SEMINAR SERIES | Tony Dudley-Evans on ‘British Jazz’ – part 1

British Jazz: Cross Atlantic Partnership or European Integration?

by Tony Dudley-Evans

I begin with the assumption that it is legitimate to talk of European Jazz as being stylistically different from American jazz and that it is more relevant now to talk of European Jazz rather than jazz of particular countries, e.g. Norwegian jazz, Swiss jazz etc.  This is not to suggest that there are not specific characteristics of jazz in certain countries, but rather that there  are so many bands based in Europe with members from different countries and also, that since many musicians have moved to centres such as Berlin or Amsterdam, it is relevant to talk of European jazz and of European bands.

My argument is that British jazz players have tended to draw their influences from the USA and for various historical, linguistic and political reasons still lean towards the US model.  It is only since the 1970s that certain British players have begun to take on influences from other European bands and players and see themselves as part of the European scene.

There are clear echoes in all this in the division in British society about the European Union.

In the late 1940s and 1950s British modern jazz players took their inspiration from the bop scene in New York, and many players played on the cross-Atlantic liners in order to have a day in New York listening to the pioneers of modern jazz, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk et al.  The growth of modern jazz in Britain developed from these visits and its players were invariably judged by how close they came to matching the American stars of the day.  Saxophonist Tubby Hayes was probably the finest British exponent of the bop/hard bop style and he was always acclaimed as being ‘as good as the Americans’.  Fans of Hayes were delighted when he eventually went to play in New York for a series of dates and received excellent reviews and the acceptance of the jazz community in the city.  Similarly, alto saxophonist Peter King is regarded as a player who would be considered a leading figure in the bop style had he been based in New York.

It is sometimes argued that a distinctively British style emerged with Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood suite that featured saxophonist Bobby Wellins.   While the compositions do have a distinctive voice different from the American style, I would argue the solos from Tracey and Wellins do still follow an American model and the overall impression is that the album is highly original but still essentially following an American model.

Saxophonist Andy Hamilton was a key member of the Birmingham and latterly the British scene, but his playing was in the tradition of the saxophone tradition of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster.  In his later years he developed a strong musical and personal relationship with American saxophonist David Murray.  I have suggested this was partly due to a mutual feeling of a cross-Atlantic culture taking in Britain, USA and the Caribbean (Dudley-Evans, 2017).



SEMINAR SERIES: Jazz Studies | Brian Homer on ‘Jazz and Photography’

The Iconography of Jazz and Photography

by Brian Homer

My proposal is that the styles and techniques of photography translated into the use of photography in jazz made a profound impact on the iconography of jazz and how we view jazz. To illustrate this I am going to take some selected examples of jazz photography and look at how they were possibly influenced by other photographic uses. First, I am going to take the iconic image of John Coltrane taken by Francis Wolff, and used on the cover of Blue Train, by the designer Reid Miles.

The Blue Train session took place in 1957. The image chosen shows a reflective Coltrane with his hand to his chin looking down and intent. His sax is slung across him. This image is not in the common language of the gig/playing image that is very prevalent in jazz. Rather, I would argue that this image is in a documentary photography style and has similarities to Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Woman image (1936) taken California while working for the Reconstruction Administration (later the Farm Security Administration) of a destitute and starving family.

The mother has her hand to her chin and is looking reflectively to her right with two of her children either side of her but facing away from the camera. The effect is very similar in both images – allowing the viewer into the picture to speculate on what is going through the mind of the subject. Wolff was a migrant from Germany and being a keen photographer would, no doubt, have been exposed to the documentary styles becoming prevalent in Europe and the USA.

Turning to the cover of Donald Byrd’s A New Perspective, also on Blue Note from 1964, a different photographic influence is at play. By this time, corporate identity and conceptual graphic design were developing rapidly. In this shot, by the designer Reid Miles, the main element is not the musician but the eccentrically shaped headlight cover of a Jaguar E Type, situated in the bottom left of the image. The lines of the bonnet, wings and windscreen lead to Byrd.

