The Blue Notes: South African jazz and the limits of avant-garde solidarities in late 1960s London
For the Blue Notes, an ensemble comprised of South African jazz musicians living in Britain, 1968 was pivotal. After 3 years on the margins of the London jazz scene, their debut album Very Urgent was released in May that year to positive acclaim. Very Urgent was understood as an important statement of the British jazz avant-garde movement that captured the spirit of 1968, infused with the Blue Notes’ musical South Africanisms. In this article, I explore how shifting understandings of jazz in the 1960s aided and undermined the Blue Notes’ musical identities: as mbaqanga, hard bop, and free jazz musicians. I argue that Very Urgent and, to an extent, the Blue Notes cannot be understood solely in the terms favored by their early reception in Britain. Rather, both represent a complex matrix of personal, musical, and political relations that constituted British and South African jazz art worlds in the 1960s.
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