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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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Appendix A How Jazz is Learnt


Introduction This appendix surveys the development of jazz education from the nine- teenth century drawing upon an evaluation of the literature. Emergent traditions in performing practices and musicianship, such as style and instrumental skills, characterised the music. Fusion with other music cul- tures such as the blues or world musics cultivated further traditions, and so demanding levels of instrumental and performance skills together with evolving aspects of musicianship became principal concerns. The importance of context in the musical enculturation of players was manifest in the development of the music, for example the street bands of New Orleans and the blues of the Mississippi Delta. In this study of Bristol’s players, many traditional practices in jazz e.g. style and instrumentation were learnt from media sources, a significant contextual element. Nonetheless, the personal development of performing skills was undiminished, in par- ticular the innovative rigours of improvisation. This Appendix, considers how such skills in jazz are learnt, grounded in the ‘pathways’ which induct, foster, perpetuate and transform traditions across successive generations [Finnegan, 1989]. 156 Appendix A Jazz Musicians as ‘self-educated’ It is suggested that ‘a comprehensive history of jazz education around the world has yet to be written’ [Beale, 2001: 14]. Ake [2002a: 257] notes that ‘since the time of the earliest accounts of the music, many writers and audi- ences have perceived jazz as a “natural expression” of the performers rather than as a learned and practised behaviour’. In a general sense jazz musicians may be seen as ‘self-educated’ as they...

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