This kind of wide angle shot is unusual for the time. I suggest this was influenced by Russian Constructivism. Photographers in that movement were looking for modern, futuristic ways of representation that would foreground progress and technology; to achieve this they used angles, shadows.

European emigré designers and artists came to the US during the 1930s; one of these was Russian Alexey Brodovitch. Brodovitch became the designer of Harper’s Bazaar and in his layout style and use of photography was very influential. He taught many photographers including Irving Penn and Richard Avedon and while there is no evidence of a direct link to Miles it would not be surprising if in the creative milieu of New York in the 50s and 60s such influence rubbed off on an up and coming designer.

I’ll finish with two questions:

  1. First: does jazz photography now have an impact on how we perceive jazz?
  2. Second: are jazz photographers like me missing a trick in concentrating mainly on performance pictures?

Both of these would bear further study.


Brian’s paper was delivered on 28 February 2018 as part of the BCMCR Seminar Series

THIS WEEK: David Gange and Dima Saber on ‘Cultural translation, history and loss’

BCMCR Research Seminar | History, Heritage and Archives
Cultural translation, history and loss

1600-1730 Wednesday 14 March
P424, Parkside, Birmingham City University
Free registration at this link

Dr. David Gange (University of Birmingham) – Sea Sites in Island History: Exploring the Lost Communities of Atlantic Britain and Ireland
There are many more once-inhabited islands in the British and Irish archipelago than there are cities. Many of these had been populated for centuries before a flurry of abandonment between 1850 and 1930. Such islands are lined with ruins: but-and-ben homes, field systems, water mills, abandoned boats, fish traps and shell middens from before the age of buildings. Nineteenth-century people here lived, consciously, in iron age and neolithic landscapes. The coasts are thickly layered in names – Irish and Scottish Gaelic, Norse, Scots, Welsh, occasionally even English – that preserve their history of usage. Regions where such islands predominate are richly served by historical archives so that it’s often possible to link an island ruin to families who used it and the processes that ended its productive life. Those who abandoned an island such as Havera, Shetland, in the 1920s can be heard discussing the joys and challenges of island life in the uniquely rich oral history collections of these regions. This paper explores the processes of researching such communities, but also asks what vision of British and Irish history might be developed by seeing the nineteenth century – the moment when Britain was turned inside out by the advent of roads and rail, and small islands became for the first time in their history ‘remote’ – from their perspective.

Dr. Dima Saber (BCU) Resistance-by-Recording: The disappearing archives of the Syrian war 
This paper will present the early findings of the ‘Resistance-by-recording: the visuality and visibility of contentious political action in the Arab region’ project after the first round of ethnographic work in Berlin in November 2017. Focussing primarily on the consequences of YouTube’s new algorithm to limit the proliferation of material considered graphic or supporting Jihadi propaganda, I will also explore the costs of the Syrian activists’ over-reliance on the current affordances of digital platforms and the challenges this precariousness poses for the preservation of a citizen-generated memory and history of the Syrian war.

About the speakers:
Dr. Dima Saber is a Senior Research Fellow at the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research. Her research is focussed on media depictions of conflict in the Arab region, and she is responsible for leading and delivering projects in citizen journalism, particularly exploring the relation between digital media literacy and social impact in post-revolution and in conflict settings such as Egypt, Palestine and Syria.

Dr. David Gange is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Birmingham. His books include a history of Egyptology, Dialogues with the Dead (Oxford, 2013) and The Victorians: A Beginner’s Guide (Oneworld, 2016). He is currently working on a book that involved kayaking all the Atlantic coastlines of Britain and Ireland across 2016-17, The Frayed Atlantic Edge (Harper Collins, 2019).

