100 Years of Jazz in Britain

100 Years of Jazz in Britain

100 Years of Jazz in Britain considers the musical and non-musical ways in which jazz entered the public consciousness in Britain and evaluates the mixed reception that the music received.

The Challenge

In 1919 the arrival in Britain of two groups from America, Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB) and the Southern Syncopated Orchestra (SSO), brought jazz to public attention. Responding to the centenary of these visits, Catherine Tackley’s research explores the influence of jazz on culture and society in the interwar years in Britain, including musicians and musical communities but also on artists working in other media (e.g. visual art, design, film, literature and dance), as well as on everyday life. 

Research Action 

The research considers the musical and non-musical ways in which jazz entered the public consciousness in Britain and evaluates the mixed reception that the music received. The research identifies and analyses a huge variety of non-musical media and formats in which the genre was represented in Britain in the jazz age – uniquely moving beyond figurative depictions towards assessing the aesthetic impact of the music. Alongside renewed critical engagement with the ODJB’s and SSO’s musical performances and exploration of their impact on musicians, artists and audiences, evidence of profoundly British responses to jazz from the outset shows that the adoption of jazz in the country was more complex than simply an emulation of American sources. In particular, the research illuminates a long-standing contribution of West Indian musicians to popular music in Britain which pre-dates the arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1948. The research establishes early jazz as fundamental part of British cultural history, and contributes to the understanding of jazz as a global music.

Working in partnerships

In 2018 Tackley curated an exhibition based on her research (‘Rhythm and Reaction: The Age of Jazz in Britain’) at Two Temple Place in London, supported by The Arts Society. This project brought together materials from the (UK) National Jazz Archive with items loaned from national, regional and private collections. Tackley was invited to be Professor in Residence at the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival (Serious Productions), where she curated a public Study Day on the Impact of Jazz in Britain. Collaborations with dancers and musicians (including Kansas Smittys, Tomorrow’s Warriors and Liverpool’s Jubilee Stompers) have enabled public engagement, including at events presented in association with the Jazz Repertory Company, Serious, Jazzfest Berlin, the International Slavery Museum and Parr Jazz in Liverpool.

Outputs and outcomes

The research has informed the programming of jazz promoters and festivals, contemporary jazz artists connecting with and reflecting on British jazz history in their work, and the fresh curatorial interpretation of national and regional gallery and museum collections.

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