Research seminar

Wednesday 18 May 2016, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Dr Andy Fry (King’s College London)

A New Orleans Radio Almanac: Jazz Revival on 1940s Airwaves.

The roots of jazz revivalism are typically located among fanatical collectors, passionate critics and independent record producers. Positioned, like early bebop, on the margins of a swing economy, New Orleans jazz was as fragile as its aging players: or so the story goes. Too often overlooked are the radio broadcasts that spread the word—and the music—to a large audience, both nationally and internationally. From Orson Welles’ Radio Almanac to Rudi Blesh’s This Is Jazz, broadcasts championed the music and musicians, while erecting around them a shield of authenticity. Among the more unexpected listeners were service personnel at home and abroad, via Armed Forces Radio, and children in classrooms, by means of the long-running Standard Schools Broadcasts. Clips, sometimes whole episodes, of all these shows survive.

While scholars have, in recent years, taken increasing interest in film as a carrier of jazz meaning, broadcasting has received less attention. In the particular case of the New Orleans revival, preserved recordings reveal an important mediating role: not only as the medium of transmission but also as a powerful intermediary between musicians and listeners. As well as featuring little-known performances by musicians as celebrated as Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory and Sidney Bechet, the shows wrapped them in a wool of words. For its supporters on radio, New Orleans jazz, unlike commercial swing, was an authentic Art with roots deeply embedded in African America. All the same, veteran players added recent popular songs to their repertories, and young white musicians to their bands, sometimes tying their effusive spokesmen in knots. My talk explores—with plentiful recorded examples—the parameters and paradoxes of this New Orleans Radio Almanac as it broadcast to the world.


Andy Fry is Senior Lecturer of Music at King’s College London. His publications include Paris Blues: African American Music and French Popular Culture, 1920-1960 (University of Chicago Press, 2014). His current research concerns the New Orleans jazz revival movement of the 1940s and 50s, in the US and Europe.

Location: I/D003