doi:10.1558/prbt.v15i2.25995

Review

Heining, Duncan. 2012. Trad Dads, Dirty Boppers and Free Fusioneers: British Jazz, 1960–1975. Sheffield: Equinox. ISBN 978-1-8455-3405-9 (hbk). 486 pp.

Reviewed by: Norman Meehan, New Zealand School of Music

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Keywords: 1960s; 1970s; British jazz

In this engaging book from Equinox, Duncan Heining sets out to locate the development of British jazz between 1960 and 1975 within the broader social, political, economic and cultural contexts in which it operated. These contexts and the issues that attended them are covered in dedicated chapters which address: class, changes to public education in post-war Britain, race, drugs and alcohol, the rise of rock and pop, the difficulties women faced in ‘an environment that was exceptionally bloke-ish’, the emergence of free jazz, the roles played by the Arts Council in supporting jazz, and two concluding chapters that seek to locate British jazz within the wider political events and concerns of the period.

The author draws from an extensive range of sources in probing the issues the music and its contexts raise. These include, among many others: Howard Becker on the sociology of groups, Herbert Marcuse and Jacques Attali on the political economies of music, and Alan Stanbridge on the locations of jazz in mainstream culture. For the most part Heining offers useful critique of the shortcomings of all of these writers with regard to his own project but also embraces ideas he finds illuminating. This is generally done carefully and in almost all cases the arguments are made clearly. What feels like reverence for Theodore Adorno’s thought seems a little out of place, but Heining’s application of ideas from John Ruskin and Aldous Huxley in arguing for the music as an emancipatory force is quite stirring. Some readers might balk a little at the cultural politics Heining appears to favour, but given the subject of this book and the period in question I expect most interested readers will be entirely comfortable with the humanitarian, liberal frame of the analysis.

I found the book enchanting, although admittedly it addresses music for which I feel a particular fondness. In places Heining’s style was a little too breathless and ‘boy’s own’ for my tastes—the Keef Hartley band ‘actually played at Woodstock!’ and, ‘Check out Jim Morrison’s grave, or should it be shrine, next time you are in Paris’ for example—but his enthusiasm for his subject and evident expertise more than wins the day. The passages on Mike Westbrook and John Surman had me scurrying to the library to hear some of the music discussed, and the histories of some largely forgotten figures (Neil Ardley or Amancio D’Silva, for example) were useful reminders of (and perhaps for many readers, introductions to) some of the fine music that was made by these musicians.

Heining’s conclusions are sensibly cautious. He suggests that British jazz:

counterposes an alternative, anti-exploitative series of relationships that do not resolve the alienation of capitalist society, but suggest that reality could be otherwise. Its relationships are anti-racist, value equally the collective and the individual—in fact, they suggest that the individual can only truly actualise themselves (to use Maslow’s phrase) within the collective… It is the sound of engagement (444).

While I found Heining’s broader analysis reasonable, I am not sure it is any more persuasive than an alternate view might be. However, the obvious commitment of the musicians discussed and the determination they evidently needed to pursue their music resonated with the wider story Heining tells. More importantly, the book shines light on much music that has suffered neglect in recent years and yet remains rich, intriguing and often frankly wonderful. The book concludes with a selected discography that points to music of enduring interest and quality.

The book includes a full bibliography, a useful selected discography and an index. Unfortunately, the book has not been well copy-edited, and in places clumsy text or missing words made reading harder going than it needed to be. This is a shame, because Heining’s history is really very interesting and the passages where he discusses the music, or allows the musicians room to speak with their own voices—and he is a generous author in this regard—are often captivating. As a companion text to Ian Carr’s 1975 book Music Outside, which offered intimate musical portraits of about a dozen British jazz musicians, this volume is excellent and provides a broader view of the various contexts in which those musicians operated.