two groups which more or less map on the classic distinction between Rock and Pop music (Negus 1992: 54). The first category, which he defines as an ‘organic’ ideology of creativity, positions A&R as discovering and nurturing of new talent, while in the second A&R is as bringing together different talents (writing, choreography, image-making, singing, playing, producing) to synthesise a new star image. For Negus these two ideologies fit with a wider notion of the rock tradition that was still prominent in the 1980s when he conducted his research. Under these conditions even a mediocre rock band would find it easier to get a record contract than music-makers outside this polarity.

Negus’ analysis is now well over twenty years old, and his work is based upon interviews with staff who probably joined the industry in the late 1970s or early 1980s, bringing with them a rock versus pop binary that was dominant in their adolescence. The landscape of popular music culture has changed quite radically since then. There are at least two noteworthy issues that arise from these changes. First, form many young audiences rock no longer has the same resonance, replaced by a postmodern sensibility in which the ‘inauthenticity’ of ‘manufactured’ pop groups is not a negative quality, and no-group, no-star, no-song dance music is now possibly the most common form of music-making. If anything, the notion of networks of information and the blurring of boundaries suggested by Negus are even more prominent in this contemporary context than they were in the mid-1990s. Ideas about creativity have themselves been transformed. And yet the major corporations still seem much happier with the idea of a group with a lead singer that writes its own songs, than it is with the new sensibilities of dance music.

Having said that, there is a second strand of contemporary popular music discourse which seems to run in the other direction. The ability for music-makers to communicate directly with fans through the internet, and for music fans to actively search out new musical experiences, has enabled the idea of the ‘unsigned band’ to become more widespread. Signing, of course, means making a contract with an A&R department to record with a record company. The fan discourse around ‘unsigned bands’ imagines a group of music-makers who have been untainted by the creative compromises forced upon them by A&R, or whose raw talent and direct communication with fans articulates the ideology of popular music far more effectively than corporate record labels can. Carey Sargent (2009) has linked this explicitly by to the cultivation of local audiences through the exchange of ‘social capital’ both on- and off-line, and details the difficulties involved in using this method to attract wider audiences. It is no surprise, then, that this discourse is used by music companies to promote less well-known music-makers. There are now a large number of web services which offer exposure, and even management and promotional services, to ‘unsigned bands’. While most of the bands whose music can be experienced at these sites will not have a major record company recording contract the very fact that they have established a relationship with a music industries company stretches the idea that they are ‘unsigned’ beyond its original use.
So while the idea of the unsigned band may have its origins in the discourse of DIY music, it has become an important art of traditional corporate A&R departments as well as an extension of what it is to be a music industries company. In one dimension, then, the idea of unsigned band has just become one of the ways in which corporations spread risk, and just as the major record companies increasingly relied on independent producers and small labels for indie rock and dance music in the 1990s, the industrial networks around ‘unsigned’ music have become an important part of industry practice. It is interesting to ponder if ‘unsigned band’ functions for younger western consumers in a similar way to ‘world music’ does for their older counter parts.

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.
Cohen, S. (1991). Rock culture in Liverpool : popular music in the making. Oxford ; New York, Clarendon Press : Oxford University Press.
Frith, S. (1983). Sound effects: youth, leisure and the politics of rock. London, Constable.
Negus, K. (1992). Producing pop: culture and conflict in the popular music industry. London, Edward Arnold.
Negus, K. (1996). Popular music in theory: an introduction. Cambridge, Polity Press.
Negus, K. (1999). Music genres and corporate cultures. London, Routledge.
Ryan, J. and R. A. Peterson (1982). “The product image: the fate of creativity in Country music.” Sage annual review of communication research(10): 11-32.
Sargent , C. (2009). “Local musicians building global audiences: social capital and the distribution of user-created content on- and off-line
.” Information, Communication & Society 12(4): 469-487.
Toynbee, J. (2000). Making popular music : musicians, creativity and institutions. London, Arnold.

