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BBJ Research Themes

Three themes outlined below have shaped the research process. They have also provided the structure for the book which has come out of the project: Black British Jazz: Routes, Ownership and Performance.

In terms of methods, the BBJ project is interdisciplinary and collaborative involving musicologists, cultural historians, sociologists and ethnomusicologists;  all working together and sharing their methods and findings.


Routes examines the historical development and migration through which BBJ emerged, using a combination of oral-historical and archival work. In-depth interviews with contemporary participants are set alongside archival sources which include recorded interviews from the British Library’s ‘Oral History of Jazz in Britain’ and documents from the National Jazz Archive.

The Black Atlantic diaspora in the Caribbean, United States and Africa has been a crucial source for understanding the routes/roots of black British jazz over the course of the project. But just as important are the destinations of black musicians who have come to Britain: London naturally, but also Cardiff and Liverpool.  BBJ routes are rich and multifarious.


This theme focuses on ownership in the economic sense, in other words the problem of how BBJ is organised as a business, or sector of the music industry. But it also examines cultural ownership – in what sense, and to what extent,  it might be said to belong to black British people and culture.

Making use of policy documents, published statistics, business reports and interviews with stakeholders, the Ownership strand of the project recognises the crucial importance of the economics of cultural practice for BBJ, as well as the way culture feeds back into economics.


The Performance theme is concerned with the practice of music-making in a wide sense, to include not only matters of production and reception but also the ways in which the skills of performance are taught and learnt. Live gigs, rehearsals, recording sessions and workshops are all examined as part of the process of performance.

It is here, then, that the project addresses the sounds of the Black Atlantic – its grooves, musical voices and improvisations – as they find their form in contemporary British jazz. But we have work ‘backwards’ too, to examine the creative processes from which performances emerge.

Blog archive

The blogs written by various members of the team during the period the project was active in 2009 – 2011, tell the story of our engagement with black British jazz: the musicians, the issues and the problems we encountered. It provides an engaging narrative, not only about the research process but how the team began to make sense of black/British/jazz.

Part 1 (May 2009 to January 2010) and Part 2 (March 20010 to May 2011)