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Jazz on BBC Radio 1922-1972

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This book is the first long-form study of jazz on BBC radio. It locates jazz radio programming within the culture and political economy of the BBC, and in the emerging British jazz listening culture, across a fifty-year period. Covering a half-century from the birth of the British Broadcasting Company, through multiple restructures of this central cultural institution up to the introduction of commercial radio in the UK, the chapters present an interpretative history of a defining aspect of British twentieth century culture. In doing so, the book reframes the usual stories about jazz in Britain, and challenges many of the widely accepted accounts of the BBC as a public service broadcaster.

By examining what music was played and how it was presented on air, the book sets out to establish a history of British jazz through this distinctive diachronic slice of its jazz culture. The account is built from a detailed analysis of the available tangible heritage embodied in the broadcasts themselves, the way they are presented in BBC publications and institutional documents, and the contemporary presentation of jazz in the press. In doing so the book explores those more intangible aspects of British jazz heritage in which different groups attempt to define jazz and draw (and redraw) the line between jazz and not-jazz. The analysis contextualises the broadcast of jazz within the other discourses of culture which preoccupied the corporation’s leaders, linking to ideas of a distinct musical culture in which the notion of a 'British jazz' sound emerged and was remade, set against other competing concepts of 'Americanisation' and of European modernism.

The book provides researchers, lecturers and students of British cultural history, the media and popular music with an essential guide to the foundations of this important aspect of twentieth century social practice and the contemporary cultural place of jazz in Europe. More general readers interested in a new take on how jazz developed and was nurtured in Britain will find the unfolding story rich and challenging.

Published: Oct 1, 2020