Abstract for Popular Music And Automobile Culture January 19, 2012

Posted by wallofsound in Uncategorized.
add a comment

The years between 1955 and 1965 marked a seminal moment for American culture. Traditional narratives, both in academic work and in popular representations like American Graffiti, have focused on this as a moment of newness – the rise of the teenager, the creation of rock and roll, the transistor radio. Prominent in this picture is the car, in particular the car as a focus and locus of music, and as a symbol of cultural capital. Yet many of the elements of this story, and especially those which reinforce the car’s centrality, had an existence which pre-dated their employment in this context. That epitome of car culture, hot rodding, dated from the 1930s; music poured from car radios which had been available in some form since the 1920s; and even songs which reflected car culture had a long history – Chuck Berry’s 1961 hit Route 66, for example, reprised a Nat King Cole number from 1946.
This paper therefore seeks to examine the moment of rock ‘n’ roll not as one of newness but instead as one of convergence, of bricolage and of reappropriation. We consider the histories of the various technological and musical aspects of the construction of rock ‘n’ roll culture, which were intertwined during the period and later valorised in a number of nostalgic depictions. In doing so, we situate the association of cars and music, so popular in histories of rock ‘n’ roll, in a continuum of history, shedding light on the social and culture pressures which drove the gradual convergence of mobility and entertainment.

Developed and produced by Dr Nick Webber from an original idea by me.

Expansions in radio channels and the enhancement of specialist music programming November 22, 2011

Posted by wallofsound in Uncategorized.
add a comment

Analyses of change in contemporary radio tend to share the assumption that dramatic change in radio is a recent phenomenon, and that before now radio has always been pretty much the way it was at the end of the twentieth century. However, this is not the case. Radio technology did not become a broadcast form – programming being sent outwards from a central station to mass audiences – until the 1920s, and it had initially been utilised as a point-to-point, reciprocal form of communication. Music radio developed in the USA from the 1950s (Rothenbuhler and McCourt 2002), and many European state and public broadcasters resisted these changes until the late 1960s and early 1970s (Barnard 1989). In the first half of the twentieth century, the music industry, and especially record companies, were antagonistic towards radio, and the settlement of disputes about who should pay for the music played via records over radio was only secured in the second half of the century (Sanjek and Sanjek 1996). As we entered the twenty-first century, much of this settlement began to unravel. The number of stations expanded exponentially, music copyright holders came into conflict with both radio and music listeners, and specialist music became an important part of new forms of that oxymoron, ‘niche broadcasting’.

The expansion in the number of radio stations available to listeners over the last decade is based upon an increase in the number of channels through which radio could be distributed. In turn, this expansion in channels is associated with technological innovations in both distribution and consumption, together with quite radical changes in the national regulation of broadcasting. Most important has been the development of technologies for distributing streamed audio. This has been a century-long development, but the speed of change has become exponential. Up until the 1960s, innovation in radio technologies was aimed at extending geographic coverage and the distribution of programming content through network technologies. Inventions aimed at increasing the number of broadcast channels or improving audio quality, like the discovery of frequency modulation (FM) in the 1910s, were neglected within national radio systems driven by the pursuit of universality of reception and centralisation of programming (Faulkner 1993). It was not until the 1970s that FM was increasingly used as a means to expand the number of audio broadcasters, and then enlarged further by using a wider range of frequencies beyond 100Mhz. Likewise, digital systems of encoding/decoding the audio signal were only deployed from the mid-1990s to allow transmissions to be placed closer together on adjacent frequencies, and in DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) systems to enable several stations to be broadcast on a single frequency through compression and multiplexing technologies (Ala-Fossi, Lax et al. 2008). The major expansion, though, came with the contemporaneous start of internet broadcasting. While over-the-air broadcasting, even using digital codecs, had always limited the number of transmissions that could be received in one geographical area, the wired network-based systems of online radio allowed access to thousands more streams of audio. Initially these were accessed through a desktop computer over a telephone wire or cable feed, but the ability of mobile devices to access broadband data has increased both access and mobility for listeners.

It is actually hard to see these changes in distribution as separate from the shifts in the technology listeners have used to access radio programming. Though the distribution technology is important in enabling expansion or innovation in broadcasting practice, cultural aspiration and use are far more determining. As I have shown elsewhere, for instance, the physical and cultural mobility of young people and the development of a post-war commuter culture in large US cities were more important than the availability of car or transistor pocket radios in creating the idea of listening on the move (Wall and Webber 2011). Likewise, the lag between the availability of FM and over-the-air digital distribution technologies and the establishment of sizable institutional and listener support for the opportunities for wider programming both suggest that the machines we use to listen to radio have been more influential on the number of stations than innovations in distribution.

