New jazz histories

Can a reconciliation of widely differing source material offer new opportunities for the jazz historian?


  • Alyn Shipton Royal Academy of Music, Marylebone Road, London NW1 5HT



jazz, oral History, discography, biography, autobiography, narrative history, New Orleans, Danny Barker, Barney Bigard, Doc Cheatham, Buck Clayton


Perhaps the time is past to think in terms of a single synoptic history of jazz. However, by singling out ideas from the academic reviews of A New History of Jazz, it is possible to view it as not only (as History Today called it) an interlocking set of theses about the development of jazz, but as a series of starting points for further investigation. After addressing the ways in which the book could stimulate discussion in several areas of study, from issues of periodization to the mediating role of television and radio, and from an exploration of non-Anglophone writing on jazz to reassessing the careers of such individual musicians as John Coltrane and Miles Davis, the article turns to oral history. In particular it addresses the way that instead of being approached as individual sources, a collective body of oral histories can become a far more useful resource, able to enlighten and stimulate the history and historiography of jazz by providing several viewpoints, several opinions and several challenges to key moments in the music’s history.

Author Biography

  • Alyn Shipton, Royal Academy of Music, Marylebone Road, London NW1 5HT

    Alyn Shipton is a freelance broadcaster and writer, who is a jazz critic for The Times, and the presenter of Jazz Library on BBC Radio 3. He is the author of several books on jazz, including biographies of Fats Waller and Dizzy Gillespie, and the editor of four volumes of oral history, by Danny Barker, Doc Cheatham and George Shearing. He was consultant editor to the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, and has published a wide range of jazz titles through his own Bayou Press imprint. His New History of Jazz (Continuum, 2001, revised 2007) formed the starting point for the 2008 Salford University symposium “Writing the New Jazz History”. He is currently lecturer in jazz history at the Royal Academy of Music.


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How to Cite

Shipton, A. (2010). New jazz histories: Can a reconciliation of widely differing source material offer new opportunities for the jazz historian?. Jazz Research Journal, 3(2), 127-144.