Carnivalising the Creative Economy: AHRC-supported Research on and with British Jazz Festivals


Festivals have become a pivotal economic driver in both the music industry and in the seasonal cultural economy. One recent report by Mintel suggests that the British music festival market is worth over £180 million per annum. In 2010, there were over 700 music festivals in Britain alone, and it is estimated that three million people attend music festivals a year (UK Festival Market report).

The AHRC has funded at least five current or recent jazz and related music festival-centred research projects. All have an important impetus around knowledge exchange, and are collaborative projects, working with rather than on jazz festival and live music organisations. We thought it a good idea to bring these projects, and their people—researchers and festival partners—together, in media (film) and person (panel).

The AHRC projects

The projects are:

  1. Developing Knowledge Exchange in the Live Music Sector project (2012-13), Prof Martin Cloonan, Glasgow
  2. AHRC Connected Communities Leadership Fellowship (2012-15), Prof George McKay, Salford
  3. 25 Years of the Glasgow International Jazz Festival: Urban Regeneration, Regional Identity, and Programming Policy Collaborative Doctoral Award (2011-14), Alison Eales, Glasgow
  4. HERA Rhythm Changes: Jazz Cultures and European Identities project (2010-13): Prof Tony Whyton, Salford
  5. The Promotion of Live Music in the UK: a Historical, Cultural and Institutional Analysis project (2008-11), Prof Martin Cloonan, Glasgow.

Also, AHRC currently has a strategic relationship with the four Cheltenham Festivals, so that our funded research has public engagement benefits at each one. Prof McKay is curating the AHRC jazz talks at the 2014 Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Cheltenham Jazz Festival (feat. Tony Dudley-Evans, Artistic Advisor)

With over 20,000 music-fans getting in the festival swing every year, and Jamie Cullum and Moira Stuart amongst its biggest fans, Cheltenham has become one of the country’s best-loved jazz festivals. There is a trade-mark mix of international jazz icons, up-and-coming new artists and unique festival performances that has seen the festival host some of the world’s greatest musicians, such as Jamie Cullum, Eartha Kitt, Van Morrison, Stephane Grappelli and Ornette Coleman.

EFG London Jazz Festival (feat. John Cumming, Festival Director)

Is the capital’s biggest pan-city music festival, which has long been acclaimed for showcasing a heady mix of talent from around the world. Widely acknowledged for delivering world-class artists and emerging stars, the Festival continues to take jazz to a massive audience, in one of UK’s landmark music events. The festival was created in 1992 by live international music producers, Serious. The festival emerged originally from Camden Jazz Week which was first created in 1970. Taking a mix of international and British artists and a commitment to education activity, the London Jazz Festival began to spread its wings. The aims of the festival still remain the same today; celebrating the place of jazz in a city which is at ease with its rich cultural diversity, and drawing in a multitude of venues across London who present the music, week in, week out, throughout the year.

Glasgow Jazz Festival (feat. Jill Rodger, Festival Director)

The Glasgow Jazz Festival was started in 1987, when Glasgow was bidding to become the European City of Culture for 1990. The city had studied the competition and worked out that all major cities in Europe had a jazz festival. If they had one, then so should Glasgow.  From the very beginning, the festival brought some of the biggest names of jazz to the City – 1987’s programme included singer Sarah Vaughan, Chick Corea, Taj Mahal and Benny Carter. Other top headliners include Miles Davis (during the European City of Culture year 1990), Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Guy, Michael Brecker and Tony Bennett.

The film

We have produced a short film, by filmmaker Gemma Thorpe, featuring interviews with our academics and our festival organisers.  Gemma is a socially engaged photographer living in Sheffield, England. She specialises in documentary storytelling with photography, audio and video. Her work focuses on youth issues, migration, identity and belonging. Gemma has published and exhibited her work in the UK, China, Spain, Germany, and Russia. She made a film, A Break in the Cloud, for a 2013 AHRC Connected Communities history/archeology project. Gemma also works as a freelance educator and runs participatory photography and digital storytelling workshops for young people and marginalised groups.

Who the research is of interest to

 As well as to academics from a variety of disciplines, the research funded will be of particular interest to festival and events managers, policy makers, regional and national arts administrators, media organisations, academics and evaluators, music and arts journalists, musicians, alongside the festival-going public.Book seriesThe new Routledge Transnational Studies in Jazz series will present interdisciplinary and international perspectives on the relationship between jazz and its social, political, and cultural contexts, as well as providing authors with a platform for rethinking the methodologies and concepts used to analyse jazz’s musical meaning.  Co-edited by Professor Tony Whyton and Dr Nicholas Gebhardt, the series will include writings on jazz collectives, historiography, media and advertising, and festivals past and present.