Tiger Bay and the roots/routes of black British jazz

Tackley, Catherine (2014). Tiger Bay and the roots/routes of black British 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. 43–62.


By the mid-1930s a significant number of British-born black musicians active in London’s jazz scene were from Tiger Bay in Cardiff. This area encompassed the docks and the adjacent residential area of Butetown, which in 1948 was home to 95% of Cardiff’s black population which included 50 races and religions (Little, 1948/R1972). Although this area has been the subject of several anthropological studies, music has yet to receive particular attention. However, oral history material illuminates the significance of music as entertainment, recreation and to an extent, work for this community. The thriving musical culture of Tiger Bay between the Wars drew on diasporic traditions as well as encounters with musics as a result of maritime activity, either directly or via records. The subsequent migration of Bay musicians to London was integral to the development of their professional careers. At this time jazz represented an aspirational ideal for these musicians which could only be fully realised where the music was in demand. It was the nature of the musicians’ experiences in the Bay which meant that they were well placed to work alongside the growing community of West Indian musicians in London. The chapter will reflect on the influence of roots, within and external to the UK and routes, including migration within the UK, on the complex identities of black British Jazz musicians.

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