Research Colloquium: Hidden musicians, cosmopolitan connections, dominant jazz histories

Wilkie’s story: hidden musicians, cosmopolitan connections, and dominant jazz histories. The speaker is Tony Whyton (Birmingham City University).


My mother-in-law recently handed me a box from the family archive that belonged to her uncle Wilkie Davison. The contents of the box led me to rethink jazz history….

This paper draws on the personal archive as a basis for discussing the hidden histories of musicians and the role they play in the ecologies of jazz. Archival materials such as these comment on the inter-relationship between dominant jazz narratives and other cosmopolitan connections. They provide compelling examples of hidden musicians who contribute to the development of jazz in complex and multidimensional ways.

This work points to the need to unearth ‘other’ stories of local musicians—the hidden histories that don’t always form part of official narratives but which can breathe new life into an established discourse—and encourages us to think about relationships between individuals and collectives, the past and the present, and the local and the global. The personal archive can enable us to start a conversation about the realities of the jazz world, the connectedness of people in different cultural settings, and the development of jazz as a transnational practice.

About the speaker

Tony Whyton is Professor of Jazz Studies at BCU Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. His critically acclaimed books Jazz Icons: Heroes, Myths and the Jazz Tradition (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and Beyond A Love Supreme: John Coltrane and the Legacy of an Album (Oxford University Press, 2013) have sought to develop cross-disciplinary methods of musical enquiry. As an editor, Whyton published the Jazz volume of the Ashgate Library of Essays on Popular Music in 2011 and continues to work as co-editor of the Jazz Research Journal (Equinox). In 2014, he founded the new Routledge series ‘Transnational Studies in Jazz’ alongside BCU colleague Dr Nicholas Gebhardt. Gebhardt and Whyton also edited The Cultural Politics of Jazz Collectives: This Is Our Music (Routledge) in 2015, a collection that explores the ways in which musician-led collectives offer a powerful model for rethinking jazz practices in the post-war period.

From 2010-2013, Whyton was Project Leader for the ground-breaking HERA-funded Rhythm Changes: Jazz Cultures and European Identities project, where he led a consortium of 13 researchers working across 7 Universities in 5 countries. He is currently the Project Leader for the transnational research project Cultural Heritage and Improvised Music in European Festivals (