Marking 100 years of jazz in the UK, Rhythm & Reaction was in partnership with The Arts Society and explored the impact that jazz had on Briton from 1918.
Jazz provoked reactions ranging from devotion to abhorrence when the idea, and then the sound, of the music first entered the consciousness of the British public in the aftermath of the First World War. Visiting American groups such as the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and the Southern Syncopated Orchestra offered Britons their first chance to experience the music live.
Rhythm & Reaction: The Age of Jazz in Britain highlighted how the new jazz sound in post-War nightclubs and dancehalls provided exciting and dynamic material for British artists – displaying bold depictions of lively dancers by William Roberts and Frank Dobson, alongside the Harlem-inspired paintings for which Edward Burra, one of Britain’s foremost Modernist painters, was well-known.
The growing interest in jazz brought black and white musicians, artists and audiences together, and was crucial in influencing changes in British society, moving from stereotypes descended from the minstrel show to a more nuanced understanding of and interest in African American and black British culture.
The exhibition brought together painting, prints, cartoons, textiles and ceramics, moving film, instruments and the all-important jazz sound, to explicitly examine the influence of jazz on British art, design and wider society. It was produced by the Bulldog Trust in partnership with The Arts Society and drew on the richness of regional public collections including The National Jazz Archive; The Higgins Bedford; Leeds Art Gallery; Town Hall Museum and Art Gallery, Newark; and Shire Hall Gallery, Stafford.
The exhibition was curated by Catherine Tackley, Professor and Head of Music at the University of Liverpool and one of the UK’s leading authorities on jazz.
‘This exhibition tells the story of the ever-popular jazz age in new ways, focussing on British depictions of jazz to understand what the music meant to artists, assessing the resultant image of jazz in the public sphere as well as considering how jazz was encountered in everyday, domestic environments.’
Professor Catherine Tackley