Popular Music



A critical reassessment of the reception of early jazz in Britain


Catherine Parsonage 

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Abstract

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band's visit in 1919–1920 has been well documented as the beginning of jazz in Britain. This article illuminates a more complex evolution of the image and presence of jazz in Britain through consideration of the cultural and musical antecedents of the genre, including minstrel shows and black musical theatre, within the context of musical life in Britain in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. The processes through which this evolution took place are considered with reference to the ways in which jazz was introduced to Britain through imported revue shows and sheet music.

It is an extremely significant but often neglected fact that another group of American musicians, Will Marion Cook's Southern Syncopated Orchestra, also came to Britain in 1919. Remarkably, extensive comparisons of the respective performances and reception of the ODJB and the SSO have not been made in the available literature on jazz. Examination of the situation of one white and one black group of American musicians performing contemporaneously in London is extremely informative, as it evidences the continuing influence of the antecedents of jazz and the importance of both groups in shaping perceptions of jazz in Britain.