Fascination and fear: Responses to early jazz in Britain

Parsonage, Catherine (2007). Fascination and fear: Responses to early jazz in Britain. In: Wynn, Neil A. ed. Cross the Water Blues: African American Music in Europe. University Press of Mississippi, pp. 89–105.

URL: http://www.upress.state.ms.us/books/867


Jazz was a source of deep controversy and debate in 1920s Britain. Whilst it was widely criticised in letters written to national newspapers, it was at the same time enjoying great popularity with the equally prolifically reported ‘Bright Young Things’. An understanding of jazz as black music, even though it was relatively rarely represented and experienced in Britain as such in terms of live and recorded performance, was vital in provoking these and other responses to the music. It can be seen that the basic ideology of jazz as black music was more clearly understood than the precise nature of the music itself. Developments in recording technology did allow greater ease of access to black American music in Britain, and this provoked some re-evaluation of jazz as critics became acquainted with its musical qualities. However, it can be seen that the earlier understanding and reception of jazz as black music continued to influence the way in which it was received and critiqued. This chapter concludes with close analysis of the reactions to Louis Armstrong’s first appearances in Britain in 1932.

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