The Place of British Jazzrock in Jazz History

presenter: Lukas Proyer

Jazz history writings have often situated the emergence of jazzrock exclusively in the United States, marking it as the ‘real’ place of jazzrock in the official canon. In my paper I address the omission of British jazzrock bands of the so-called «Canterbury scene» from jazz and jazzrock history. I highlight Soft Machine’s and Nucleus’ influence on the consolidation of jazzrock at the end of the 60s, thereby questioning the status of Miles Davis’ album Bitches Brew as the starting point for the jazzrock movement.

Through a discourse analysis of this time period, I examine perceptions of jazzrock’s artistic value and its importance for the future of jazz music, as well as jazzrock musicians’ intentions for merging jazz with rock and other styles. By analyzing the ensemble playing style typical of Canterbury bands such as Henry Cow, Hatfield & the North and National Health, a very different kind of jazzrock from American jazzrock becomes apparent, one whose ties to both jazzrock as well as progressive rock have been a reason for their marginalisation in conventional jazz studies.
Discussing jazzrock raises important questions for the ontology of jazz. It brings forward questions about jazzrock’s place as either inside or outside the jazz tradition and allows us to examine opinions on what is central to jazz and what its perceived boundaries are. Canterbury bands exemplify the diversity of musical expression within jazz, as well as illustrating how jazz and popular music scenes have historically overlapped and interacted.

Lukas Proyer, University of Music and Performing Arts Graz, Austria