Skip to content The Open University

Dr Catherine Tackley

Profile summary

  • Senior Lecturer in Music and Head of Department
  • Faculty of Arts
  • Music
  • catherine.tackley

Professional biography

Catherine Tackley (née Parsonage) joined the OU as Lecturer in Music in July 2008 and was appointed Senior Lecturer in February 2011. She read music at the University of York and then worked as a secondary school music teacher in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and London, studying for the PGCE with the OU. During this time, she also worked and performed with the National Youth Music Theatre and was a founder member of Payback, one of London’s leading function bands. She completed her PhD on early jazz in Britain at City University, London in 2002. Catherine held various posts at Leeds College of Music between 2001-2008, culminating in two years as Head of the Centre for Jazz Studies UK with responsibility for a portfolio of collaborative research and artistic projects, as well as teaching in the areas of critical musicology, popular music and jazz on undergraduate and postgraduate courses. At the OU, Catherine is currently Head of the Music Department, following several years as Director of Research for Music. She has previously been Interim Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Arts. 

Research interests

Catherine’s research interests include historical and critical musicology with particular reference to jazz and popular music, early and European jazz, recording, jazz influenced music, and performance practice. Her recent monograph on Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert (Oxford University Press, 2012) was supported by an American Musicological Society Publication Subvention award and won Jazz Publication of the Year in the 2013 All-Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group awards. Her first book The Evolution of Jazz in Britain 1880-1935 (Ashgate, 2005), was hailed as ‘the definitive history of jazz in Britain’ by Professor Krin Gabbard and Digby Fairweather commented that ‘very few jazz books anywhere can surpass this one for excellence’. In 2006-7 Catherine was Visiting Edison Fellow at the British Library National Sound Archive, researching the performance history of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Catherine was co-investigator on the AHRC-funded project ‘What is Black British Jazz?’ in 2009-11 where she developed particular interests in in jazz and dance, jazz in Cardiff and West Indian musicians. Some of this work is published by Ashgate in a volume entitled Black British Jazz: Routes, Ownership and Performance (2014) which Catherine also co-edited. From 2012 to 2014 she was Principal Investigator of the AHRC Research Networking project ‘Atlantic Sounds: Ships and Sailortowns’ and continues to develop work on music and the sea, with particular reference to Britain and the Atlantic.
See Open Research Online for details of Catherine Tackley’s research publications. Please note that publications and papers were given under the name Catherine Parsonage prior to 2009.
Recent Invited Lectures
Keynote address at the 'History of the Musicians' Union' project conference, University of Glasgow, January 2016.
Curator and presenter of ‘Jazz meets Pop’, a public event at Cheltenham Jazz Festival (in association with the AHRC), May 2015.
Research seminar at the University of York, February 2015.
‘Encountering a tiger: researching pre-1945 responses to jazz in Britain’ keynote address at New Conceptions:History, Theory, Practice at the University of Warwick, May 2014.
‘“Art or Debauchery?”: the reception of Duke Ellington in the UK’ invited paper at The International Duke Ellington Conference 2014, Amsterdam, May 2014.
‘Uncharted Waters: Researching Sounds, Ships, and Sailortowns’ invited seminar at British Society of Sports History Sport and Leisure History Network, University of London, March 2014.
‘British Music and the Sea’ public lecture at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, February 2014.
Recent and Forthcoming Conference Papers

'Encountering a tiger: responses to jazz in Britain c. 1917-1945' at 'The State We're In: Directions in Researching Post-1900 British Music' conference, University of Surrey, April 2015.

‘Rhythm Clubs: Ideals and Realities’ at Jazz Beyond Borders (Rhythm Changes) conference, Amsterdam Conservatoire, September 2014.

Convenor of panel ‘New Perspectives on Jazz in Britain c. 1919-1945’ including my own paper ‘Rhythm Clubs: Ideals and Realities’ at RMA Annual Conference, University of Leeds, September 2014.

‘Encountering a tiger: responses to jazz in Britain c. 1917-1945’ at North American British Music Studies Association Biennial Conference, University of Nevada, July/August 2014.

Teaching interests

Catherine was module team chair and author of several units for A224 ‘Inside Music’. She has written units on performance, audiences and recording for the Department’s new level 3 module A342 and on jazz research for the new MA in Music. She is the supervisor of PhD students in the areas of music history, performance practice and jazz and improvised music and welcomes enquiries from prospective doctoral students with interests in these areas.

Impact and engagement

Catherine is recognised internationally as an expert on British jazz, contributing chapters on this subject to major publication projects on the history of jazz in the European Union and women in European jazz funded by UNESCO. She has also been interviewed for several BBC television documentaries, acted as an advisor for TV period drama and is heard regularly on BBC Radio 3 and 4. Catherine is a regular pre-concert speaker at the Leeds International Concert Series and at some of the UK's pre-eminent jazz festivals.

