Standard, advantage, and race in British discourse about jazz

Dueck, Byron (2014). Standard, advantage, and race in British discourse about jazz. In: Toynbee, Jason; Tackley, Catherine and Doffman, Mark eds. Black British Jazz: Routes, Ownership, and Performance. Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series. Farnham: Ashgate, pp. 199–220.



Chapter 10, by Byron Dueck, brings us up to date, but also shifts analytical focus from the performativity of individuals to the way a relatively large group of musicians reflect on the performance (or not) of black identity in British jazz. Using interview material from the "What is Black British Jazz?" research project, he examines "a tangle in British discourse about jazz", specifically the way in which contemporary players often refute the suggestion that there is any such an entity as "black British jazz". That is, they rebut the idea of a homogeneous identity performed by black musicians. And there is also a concern not to be labelled as different or apart from British jazz, or just jazz, more generally. Dueck then sets this starting position of scepticism about "black British jazz" against a couple of other factors. One is the recognition that there definitely was a black British jazz, in the moment of the Jazz Warriors in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Indeed, some musicians acknowledge that it still exists in the case of up-front, hybrid ensembles like Gary Crosby's Jazz Jamaica.

But there is another dimension beyond the way in which musicians reflect on the performance (or not) of blackness, and that is advantage-disadvantage. In the terms we developed at the beginning of the section to attend to this topic represents a move from the perfomative considered as a field of creative agency to the notionally "lower" level of the social structural conditions under which musicians live and work. First, as Dueck shows, black people in Britiain are much less likely to receive higher education, especially in music, and this is considered by many of the interviewees to be a serious disadvantage. On the other hand, this could be advantageous in encouraging improvisation, experimentation and individualism, and perhaps perceived as being true to a certain idea of self-taught authenticity in jazz performance. Second, it seems likely that black musicians disproportionately attract a white audience, in a latter-day version of the exoticism which has dogged black musicians since the earliest days of jazz in Britain. This is acknowledged by both white and black musicians in the interviews which Dueck considers, and is often considered to be an unfair advantage, yet in this situation success may be most readily achieved by adhering to white expectations of black musicians (the long history of this in a British context is explored throughout this volume, beginning with Rye in Chapter 2).

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