Music Outside? Innovation and ‘Britishness' in British Jazz 1960-1980

  • Tom Sykes University of Salford


The 1960s and 1970s are regarded by some historians as being particularly creative decades for jazz in Britain, when British jazz developed its own sound that was distinct from that of American jazz. While not denying that this was a creatively fruitful period in British jazz, in this paper I argue that a ‘British sound' in jazz is difficult, perhaps impossible, to define, even though some authors have referred to a sense of ‘Britishness', particularly in the work of certain musicians discussed by Ian Carr in his book Music Outside: Contemporary Jazz in Britain. Some British jazz, performed largely by white (and mostly male) musicians at this time, was influenced during the 1960s by the contribution of immigrant black musicians from South Africa and the Caribbean; at the same time, musicians such as Michael Garrick and John Surman were drawing to some extent on British folk music for inspiration. Referring to examples from the period, I suggest that although much British jazz from 1960 to 1980 was innovative and became less ‘American', development of its styles was affected by many musical, cultural and political factors. To what extent this music sounds ‘British' is debatable, but its influence has led to the pluralism of jazz styles in Britain that continues today.


Tom Sykes, University of Salford
Tom Sykes was born in Yorkshire and was classically trained on the violin and piano from childhood. After hearing jazz on BBC radio he developed a keen interest in it, and went on to do the jazz degree at Leeds College of Music. He has since undertaken jazz research at Master's level (at the Open University) and for his PhD at the University of Salford, and has presented papers at jazz conferences around Europe. He was a member of the HERA-funded Rhythm Changes research team (2010-2013) and continues his research in the spirit of this project, with several forthcoming publications. He currently teaches at the City of Liverpool College and the University of Salford.
Sykes, T. (2017). Music Outside? Innovation and ‘Britishness’ in British Jazz 1960-1980. European Journal of Musicology, 16(1), 178-190.