The demise of public jazz performance

American and Continental 'hot' and 'rhythm' clubs spent much of their energy making or sponsoring live jazz. The British ones were not so interested in this - there is no British equivalent to the Quintet of the Hot Club of France or the Dutch Swing College Orchestra of the 'thirties - but they spent a great deal of time discussing jazz and its social background and history. Indeed, a number of the top jazz bands that we work with and who play in the UK for weddings and birthday parties, regularly go to France and Holland to perform. This is a different business and quite a different scale of enterprise. Whereas there are a lot of extremely good jazz bands who only play for corporate events, birthday parties and weddings within perhaps an hour and a half's drive from where they live, there are not many with musicians who are full-time enough and have the ability to get on a plane and do a concert tour in Europe. As one jazz band that we work with, I know one of the players quite well, who plays in not only the jazz band, that circus bands and cruise liners, so they have their life organised to be nomadic. A week here, two months there, and perhaps a year on another project. That's not the sort of thing that the jazz musician who is perhaps also teaching their local county education service during the week, and performing with their band at weekends, could contemplate. Other jazz musicians will live the nomadic lifestyle for a period of time, but when they have got a wife and the children come along, lifestyles very often have to change, so being able to play for a wedding reception or birthday party somewhere within their vicinity, at a weekend, is a way to continue their art and to earn money from performing as part of their total income stream.

Similarly when jazz was developed by the Americans, particularly the black Americans, it may well have appealed to them because it was their discovery and art, not that of the upper-class cultured, and one which they could use to earn a living or part of a living; but it also appealed to them because, thanks to its immediate appeal, it was an ideal introduction to serious music for people with no previous qualifications and training. The pioneer jazz fan was therefore culturally active, energetic, often with ambitions to create: perhaps one reason why commercial artists, journalists, people on the fringes of the theatrical and film business were so frequently found in his ranks. A Mr Clifford Kellerby, a bus conductor, was not at all untypical in his extra-curricular activities: he played in both jazz and military bands, edited the Leeds Transport Magazine, drew posters, painted (we owe our information about him to a large, and, alas, not very successful allegorical symbolic painting on the past, present and future of jazz) and 'travelled on the Continent'.

Not that the left recognised the jazz fan as a type; but he was in it all right and gave all jazz made in the pre-World War II mould a permanent slant to the extreme left.

From the middle 'thirties jazz began to percolate upwards into higher society, and notably into some of the public schools and the old universities. An enthusiasm for jazz or the blues was a respectable eccentricity, but nevertheless neither normal nor socially particularly cherished

This modest expansion of the jazz public reflected the vogue for 'swing' which swept the United States after 1935 as well as the political currents of the times. But swing put the older, and more quintessential, British jazz lovers into a quandary. The jazz community exists largely, as we have seen, by its exclusive-ness and its hostility to commercialism. Mr Rex Harris's Pelican Books on jazz still reflect this attitude, heightened by the later New Orleans fanaticism, with remarkable accuracy.

It was therefore natural that the extraordinary expansion of the jazz public which took place everywhere during the war, was not the direct prolongation of swing, but a reaction against it: the 'New Orleans Revival'. Out of fifteen leading British 'revivalist' musicians one (the first of them all) was born in 1917, three in 1920-1, two in 1926 and nine in 1928-32-six of them in 1928-9. All of them came from among the jazz fans, none from among the professional musicians. The 'revivalist' jazz bands formed on the outskirts and marched upon the centre of the city, like rebellious armies deposing Roman emperors. George Webb's Dixielanders raised the banner of revolt in the Red Barn at Bexleyheath, Kent, in 1944, the 'Crane River Jazz Band' - nursery of numerous New Orleans prophets - came from Cranford, Middlesex, while to this day the Jazz Club Calendar of the Melody Maker records the strongholds of the music in Chadwell Heath and Southall, Croydon and Wood Green, Baling, Hanwell, Harringay and Dagenham. Soon Leeds produced the Yorkshire Jazz Band, Manchester the 'Saints' (named after the tune which may best

Why the Scots have taken to jazz so much more readily than any other part of Britain is obscure, but the fact is not in dispute: ever since the early and middle 'thirties they have provided by far the largest single contingent of good jazz musicians in these islands.


