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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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Chapter One Jazz in Bristol 1945-2000


Chapter One Jazz in Bristol 1945–2000 Bristol: Historical and Geographical Sketch This historical and geographical sketch of Bristol, establishes the general environment and context enjoyed by the city’s jazz musicians. Situated in the South West region of Britain, Bristol owes its location and prosperity to its geographical position as a seaport and Bridge-town. Its architectural heritage includes surviving medieval buildings dating its history back to the Norman Conquest. From those early days until the nineteenth cen- tury, Bristol became the largest seaport in the country with trade outlets to Europe, North America and the West Indies. As a regional metropolis for the south west, the city attracted a growing population from all over the British Isles. In 1801 the population of the city was just over 40,000, with a further 28,000 in the suburbs. By 1901 337,000 persons lived in the city, which altered its boundaries to cope with the growing population. Throughout the early years of the twentieth century, Bristol’s demographic composition, occupational characteristics and industrial distribution, gen- erally resembled that of England and Wales as a whole. During the years following World War One and prior to World War Two, Bristol developed industries and attracted labour from the north of England. Existing tobacco and chocolate industries, together with Bristol’s role as a distribution centre for the south west ‘cushioned the worst ef fects of unemployment’ [Brown & Harris, 1979]. Bristol was badly damaged by bombing during World War Two. Due to its geographical position, it...

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