• Video
  • 5 mins
  • Level 1: Introductory

Black British Jazz

Updated Monday 1st October 2012

Often seen as an American artform, Jason Toynbee explains how his research shows Black British Jazz dates back almost a century.

Transcript: Jason Toynbee:
I think it’s getting more and more apparent that Americans con no longer hold up jazz as something that simply belongs solely to them. Increasingly it’s becoming clear that we now have a Jazz Planet, and I guess our research is focusing on that part of the planet which happens to be the British Isles.

This music Swings, sometimes it rocks, sometimes it’s like a lullaby, but I think always it’s rich, it’s deep and I’m fascinated by it.

I’m a white, middle class, middle aged man and I love Black British Jazz. Of course I ask myself why. I think it’s an extraordinary triumph of struggle over adversity. People who have arrived in this country often in really difficult circumstances and have produced a music with an extraordinary lasting value. That is really what our project is homing in on, why musicians came here, what music they brought with them. Also where they went to. It has both heroism, creativity and a story of emancipation behind it.

First wave 1919 – 1920 the arrival of Black American Musicians. Second wave Black British swing, African and Caribbean musicians coming here from the former colonies to produce this amazing music. Then in the 50’s windrush and be-bop, the arrival of a whole new generation of musicians who are now playing modern Jazz, cool hip new sounds. Then on into the 70’s with the arrival of the South Africans, Brotherhood of Breath and the Bluenotes. Lastly the second generation of Windrush and my own interest begins.

One of the first bands I saw was the Jazz Warriors, they completely knocked me out with their music and their approach. That’s where Courtney Pine comes out of, that’s where Gary Crosby comes out of, musician now who are looking back on this rich tradition to make their own sounds.

Gary Crosby:
I would have been about 7, 8. There was a piano at uncle Sid’s house, I had to play the bass notes, almost like a ska-boogi thing.

About the age of 19, I started to play bass, that’s when it starts, on double Bass, and then it’s like wow, we’re on a roller coaster now.

I discovered Jazz, while being grounded by the police basically, started listening to Jazz 625, Ella Fitzgerald, I had to be in before 11 for about 2 months, on bail basically. That’s where I discovered Jazz.

Jason Toynbee:
The issue of Race is really important for us, to both celebrate Black British Jazz, to see it as a unique form with its own strengths, but also to recognise that it is Black no just in celebration, but the permanent wound which race represents.

In the research we’ve found that there has been a special vibrancy I’d say with Black British Jazz, and interesting Liverpool and Cardiff are just as important as London.

Gary Crosby:
I’d go to these parties, there would always be 3 or 4 of these West Indian guys who would be part of that scene. At some point in the evening they would find themselves around a bottle of rum, with me in the background listening, talking about some guys with some really funny names.

I was really interested in the guys of the 50’s, Joe Harriots, Harry Macnere, those were the guys I was really interested in. But my study lead me back to the guys of the 30s. That’s where it started. Those guys prepared the ground, for the guys who came later, to travel here and find work. They lived in the houses of the guys who were already here.

The images I got were of smart, hip, womanising rascals, basically. But great musicians.

Jason Toynbee:
And they are arriving in England which is that quintessential melting pot, what’s interesting is Jazz has an important relationship to the African diaspora, African sources and roots. Over here it takes on different shades and meanings really.

Gary Crosby:
I believe we are all working towards a British jazz scene that is so reflective of Britain today, that’s what we are all working towards.

Its emphasis was really Black community, where as now its musicians of any skin colour or any background, playing to any environment.

I’ve been waiting 10-15 years for the Book, the record and the film. So it’s very important, it’s a good project, it’s necessary.

Jason Toynbee:
Jazz in Britain has a very special inflection I think, It’s not just a question of rhythm, or pastoral British sounds, it’s this mixture, this contribution from many different elements and many different sources. It’s all these things together in something entirely new.

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

History & The Arts 

Black British Jazz

What is Black British Jazz? This short film explores the research carried out by The Open University research team led by Dr Jason Toynbee who has been examining the history of Black British Jazz and the stories of the artists who have performed it. This video looks at the history of jazz and how the story dates back as far as 1919, documenting how successive waves of black musicians have contributed to developing new and uniquely British sounds, as well as addressing the problematic issues surrounding race and cultural identity.

Video
10 mins
International Jazz Day audio icon

History & The Arts 

International Jazz Day

Let us inject a bit of jazz into your day as we celebrate International Jazz Day today (30 April).

Audio
10 mins
Before The Windrush: How did Liverpool become such a poorly-integrated city? Creative commons image Icon Rodhullandemu under CC-BY-SA licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

Before The Windrush: How did Liverpool become such a poorly-integrated city?

A century ago, Liverpool revelled in its cosmopolitan character. Nowadays, though, the city is far less ethnically mixed. What happened?

Article
Learning to groove Creative commons image Icon Bill Henderson under CC-BY-SA licence under Creative-Commons license audio icon

History & The Arts 

Learning to groove

The story of Tomorrow's Warriors, teaching young people to love jazz - and training them for music industry success.

Audio
15 mins
When was the heyday of the symphony? Creative commons image Icon Work found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Carl_Wenzel_Zajicek_025.jpg / CC BY-SA 3.0 under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

When was the heyday of the symphony?

Robert Samuels looks back to when symphonies were the way to get noticed in the world of music

Article
Debate: Musical education Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Jupiter Images article icon

History & The Arts 

Debate: Musical education

Forum member MissTambourine was inspired by the 2006 Reith Lectures - but wondered if music gets the attention it deserves.

Article
Laibach and think of North Korea: The subversive political message of the Slovenian band Creative commons image Icon Laibach under CC-BY-SA under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license article icon

History & The Arts 

Laibach and think of North Korea: The subversive political message of the Slovenian band

Having accepted a booking to play North Korea, Laibach are suddenly achieving more attention than they've had in the rest of their thirty-five year career combined. But is the casual dismissal of their music as fascists missing something deeper in their art?

Article
Why the bands played on: Live music in the shadow of the Paris attacks Creative commons image Icon Maya-Anaïs Yataghène under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

Why the bands played on: Live music in the shadow of the Paris attacks

The murderers who killed gig-goers during the Paris attacks challenged popular music's power to show defiance. They shouldn't win, says Adam Behr.

Article
Is Adele's decision to keep 25 off Spotify going to change the music industry? Creative commons image Icon Ben Houdijk under CC-BY-NC-ND licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

Is Adele's decision to keep 25 off Spotify going to change the music industry?

Adele has sold shedloads of her new album - and kept it off streaming services. But she might be fighting a losing battle...

Article