The Jazz Diaspora

Aims and content

Jazz has come a long way since the daring sounds of turn of the twentieth century New Orleans. A casual glance through a magazine jazz review section, the shelves of a record store, or the programming of a jazz festival will illustrate just how diverse the music has become. This can be understood as a function of chronology, i.e. historical development, but it can also be understood as a function of place.

When the spread of any culture is considered, especially internationally, it can be discussed with reference to the idea of diaspora. The word diaspora is from the Greek meaning ‘scattering or sowing of seeds’ and an early usage can be found in the Septuagint (the oldest Greek version of the Jewish Bible) referring to Jews living dispersed among Gentiles. It now has a more general usage and has come to mean the movement of any people sharing a common ethnic identity, whether they were forced to leave or left voluntarily.

In the same way that a concept originally limited to the movement of Jews has been co-opted to explore and inform intellectual arguments regarding the movements of peoples more generally, the ideas and models thus arrived at can further be adapted to frame the study of the culture of those people. We can therefore think about a jazz diaspora.

This project will consider various key movements in jazz from around the world, including the UK, Scandinavia, Chile, Europe, and South Africa. Harmonic and rhythmic theories developed to explain modern jazz will be explored and the project will also introduce the techniques of jazz transcription.


  1. Seminar (10%)
  2. Transcription Folio (40%)
  3. Essay (50%)

Reading and listening

  • Berliner, Paul (1994): Thinking in Jazz. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Keil, C. (1987): ‘Participatory Discrepancies and the Power of Music’, Cultural Anthropology, 2 pp. 275-83
  • Levine, Mark (2002): The Jazz Theory Book. Petaluma: Sher Music.
  • McClary, S. and Walser, R. (1994). ‘Theorizing the Body in African-American Music’, Black Music Research Journal, 14, pp.75-84
  • Porter, Eric (2002): What Is This Thing Called Jazz? African American Musicians as Artists, Critics and Activists. University of California Press.
  • Shipton, Alyn (2001): A New History of Jazz. Continuum.
  • Tagg, P. 1989. ‘Open Letter: ‘Black Music’, ‘Afro-American Music’ and ‘European Music’, Popular Music, 8, pp. 285-298

Guidance will be given, but students should listen widely to jazz from all periods and regions, but paying specific attention to the following:

  • Norway – Trygve Seim, Arve Henrikson, Jan Garbarek
  • United Kingdom – Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor, Julian Argüelles, Django Bates
  • South Africa – Chris McGregor, Louis Moholo-Moholo, Zim Ngqawana, Kyle Shepherd, Tete Mbambisa
  • France – Louis Sclarvis, Benoît Delbecq

Learning outcomes

By the end of the taught part of the project all students should:

  • Have acquired a general knowledge of a range of jazz music from around the world;
  • Have a basic knowledge of of jazz theory;
  • Have a general understanding of social and geographical issues that shaped the music;
  • Have a more detailed knowledge of selected musicians’ work;
  • Have engaged with selected musical extracts through transcription;
  • Have knowledge of recent developments in jazz music from around the world.

On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes A1-7, A9, and A12.