Tag Archives: disability

UK Disability History Month, launch

The theme of the 2018 UK Disability History Month (19 November-22 December) is Music. I am delighted to have been invited to speak at the national launch, in Parliament (Portcullis House) on Monday 19 November. My topic is jazz and disability. 

There is a useful and free downloadable resource about music and disability produced by UKDHM, here. This draws quite extensively on my research on the subject over the past decade. Also, below, for further reference, is the bibliography of my forthcoming chapter, ‘Jazz and disability.’

[From the end of my short talk] At its best, we can think of jazz as a generous, inclusive form which has wanted and been able to accommodate the differently embodied or minded, because jazz was capable of flexibility and sought novelty, and because jazz was a music forged in the experience of oppression, resistance and liberation. In its concern with the individual voice of expression, its fetish of the desire for the musically unique in tone or approach, jazz was open and welcoming to those who could, as Laurie Stras has put it, ‘sing a song of difference’ (2009).

This embrace of its inner crip was there in the fundamentals of the music—its freak noises and effects, its syncopated rhythms that are alla zoppa, its out-of-control dancing body, its acceptance of alternate techniques or voices. And—this is Disability History Month, after all—the embrace of its inner crip is also there in jazz music’s history and innovation, from the very start, in the United States (Buddy Bolden) as well as in Europe (Django Reinhardt).

Davis, Miles. 1989. Miles: The Autobiography. With Quincy Troupe. London: Picador, 1990.

Gioa, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. 2ndedition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Givan, Benjamin. 2010. The Music of Django Reinhardt. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Hogan, Eileen. 2010. ‘“Earthy, sensual, devilish”: sex, ‘race’ and jazz in post-independence Ireland.’ Jazz Research Journal 4(1): 57-79.

Johnson, Russell L. 2011. ‘“Disease is unrhythmical”: jazz, health, and disability in 1920s America.’ Health and History 13(2): 13-42.

Kirk, Rahsaan Roland. 1975. ‘Freaks for the festival.’ On The Case of the 3 Sided Dream in Audio Color. Atlantic Records. 12” LP.

Kirk, Roland. 1968. ‘The inflated tear’. On The Inflated Tear. Atlantic Records.  

Kun, Josh. 2005. Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Lerner, Neil, and Joseph N. Straus. 2006. ‘Introduction: theorizing disability in music’. In Neil Lerner and Joseph N. Straus, eds. Sounding Off: Theorizing Disability in Music. London: Routledge, 1-10.

Lubet, Alex. 2011. Music, Disability, and Society. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Lubet, Alex. 2013. ‘Oscar Peterson’s piano prostheses: strategies of performance and publicity in the post-stroke phase of his career.’ Jazz Research Journal 7(2): 151-182.

Marquis, Donald M. 2005. In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz. Rev. edn. First published 1978. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.

McKay, George. 2013. Shakin’ All Over: Popular Music and Disability. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Pearl, Philip L. 2009. ‘Neurological problems of jazz legends.’ Journal of Child Neurology 24(8): 1037-1042.

Rowden, Terry. 2009. The Souls of Blind Folk: African American Musicians and the Cultures of Blindness. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Schweik, Susan M. 2009. The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public. New York: New York University Press.

Shipton, Alyn. 2002.  A New History of Jazz. Rev. edition. First published 2001. London: Continuum.

Stras, Laurie. 2007. ‘White face, black voice: race, gender, and region in the music of the Boswell Sisters.’ Journal of the Society for American Music 1(2): 207-255.

Stras, Laurie. 2008. ‘“Who told you that lie?” Picturing Connie Boswell.’ In Susan Shifrin, ed. Re-Framing Representations of Women: Figuring, Fashioning, Portraiting, and Telling in the ‘Picturing’ Project. Aldershot: Ashgate, 251-267.

Stras, Laurie. 2009. ‘Sing a song of difference: Connie Boswell and a discourse of disability in jazz.’ Popular Music 28(3): 297-322.

Straus, Joseph N. 2011. Extraordinary Measures: Disability in Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  

Whyton, Tony. 2010. Jazz Icons: Heroes, Myths, and the Jazz Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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Humphry Repton, disabled garden designer

In my 2011 book Radical Gardening I included material about gardens and gardening and health and disability. I included here a little discussion of Humphry Repton, the Norwich schoolboy who became the hugely influential designer who coined the phrase ‘landscape gardening’, and whose bicentenary of death we mark this week.

A decade or so before he died in 1818, Repton was involved in a carriage accident which left him physically disabled, with restricted mobility, and using a wheelchair (or bathchair). In  Radical Gardening I mused on the kind of impact this life-change could have on him, on his work, on garden design. I do need really to go back and do further work on the question, to produce a more solid and informed piece about Repton, disability and garden design. (Another Norfolk figure on my list is the multiply-disabled Burnham Thorpe lad Horatio Nelson. I want to crip Nelson and Repton alike, as we say in DS [Disability Studies].) But here is my brief discussion from Radical Gardening, which identifies five ways in which we can crip Repton.

In the context what academics of disability in society and culture have begun to term our dismodern world—acknowledging the increasing presence and visibility of disability (due to inclusive legislation, improved medical techniques, and ageing populations)—we should note the place of gardeners with disabilities in gardening history. The eighteenth and early nineteenth century garden designer Humphry Repton, one successor to Capability Brown and the designer responsible for the term ‘landscape gardening’, was himself physically disabled. As a result of an accident in 1811/13—when in his [late] gardening prime—Repton became a wheelchair (or ‘bath-chair’, in the language of the day) user. His mobility impairment influenced his thoughts about gardening, and in his new physical state he now ‘turned his mind energetically to the best kinds of gardening for people like himself.

He wanted his gardens and parks to be linked to the wider world,  and when he suggested a prospect from a terrace he often included a lively scene of motion—“a busy scene of shipping”, a turnpike with its carts, a view across a city like Leeds’. In this way the mobility-restricted gardener could feel connected and stimulated, the person with a disability included not excluded from the continuing experience of social activity and engagement.

Repton, 1816, in chair. Note accessible garden design features: raised bed, pergola and hanging plants, wide smooth paths

His 1816 The Luxury of Gardens includes an image which shows Repton in his wheelchair in a garden, directing works. Here the level of design displays some of the thoughtful elements enabling people with disabilities, in this instance wheelchair users, to be, or to continue to be, gardeners. The impact would be all the greater since Repton himself, as noted, a man at this stage of his life with restricted mobility, was a famous, professional gardener—and writer of a book the illustrations in which displayed rather than obscured his disability.

The raised bed is the primary feature, providing ease of viewing and enjoyment of the plants, as well as facilitating the act of planting itself, but there are other inclusive design features: the smooth and level path, the wide pergola, each of which would enable a wheelchair user to have ease of access around the garden, for instance.

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