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Gigging, Busking and Bending the Dots

How People Learn to Be Jazz Musicians. Case Studies from Bristol

John Berry

This book traces the learning experiences of the jazz community in Bristol, UK from 1945 to 2012. Grounded in a methodology of participant observation and case studies, it documents changes in the economic, cultural and educational circumstances faced by the players. In their own words, the musicians recall the influences that initiated and developed their musicianship.
Drawing on first-person accounts, the study traces the historical development of jazz music and musicians in Bristol. In the post-war years, players began to develop significant stylistic aspects in the jazz lexicon. Drawing on media sources and interaction in performance, players garnered a host of performing skills whilst suffering dwindling audiences and declining venues. Reforms in English music education in the 1980s offered formal opportunities to study jazz in the city’s schools, drawing minimal attention from institutions. Practical learning and playing opportunities offered by the Local Authority music service sustained a modest membership over the years. Post millennium, local schools, with one or two exceptions, showed little interest in jazz education. Nevertheless, maintaining its traditional stance, Bristol’s jazz community continues to exhort top quality jazz performances including compositions that match national and international standards.

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This book considers the learning experiences of a jazz community in Bristol, UK. Set within a time span of sixty years [1945–2012] it documents changes in the economic, cultural and educational circumstances enjoyed by the players. Faced with a developing and complex international musical land- scape, the musicians initiated, studied and honed a meld of instrumental and musicianship skills within the context of the city as a cultural host. Grounded in a methodology of participant observation and case study the players tell their own stories. They initially cite the post-World War Two dance bands in the city where they could learn orchestration and explore opportunities to improvise. In the changing styles which characterised jazz in the ensuing years they made choices, garnering appropriate skills. Drawing on media inf luences they learned and developed instrumental skills and musicianship in interaction within the community. Reforms in English music education in the eighties of fered formal opportunities to study jazz in the city’s schools. The local authority, by way of its Music Service through peripatetic instrumental teachers and the organisation of music centres and big band opportunities, gave excellent support to young players. Nonetheless, the musicians faced an exacting environment demanding high levels of performing skills, compounded by dwindling audiences and declining venues. At the millennium, people learning to play jazz in Bristol joined a community devoted to maintaining its tradi- tions together with a small nucleus of players and composers in ascend- ency. The restructured Music Service continued to organise and...

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