SEMINAR SERIES: Jazz Studies | Nicolas Pillai on ‘Duke Ellington in Coventry’

Duke Ellington in Coventry: discovering television and jazz in the cathedral archive

by Nicolas Pillai

In February 1966, as part of the British leg of their European tour, Duke Ellington and his orchestra travelled to the Midlands city of Coventry to perform their first Concert of Sacred Music at the new cathedral. This remarkable event was televised on the Midlands ABC channel and, in this paper, I considered the concert as both a live experience and recorded artefact. I argued that the Coventry performance is significant in the way that it occupies different, seemingly contradictory, spaces: both local and national, secular and divine.

It also proposes a startling environment for jazz music; the severe, modernist cathedral designed by Basil Spence as part of a larger spatial re-conception of Coventry occurring over the 1950s and 1960s. The sound of Ellington’s orchestra echoing within this cavernous place of worship suggests a shift in the British reception of jazz, expressed through the juxtaposition of music and innovative architecture.

I described my journey through archives both regional and national, attempting to create a composite of a programme thought lost, my eventual discovery of the badly degraded programme in the Studiocanal archive and my collaboration with the archive TV company Kaleidoscope and the University of Warwick Ghost Town project which aims to screen a restored version of the programme in the cathedral, along with a recreation of the concert by the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Duke Ellington Orchestra. I concluded this paper by reflecting upon the survival and afterlife of archive television, demonstrating ways in the Ellington in Coventry research it builds upon and widens the scope of my current AHRC-funded project Jazz on BBC-TV 1960-1969.


Nicolas’s paper was delivered on 21 February 2018 as part of the BCMCR Seminar Series

CONFERENCE: On Translations at Nottingham Contemporary | part 2

The Nottingham Contemporary, a gallery/exhibition space in Nottingham, hosted the On Translation conference  from 16 to 17 February 2018.

In these posts (find part 1 here) I’ll give a brief overview of what went on and tease out some of the key questions that it raised for our cultural translation research theme.

Stefan Nowotny | The Ambivalence of Translation, or: The Foreclosed Middle

The conference on Saturday 13 Feb started with Stefan Nowotny’s keynote lecture on translation. Nowotny’s main argument aimed at critiquing common-sense understandings of translation. This helped frame the conference as an event that would examine translation in terms of ‘a space of criticality’. Nowotny made some interesting claims about translation that I want to unpack in this post, as I think they flag up some of the issues around translation, and by extension the idea of cultural translation, relevant to the cluster.

Nowotny first of all sets out a day-to-day understanding of translation. Translation, in our common-sense understanding, is supposed as a process of communication through which an equivalent is found in a ‘destination’ language for a word in a ‘source’ language. He thinks it makes the following four assumptions:

  1. Unity of language allows for unimpeded communication – in other words, the ‘source’ language, and indeed the ‘target’ language, are considered to be secure, stable, and united entities, and that intra-lingual communication is totally straightforward and fluid.
  2. Within day-to-day communication, translation is considered a secondary activity. Most of the time, goes the assumption, we communicate freely within our own language and never think of translating anything unless we come up against a language we don’t know.
  3. What Nowotny describes as ‘linguistic difference’ is understood very simply as the idea that a ‘source’ language differs from a ‘target’ language.
  4. The goal of all translation is equivalence – to find an equivalent meaning (or one near enough) for one word in another language.

Nowotny then takes these assumptions to task. The first assumption, in Nowotny’s eyes, is in error becauselanguages are not stable or unified entities. Even a cursory understanding of language will tell you that languages shift and change over time, are full of internal differences, like dialects, and also internal change, like the incorporation of new elements from other languages. But Nowotny claims that in fact a language doesn’t exist as an unified body, at least not an abstract entity that is external to a person, selected from and used by individual agents. Quite the reverse: he sees language as emerging in specific social groups and determined by a specific social context in the first instance, and then mistaken as an abstract, unified body afterwards.

This reversal draws on a re-reading of the relationship between the Saussurean ideas of langue, parole, and langage. If social relationships are prior to the conversations that take place within them, viewing ‘language’ as a unified and abstract body ignores those relationships. In the context of translation, he argues, this view leads to a degree of social erasure, which can be problematic (as Vasquez’s seminar set out).

