Book: Jazz on BBC Radio 1922-1972
Chapter: The BBC and New British Jazz, 1965-1972
On 8th May 1965 the Stan Tracey Quartet recorded Under Milk Wood, widely cited as the recording which announced British jazz as a distinctive form in its own right. Stan Tracey had made his first appearance on the BBC Light Programme’s Jazz Club the week before, billed as a Trio with Bobby Wellins, exploring the same adaption of Miles Davis-derived modal jazz that would define the LP. Tracey’s quartet had appeared weekly on the Ted Heath Show in the late 1950s, and in a variety of mainstream jazz programmes in the early 60s, but in the late 60s and early 70s he consistently broadcast three or four times a year as a stalwart of a new faction of British jazz musicians.
This chapter explores the way that BBC radio husbanded the new jazz developing in Britain in the 1960s and early 70s. Tracey personifies the way a generation of British musicians developed a new approach to British jazz, and like contemporaries Don Rendell and Joe Harriott, regular broadcasts on the BBC track their engagement with US innovators and the collective emergence of 60s British jazz. If Tracey, Rendell and Harriott herald these changes, it was a younger generation that included Graham Collier, Mike Osborne and John Taylor who became increasingly associated with a new British jazz. Bands led by each were regularly featured on Jazz Club, and a range of other jazz programmes, including Jazz Scene, during the late 60s and early 70s, and their performances and the way they are presented within the broadcasts constitute an interesting construction of British jazz at a crucial point in its development.
While retrospective histories of this period often present it as a crisis in which British jazz comes to terms with the challenge of rock-based forms of popular music, the BBC’s broadcasts of the new music construct a very different sense of the burst of creativity apparent during these years. Even while the BBC was responding to forms of music radio established in the US with the formation of Radio 1 and Radio 2 in 1967, the balance of jazz broadcasting across the stations reveals the challenge of defining each station against the other and positioning jazz within this new map of popular music radio. During this period jazz was given a significant place in the output of the BBC, which played an important part in making it accessible. As Radio 1 was increasingly constructed as a youth station and Radio 2 pushed much of its jazz output toward the territory of an older person’s music, there remained a thread of British jazz which related more strongly to a European identity and to a serious musical form.