12 March 2018


I had an email from a reader in which he complimented me for referring to our music as 'Traditional Jazz' rather than 'Trad'.

This set me wondering. Why do I never use the term 'Trad'? At first I put it down to my education. I was at school during the strict and austere years during and just after The Second World War. Many of my teachers had recently been officers in the Armed Forces (some of them with tell-tale wounds). After being de-mobbed, they did a one-year emergency training course to qualify for the profession. They were punctilious about rules and 'correctness', even in matters of language use.
And yet, thinking further, I remembered that in London in the 1950s the British Revival of Traditional Jazz became a craze with some teenagers. The music was called 'Trad' by my friends and by the media (I think the idea was to distinguish it at the time from the 'Modern Jazz' admired by others) - and I guess I must have used that term myself. To capitalize on the craze, there was even a 1962 film called 'It's Trad, Dad'.

By the way, it seems this use of 'Trad' may have been a peculiarly British phenomenon. I doubt whether the music was ever called 'Trad' in other countries. But perhaps someone will let me know if I am wrong.

Maybe the word has almost gone out of fashion today simply because there are now so many different genres of music that enthusiasts find it necessary to use the full expression 'Traditional Jazz' to make clear that they are showing respect for the history of our music - a history now extending for well over 100 years.

Maybe there is also a sense that the term 'Trad' identifies the particular (mainly British) flourishing of the music in the 1950s.

I checked in my dictionary for the derivation of the word 'traditional'. As so often, we have to thank the Ancient Romans. 'Trans' in Latin meant 'across' and gives us the beginning of 'traditional'. The '-ditional' part comes from the Latin verb meaning 'to give'.

So anything that is traditional is 'given across', which I take to mean 'passed from one person to another, from one generation to another'. And surely that applies to our music. It is passed on both in the form of sheet music and also aurally. Each new performer makes it his own by playing in his own way.

The book Enjoying Traditional Jazz by Pops Coffee is available from Amazon.