Black Icons: A Visit to the National Jazz Archives

Black Icons, FAD Projects, Heritage
The second in a series of research workshops takes our young heritage volunteers to the National Jazz Archive (NJA) in Loughton.

They arrived ready for two days of exploring Jazz Age England to discover the often ignored, but integral part, black artists, musicians and activists played in creating this vibrant world.

The sessions included an introduction to jazz by the NJA founder, Digby Fairweather. He spoke to the group about jazz as an art form and means of self-expression. Then to set the historical context he played a selection rare jazz recordings from the early 20th century.


This was followed by a talk by Gary Crosby OBE. Gary is a contemporary jazz musician, a Founder Member of Tomorrows Warriors and an advocate for young people being introduced to and understanding Jazz. Gary talked of the inspiration he has drawn from the music and lives of Jazz greats of the past.

“What surprised me was the fact that Jazz musicians were very successful and celebrated, but still suffered a lot of racism.” Angelica, FAD Volunteer

Historian and researcher Jeffrey Green, an expert on black history in Britain delivered a presentation entitled ‘Empire and Empires.’ This explored how black musicians from the British Empire (now the commonwealth) toured England extensively during the 20s and 30s. He described their upbringings, training, musical style, experiences and the types of shows they performed in.


“I love Jazz, I love black people, I love learning – that was more than enough for me to be completely drawn in.” Bui, FAD Volunteer

David Nathan, Jazz Research Archivist at the NJA then directed a session of independent research using original NJA source material from the 1920’s and 30’s including song sheets, magazines and other ephemera.

Huge thanks to everyone at the NJA for a fascinating day. The NJA is open to the public so if you would like to book an appointment to explore their collections please get in touch at

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