In the same way, the existence of the internet cannot in itself explain the remarkable expansion in ways to listen to radio. Internet radio has piggybacked on the purchase of computers for their email and web search functions, and utilises the adoption of broadband lines, offsetting the relatively high cost of a desktop computer as a radio receiver at a time when lower-priced digital radios struggled to find a sizable market. In this context, it is no surprise that the first services were from existing over-the-air stations creating online simulcasts. US college stations WXYC and WREK both make claims to being the first over-the-air station online in 1994 (WREK dkn; WXYC dnk), and the UK Virgin Radio station claims to be the first full simulcast broadcaster in Europe in 1996 (Bowie 2008). Internet-only stations did quickly emerge, however, and as I indicated in the introduction, used very different models from over-the-air radio to create their music programming. Specialist music radio was particularly prominent, either as part of multi-channel portal systems like AOL’s, or enthusiast-curated like Live365’s.

At the same time, public service broadcasters, like the BBC, also invested heavily in ways of providing time-shifted listening through ‘listen again’ or ‘podcast’ services on the internet. The rhetoric of the first suggested listeners could re-listen to a programme they had already enjoyed but, increasingly, listeners would use the system as their main way of enjoying radio. With the BBC in the vanguard, developing its iPlayer from 2005 to a major launch in 2008 (BBC 2008), most significant broadcasters now provide this form of access. The podcast model was an even greater move away from traditional listener models. Combining the idea of timeshifting derived from video recorders with the mobility of portable mp3 players like the iPod, users set up automated scheduled downloads of a programme and then play it when and where they want.

However, the internet and digital broadcast systems have allowed niche radio formats, and even some imaginative alternatives, to exist in the margins of commercial radio. Two instances provide informative examples. In the UK, the XFM and Jazz FM commercial stations have established themselves as exemplars of specialist music provision within an increasingly competitive commercial sector. At one level they can be seen as a perfect example of the Hotelling principle, that commercial enterprises will tend to supply to the centre of the market until the point is reached that there is a benefit in providing niche goods or services (Hotelling 1929). However, they are both interesting examples of British attempts to move away from the dominant ‘certainties’ of US format radio. Both stations owe their origins to regulatory initiatives consolidated in the 1990 Broadcast Act, which aimed to extend the diversity of music played on British commercial radio (Wall 2000, 186-192). They also both provide exemplars of the twists of regulation, ownership and programming which have characterised British commercial radio since that date. XFM has remained a broadly ‘alternative rock’ station (Ofcom 2008), while JazzFM has dabbled in jazz eclecticism, jazz/R&B hybridity, smooth jazz formatting, and most recently jazz and soul as lifestyle music (FM 2011a).

XFM’s current incarnation carries many of the characteristics of British commercial radio. Their core output originates from a London-based FM licence which allows them to broadcast to the capital, and much of the output is also broadcast in Manchester on a second local licence which includes locally-originated, peak-time shows. In addition, the London programming is available on the DAB over-the-air radio system in most of the UK, through satellite and cable television, and as an online stream. It is owned by Global Radio, at the time of writing the largest UK radio group, who also hold a range of UK local licences around traditional US-style formats like AOR, Classical, Contemporary Hits, Gold, Talk, and Urban. So, in many ways XFM is Global’s niche alternative rock station. However, along with a second brand which plays Urban music, Choice FM, XFM’s origins as an independent broadcaster and its championship of specialist music is an important part of the station’s image and ‘total station sound’. It uses traditional strip programming around breakfast/midday/drive-time shows, with more mainstream programming in the day and more specialist shows in the evening (XFM 2011a). However, it does tend to employ presenters who are well regarded by the music’s fan base, and there are examples of innovation in programming, including music documentary series.

Jazz FM has had a more complex history but, perhaps, a more unusual contemporary existence. The station’s origins owe an equal debt to a music fan campaign and the new ‘incremental’ policy of the radio broadcaster to increase the range of musical output on commercial stations. Early incarnations of the station were driven by a strong commitment to a broad jazz music policy, but it ignored many of the conventions of broadcast formats and it struggled for financial viability. It went through numerous owners and a set of radical changes of name and music policy, until its final owners GMG took over in 2002, taking the station increasingly towards a US-style Smooth Jazz and then AOR format, and a rebrand to Smooth FM. Today the Jazz FM brand is actually licensed from GMG by its earlier management team. Unsurprisingly, then, the station has now returned to many of the programming features that characterised it in the early 2000s: a mix of classic and contemporary jazz heavy on vocalists, combined with soul and pop jazz in the day and specialist shows for a variety of sub-genres of jazz and soul in the evenings and weekends (Jazz FM 2011b). Although the station is often criticised for not playing enough jazz, and for playing too much smooth jazz, the station does not conform to the conventions or music playlists of the typical smooth jazz format (see Barber 2010 for a discussion of the Smooth Jazz format and its origins). Surprisingly, the station does not broadcast on FM, but on DAB, digital TV and the internet. In addition, the station is developing an interesting approach to radio in uncertain times by offering itself as a specialist music brand, by making strong use of its internet site, a record label and live promotions unit, and a strong emphasis on music as lifestyle consumption.

