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All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Opinion/Editorial

Death, Rebirth & New Revolution

By Published: February 20, 2013
UK Vibes

Jazz in my native Northern Ireland in the 1980s was restricted to Sunday afternoon trad-jazz in hotels and clubs frequented by the elderly. Nobody wanted to come and play in Belfast. And little wonder; the Irish Republican Army, in its war for independence from Britain, had declared visiting bands to be legitimate targets, and consequently most stayed away. The closest thing to jazz I saw was a concert by Sting in 1986, when his band included saxophonist Branford Marsalis
Branford Marsalis
Branford Marsalis
b.1960
saxophone
, drummer Omar Hakim
Omar Hakim
Omar Hakim
b.1959
drums
, keyboardist Kenny Kirkland
Kenny Kirkland
Kenny Kirkland
1955 - 1998
piano
and bassist Darryl Jones. It was good, but it wasn't enough.



In 1987 I moved from Northern Ireland to London, where I spent the next four years. I soon learned that there were exciting new things happening on the UK jazz scene. There was the irreverent, iconoclastic big band Loose Tubes, which included multi-instrumentalist Django Bates
Django Bates
Django Bates
b.1960
piano
, saxophonists Iain Ballamy
Iain Ballamy
Iain Ballamy
b.1964
sax, tenor
, Julian Arguelles
Julian Arguelles
Julian Arguelles
b.1966
saxophone
and Mark Lockheart
Mark Lockheart
Mark Lockheart

saxophone
and guitarist John Parricelli—an exciting new generation of British jazz musicians who played in their own language, without aping the American tradition.

There was Earthworks, drummer Bill Bruford
Bill Bruford
Bill Bruford
b.1949
drums
s' highly original band that fused electro and acoustic percussion, and which would forge a very distinctive path for the next twenty years, introducing talent such as Loose Tubes' Ballamy and Bates to a world-wide audience, and later saxophonist Tim Garland
Tim Garland
Tim Garland
b.1966
saxophone
and pianist Gwilym Simcock
Gwilym Simcock
Gwilym Simcock
b.1981
piano
.

And of course, there was Courtney Pine. Shortly after that concert in Nice, in the car park with Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce and Biréli Lagrène, Pine released his debut recording, Journey to the Urge Within (Verve, 1986), which reached 39 in the British pop charts, selling over 250,000 copies, an unprecedented commercial success for a British jazz album.

Around that time Pine was also a member of the all-black, hugely energetic British jazz group the Jazz Warriors. This band launched the careers of black musicians such as saxophonists Steve Williamson, double bassist Gary Crosby
Gary Crosby
Gary Crosby
b.1955
, pianist Julian Joseph
Julian Joseph
Julian Joseph
b.1966
piano
, trombonist Dennis Rollins
Dennis Rollins
Dennis Rollins
b.1964
trombone
and drummer Mark Mondesir
Mark Mondesir
Mark Mondesir
b.1964
drums
.

These three bands, more than any others, illustrated that British jazz could be brilliant and original without having an American accent. The UK jazz scene today is probably one of the most vibrant and original anywhere in the world, and the emergence of confident individual and collective voices in these last three decades has been very exciting to watch.

Meanwhile in America, at roughly the same time, the M-Base collective of saxophonists Steve Coleman
Steve Coleman
Steve Coleman
b.1956
saxophone
and Greg Osby
Greg Osby
Greg Osby
b.1960
saxophone
, pianist Geri Allen
Geri Allen
Geri Allen
b.1957
piano
, singer Cassandra Wilson
Cassandra Wilson
Cassandra Wilson
b.1955
vocalist
and trumpeter Graham Haynes
Graham Haynes
Graham Haynes
b.1960
cornet
were also defying Miles Davis' mid-'80s pessimism regarding jazz, with their refreshing ideas on creative expression. Coleman, more than most of the M-Base musicians, has pursued a fiercely independent path, producing some of the most strikingly original music of the last 25 years.