External collaborations

Catherine is a co-editor of the Jazz Research Journal (Equinox), a member of the editorial board of Studies in Musical Theatre (Interim Publications) and has served as a specialist reviewer for several journals and publishing companies. She is a member of the AHRC Peer Review College. Catherine is currently Jazz Representative on the Council of Making Music (supporting and championing voluntary music) and a member of the Jazz Education Advisory Panel for Jazz Services Ltd. Catherine is active as a conductor and instrumentalist in both classical and popular styles. She is currently Musical Director of Dr Jazz and the Cheshire Cats Big Band.

Research Activity

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC)CentreFaculty of Social Sciences


Integrating theory and practice in conservatoires: formulating holistic models for teaching and learning improvisation (2007-11)
Parsonage, Catherine; Fadnes, Petter Frost and Taylor, James
British Journal of Music Education, 24(3) (pp. 295-312)
The popularity of jazz–an unpopular problem: the significance of 'Swing when you're winning' (2004)
Parsonage, Catherine
The Source: Challenging Jazz Criticism, 1 (pp. 60-80)
A critical reassessment of the reception of early jazz in Britain (2003-10)
Parsonage, Catherine
Popular Music, 22(3) (pp. 315-336)
Approaching jazz-influenced wind music (2003)
Parsonage, Catherine
Journal of the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Wind Ensembles, 10 (pp. 79-94)
The evolving image of jazz in Britain in sheet music (2001-03)
Parsonage, Catherine
British Postgraduate Musicology, 4
Benny Goodman's Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert (2012-01-10)
Tackley, Catherine
Studies in Recorded Jazz
ISBN : 978-0-19-539831-1 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : New York
The Evolution of Jazz in Britain, 1880-1935 (2005-10)
Parsonage, Catherine
Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series
ISBN : 978-0-7546-5076-8 | Publisher : Ashgate | Published : Aldershot
“Art or Debauchery?”: the reception of Ellington in the UK (2015)
Tackley, Catherine
In: Howland, John and Green, Edward eds. Ellington Studies ((In press))
Publisher : Cambridge University Press
Race, identity and the meaning of Jazz in 1940s Britain (2014-12)
Tackley, Catherine
In: Stratton, Jon and Zuberi, Nabeel eds. Black Popular Music in Britain Since 1945. Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series (pp. 11-26)
ISBN : 978-1-4094-69148 | Publisher : Ashgate | Published : Farnham
Tiger Bay and the roots/routes of black British jazz (2014)
Tackley, Catherine
In: Toynbee, Jason; Tackley, Catherine and Doffman, Mark eds. Black British Jazz: Routes, Ownership and Performance. Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series (pp. 43-62)
ISBN : 978-1-4724-1756-5 | Publisher : Ashgate | Published : Farnham
Jazz, dance and black British identities (2013-04)
Tackley, Catherine
In: Dodds, Sherril and Cook, Susan eds. Bodies of Sound: Studies Across Popular Music and Dance. Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series (pp. 193-208)
ISBN : 978-1-4094-4517-3 | Publisher : Ashgate | Published : Farnham
Benny Carter in Britain, 1936-37 (2012-07)
Tackley, Catherine
In: Cerchiari, Luca; Cugny, Laurent and Kerschbaumer , Franz eds. Eurojazzland: Jazz and European Sources, Dynamics and Contexts
ISBN : 978-1-58465-864-1 | Publisher : Northeastern University Press | Published : Lebanon, NH
Jazz recordings as social texts (2010-01)
Tackley, Catherine
In: Bayley, Amanda ed. Recorded Music: Performance, Culture and Technology (pp. 167-186)
ISBN : 9780521863094 | Publisher : Cambridge University Press | Published : Cambridge
Fascination and fear: Responses to early jazz in Britain (2007)
Parsonage, Catherine
In: Wynn, Neil A. ed. Cross the Water Blues: African American Music in Europe (pp. 89-105)
ISBN : 9781578069606 | Publisher : University Press of Mississippi
The history of women in jazz in Britain (2007)
Parsonage, Catherine and Dyson, Kathy
In: Adkins Chiti, Patricia ed. Women in Jazz/Donne in Jazz (pp. 129-140)
ISBN : 978-88-6263-002-3 | Publisher : Editore Columbo | Published : Rome
Black British Jazz: Routes, Ownership and Performance (2014-09-01)
Toynbee, Jason; Tackley, Catherine and Doffman, Mark eds.
Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series
ISBN : 978-1-4724-1756-5 | Publisher : Ashgate | Published : Farnham