To judge by the character of the London fans, the lower-middle-class youth pretty certainly remained the main pillar of the jazz public.

amateur and semi-professional musician, and the ordinary inexpert fan, generally of schoolboy or student age. This kind of simple, non-intellectual music had its appeal to the intellectuals, not to mention young aristocrats from the gossip-column zone. It is no accident that revivalist jazz provides the incidental music to John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, whose hero, it will be remembered, occasionally goes off-stage to practise the trumpet and once had ambitions to become a jazz trumpeter. Few of the leading revivalist bands were without some Communists, and several were led by young men who came out of, or from the neighbourhood of, the small Communist youth movement, while the International Youth Festivals of 1947-57 were also international rallies and propaganda platforms for revivalist jazz.

Revivalist bands in Britain had taken to allowing a guitarist-singer with rhythm accompaniment to sing such blues and songs (mainly from the Leadbelly repertoire) between band sets: the arrangement was called 'skiffle', a term dug up from the obscurer recesses of American jazz history, and virtually without meaning for anyone in the USA. A taste for the blues had long been part of a sound revivalist approach, though commercially a hopeless proposition: of all jazz fans, the blues lover has been the most consistently esoteric. To this day the admirer of Sonny Boy Williamson or Bessie Jackson, Roosevelt Sykes 'The Honeydripper', or Lightning Hopkins, must rely on imported and second-hand American records, for it has not been commercially worthwhile to release a representative selection of blues records in Britain.

Nobody created or anticipated the fashion: Mr Lonnie Donegan in Britain, whose Rock Island Line - originally a African American prison-camp song - exploded into the big time in the spring of 1956, had made the record as part of his routine duties with a leading revivalist band. Firstly, it was much more patently an outgrowth of the revivalist jazz movement. Second, it became as much a movement for amateur music making as for listening; indeed, the largest movement of its kind within living memory.

Skiffle was unquestionably the most universally popular music of our generation. Revivalist jazz, as we see, progressed steadily, and with increasing speed, from minority to majority status. By the later 'fifties it had virtually ceased to be minority music: skiffle was triumphant, and even the old-fashioned instrumental jazz of New Orleans had insensibly turned into popular dance music for youngsters between fifteen and twenty-five, who, if asked, would have guessed that King Oliver was the monarch of Denmark. Others fled forward, into the unexplored territories of 'modern' or 'cool' jazz.

Modern jazz had been on the American and European scene since the middle 'forties. Its sectarian appeal would no doubt have made itself felt earlier but for two facts: it was much harder to listen to than the older kind, and the bulk of the established critics and jazz intellectuals, formed in the school of the 'thirties, were bitterly hostile to it, for political and social reasons. What they cherished in jazz was a 'people's music' -that is, both a music which appealed to ordinary people and which, in its nature, provided an alternative pattern of the arts.


Modern jazz seemed to them to sell the pass: a jazz version of esoteric avant-garde music might have its own merits, but they were not the ones they had come to jazz for. In spite of a good deal of American drum-beating in the later 'forties, 'bop', 'cool' or 'modern'jazz proved incapable of being turned into a widely saleable music. Modern jazz won itself a public of sorts, drawn partly from among professional musicians (always ready to appreciate a technically interesting music), partly from among the various national equivalents of the hipsters and St Germain-type layabouts, partly from among that stratum of young intellectuals, who, as in France, are given to accepting anything in the arts which can plausibly claim to be revolutionary. Among musicians in Britain it often took the form of a vague malaise, a boredom with the traditionalist music whose limits they felt they had explored pretty completely, a desire to play something more interesting. (Characteristically if often took the compromise form of moving from the 'traditional' music of the 'twenties to the 'mainstream' music of the 'thirties and early 'forties, a half-way house to modernism.) But the trend was unmistakable, and it was greatly aided by two American developments: the virtual drying up of the American source of 'traditional' records (except for the perennial blues), and the swelling stream of modern records which British companies.

For in the USA modern jazz, by the middle 'fifties, acquired recognised cultural standing, perhaps because the line between hipsterdom and intellectual-ism grew faint in the period of McCarthy and the apotheosis of General Motors. The evolution of the jazz public is no more finished than that of jazz. It is invariably a predominantly young public, for jazz, with its capacity to express unequivocal emotions in the most direct manner and its gallery of potential heroes and symbols is a music ideally suited to adolescence.

