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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 Three Bristol’s Jazz Musicians, the ABRSM and a ‘Portfolio of Skills’


Introduction Changes in stylistic developments in jazz during the five decades from the end of World War Two to the millennium imposed a continuum of techni- cal demands upon players. During those years, an ever developing national and international media presented the growth and divergence of the genre worldwide. As elsewhere, Bristol’s musicians were captivated and inspired by the music and musicianship. To that end, many players worked hard to emulate certain styles and sought to develop instrumental skills towards high standards of performance. Concomitant with the developing music was a rising and informed pedagogy towards the realisation of such skills and musicianship.1 The rise of a formal jazz pedagogy in the years following World War Two was manifest in the practical jazz performing syllabi of certain British Universities and Conservatoires which were in place at the millennium. Furthermore some Conservatoires sought to introduce an external prac- tical group of jazz performance examinations in a similar manner to the ‘classical’ examinations which had been in place for many years. Indeed such a process was implicit in English music education as a measure of instrumental skill, ability and standards.2 Firstly in this chapter, Bristol’s players recall how they gained their performing skills and describe aspects of change in personal motivation, initiation and musicianship. Their experiences are contained within the model of four chronological periods suggested earlier. This is followed by a description of the formal ABRSM jazz syllabuses within the notion of 58 Chapter Three ‘progressive logic’ i.e. five grades of...

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