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255 REPRINTS AVAILABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE PUBLISHERS. PHOTOCOPYING PERMITTED BY LICENSE ONLY© BERG 2007 PRINTED IN THE UK CULTURAL POLITICS VOLUME 3, ISSUE 2 PP 255–258 BOOK REVIEW JAZZ IN BRITAIN: EXPORT CULTURE, IMPORT SOCIETY CATHERINE PARSONAGE Circular Breathing: The Cultural Politics of Jazz in Britain, George McKay, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2005, 376 pages, $22.95/£14.95, PB ISBN 0–8223–3560–3 Academic and public interest in the phenomenon of jazz outside America has been growing in recent years. The processes of exporting and importing, and subsequently reproducing and developing a genre that is often considered to be “America’s classical music” are, of course,inherently political. George McKay addresses this directly in Circular Breathing: The Cultural Politics of Jazz in Britain, a publication that makes a significant contribution to jazz studies, which has established a reputation as a rich interdisciplinary field, and more specifically to the study of cultural politics in British society. McKay states two aims for the book: first, to examine jazz as an “export culture” and the context of the “import society” of mid-twentieth-century Britain as a “case study CATHERINE PARSONAGE IS HEAD OF THE CENTRE FOR JAZZ STUDIES UK AT LEEDS COLLEGE OF MUSIC, UK. HER BOOK THE EVOLUTION OF JAZZ IN BRITAIN, 1880–1935 IS PUBLISHED BY ASHGATE. SHE WILL TAKE UP AN EDISON VISITING FELLOWSHIP AT THE BRITISH LIBRARY IN 2006–7. > CULTURAL POLITICS DOI 10.2752/174321907X194066 CULTURAL POLITICS 256 BOOK REVIEW in the operation of the process or problem of ‘Americanization’” and secondly, “to interrogate the political inscriptions or assumptions of jazz,” which he rightly identifies as neglected in the literature on British subcultural practices (pp. ix, x). The inclusion of the bulk of the theoretical material in an extremely comprehensive introduction undoubtedly helps the flow of the subsequent chapters. These examine the politics of the New Orleans jazz revival, whiteness in British jazz, “jazz of the black Atlantic and Commonwealth,” with particular reference to the Caribbean and South African influence, improvisation and contemporary jazz in the 1960s and 1970s, and finally gender and sexuality in British jazz. The book is enlivened by the words of British jazz musicians, interviewed by McKay himself, and illustrated throughout with rare photographs, often drawn from their private collections. McKay has necessarily, and wisely, avoided an attempt to write a history of jazz in Britain. He begins his Preface: “This is not really (only) a book about music, about the history of the sounds of jazz in Britain, but a study of the circulation and political inscriptions in and usages of that music’s form and history” (p. ix). This contributes to a certain detachment from his subject at points, which, whilst this may be considered desirable from an academic standpoint, can sometimes leave the reader thirsting for details about “history” and “sounds” which would only support and enrich the arguments that are being made. For instance, there is a tantalizing mention of the “notorious publicity shot” featuring the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher accompanied by “some old tradders” (p. 101), which would have made a fantastic (cover?) illustration for this volume, and certainly merits further explanation. But more significantly, the very acts of narrating and writing jazz history and of performing jazz are themselves deeply political and demand critical engagement. McKay admits to relying on existent sources on jazz in Britain to provide the “background narrative” for his work. However, writers such as Godbolt and Carr were involved in the very movements that McKay examines, and this makes their writing at once very useful for contemporary opinion and sometimes flawed in terms of an objective sense of historical development,and as such demands careful treatment. Reliance on such sources may contribute to some uncharacteristic and unsubstantiated generalizations in the book (including the persistent misspelling of Barnehurst, the home of the traditional jazz revival). A widely held perception is that “from 1935 jazz began to stall” (p. 27) when a ban attributed to the Musicians’ Union on American musicians performing in Britain was introduced. However, there is strong evidence to suggest that it was at this point that British jazz began to develop in its most unique...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1751-7435
Print ISSN
1743-2197
Pages
pp. 255-257
Launched on MUSE
2016-07-06
Open Access
No
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