Ala-Fossi, M., S. Lax, et al. (2008) “The Future of Radio is Still Digital—But Which One? Expert Perspectives and Future Scenarios for Radio Media in 2015.” Journal of Radio & Audio Media 15(1): 4-25
Barber, S. (2010) “Smooth Jazz.” The Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media 8(1): 51-70
Barnard, S. (1989) On the radio: music radio in Britain.
BBC. (2008). “Next generation BBC iPlayer launches.” from http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2008/06_june/25/iplayer.shtml.
Bowie, A. (2008). “A Brief History of Virgin Radio.” from http://onegoldensquare.com/2008/09/a-brief-history-of-virgin-radio-by-adam-bowie/.
Faulkner, T. (1993). FM: Frequency Modulation or Fallen Man. Radiotext(e). N. Strauss. New York, Semiotext(e).
FM, J. (2011a) Jazz FM playlist
FM, J. (2011b). “Jazz FM website.” from http://www.jazzfm.com/.
Hotelling, H. (1929) Stability in Competition.
Ofcom (2008) XFM Commercial Radio Station Format
Rothenbuhler, E. and T. McCourt (2002). Radio redefines itself, 1947-1962. Radio reader: essays in the cultural history of radio. M. Hilmes and J. Loviglio. New York, Routledge.
Sanjek, R. and D. Sanjek (1996) American popular music business in the 20th century.
Wall, T. (2000) “Policy, pop and the public: the discourse of regulation in British commercial radio.” Journal of Radio Studies
Wall, T. and N. Webber (2011). The transistor radio. Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music and Sound Studies. S. Gopinath and J. Stanyek. New York, Oxford University Press.
WREK. (dkn). “History.” from http://www.wrek.org/about/history/.
WXYC. (dnk). “History.” from http://wxyc.org/about/history.
XFM. (2011a). “XFM schedue.” from http://www.xfm.co.uk/onair/schedule/friday.

Tony Levin Discography 1980s December 2, 2009

Posted by wallofsound in Uncategorized.

Keith Tippet Septet A Loose Kite In A Gentle Wind Floating With Only My Will For An Anchor 1984 (Ogun)

Keith Tippett, piano;
Larry Stabbins, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone;
Elton Dean, saxello, alto saxophone;
Mark Charig, cornet, tenor horn;
Nick Evans, trombone;
Paul Rogers, double bass;
Tony Levin, drums, percussion.

1. A loose kite in a gentle wind floating with only my will for an anchor part 1 (28.20)
2. A loose kite in a gentle wind floating with only my will for an anchor part 2 (20.53)
3. A loose kite in a gentle wind floating with only my will for an anchor part 3 (14.41)
4. A loose kite in a gentle wind floating with only my will for an anchor part 4 (01.14)
5. Dedicated to Mingus (11.52)
Recorded live in Exeter on 25 October 1984.
Front cover photograph by Julie Tippetts; sleeve design by David Ilic.

Peter King Brother Bernard 1988 [CD in 1992]

Peter King
Guy Barker
Alan Skidmore
John Horler
Dave Green
Tony Levin
Martin Drew

Yesterdays 3.35
Final Curtain/One For Sir Bernard 16.17
For All We Know 4.25
But Beautiful 5.59
Dalin 7.42
Overjoyed 8.00
Brother Bernard 9.40

Elton Dean Elton Dean’s Unlimited Saxophone Company 1989 Ogun OGCD 002

Elton Dean alto saxophone, saxello
Paul Dunmall tenor and baritone saxophones
Simon Pickard tenor saxophone
Trevor Watts alto saxophone
Paul Rogers double bass
Tony Levin drums

1. Unda (12.25)
2. Rising (10.02)
3. Seven for Lee (13.32)
4. Small strides (08.27)
5. Fall in free (11.14)
6. One three nine (07.30)

Recorded 1989 at the Covent Garden Jazz Saxophone Festival.

European Jazz Ensemble Live at the Cologne Philharmonic Hall 1989 MA Music 801

including: Philip Catherine, Enrico Rava, Manfred Schoof, Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky and others.

Go to 1990s