M-Base, Loose Tubes, Earthworks and the Jazz Warriors were four highly distinct creative ensembles/collectives and proof that that jazz's history has never been strictly linear. Movements overlap, new developments have many well-springs, inspiration comes from myriad sources and the knock-on effects are impossible to calculate. Movements of jazz may have died or become antiquated, but there has always been renewal, and there are always individuals, many of them, who carry the music to new and exciting places.

Old Heroes, New Heroes

But even the newest, most exciting modern music draws its inspiration to some degree from the past. Pianist Esbjorn Svensson
Esbjorn Svensson
Esbjorn Svensson
1964 - 2008
piano
, who died in a scuba diving accident in 2008, remains one of the most influential jazz musicians of the last twenty years, inspiring countless piano trios to evolve a modern European approach to the formula. Svensson was influenced in turn by Jan Johansson
Jan Johansson
1931 - 1968
piano
, the Swedish jazz pianist active in the 1950s and '60s, and told me in an interview shortly before he died: "Jan Johansson is a very, very big influence."



Inevitably, Johansson himself was initially influenced by American jazz musicians, but he moved beyond that, recording jazz workings of old Swedish folk songs in 1963 and 1964. In a tiny country like Sweden, population 9.4 million, his album Jazz Pa Svenska (Megafon, 1964) has sold 400,000 copies. Apart from Svensson, Johansson has been a major influence on pianists Tord Gustavsen
Tord Gustavsen
Tord Gustavsen
b.1970
piano
, Andreas Ulvo
Andreas Ulvo
Andreas Ulvo
b.1983
piano
, Jan Lungdren and Bobo Stenson
Bobo Stenson
Bobo Stenson
b.1944
piano
, electronic duo Koop and a host of nu-jazz/electronic jazz piano trios.

These days in Europe, a great number of bands play jazz without a trace of an American accent, and this may well represent the greatest change in jazz in the last thirty plus years.

In London, where I studied in the late '80s, the London Jazz Festival used to throw up trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
, Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
1938 - 2008
trumpet
, saxophonists Stan Getz
Stan Getz
Stan Getz
1927 - 1991
sax, tenor
and Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
1937 - 2001
sax, tenor
, drummers Max Roach
Max Roach
Max Roach
1925 - 2007
drums
and Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
1927 - 2004
drums
, pianists Hank Jones
Hank Jones
Hank Jones
1918 - 2010
piano
and Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
1925 - 2007
piano
. These musicians have all since passed away. In 2013, there are only a handful of musicians alive who were contemporaries of saxophonist Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
. Perhaps this passing of so many of jazz's iconic figures has, ironically, had a liberating effect on young jazz musicians around the world.

The jazz greats will always be lionized, but there's a new generation of jazz greats to look up to; all over the world musicians and fans are inspired by the likes of saxophonists Steve Coleman, Joshua Redman
Joshua Redman
Joshua Redman
b.1969
saxophone
and Chris Potter
Chris Potter
Chris Potter
b.1971
reeds
, pianists Esbjörn Svensson, Brad Mehldau
Brad Mehldau
Brad Mehldau
b.1970
piano
, Stefano Bollani, Hiromi
Hiromi
Hiromi
b.1979
piano
and Craig Taborn
Craig Taborn
Craig Taborn
b.1970
keyboard
, bassist Esperanza Spalding
Esperanza Spalding
Esperanza Spalding
b.1984
bass, acoustic
, singers Gretchen Parlato
Gretchen Parlato
Gretchen Parlato

vocalist
and Melody Gardot
Melody Gardot
Melody Gardot
b.1985
vocalist
, and bands like Medeski, Martin & Wood
Medeski, Martin & Wood
Medeski, Martin & Wood

band/orchestra
, The Bad Plus
The Bad Plus
The Bad Plus

band/orchestra
, Phronesis
Phronesis
Phronesis

band/orchestra
, and the Neil Cowley
Neil Cowley
Neil Cowley
b.1972
piano
. Talk of jazz's so-called Golden Age appears nostalgic. In terms of jazz's world-wide appeal, the sheer numbers of incredible musicians to be found everywhere, and increasingly fertile adventures in cross-pollination, this is a surely a great age of music in which we are now living.

There may not be a significant new movement going on but there's arguably greater diversity and greater individualism than ever before—jazz is living a very quiet form of revolution, where anything goes.


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