Session 9 – Britain 2

Saturday 3 September – 10.45-12.00 (Blue Note)
Chair: Catherine Tackley

George Burrows – Ted Heath’s Transatlantic Nationalism Reworking Fats Waller’s London Suite

This paper explores Ted Heath’s recordings of Fats Waller’s most ambitious work: a suite depicting six districts of London in music. Waller wrote and recorded his London Suite while he was in London during a European tour, which was curtailed by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. The master of Waller’s recording was lost during the first bombings of London, but a copy was eventually discovered and released in 1951. By that time Waller had died (in 1943) and the sheet music of the suite was published posthumously by London-based publisher Peter Maurice in 1947. This prompted Ted Heath to have Waller’s suite arranged for his band, who recorded the work in November 1947 and again, in slightly different arrangements, in December 1953.

Heath’s reworking of Waller’s suite could be read as an attempt to reclaim this depiction of London by and for the British but, paradoxically, Heath’s recording helped secure the reputation of his band in the United States. Thus, an exploration of the complex nationalism articulated in Waller’s suite opens a rich discursive vein that illuminates the transatlantic formation of jazz that began decades before but was maintained in the late forties and early fifties. This questions any notion that the movement of jazz across the Atlantic was all one way (from America to Europe) and suggests that jazz relied at least as much on European national tastes for its identity as it did on its presumed African-American heritage.

Jenny Doctor – ‘Jazz is Where You Find it’: Encountering British Jazz on BBC Television of the 1950s and 60s

In the 1950s and 60s, a number of jazz programmes were specifically choreographed for BBC television. Programmes such as Jazz is Where You Find It, Jazz Session and Jazz 625, were created in terms of a particular jazz culture that represented British interests and audiences of the day. How did the creators organize and plan their filming of these televisual programmes in order to frame and capture transcultural improvisatory practices, so that we may review and analyze them today?

Filming improvisation then was almost oxymoronic, given the encumbrance of cameras and other equipment, the restricted shot possibilities and the audio limitations of live transmissions. Looking at stage plans, camera scripts and other papers that survive at the BBC written archives in conjunction with extant audio-visual recordings, I explore the stylistic aims of the producers in terms of filmic possibilities of the time. Several significant questions materialize from this process. Just what did the BBC accomplish through audiovisual transmissions of live jazz performances? How did narration function and of what did it consist? Similarly, what role did audiences play in the process?

Perhaps most importantly, the BBC was framing and transmitting what was essentially an American language and culture. Yet, before 1955, American bands were prohibited from playing on and broadcasting from British stages. So, what of ‘British’ jazz was broadcast in these programmes – both during the ban and after it was lifted? How did British jazz compare in an audiovisual context to American bands as shown on British TV? Did the BBC communicate a specifically British jazz persona, either musically, culturally or in terms of mediatisation?

Alan Stanbridge – From 52nd Street to Oxford Street Jazz, Nationalism, and Musical Identities

Standard histories of jazz have tended to focus on the singular contributions of Great Men — Morton, Armstrong, Ellington, Parker, Davis — and this idealized discourse of iconic artistic genius has undoubtedly been a primary factor in the shaping of the now well-established jazz canon. But parallel, and likewise romanticized, discourses of place and nationalism have been equally influential, situating jazz within a rhetoric of ‘authenticity’ that is firmly rooted in similarly iconic geographical sources: New Orleans, Chicago, Kansas City, New York. From this perspective, international, non-American contributions to jazz are typically regarded as exceptions to the American (and primarily African-American) norm-the odd Belgian gypsy guitarist, the occasional Cuban conga player, the token Brazilian Bossa Nova songwriter-and jazz remains, at least in the minds of some observers, quintessentially American.

Increasingly, however, such claims for the specifically geographical and racial provenance of jazz have become highly contested. But if some assertions of the distinctiveness of non-American contributions to contemporary jazz simply replace one problematic discourse with another — as in Stuart Nicholson’s claims for the ‘existentially open, angst-ridden’ roots of the ‘Nordic tone’ in jazz—it seems hard to deny the specificities of many national jazz scenes in Europe (whether, for example, in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, or France), which point to a series of unique cultural and musical identities.

In this paper, I focus primarily on the development of the jazz scenes in two countries: Britain (with the Oxford Street location of the 100 Club, historically one of London’s key jazz venues, lending me my title); and the Netherlands (with the opening concert of the conference taking place at the considerably younger if equally important Bimhuis). My objective in this paper is to begin to move beyond cultural stereotypes in identifying the defining characteristics of these musical scenes, assessing their unique contributions to the ongoing development of contemporary jazz.

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