Changing Rhythms: Influencing the Form and Content of Festivals (REF21 Impact Case Study)

  • McKay, George (Participant)
  • Emma Webster (Participant)
  • Elizabeth Bennett (Participant)

Impact: Cultural Impacts

Description of impact

George McKay’s research directly contributed to how some of the UK’s most influential music festivals have engaged with their musical, social, and cultural histories. McKay’s work has led to a refocusing of festival intentions through programming strands, new commissions, and inspiring the production of new music.

McKay’s direct influence on format and content of British jazz and music festivals includes new strands such as the Professor in Residence role at a range of high-profile music festivals (most famously the EFG London Jazz Festival), an increased focus on Black British jazz and histories of slavery, and new music informed by McKay’s research interests.

Who is affected

In sum, this work has brought festival producers, programmers, and musicians into dialogue with their own histories and cultural issues. It also demonstrates how McKay has worked with festivals to demonstrate the scale and importance of their cultural, economic, and touristic impact.


“[F]estivals … need and value the criticality of academic research ... [Your work] helps us shape, make sense of, and rethink what we are doing” (John Cumming OBE, EFG London Jazz Festival).

McKay’s impact on the modern jazz festival is acknowledged here by John Cumming, arguably the UK jazz scene’s most significant producer of the past 30 years (founding Director of the EFG London Jazz Festival; Director, Serious Music). He identifies the importance of McKay’s contributions to the study and delivery of musical festivals across the UK and Europe, with an extensive range of collaborations with festival professionals – producers, curators, and creatives – in locations including Lancaster, London, Cheltenham, Edinburgh, and Trollhatten. Cumming’s assessment is mirrored in Bruce Lindsay’s comment, in Jazz Journal, that McKay’s work includes an important critical engagement with the industry which “doesn’t shy away from discussing issues of concern, for example around funding and programme repetition”.

The impact highlighted here arises from a set of projects, publications, events, and collaborations): it demonstrates how McKay (working with Bennett and Webster) has shaped debates in festival organisation, and affected identifiable changes in:
• Programming strands and commissioned content;
• New musical and creative works;
• How festivals understand and articulate their own cultural significance and impact.
Impact statusOpen
Impact date20142022
Category of impactCultural Impacts
Impact levelAdoption