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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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Introduction Gigging, Busking and Bending the Dots


: How People Learn to be Jazz Musicians – Case Studies from Bristol, UK The aim of this monograph is to explore the learning, cultural and eco- nomic processes experienced by members of an English provincial jazz community within the years 1945–2012.1 The exploration was informed by an investigative methodology of case studies considered a unique and f lexible mode towards understanding the environmental context enjoyed by the jazz musicians of Bristol.2 The historiography of jazz which developed concomitantly with the genre identifies a wealth of urban centres within the music’s global spread. Indeed the notion of associative stylistic innovations with towns and cities are well documented from the early years of the twentieth century. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that away from the world spotlight in innu- merable provincial urban environments, jazz communities f lourish. In such circumstances a paucity of research masks the learning, practice and development of the music. Here it is suggested that the choice of Bristol and its jazz community is a worthy, if not atypical urban environment in which to explore the nature and nurture of jazz away from the world spot- light. Furthermore the wide-ranging fieldwork grounded in the case studies informing this research is indicative of the many agencies and inf luences which make up the dynamics of jazz education and musicianship. Two periods of research inform the work. The first was concerned with events from the end of World War Two until the Millennium. Changes in performing styles characterised developments over six decades....

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