Old photos and their history

Juvenile Jazz Band Taking a Cigarette Break, c1960s

A group of teenagers snapped wearing their juvenile jazz band uniforms. On the far left is a group of younger children not in uniform. The haircuts and clothing date the photo to around the 1960s.

The teenagers are holding cigarettes. At the time, those over 16 could smoke in public. There is, however, another possibility. They could be holding candy cigarettes, pretending to smoke for the camera.

Juvenile Jazz Bands

Elizabeth Bird’s Jazz Bands of North East England has been my main source on juvenile jazz bands for this post. Bird’s 1976 study provides an oral history of the phenomenon.

You can find another introduction to jazz bands with this 1960 feature from Pathé News:


These children’s marching bands emerged in the mining towns of the North of England and the Midlands. They began around 1920 before dying out just before the second world war. 1952 saw their revival and growing popularity.

They were based on military bands, with close formation marching, discipline, and flamboyant uniforms. The uniform in the photo is a pleated skirt (trousers for the boy), a cloak, gloves, and a hat in the style of a military bearskin. Unlike their pre-war jazz band counterparts, these uniforms were more likely to have been bought than hand-made.

Membership was roughly between the ages of 8 and 18. While pre-war bands were mixed, post-war bands were largely dominated by girls.

Common instruments in the bands were drums and trumpet-like kazoos. The girl at the front of the photo is wearing a snare drum harness (minus the drum) and the boy is holding one of her sticks (the other is tucked neatly by her chest). Kazoos had the benefit of being cheap. They could also be played with little training.

Contrary to their name, they did not specialise in jazz music. Most music played were hymn tunes, marches, and popular songs from the hit parade.

The bands would march in military formation. Each band led by a majorette twirling a long drum major’s mace.

Were you a member of a juvenile jazz band? If you were, please share your memories in the comments below.

Details of the journal article:

Bird, E. 1976, ‘Jazz Bands of North East England: The evolution of a working class cultural activity’, Oral History, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 31-55

Wikipedia entry:


For photos of the bands in action:



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