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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 Two The Jazz Life in Bristol at the Millennium

Extract

Introduction People learning to play jazz in Bristol following World War Two were faced with performing environments of increasing dif ficulty and complexity as bands and combos extended their repertoires. Inf luential stylistic devel- opments, principally from the USA made demanding learning models for players. For example the technical and musicianship demands of the bebop school, aspects of revivalism and the rigours of the declining big- band movement. Ironically, opportunities for jazz performance in the city declined towards the close of the twentieth century, restricting the environments for learning which characterised the earlier decades. Palais and hotel dance bands had disappeared, and with them an opportunity for players to develop ensemble playing and improvisation skills in regular ensembles. ‘Function bands’, were really ‘pick-up’ bands, assembled for the occasional engagement to perform at social events, playing commercial ‘pop’ and party tunes. Musicians engaged to play in function bands were expected to read band parts at sight and play ‘party tunes’ from memory. Such occasions were sporadic and as a player remarked ‘you mostly met the same musicians each time’. The rehearsal band movement which of fered playing experience in big-band jazz had declined to three bands meeting on a regular weekly basis, and musician/organisers noted a shortage of players, particularly trumpet and trombone players. Traditional jazz bands and a small number of mainstream and modernist groups maintained a modest profile in the city’s pubs and clubs. In the context of Bristol as a learning, performing and fertile environment in the enculturation...

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