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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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End piece ‘Against the Odds’

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End piece ‘Against the Odds’ The model ‘Social, Cultural and Stylistic Change’ developed throughout the monograph illustrates in overview the changes experienced by Bristol’s Jazz community during a period of sixty years. The notion of ‘Against the Odds’ is dif ficult to dispel, certainly when the demanding stylistics fol- lowing World War Two reached the city. Learning a seemingly endless diversity of styles within a performing environment with audiences gen- erally at odds and looking and listening elsewhere could be a debilitating experience. The entry of formal local institutions in the guise of music education gave much needed support to students as people learning to be jazz musicians, and inspired a new cohort for the community. In the first years of the millennium formal support for players waned, nevertheless musicians emerged in the community exhorting the best traditions of the music with original works and performances to match national/interna- tional standards. However such talented musicians struggled to find venues for their work and acceptance for their creativity in the face of dwindling audiences. Indeed the experience of perverse environments throughout the many years described in this monograph had become a regrettable factor in the traditions of Bristol’s jazz musicians. In recounting their stories during this research players regretted the dif ficulties in presenting their music, but their resolve to play was strong; their love of jazz paramount.

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