I have a hunch that part of the issue with critiquing a common-sense understanding of translation in this way is that it doesn’t leave much wiggle room for translation as an actual practice. What do translators and interpreters do then, and what should they do, if our common-sense understanding of translation is incorrect? Even potentially violent? Does translation or interpreting ever actually truly work, or are we doomed to continual species-wide misunderstanding? Is a degree of social/relational erasure something that takes place in every communicative act? Or is it, as Nowotny appears to argue, something specific to a dominant practice of translation and therefore something we can avoid (perhaps with new practice)? Nowotny, sadly, didn’t have time to really flesh out answers these questions.

However, while his paper might seem to throw the concept of ‘translation’ (and by extension of ‘cultural translation’) out with the conceptual bathwater, for me he also helps draw attention to the ubiquitousness of translation itself.

Nowotny’s critique of assumption no. 2 (that people engage in translation only when languages are different) is thought-provoking. He argues that intra-lingual translation happens on a daily basis. The experience of seeking an alternative for a word appropriate in one context but not in another is a humdrum feature of interpersonal communication. Indeed, from a psychoanalytic perspective the ‘translation’ of bodily impulses into language is a formative human experience. So, while ‘translating’ may not be as straightforward as we think, the idea that this potentially fraught activity is nonetheless an part of everyday life is at the very least an interesting proposition.

CONFERENCE: On Translations at Nottingham Contemporary | part 1

The Nottingham Contemporary, a gallery/exhibition space in Nottingham, hosted the On Translation conference  from 16 to 17 February 2018.

In these posts (find part 2 here) I’ll give a brief overview of what went on and tease out some of the key questions that it raised for our cultural translation research theme.

Seminar: Rolando Vasquez

Friday’s main event shaped up as a seminar that explored the colonialist implications of translation, given by cultural critic Rolando Vasquez. It was a challenging session. It pushed us to think about the epistemological assumptions we hold when translating, but also raised broader questions about Western frames of reference and the violence they might do, wittingly or unwittingly, to those cultures that are seen through Western eyes.

Drawing on the postcolonial theory, Vasquez argued that translation between Western civilisation and non-Western cultures is inherently colonialist. This is because Western epistemology claims, at base, to be able to know the truth of any particular situation (a hangover from the Enlightenment), and also because Western epistemology implicitly or explicitly centres the West in any frame of reference it might use to explore non-Western subjects. Vasquez calls this our ‘arrogant ignorance’ – we implicitly centre ourselves and assume that we are perfectly able to know everything there is to know, if we don’t know these things already.

Vasquez then outlined the principal consequence of our ‘arrogant ignorance’: non-Western truths/ideas/ways of knowing, being, etc. that don’t look familiar to us are ignored or ‘erased’ when they are translated into a Western context. This counts, for Vasquez, as a repetition of the original act of colonial violence that he takes as founding Western modernity.

In straightforward terms, when we translate, for example, indigenous  mythology into Western cultural forms, say for an academic paper, we also unwittingly erase its ‘temporal and ontological specificity’, that is, we overlook those elements for which an equivalent in our Western conceptual schema cannot be found.

A similar argument that specifically handles cultural translation crops up in Talal Asad’s path-breaking essay, ‘The Concept of Cultural Translation in British Social Anthropology’.(1)

Vasquez’s decolonial approach to (cultural) translation is, I would argue, inherently political. It isn’t simply about exploring the challenges involved in cultural translation but holding those who erase subaltern specificity to account. It is about ensuring that colonial violence remains foregrounded, rather than forgotten.

Vasquez raises tough questions, particularly for scholars who work on culture that circulates to and from non-Western contexts. I admire his refusal to wave away the horrors of our shared colonial past. At the same time, of course, Vasquez is writing a broad thesis about a very general (global and historical) practice of translation rather than attending to specific texts, so some of what he says may or may not pan out in the details. Nonetheless, a challenging and informative seminar.


