24 Jun 2010

What is Black British Jazz?

Dr Jason Toynbee is leading research into black British jazz

Dr Jason Toynbee is leading research into black British jazz

A team of researchers from The Open University is examining the cultural identity and emergence of Black British Jazz (BBJ). The project asks how far it can be considered a distinct tradition within British music and is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (£495,643). This is the first time research into jazz has been publically supported in the UK. The team is not only investigating sounds, meanings and forms of creativity but also how the music has developed over time through interviews, audio-visual recordings, oral history and library archives.

Jason Toynbee, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies, is leading the team and said: “The research is a terrific opportunity to document and understand this important musical tradition, and the cultures from which it has emerged. Black British Jazz is a hybrid with tributaries in Caribbean and African music, as well as North American jazz. We are looking at it in the light of this rich history of migration. But we will also be examining the way it is organised as a business, and analysing recordings, performances and how young people learn to play together. One of the key issues for us concerns how far the music represents black British people and identity.”

The project focuses on three areas: Routes; Ownership and Performance.

•‘Routes’ examines the development of BBJ through interviews with contemporary artists, documents from the National Jazz archive and oral history in Liverpool, Cardiff and London in order to trace the history of BBJ.

•‘Ownership’ looks at how BBJ is organised as a business, and in what sense it can be said to be ‘owned’ by Black British people. This strand recognises the crucial importance of the economics of cultural practice for BBJ.

•‘Performance’ looks at music-making in a wide sense, in terms of production and also how performance skills are learnt. Live gigs, rehearsals, recording sessions and workshops are all examined as part of this process.

The project team is hosting an international conference at The Open University which will take place on 11-12 November 2010, entitled ‘Jazz and Race, Past and Present’. In addition there are a series of podcasts, a documentary film, and an end of project concert planned. The research has also been highlighted in a film for iTunes U which has been viewed over 2,000 times.

The research is being conducted in collaboration with partners Dune Records, Jazz Services, the Center for Black Music Research (Chicago) and the British Library Sound Archive.

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Notes to Editors:
The research project is funded by the AHRC 'Beyond Text' Programme, and supported by the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (Open University, University of Manchester)

The Open University research team are: Dr Mark Banks, Sociology; Mark Doffman, Sociology; Dr Byron Dueck, Music; Dr Catherine Tackley, Music and Dr Jason Toynbee, Sociology.

About The Open University
•The Open University climbed 23 places to 43rd in the UK’s latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008), securing a place in the UK’s top 50 higher education institutions. Results showed that more than 50% of the University’s research is internationally excellent (3*), with a significant proportion world-leading (4*).

•The Open University is the UK’s largest university and the world leader in distance education, and celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2009. It has more than 200,000 students in over 40 countries. Of these, more than 1,100 are postgraduate research students.

•The latest edition of the Open University’s Research Highlights brochure can be downloaded from:

•Open Research Online (ORO), the University’s freely accessible repository of research publications, is available at: ORO has more than 35,000 visitors from over 170 different countries each month, and is currently ranked the fifth best higher education repository in the UK by the Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR).

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