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Circular Breathing: The Cultural Politics of Jazz in Britain by George McKay

As jazz was developing in the U.S., it was also acquiring other histories in other countries, which George McKay, a professor of cultural studies at the University of Salford, correctly attributes to the globalization of jazz: “Even in the parochial narrative of early jazz in Britain there was an internationalism that moved beyond the obvious American origins of the music.”

McKay is particularly strong in describing this process in jazz in Britain since the 1950s, highlighting the extraordinary cultural mixing that has defined the music in the U.K. Choosing to begin his narrative with the founding of George Webb’s Dixielanders in 1943 (rather than the arrival of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1919), McKay probes the trad boom in Britain in the late 1940s and 1950s to reveal how it became located within the broader forum of political protest within the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. This is a very valuable study, despite missing the opportunity to explore the BBC’s troubled relationship with jazz, from the 1950s to the mid-1960s, which caused untold harm to the dissemination of jazz in Britain.

Originally Published