In Britain the core of the jazz public represented another kind of rebellion, and a more serious one: the aspirations of the culturally and educationally underprivileged young for official recognition. It is part of their life at a certain age, like playing tennis or going camping, or going to espresso bars. There is a wide difference between the atmosphere of the jazz rebel, with his penchant for low life as much as for music, and the atmosphere of the characteristic British mass jazz club of the early and middle 1950s, where nobody drank, or wanted to drink, anything stronger than Coca-cola, or smoke anything stronger than tobacco, and where the songs about whores, fancy-men, gamblers and tough men echoed through an atmosphere which was much less like that of Storyville than like that of an old-fashioned youth club, minus the organisers. In a way this sort of public was and is a great deal more like the public jazz was made for than any other. Few jazz occasions recaptured the New Orleans spirit (as distinct from the New Orleans environment) better than the 'river-boat shuffles' or 'jazz carnivals' which came to be organised in Britain in the middle 'fifties: one or two steamers would be hired to go to Margate and back, a selection of bands playing, or relays of musicians would play for an Albert Hall filled to the brim with working-class adolescents having the time of their lives. By aficionado standards, few of these were serious jazz fans. It was simply that for them jazz had become what Viennese waltzes were for their grandparents, and shimmies or foxtrots for their parents: the normal kind of music for dancing and a good time.

A third form of jazz public (if it can be so called) has also developed round the original nucleus of the fans: those who take no particular interest in jazz, but recognise that it has become part of the cultural scene, and must be treated as such. Jazz has been slow thus to establish itself, except in the Scandinavian countries where (in Denmark at least) jazz classes appear to have been organised in schools, and jazz concerts officially subsidised even in the early 1930s. Even in America official recognition of the fact that jazz is the most original musical contribution to civilisation made in that country has been slow. (Fortunately, for it is very doubtful whether jazz flourishes any more than folk-song in an atmosphere of academic music schools and seminars or symphony concerts.) However, little by little the patent appeal of jazz has been reflected in the institutions of orthodox culture. Jazz reviews have appeared in serious journals, jazz programmes on serious broadcasts.

THE ATMOSPHERE which has surrounded jazz almost since the beginning is so overcharged with emotion as to make it extremely difficult to explain in purely musical terms. The first English writer to deal seriously, if inadequately, with jazz, R. W. S. Mendl, observed this as early as 1927. Let us simply consider the extraordinary fervour which jazz has been able to rouse fairly consistently among its devotees, and which leads young jazz lovers to treat famous musicians as something like models, heroes or saints, and more mature ones to leap over the barriers of non-musical loyalty with astonishing ease. Lt. Dietrich Schulz-Koehn of the German army spent his war leaves in Paris working on the 1942 edition of M. Delaunay's Hot Discography, though the French jazz lovers' community was, for obvious reasons, extremely anti-German. Again, the views of the Soviet authorities on jazz have been known at least since the middle 1930s.

So far from taking notice of Russian views, British Communist journals printed serious jazz reviews continuously even in the worst years of 'Zhdanovism'. Clearly, jazz rouses remarkably powerful and tenacious emotions among both its supporters and opponents.

The point is not that the jazz protests can be fitted into this or that pigeonhole of orthodox politics, though it often can - mostly into a left-wing one - but that the music lends itself to any kind of protest and rebelliousness much better than most other forms of the arts. It is a music for expressing strong feelings of dislike.

This is due, in the first place, to an element jazz shares, alas, with Tin Pan Alley: it is democratic music. As the organ of the British popular musicians wrote in one of its first editorials, at the beginning of a career of consistent and passionate championship of jazz:

Jazz was originally music designed to be enjoyed by the least intellectual or expert, the least privileged, educated or experienced citizen, as well as by others; though the specialist jazz aficionados have been much more reluctant to admit this than the players. It was also designed to be played by men who have 'picked it up' any way. The jazz listener does not require the sort of preparation which is needed to listen profitably to a fugue, the jazz player can perform without the sort of training which is needed to sing coloratura, though this does not mean that either fail to benefit from training. More than this: jazz is a musical manifesto of populism. The Merry Widow might be the musically modest citizen's grand opera, but the jazz band, real or pseudo, was in no sense an imitation of a culturally more ambitious or respectable genre. Loud, raucous, sounding (even without the pseudo-jazz additions of tin pans, motor horns and funny hats) like nothing on earth except an undisciplined brass band playing in a room too small for it, the

It has produced scholarship and serious critical discussion of art among people whom the orthodox arts could never bring to this point (except through a training in jazz): audiences whom gossip columnists contemptuously describe as 'not the most intelligent that have been seen', who listen, with absolute attention, in absolute silence, and in their thousands, to what would in orthodox terms be considered a reasonably difficult chamber-music recital; and what is more, who discuss them as the old Viennese musical public would discuss the rival merits of Furtwangler and Bruno Walter. It has come nearer to breaking down class lines than any other art. At its best the democratic protest of jazz merely means that this music stakes a claim to a serious participation in the arts for people who would, but for it, be mostly debarred from such participation; and its appeal for such people is therefore strong.

