Held in the Bloomsbury Ballroom, inside the massive 1920s neoclassical-styled Victoria House on Bloomsbury Square, the 2016 Jazz FM Awards were hosted by comedian Hardeep Singh Kohli whose best jokes included the one about his being a Glasgow Sikh and so he was allowed to carry two knives, and in a sponsor plug folding in the clever, neat observation that it’s cool not to have a ‘u’ in Arqiva.
The awards came around a little sooner this year, last year’s held near London Bridge in the summer followed a break in 2014, the first held the previous year honouring Ahmad Jamal and Ramsey Lewis at a sit down full meal affair in Marylebone. The evening this year, produced by Serious, was again bubbles, bangles, baubles and beads, more a fizz and canapé affair, and began with the Kansas Smitty’s tradsters strutting through the room, warming it up as attendees drifted in from the first reception room. Musicians in the audience included trumpeter Christian Scott, who won an award, pianist Neil Cowley, singer Cleveland Watkiss, vibist Orphy Robinson, altoist and BBC Jazz Now presenter Soweto Kinch, guitarist/composer Nitin Sawhney who presented an award, singers Ian Shaw and nominee Liane Carroll as well as many industry figures including Simon Cooke, managing director of Ronnie Scott’s, Ross Dines, music manager of the Pizza Express Jazz Club, Jill Rodger director of the Glasgow Jazz Festival, and a phalanx of Jazz FM DJs including Chris Philips, Jez Nelson and John Osborne plus representatives from several labels, PR companies, artist managers, bookers, national newspapers and magazines.
Listeners voted in the album of the Year, UK jazz act of the year and live experience of the year categories.
The winners were:
(bold italics for winners, category nominees in brackets)
Breakthrough act of the year
Binker and Moses
International jazz artist of the year (sponsored by Yamaha)
Jazz innovation of the year (sponsored by Mishcon De Reya)
Soul artist of the year (sponsored by RCS)
Live experience of the year
Ice-T and Ron McCurdy – The Langston Hughes Project at the Barbican
(Maria Schneider at Symphony Hall Birmingham
Taylor McFerrin at Rio Club, Glasgow Jazz Festival)
Vocalist of the year
Digital initiative of the year (sponsored by 7 digital)
Tin Men and the Telephone)
UK jazz act of the year (sponsored by Grange Hotels)
Binker and Moses
Sons of Kemet)
Album of the year (sponsored by Arqiva)
Hiatus Kaiyote Choose Your Weapon
(Christian Scott Stretch Music
Kamasi Washington The Epic
Maria Schneider The Thompson Fields
Charenée Wade Offering
Snarky Puppy & Metropole Orkest Sylva)
Blues artist of the year
Gary Clark Jr.
PPL Lifetime achievement award
So a great night for Binker and Moses, and a shot in the arm for Lauren Kinsella, the highest profile award to date for the Irish singer. Gregory Porter was supposed to have appeared but had cancelled, and Quincy Jones sent a video message among a number of messages from the winners who could not be at the Bloomsbury Ballroom.
Pick of the live performers was easily Kandace Springs, who has been touring as support for Porter, on the Mal Waldron standard ‘Soul Eyes’. I could not avoid thinking of Frank O’Hara’s ‘The Day Lady Died’ listening to her the words from the poem towards the end drifting to mind: “while she whispered a song along the keyboard/to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing.” By contrast the unknowns Hiatus Kaiyote, a surprise winner it must be said, were disappointing, their jazz-rock flow a little laboured.
The Jazz FM Awards take their place at the top of the UK jazz awards calendar alongside the Parliamentary Jazz Awards (voted for from a shortlist by MPs and peers) which take place next month, mostly with completely different artists honoured (only sharing Binker and Moses, Liane Carroll, and Theon Cross in common).
Report: Stephen Graham