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1920s - Jazz takes root in Britain

By the mid-1920s jazz was a thriving preoccupation in British culture, and publication of the magazine Melody Maker from 1926 and the BBC’s first broadcasts (principally of dance music) helped to build popularity.

Records were available too, though the earliest to reach Britain from America were mainly by white artists such as cornetist ‘Red’ Nichols and trombonist ‘Miff’ Mole. But recordings by Afro-American players, including Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, quickly followed.

It was Armstrong whose solo recordings from 1925 with his Hot Five and Hot Seven definitively established jazz as a soloist’s art rather than an ensemble-based music as most of the early New Orleans jazz had been.

Aspiring British musicians learned from these records, but also from American musicians who were employed in British dance bands before government restrictions made this difficult.

The best example is probably Fred Elizalde’s Anglo-American band. From 1927, British bandleader Bert Ambrose was noted for incorporating jazz into his orchestrations and Billy Cotton, Roy Fox and Lew Stone followed his example.

1927 also saw the publication of the first British book on jazz, R.W.S. Mendl’s The Appeal of Jazz.

Home-grown British stars such as bassist ‘Spike’ Hughes also achieved prominence at this time. Hughes’ career as musician, composer, author, arranger, journalist and prolific recording artist culminated in a visit to New York City where, in 1933, he arranged three historic recording sessions for his All-American Orchestra featuring his own compositions and black American stars saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, trumpeter ‘Red’ Allen and trombonist Dickie Wells.

Image: National Jazz Archive collection

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