It is true that this sort of philistinism surrounds the jazz-influenced kinds of pop music much more than jazz itself, whose strict devotees are generally shocked by the prospect of simply sitting back and enjoying themselves; the critics more than the musicians. In the second place jazz is a music of protest, because it was originally the music of an oppressed people and of oppressed classes: of the latter perhaps more obviously than of the former, though the two cannot be kept rigidly separate.

In terms of jazz, jazz is good music because it is believed to derive not simply from African Americans but from the red-light district of New Orleans.

The emotional, and often quite irrational, bias in favour of African Americans and African American low life has always been extremely strong among serious jazz lovers. Politically left-wing aficionados have attempted to counter it with the argument that jazz is a people's music of both black and white oppressed.


This bias, especially among some traditionalist zealots, can reach the point of mania as when one (white) historian of jazz writes that 'white men cannot even play it', or another argues that:

'I may say that authentic jazz can be created only by African Americans; any other jazz by white men... is not authentic. A good deal of jazz criticism is permeated by less extreme versions of the same pro-coloured race feeling, and this sometimes affects critical standards.

Colour prejudice in reverse (what coloured intellectuals used to call 'Crow Jim') must not be confused with the obvious recognition, which implies no belief in mysticism or blood, that the origins and evolution of jazz are more closely linked with the history of African Americans than with any other group of people, and that up to the present the supremacy of African American players in jazz is about as obvious and perhaps even more unchallenged than that of Jews in chess playing. (Of course it may be argued that this is partly due to the practice of critics, since about 1930, of establishing the criteria of good jazz in terms of the achievements of coloured players.


it's unlikely that the role of coloured Americans in jazz has been exaggerated, for it has not; but that the appeal of jazz for many white middle-class admirers is that it is a music of those who, by middle-class ranking, are socially below them. For, paradoxically, the African American's own musical protest against his fate was one of the less important elements in the appeal of jazz, and one of the latest to become influential.

'Unembattled, happy, almost complacent' is not a bad description of old-style New Orleans jazz. This did not last, but its influence on white pop music, serious jazz and the jazz public cannot be described as one of social protest. It is not only their type of music which speaks directly from and to the ordinary untrained man or woman, in which people play as men speak, or laugh, or cry, only more so; and which, by virtue of this directness is a standing protest against the cultural and social orthodoxies from which it is so sharply distinct. It is any music specifically made by and for the poor, with however little intention of political protest. This may be illustrated by the example of an institution which has affinities with art and, incidentally, has had the most profound influence on the evolution of jazz, the 'poor man's church'.

Every poor man's Protestant sect, white or coloured, is essentially a 'ranting' sect, whether it consists of Durham Primitive Methodists.

Once again these characteristics appear in their purest form in African American churches, and may be heard on the invaluable records of their services and music, but they may equally be found in white ones of whatever nationality, provided these reflect similar social situations. The parallel of such church services with primitive jazz is not arbitrary, even if we leave out of account the very close links between the 'hot-gospelling' African American churches and the rhythmic blues, which makes a childhood among the Pentecostal Holiness people or the Churches of Christ so valuable an education for the future jazz musician. Like such churches, jazz was systematically not like orthodox culture, and exalted the gifts and ways of untrained and ignorant musicians and dancer-listeners in very similar ways.  The techniques of the hot gospeller in prose, of the gospel singer in song, and of the improvising soloist in jazz are (as the word 'hot' implies) fundamentally similar.

The mere fact that it originates among oppressed and unconsidered people, and is looked down upon by orthodox society, can make the simple listening to jazz records into a gesture of social dissent; perhaps-as generations of teenagers have discovered - the cheapest of all such gestures. What they would do if jazz were ever to become domesticated and officially accepted, like ballet, makes for entertaining speculation.

My object has been to show, not why people require some way of making musical protests, or blowing off steam, but why, having these requirements, they should find jazz so eminently suitable. If jazz had not been on the American scene, some other form of the American popular tradition would unquestionably have come to take its place as a vehicle for protest, though hill-billy songs, cowboy music, or the vigorous and 'democratic' products of the early, half-folky Tin Pan Alley, would not have made perfect substitutes. For jazz owes at least this to its African American origins and associations, that it is not merely 'common people's music', but common people's music at its most concentrated and emotionally powerful.

