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BillF

History of British jazz - recommended book(s)?

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 I've been asked if I could recommend  a book on the history of British jazz. Can you help me out? An overview of the modern jazz scene c.1960 is particularly sought.

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2 hours ago, Jason Bivins said:

McKay's "Circular Breathing" is a title I'd recommend.

Many thanks, Jason.

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For the early 1960s, the Tubby Hayes bio by Simon Spillett covers the period well. The Dave Gelly book is pretty good too.

For the early 1970s - definitely Ian Carr 'Music Outside'.

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Yes, Bob and Ted, I agree about Spillett's Hayes biog. The Gelly I don't know  - must have a look at that.

P.S. Checking out the Gelly has led me to Duncan Heining's Trad Dads, Dirty Boppers and Free Fusioneers: British Jazz, 1960-1975.

What I'm seeking, though, is not so much sociological analysis, but a factual account of the music and its players. The Hayes biog certainly gives that and Peter King's Flying High: A Jazz Life and Beyond would help, too.

Edited by BillF

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1 hour ago, BillF said:

P.S. Checking out the Gelly has led me to Duncan Heining's Trad Dads, Dirty Boppers and Free Fusioneers: British Jazz, 1960-1975.

Beware! It reads like a piece of GCSE sociology coursework, very much from a half-digested Marxist perspective. There's lots of useful information in it but the interpretation imposed on the history is rather embarrassing (unless you're a die-hard Morning Star reader). Reminded me of some of the Marxist history I read back in the 70s where events were squashed into shapes to fit a predetermined concept of the shape that 'history' is 'scientifically' determined to take - the only difference being that Heining is a real amateur compared with most Marxist historians. I don't like putting music or books down but I'd describe this one as atrocious. 

Hard to find now but John Wickes 'Innovations in British Jazz Part I 1960-80' is packed with information. A bit strung together and riddled with poor proof-reading (sentences which vanish at the turn of a page) but it's probably the most useful survey I've come across. No sign of Vol 2 17 years after publication. 

http://www.rermegacorp.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=RM&Product_Code=JOHNWICKESInnovationsinJazzvol1&Category_Code=678

Colin Harper's "Bathed in Lightning: John McLaughlin, the 60s and the Emerald Beyond" is worth considering. Although it's a bio of the guitarist, Harper explores the world he was working in through the 60s and 70s and gives an excellent picture of the jazz (and pop/rock/session) world of the time. 

Edited by A Lark Ascending

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Many thanks, Bev. Re your warning about Heining, this is what I was gently trying to indicate when I wrote that I wasn't seeking sociological analysis. The rise of jazz studies in the universities and the omnipresent jargon of critical theory means you have to be extra vigilant in choosing what to read. Perhaps information is best derived from practitioners - working musicians like Spillett and King.

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50 minutes ago, BillF said:

Many thanks, Bev. Re your warning about Heining, this is what I was gently trying to indicate when I wrote that I wasn't seeking sociological analysis. The rise of jazz studies in the universities and the omnipresent jargon of critical theory means you have to be extra vigilant in choosing what to read. Perhaps information is best derived from practitioners - working musicians like Spillett and King.

I know what you mean. There's a tendency for a certain type of 'academic' writing (I'm not trying to do a Gove there, writing off all experts!!!) to get lost in its own world. I'm reminded of a book by Bill Cole on Coltrane which I gave up on, so lost was it in trying to prove some obscure theory. 

Someone who could write a great book on the subject would be Alyn Shipton - his history of jazz from ten or more years back had definite opinions and interpretations that were controversial but it was all written with clarity and good narrative drive. 

I have the Spillett book on the the shelf but haven't read it yet - but what I've read of his elsewhere makes me think he could also write a great book. He's got the first hand experience you mention but he seems to also have that ability to stand back and see things more broadly. 

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54 minutes ago, A Lark Ascending said:

I know what you mean. There's a tendency for a certain type of 'academic' writing (I'm not trying to do a Gove there, writing off all experts!!!) to get lost in its own world. I'm reminded of a book by Bill Cole on Coltrane which I gave up on, so lost was it in trying to prove some obscure theory. 

Someone who could write a great book on the subject would be Alyn Shipton - his history of jazz from ten or more years back had definite opinions and interpretations that were controversial but it was all written with clarity and good narrative drive. 

I have the Spillett book on the the shelf but haven't read it yet - but what I've read of his elsewhere makes me think he could also write a great book. He's got the first hand experience you mention but he seems to also have that ability to stand back and see things more broadly. 

Spillett's book is unique. How many jazz biographies have been written by someone who plays the same instrument in much the same style as their subject and leads a similar professional life, as well as being a consummate writer and researcher?

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'Trad Dads' covers quite a bit of the period in question but as mentioned there is really too much of a political slant to recommend it - a real shame as there is potentially a really good book out of that one. The Dave Gelly is nice in that it is both very well written, readable and covers both the trad and modern styles over the period in question - could have been a bit longer and in depth though. The 'Bathed In Lightning' book is good for the mid/late 60s and the interface between modern jazz, blues and popular music. And Duffy Power..

