Project aims and research questions
- To trace the historical and geographical routes along which BBJ has developed.
- To examine the role of memory and cultural transmission in the emergence of new musical forms (also to contribute to their preservation through audio-visual recordings).
- To investigate ownership of BBJ in relation to entrepreneurship, creativity and cultural policy.
- To analyse aesthetics, embodied practice and participation in BBJ performance.
Our main research question, ‘What is Black British Jazz?’, is broken down as follows:
- What is the cultural identity of the genre?
- How did it emerge?
- Who owns it, how is it owned and what is the impact of cultural policy on ownership?
- What are the defining themes in its performance? How do musicians use grooves, voices and improvised scripts in its delivery?
- In political and aesthetic terms, why and how does BBJ matter?
The project builds on a range of approaches, that have informed both our understanding of jazz and the cultural study of music more generally:
- Historical/cultural analyses of British jazz
Moore (2007), McKay (2005) and Parsonage (2005) have examined the development of jazz in the UK, each paying attention to the work of black musicians in this history. Parsonage, in particular, focuses on how ethnicity and cultural identity have been and remain central problems in understanding the music’s development in Britain. The BBJ project develops that theorisation.
- Ethnomusicological analyses of jazz performance
Taking cues from the urban ethnography of Monson (1996), the groovology of Keil (1994), and within a methodological framework developed by the ‘Experience and Meaning in Music Performance’ Project at the Open University, the project looks at the micro-musical, micro-social aspects of performance. How is performance located in the wider historical conjuncture? What do the grooves, sounds and sites of BBJ have to tell us not just about musical meaning but also social relations?
- Diaspora studies
Building on the Migrating Music theme in the Open University, AHRC funded project, ‘Tuning In: Diaporic Contact Zones at BBC World Service’, we examine BBJ as a diasporic formation and asks how this music signifies in the continual becoming and renewal of black identities in Britain.
- The creative economy and cultural policy
Recent interest in the creative industries as a brave new economic sector begs questions about the nature of cultural work (Banks 2007) which we address in the context of BBJ. Focusing on relations between entrepreneurship, music-making and cultural policy, we ask how far the current cultural regime is conducive to creative, autonomous work. And we examine the characteristics and motivations of BBJ audiences, linking this to cultural policy and arts marketing.
Central to the work of this project is an engagement with the community of musicians, promoters and managers who make up the black British jazz scene as well as other organisations germane to our work. Significant partners, signed up to the project so far, include Dune Records, Jazz Services, The Center for Black Music Research (Chicago) and The British Library Sound Archive.
The range of methods we use follows from the nature of our research questions, focusing as they do on history, economics and performance. We think the following methods, and even more importantly their integration, represent significant innovation in arts and humanities research:
- Ethnography – observation of and participation in music tours and workshops, semi-structured interviews with participants.
- Oral history – in-depth biographical study of a sample of musicians.
- Archival and documentary research
- Audio-visual recording and analysis of live and recorded performances – drawing on methods pioneered in another Open University project, ‘Experience and Meaning in Music Performance’.
Research outputs from the project include conventional academic forms such as books, journal articles and conference papers. But we also aim to make the results of our work available to a broader public. A film (in collaboration with Metal Dog Productions), a short series of radio programmes/podcasts and a concert will take the project to non-academic audiences. Project data drawn from performances, interviews and documents will also be available as a) archive material held by the British Library and the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago and b) a resource for jazz education.