Because the musical language of jazz is Afro-American, it is more heterodox, and owes less even to the echoes of orthodoxy than other kinds of popular music. Moreover, because of its musical origins, it has used that most potent of musical devices for inducing powerful physical emotion, rhythm, as no other music familiar to our society has. What jazz protests about or against is, for our purposes, secondary. Jazz by itself is not politically conscious or revolutionary. The origins of jazz lay among that section of the poor which, though extremely oppressed, is least given to collective organisation and political consciousness, and which finds its 'freedom' by side-stepping oppression rather than by facing it: the unskilled, pre-industrial, big-city labouring poor. Being poor and oppressed, they sing and play about poverty and oppression as a matter of course. Folk-song experts of the left have never had any difficulty in discovering flamenco songs expressing bitter hatred of policemen and judges, Neapolitan ballads idealising brigand-rebels, or blues of left-wing social significance.

It is the critics who have classified secular jazz and blues and the gospel song under the same heading: historically and socially the 'gospel people' among the African Americans have been strongly opposed to jazz and all it stood for, many jazz musicians and blues singers resentful and contemptuous of church groups. In much the same way the labour movements of Britain have generally been un-enthusiastic about the old music halls, while the old music hall artists, in spite of their marked prejudice for the poor against the rich, were rarely political militants. The old British contrast between the 'pub miner' (who was, more often than not, the less organised type) and the 'chapel miner' (who provided the cadre of union organisers) has its less formalised parallels in the world of jazz. Few politically militant African Americans were genuine admirers of jazz, at least until it had been borne in upon them (often by the propaganda of white intellectuals) that this music was 'an achievement of the race' of which African Americans should be proud.

It was easy to associate jazz with radical and revolutionary politics, and in times of political ferment American jazz musicians were quite willing so to be associated: after all, if the poor, however unorganised and demoralised, have any politics, they must be 'on the side of the poor'. (In other countries, where the jazz movement had different social bases and

Very many American jazz musicians have expressed hatred and resentment of an unjust society, if only privately.

What jazz is against may be reasonably clear in theory, though it may find only a rather passive, evasive and individualist expression outside music.  There is the excuse that African American jazz musicians are much more easily victimised than white popular entertainers who have made a great deal of money.

The yearning for official recognition is perhaps the most dangerous part of this temptation, because it affects not only the general appeal of jazz but also the music. It has always existed, even when the jazz players were perfectly content to blow out their souls as ordinary entertainers of a popular dancing audience, and the fans most vociferous in their contempt for the 'long-hair' arts. It is this which has caused jazz musicians of all styles time and again to insist on playing with string sections (for violins symbolise accepted cultural status in music), in spite of the uniformly disastrous results of such experiments. The film St Louis Blues, which, like so many American films, is a compendium of widely accepted fictions, one more miserable than the next, illustrates this very clearly: like the film about Louis Armstrong's world tour, it ends in the apotheosis of jazz being played in a Philharmonic auditorium by a lot of fiddlers. The rebels of the arts in jazz settle for admission to their version of the Royal Academy, unlike the rebels in more sophisticated arts, who have learned better. Similarly, jazz lovers in both Britain and America have shown quite disproportionate resentment against the neglect of their music by the guardians of orthodox sounds. Generations of them have grown up to repeat the same rare crumbs of praise for jazz by classical musicians (first- or second-rate), and to hail with touching gratitude the occasional recognition of jazz by the Third Programme of the BBC or similar established cultural institutions.!

 That intelligent impresario Norman Granz knew what he was about when he baptised his touring jazz show Jazz at the Philharmonic. Few books about jazz fail to begin with, or to contain, a defence of jazz against its detractors.

This feeling of inferiority, whether acknowledged or not, has been part of the jazz protest. It has produced such phenomena as the attempt to turn jazz into something equivalent to 'straight music' - the 'symphonic jazz' of the 1920s, the devices lifted from Bach and Milhaud in modern jazz, the dressing up in morning coats and acknowledging applause by stiff bows, the systematic refusal to behave in any way like an old-fashioned extrovert entertainer. Paradoxically, it is the simplest and least 'political' jazz which has best resisted the temptations of compromise, respectability and official recognition. Bessie Smith, who never sang in white theatres and would not have changed her style if she had, is - like the blues - the least corrupted and corruptible part of jazz, and therefore the purest carrier of the jazz protest. (It may be significant that of all the biographies and autobiographies of jazz artists, those of the women singers express the irreconcilable bitterness of the underdog most persistently. Often, indeed, the primitive and elemental musicians are far more willing than the sophisticated and emancipated ones to play what the public wants or to act as the public wants them to act. If Armstrong were to play the Purcell Trumpet Voluntary, it would still come out like the blues.


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