Investigating the challenges faced by a generation of musicians in today's society as they negotiate life with music.
- Pedro Cravinho (project leader)
- Brian Homer (freelance photographer)
The project was funded by the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media Research Investment Scheme (FRIS), and brought together the ethnomusicologist and jazz scholar, Dr Pedro Cravinho, and freelance jazz photographer, Brian Homer, both members of the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research Jazz Cluster.
This was a collaborative, co-produced, and interdisciplinary project, bringing together Jazz Studies, Visual Ethnomusicology, and Photography Studies. The project aims were to investigate the challenges faced by a generation of musicians, who after leaving the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire became active members of the local scene.
By using photographs as of a local jazz scene, aim was to investigate the contemporary Birmingham’s jazz musicians as people, not just performers, in the context of their everyday lives, to illuminate how musicians view themselves, the local jazz scene, and negotiate their lives while expanding their music.
This innovative visual approach opens up the possibility of new, or under studied, topics for jazz studies research, for example, those concerning musicians’ off-stage complementary activities, social dynamics within their communities, and the living challenges and constraints.
How has the research been carried out?
The project team drew on fieldwork, and photographic sessions with the following participants, all former students at the BCU Royal Birmingham Conservatoire: saxophonists Chris Young, Joey Walter, Alicia Gardener-Trejo and Xhosa Cole (BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year 2018), pianist David Austin Grey and violinist and vocalist Ruth Angell. In planning the project we were restricted to six participant local musicians, but within that we took care to select a group that was as representative as possible of gender, career stage, and ethnicity.
The methodology used comprised an initial semi-structured interview conducted by Cravinho with each participant addressing their personal journey in education and music, their professional career and the local jazz scene. All the interviews were recorded in both sound and video. The outcomes from the interviews included significant insights into the participants personal lives and provided photographic opportunities to be explored by Homer.
This resulted in several distinct co-produced collaborative photographic sessions informed by the interviews.
As a result of this project, we suggest that photographs can be a significant tool to research the off-stage living experiences of musicians. By making photographs as an output for this research the project team have attempted to construct ‘a record about [local] culture’ (Worth 1980). The revealed details of the everyday lives and activities of the participants and the contexts in which they occur, providing insights about the participants and the constraints they face while developing their careers.
In term of outputs:
- An academic paper delivered at the Sixth Rhythm Changes conference, hosted by the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz, Austria (13th April 2019);
- An academic article on the ‘Jazz and Everyday Aesthetics’ special issue: Cravinho, Pedro & Brian Homer (2019) “Everyday Jazz Life: A photographic project on contemporary jazz musicians’ lives in Birmingham.” Jazz Research Journal, 13 (1-2): 238-264;
- A Kaleidoscope special programme dedicated to “Jazz Journeys” at Black Country Radio, hosted by producer and presenter Alan Musson (13th January 2020);
- An exhibition “Jazz Journeys: In Performance” at Curzon Building (BCU), during the Documenting Jazz Conference 2020 (16th – 18th January, 2020);
- A Jazz Journeys: Everyday Jazz Life A5 booklet;
- An exhibition ”Jazz Journeys: Everyday Life” at Centrala in Digbeth, Birmingham (16th January – 1st February 2020);
- A session with ‘Participatory Practice Photography’ students at Coventry University (25th February 2020).