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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 1 Case studies have been widely used across many disciplines and have come to mean ‘dif ferent things to dif ferent people’ [Hitchcock and Hughes, 1995: 317]. It is sug- gested that any social situation or scene may be considered as a circumscribed area for study. The diversity of case study demands a unique and f lexible approach for each setting seeking variation in the adoption and adaption of methodology in response to proposal and purpose. The primacy of context [the feel for the game] in establishing the case and the notion of f lexibility may fund self-appraisal, f lexibility and creativity. 2 It has been claimed that case studies are often the preferred method of research ‘because they may be epistemologically in harmony’ with experience [Stake, 1978 & 2000: 19]. Case study may be diverse and complex, but may be valued ‘beyond mere method’ [Gomm et al. 2000]. Burgess [1986: 2] described case study as a style of research that ‘relies on an observational approach involving a relationship between the researcher and those who are researched’. For Quin-Patton [1987], ‘a case can be a person, an event, a program, a time period, a critical incident or a community …’ It may also be an amalgam of such categories. In that sense each situation or scene may be considered as a field of enquiry, becoming a circumscribed area of study. A major characteristic of case study is the concentration upon a particular incident [Hitchcock and Hughes, 1995: 317] The study...

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