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Circular Breathing: The Cultural Politics of Jazz in Britain [Paperback]

George McKay

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Book Description

22 Dec 2005
In Circular Breathing, George McKay, a leading chronicler of British countercultures, uncovers the often surprising ways that jazz has accompanied social change during a period of rapid transformation in Great Britain. Examining jazz from the founding of George Webb's Dixielanders in 1943 through the burgeoning British bebop scene of the early 1950s, the Beaulieu Jazz Festivals of 1956-61, and the improvisational music-making of the 1960s and 1970s, McKay reveals the connections of the music, its players, and its subcultures to black and anti-racist activism, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, feminism, and the New Left. In the process, he provides the first detailed cultural history of jazz in Britain. McKay explores the music in relation to issues of whiteness, blackness, and masculinity--all against a backdrop of shifting imperial identities, post-colonialism, and the Cold War. He considers objections to the music's spread by the "anti-jazzers" alongside the ambivalence felt by many leftist musicians about playing an "all-American" musical form. At the same time, McKay highlights the extraordinary cultural mixing that has defined British jazz since the 1950s, as musicians from Britain's former colonies--particularly from the Caribbean and South Africa--have transformed the genre. Circular Breathing is enriched by McKay's original interviews with activists, musicians, and fans and by fascinating images, including works by the renowned English jazz photographer Val Wilmer. It is an invaluable look not only at the history of jazz but also the Left and race relations in Great Britain. George McKay is Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Salford in England. He is the author of Glastonbury: A Very English Fair and Senseless Acts of Beauty: Cultures of Resistance since the Sixties; the editor of DiY Culture: Party & Protest in Nineties Britain and a co-editor of Community Music: A Handbook and Social Movement Studies: Journal of Social, Cultural, and Political Protest.

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Circular Breathing: The Cultural Politics of Jazz in Britain + Trad Dads, Dirty Boppers and Free Fusioneers: British Jazz, 1960-1975 (Popular Music History) + Music Outside: Contemporary Jazz in Britain
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More About the Author

George McKay is a writer on alternative cultures, popular music/media, cultural politics, disability. From jazz to punk. Via gardening. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1960 though mostly raised in Norfolk, England. He is Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Salford, UK, and currently a Leadership Fellow for the Arts & Humanities Research Council.

George's website is packed with information and links:

His newest book (2013) is Shakin' All Over: Popular Music and Disability (University of Michigan Press). It was supported by a grant from the AHRC. George has compiled a fascinating Top Ten of disability pop songs connected with the book at

His 2011 book about the politics of gardens--from peace gardens to community gardens, public parks as spaces of political protest to allotments--called Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism & Rebellion in the Garden (Frances Lincoln) was a Book of the Year (Independent on Sunday), 'a truly important book' (Times Higher Education), 'highly original and compelling' (Daily Telegraph).

Contact George at:

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"Circular Breathing is quite simply the best book so far on jazz in Britain. George McKay acts as cultural archaeologist, digging up traces of a 90-year musical presence, and writing them back into history. He comments acutely on a music which can be peripheral and exclusive, but which he rightly sees as vital to the story of Britain's social and political evolution." Andrew Blake, Professor of Cultural Studies, University of Winchester "Circular Breathing is a marvellous book. I admire George McKay's knowledge of jazz, the British left, and cultural history. His ability to blend those elements is to my knowledge unique and unprecedented, and his interviews with jazz musicians enrich the story that he is telling immeasurably."--Dennis Dworkin, author of Cultural Studies in Postwar Britain: History, the New Left, and the Origins of Cultural Studies " ... moving and stimulating ... McKay states that his goal has been "to refigure British jazz history to more comprehensively include its ideological assumptions and actions". He has succeeded ... "--The Wire, January 2006 "This is a book that has been waiting to be written for some time, namely a survey of aspects of postwar British jazz from the perspective of cultural politics. George McKay tackles head on the knotty question of why New Orleans revivalism, and laer the free improv movement, had such close links to the politics of the left. Woven through it is a fascinating web of observations about the reception of American culture, and the way in which it is simultaneously identified with freedom, and a new imperialism... [McKay] has trawled through an impressive amount of jazz literature and propounds some stimulating thoughts about why jazz has always been a counterculture in Britain."--Alyn Shipton, Jazzwise, March 2006 "The title could mean that the book is long-winded, but it is not! George McKay has assembled a vast amount of documentation to give us a history of Jazz in Britain... [A] fascinating book! Highly recommended."--Lawrence Brazier, Jazz Now "It is only by reading Circular Breathing, George McKay's skillful examination of race relations, gender issues, and the Left in relation to British jazz, that we can understand why British jazz wasn't at the center of the European free-jazz revolution... [V]aluable and imaginative scholarship."--Stephanie Hanson, Bookforum "McKay has written an excellent study of one of the many new cultures and cultural spaces of postwar England. His emphasis on space and culture, gender and space, and race and identity make this a strong work well worth the time to read... [H]is book places the playing and study of jazz music in clear class terms as few scholars have before him."--Gordon J. Marshall, Journal of British Studies

About the Author

George McKay is a professor of cultural studies at the University of Salford in England. He is the author of "Glastonbury: A Very English Fair" and "Senseless Acts of Beauty: Cultures of Resistance since the Sixties"; the editor of "DiY Culture: Party & Protest in Nineties Britain"; and a coeditor of "Community Music: A Handbook "and "Social Movement Studies" " Journal of Social, Cultural, and Political Protest."

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
In Paul Gilroy's bold phrase, the "planetary force" (quoted in Hutnyk 2000, 215) of black music today has come about in part through the circulations of jazz. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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