OK. I read an article earlier titled “Britain’s jazz scene is in full swing” and disagreed with it.
Here are the relevant points why. The article runs in bold italic type, my notes on it are in plain non-bold type.
The idea behind this exercise is to amplify what is worthwhile and explain the inadequacies of what is not, in a challenging spirit of analysis, something that is often lacking in the day-to-day cycle of publication. Reddit it ain’t.
Jazz died in 1959. At least, that’s what New Orleans trumpeter Nicholas Payton wrote in 2011 as part of a series of tweets that riled jazz lovers the world over.
The author has picked a well known controversialist to begin with. Payton prefers the term “BAM” [Black American Music] to “jazz”.
It later transpired that he meant jazz the word (which, he reckoned, was ‘a label forced upon musicians’) rather than jazz the genre. Semantics aside, Payton struck a chord. He fired up what many people for many decades have assumed to be an ever-shrinking band of jazz aficionados.
The author places himself on the side of musicians. However, the controversial intent dissipates rather here so negating the beginning.
In fact, there has been an increasingly cool end to the jazz catalogue in America for at least the past 20 years. Pianist Robert Glasper and saxophonist Kamasi Washington are two figureheads of this stateside jazz renaissance, which is characterised by a liberal use of synthesisers and drum machines.
“In fact” meaning “indeed”; “cool” is misused here and rendered meaningless. Why 20 years only? Surely jazz has always been cool to use it in its correct sense? [Ergo in the 1920s, “cool” was already known as a term of approval and even reverence. Check the song ‘Cool Kind Daddy Blues’ for instance.] Oh, the worst clanger here: most jazz musicians run a mile from drum machines or use them very advisedly.
In the UK, ears have taken longer to prick up beyond all but the most committed circles. Now, though, a jazzy storm is blowing through Britain. Some say it started in 2003 on London’s Portobello Road, at Mau Mau Bar. A weekly night called Jazz Re:freshed began offering a space apart from the stalwarts of the London jazz scene — the likes of Ronnie Scott’s and the 606 Club in Chelsea. Here, players were free to experiment and perform as they wished.
I think this is wishful thinking and just a way to introduce the interviewed speaker.
Around the same time, digital recording and publishing technology meant that musicians could capture and share material. Since winning an Arts Council grant in 2014, Jazz Re:freshed has turned into a label which promotes this body of work all over the world.
‘Jazz is having its time in the sun,’ says Justin McKenzie, the label’s artistic director. He attributes this in part to the fact that jazz has learned from rock and pop, where artists seek to brand themselves: ‘It’s not enough just to put music out. You need to be the music, you need to represent the music.’
Point of view only and fair enough. But do artists seek to brand themselves as described, really, truly?
The eclectic range of styles that Jazz Re:freshed set out to champion now defines the UK jazz scene. Seed Ensemble, which has strong Afrobeat underpinnings, was nominated for a Mercury Prize last month, and many more groups featuring influences ranging from Indian folk to ‘dark dub’ are playing at summer festivals.
There are several UK jazz-indie labels out there who have received Mercury nominations over the years (eg Dune, Basho, Babel). Fact. Jazz styles have been happily hybrid and inclusive of many other musics reaching back to the 1960s at least.
Renowned DJ and impresario Gilles Peterson has given a push to the trend. He features many of the UK’s up-and-coming acts on his BBC 6 Music show on Saturday afternoons, has given the stage to them at his annual summer festival in the south of France, and even offers mentoring services.
Peterson has rightly given jazz a push. Not everyone however subscribes to his DJ-centric vision.
But ‘it would be unfair to give people with a platform all the credit’, McKenzie says. For many years before the current cool, organisations such as Tomorrow’s Warriors, a jazz education outfit, provided the real bedrock of the UK jazz resurgence.
Big claim. Only partly true.
Now, it’s not just London that is enjoying this blast of new music. Bristol, Leeds, Brighton and Manchester are all developing distinctive scenes; and a similar new wave is sweeping Scotland. In Glasgow, where the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has been offering formal education in jazz for only a decade, a committed — if small — set of young musicians is blending elements of traditional music with selected tenets of jazz. The result is virtuosos such as Fergus McCreadie who, at 22, sold hundreds of seats at the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival this year. Reports of jazz’s death, it seems, have been greatly exaggerated.
It would be interesting to know about “the distinctive scenes” mentioned. Seems vague. SG.
Article appeared in The Spectator, link.