(1) Asad, Talal. “The concept of cultural translation in British social anthropology.” Writing culture: The poetics and politics of ethnography 1 (1986): 141-164.




SEMINAR SERIES: Jazz Studies | Translating Curatorial Practice

For the first seminar in the BCMCR Seminar Series, Fiona Talkington and Sid Peacock explored how curatorial practice might be understood in terms of cultural translation.

In this post, I’ll explore Fiona’s talk in a little more detail and tease out a couple of the questions that interested me.

Fiona Talkington (BBC Radio 3) – If Mountains Could Sing

Fiona presented a paper on her experiences curating Norwegian Jazz. She described how her passion for the promotion and circulation of Norwegian jazz began; and traced the journey it took, from the humble, self-effacing musicians she spoke to in Oslo’s jazz bars, to the intricate, highly creative musical collaborations she organized later in her career.

Among the collaborative highlights outlined in her paper, one stood out: Fiona set up the ‘conexions’ series wherein she brought together Norwegian and British musicians for live performances (you can see the Intro to the 2013 event here). The twist here being that in some cases they’d never played with each other before. The music they played or improvised together took on the characteristic of an informal dialogue, produced in the moment, and proved both culturally enriching and profoundly creative.

What struck me about Fiona’s account was her intuition that something about Jazz managed to transcend linguistic differences, at least to some degree. Fiona spoke of its capacity to move and affect the listener, and that the effects it produced in the listener were comparable between British and Norwegian cultures;  put another way, what she liked about Norwegian Jazz (rhythms, peaks, harmonies) was what Norwegians liked about Norwegian Jazz.

This gestures towards an interesting point about the translation of affect from Norway to Britain. It suggests that common or equivalent feelings might be produced and experienced via non-linguistic medium, even if the specific articulation of those feelings takes place in different languages. In other words, we might feel the same things (but  articulate those feelings in a different language, according to local and specific ways of understanding feelings, and so on).

I was also interested in the limitations to the cross-cultural movements of jazz. Money for jazz festivals, said Fiona, was in relative abundance when she first visited in the 90s, at least in Norway, but the shifting political and economic landscape had changed considerably since then and she reported that funding has begun to dry up. The consequences for the continued flourishing

Fiona also raised an interesting point about gender: a high proportion of the musicians that found prominence on the Norwegian Jazz scene were male, while those involved in managing festivals and setting up collaborations both in Norway and transnationally tended to be female. This gendered division of labour, at least to me, could be seen as gesturing towards broader structural patterns of inequality that shape the ways in which music is circulated globally. Certainly food for thought.

Welcome to the BCMCR Cultural Translation Research Blog

Over the coming months we will use this blog to capture a range of approaches to the topic of cultural translation.

 What is cultural translation?

A good question. In the most general of terms, cultural translation might be seen as the process through which culture moves from one particular place, language or time to another, whether that means a literal translation (from one language to another) or a more metaphorical transposition (say, across national borders). But as Maitland (2017) notes, the definition is far from settled. For our working definition, go here.

Part of the work this blog will undertake is exploring how the concept is useful in Media and Cultural research, what sort of thinking can be done when we attend to cultural translation, and what questions are raised by it.

The blog will aim to:

1.       provide an up-to-date library of work that looks at issues of cultural translation by BCU scholars.

2.       catalogue the seminar series as it unfolds, with perspectives and comments posted week by week.

3.       invite thinkers from around the world to comment on how cultural translation impacts their work.

4.       allow the public to engage with the BCMCR seminar series and involve them in the wider debates we’re having here.

To keep this short, we’ll just say that we welcome comments, thoughts and engagement from academics, arts practitioners and members of the public alike. We’re looking forward to exploring cultural translation over the course of this project. Watch this space!


Maitland, Sarah. What is cultural translation?. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017.