London was considered a jazz city in the 1950s and 1960s. Gerrard Street, now Chinatown in London, saw the opening of countless jazz clubs, perhaps the most influential of which was Ronnie Scott’s, founded in 1959. Ronnie Scott (b. 1927), a world-renowned tenor saxophonist, was the driving force behind securing a permanent home for jazz in Britain. Chris Barber (b. 1930) is recognized as one of the great pioneers of British jazz. He is best known for being a fine trombone player and bandleader, but started his musical studies as a violinist and soprano saxophonist. His biggest hit record was ‘Petit Fleur’ in 1959, which reached number three in the British chart and number five in the United States. ‘Petit Fleur’ made a significant impact on the trad jazz boom in Britain, and undoubtedly helped pave the way for trad musicians Kenny Ball (b. 1930), and Acker Bilk (b. 1929). Kenny Ball became a professional trumpeter in the mid-1950s and made his mark as an outstanding trad jazz performer. (Trad, an abbreviation of traditional jazz, was a peculiarly European form of deviant Dixieland, predominantly influenced and developed by British bands). His success continued in the 1960s but, due to the speedy invasion of pop and rock music he was forced to move into the cabaret scene and touring abroad. However, in 1968 he was back in London supporting Louis Armstrong, and during the 1970s he continued to tour jazz clubs and theatres in Europe and Britain. Due to his remarkable all-round talents and peak spots on television shows such as Morecambe and Wise and Saturday Night at the Mill, as well as regular appearances on Royal Variety Shows, he became a much loved and admired household name. In 1985, his band was the first to tour in the Soviet Union, where he was received with rapturous applause. Acker Bilk, also a significant protagonist in Britain’s trad boom, followed a similar career path and he too recorded commercial material. The key woman figure of this time was Cleo Laine (b. 1927), who made her first band appearance with Johnny Dankworth in the 1950s. Laine and Dankworth married and both enjoyed very successful careers. Laine’s distinct delivery opened up opportunities in musical, theatre and acting.
   The most significant development in the period 1950 to 1970 was the immense improvement in the standard of British jazz. Jim Godbolt argues that ‘the history of jazz in Britain is a remarkable story of missionary zeal’ (1989:299). Numerous jazz jamborees and festivals were regularly held in London; many of these had been established in the 1930s, but were generally notable for having only a minimum of jazz content. However, by the late 1950s the Musicians Benevolent Fund, organizer of the jazz jamborees, belatedly realized that the musical content should be consistent with the title. Therefore in 1958, the bill included Johnny Dankworth and his Orchestra, Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, the Jazz Couriers and Chris Barber. A unique feature of the British jazz scene was the number of musicians who were also writers, including Humphrey Lyttelton, George Melly, Sandy Brown, Ian Carr, Benny Green and John Chilton, amongst others. In 1972 John Chilton, through his own company Bloomsbury Books, published his Who’s Who of Jazz, a book that became a standard reference book. Shops devoted entirely to jazz and blues were mainly a postwar phenomenon. The first and most important was Dobells in London in the 1950s, which became a collectors’ mecca and a dropping-in point for visiting musicians. Doug Dobell, the proprietor, continued to run the club until 31 December 1980, when representatives of Westminster City Council came to put padlocks on the door—the sounds of jazz were still defiantly issuing from inside, marking the sad end of an era.
   Jazz within Britain has developed from the simple structures and harmonies of its beginnings to the sophistication and subtleties of the 1920s and 1930s, into the complexities of bebop and postbop music in the 1940s and 1950s. On entering the 1960s there was a proliferation of diverse jazz schools, with abstraction being very popular, and the term ‘mainstream’ was no longer applicable. The 1970s brought jazzrock fusion, influenced by Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus and John Coltrane. Also, the use of electric instruments and contemporary production techniques, including multitrack recording, became increasingly popular in the production of jazz music. With each successive decade the scope of the music expanded to such a degree that the term ‘jazz’ required regular reappraisals and redefinitions. Although jazz in the 1980s and 1990s continued to be considered a specialist music, it is important to recognize the enormous impact that it has had on twentieth century music in general. Also, the proliferation of jazz-dedicated radio stations, television shows and magazines helped it to reach a much wider audience, comparable with its popularity during the trad boom of the 1950s. Courtney Pine, an outstanding saxophonist, was the first British-born black musician firmly to make his mark on the jazz scene in the 1980s, and his success led to unprecedented attention to jazz within Britain. Julian Joseph, Gay Crosby, Mark Mondesir, Orphy Robinson, Cheryl Alleyne, Steve Williamson, Kathy Stobart, Norma Winstone, Andy Sheppard and Tommy Smith were all significant figures in the emerging innovative jazz of the late 1980s and 1990s. Smith, perhaps the most diverse in approach, was the first British musician to be signed up as a leader by the American-based Blue Note jazz label.
   See also: funk; jazz funk; jazz soloists
   Further reading
    Carr, C. (1973) Modern Jazz in Britain, London: Latimer New Dimensions.
    Cracker, C. (1994) Get Into Jazz: A Comprehensive Beginners Guide, New York: Bantam Books.
    Godbolt, J. (1989) A History of Jazz in Britain 19501970, London: Quartet Books.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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