It is the attention to detail in Simon's book that makes it really outstanding.

Edited by sidewinder

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I would definitely support Bev's recommendation of John Wickes' book 'Innovations in British Jazz'. It's a little chaotic in organisation and poorly bound (maybe because it's been well thumbed) but full of great detail. It's been mentioned before but Pete Frame's 'The Restless Generation' is very good on the post war development of trad and modern jazz, although its main thrust is rock and pop.

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I'll second Pete Frame's book. The links between post-war trad jazz scene (and some mroe modern jazz too) and the rising rock subculture are explored in a fascinating way. In a way it is a particularly interesting read if you read this as well as Simon Spillett's bio of Tubby Hayes (not concurrently but without excessive time in between) to get two different viewpoints of how the musicians from the jazz and "non-jazz" fields vied for the listeners' attention (and money) in the 50s and 60s.

Judging from your initial question, BillF, I take it that you are not overly keen on Jim Godbolt's books on "Jazz In Britain" (particularly his second volume on the 1950-70 period)? I'll admit that even to me (I'd not consider myself an expert on British jazz from those decades) it reads a bit superficially and like the author has certain favorites and tends to give others short shrift. But as an itroductory book I still find it quite useful.

And even though it covers "only" a regional part of British jazz history, I'd definitely add a recommendation for Bill Birch's privately published "Keeper of the Flame- Modern Jazz in Manchester 1946-72".

 

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You overestimate my knowledge, Steve!  I didn't know of Godbolt's book, but judging by its title, it may be what I was looking for. Thanks.

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6 hours ago, Jazzjet said:

It's been mentioned before but Pete Frame's 'The Restless Generation' is very good on the post war development of trad and modern jazz, although its main thrust is rock and pop.

Yes, that's a great read too.

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On 19.6.2016 at 3:55 PM, BillF said:

You overestimate my knowledge, Steve!  I didn't know of Godbolt's book, but judging by its title, it may be what I was looking for. Thanks.

Seeing your reply only right now ...

I was under the impression this was sort of standard fare to British jazz lovers everywhere because it has been out for a very long time. I bought the second volume (1950-1970) as a secondhand hardback (edition dating back to the 80s I think) at Mole Jazz sometime in 1997/98 or so. I did not get vol. 1 (1920-1950) until a couple of years ago as a paperback through Amazon (paperback edition, along with a CD box set to cover that time frame) when I found out (to my surprise) that the book is still in print (it must have been reprinted several times).

If you have been asked to recommend just an "introductory" book on this subject matter then this might indeed fit the bill.

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The Godbolt Vol 1 book has been quite recently reprinted (Northway Publications?) in hardback. Must get hold of it while it is still around. His biography is well worth a read - very amusing book and quite a character.

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There's a letter in this month's Jazzwise from Colin Harper, the author of the recent John McLaughlin bio. He says he's currently working on a book about 'the progressive end of British jazz in the 1960s' and seeks info from magazines (he specifies Jazz Beat) and people who attended Ronnie Scott's Old Place, 

Presume by 'progressive jazz' he means everything from Ardley/Collier/Westbrook etc through to the free improvisers. One to look forward to - he did a good job of painting a picture of parts of the 60s London jazz world in the McLaughlin book. 

If anyone has any info or help he includes an e-mail address - admin@colin-harper.com. I'm much to young to be of help. 

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At a concert last night Nick Smart (trumpet player, head of jazz at the Royal Academy of Music) mentioned that he was currently working on a Kenny Wheeler bio. Another book to look forward to.

 

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Yes, a very good read. Brings that era to life to us later-borns ... :lol:

That description of Ralph Venables wearing white gloves when junking had me smile ... I remember happening upon such a chap in white (then slightly dusty) gloves upstairs at Mole Jazz during one of my visits sometime in the 90s. Cannot have been him, though - he was younger (but very much "out of this world" too). BTW, I never knew Ralph Venables later made his mark in motoring journalism - knowing his name I think I would have noticed, particularly since the motoring writer's faction of that era had its share of "characters" too - L J K Setright, to name just one ... :D

Edited by Big Beat Steve

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It was only after reading this article that I realised that I had probably seen Brian Rust a number of times at the Swanage Jazz Fest; apparently his latter-day home. Almost certainly in Tent 1 ('Trad') and not Tent 2 ('Dirty Boppers'). :D

Edited by sidewinder

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On 5/29/2017 at 4:57 AM, Big Beat Steve said:

the motoring writer's faction of that era had its share of "characters" too - L J K Setright, to name just one ... :D

Setright's perceived eccentricity seems to have increased with age:

Setright_new__Tomter_.jpg

By comparison, at a somewhat younger age with one of his beloved Bristols:

LJKSetrightBristol406Z.jpg

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I'd vote for this pic of his:

29352069sz.jpg

Not sure if this reminds me of some druid from the highlands or of the reincarnation of that Catweazle character from the TV series (the Catweazle actor died not long ago, BTW). ;)

To take two extremes, let Setright and Max Jones take the podium together and they'd be sure to grab the audience's attention by their visual presence alone.

 

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