Sound and vision blog

09 July 2009

Freeing jazz in the sixties

The 60’s were an exciting time for British jazz, as musicians on this side of the Atlantic began to break free of the all-pervading American influence in the genre.  Leeds College of Music's MA student Simon Monfredi focused on the 1965–1970 period in his dissertation exploring the development of the free jazz scene.

“My research focused on how and why free jazz developed in Britain, specifically how British jazz went from a purely emulative model to a music with its own identity and why this happened in this decade,” says Monfredi.

To support his research, Monfredi actively favoured the musician’s own voice, drawing heavily on the Oral History of Jazz in Britain from Archival Sound Recordings as primary source material.  He used the interviews to explore how the forging of a unique British jazz scene was influenced by the socio-political issues of the period. 

By the early 60’s, jazz was considered part of the mainstream American establishment, to the extent that it was being actively used by Washington to promote US interests and culture abroad.  America’s aggressive pursuit of an imperialistic and anti-communist agenda in both Vietnam and Cold War Europe increasingly alienated the anti-establishment subculture that was blooming in Britain in this period.  Musicians such as SME (Spontaneous Music Ensemble) and AMM began exploring ways to separate jazz from its American role model, taking inspiration instead from European influences, such as the avant-garde experiments of Stockhausen and John Cage.

“As there is very little in the way of written interviews or testimonials from the musicians involved with the free jazz scene, Archival Sound Recordings was crucial in providing the insight into how these developments took place" adds Monfredi.  "The research simply would not have been possible without these recordings.”

Ginevra House, Archival Sound Recordings Engagement Officer

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