Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

10

Bathed In Lightning: John McLaughlin, the 60s and the Emerald Beyond by Colin Harper

Colin Harper By

Sign in to view read count
Exclusive extract adapted from Bathed In Lightning: John McLaughlin, the 60s and the Emerald Beyond
By Colin Harper. Published (UK and US) March 26, 2014 by Jawbone Press

"British jazz is awash with young talent which, given a healthy set of circumstances and a fair share of work, could produce a generation of outstanding musicians." —Bob Houston, Melody Maker, January 1967

"As a job with security and prospects, being a jazz musician is just about on a par with shooting Niagara Falls in a barrel. Worse, in fact, because one of the greatest problems for a young jazzman is to find somewhere to play at all." —Bob Dawbarn, Melody Maker, January 1967

Nobody goes into jazz for the money. In the 21st Century, people in Britain with jazzward inclinations can go to university and do a jazz course, get funding for a jazz doctorate, cast around for gigs at publicly subsidised arts centres and festivals and apply for Arts Council bursaries for compositional retreats or other projects. Various grant-awarding charities are also available for the proactive musician to pitch at. Back in the 1960s, all of the above resided in the realms of fantasy. Bassist/composer Graham Collier became, towards the end of 1967, the first jazz recipient of an Arts Council bursary (£400 towards a large ensemble piece, "Workpoints"). It was not quite the announcement of a gravy train newly arrived at the station of Cashstrapped-under-Ronnie, but it was a much reported novelty and in retrospect an important moment for British jazz.

Trad trombonist George Chisholm, a jazzman at heart but a breadwinner through his involvement with BBC Television's Black & White Minstrel Show, found himself relinquishing the dark side (Light Entertainment) in October '65. He wanted to try and rescue his soul, and his career as a jazz musician, but he was aware of the cost: "If you say, 'I'm going to stick to my beliefs and play nothing but jazz,' you would end up in Leicester Square selling matches," he said at the time. "I'm sorry to say it but it's true."

Things, nevertheless, were beginning to change, however slowly and precariously it might have seemed at the time. 1966 had seen two developments which were pivotal for jazz in Britain: the opening of the Little Theatre Club, in January; and the opening of (Ronnie Scott's) Old Place in September. A significant array of world-class musicians and composers from John McLaughlin's generation—including John himself—would hone their craft, galvanise their confidence and forge their identities in these twin crucibles over a relatively short period of time.

As Ronnie Scott's biographer, John Fordham, observed: "It was a forcible reminder of how unlike New York London was (and how unlike itself in the busy clubland years of the Second World War) that the presence of two such venues in one of the world's great capital cities should seem like any kind of a luxury."

Or, as Ian Carr reflected in his classic Music Outside in 1973: "It is a sobering thought that the development, even the continuation, of jazz in Britain has often relied on the chance generosity of a few remarkable individuals."

In Britain, nobody owed jazz a living; and very few were given one by it.

In the first week of January '66 the Melody Maker could report that, on the one hand, Ronnie Scott's house bassist Rick Laird was forsaking Britain for America but, on the other, John Stevens was opening a new venue, the Little Theatre Club.

"Musical policy won't be self-consciously hip," said John. "We want to give people a chance to play their own music. Personally, I like everything, blues and standards. Some beautiful things can be done with standards. But I think there is a lot of restriction in jazz. As soon as you count '1-2-3' you've set one restriction—of meter."

To an extent, John's club would address some of the home truths which Rick was offering on his departure for a period of study at Boston's Berklee College:

"There's nowhere else to work," he explained. "If I were to leave Ronnie's and stay in Britain it would be a step backwards... The biggest trouble here is lack of opportunity for the guys to play... and there's not the competitive spirit either... [which] is good for the music. I think it's needed... Very few of the established musicians here sound like they're developing. It sounds as if they're stuck in a thing. The lack of opportunities is the cause of that."

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.

Album Reviews
Interviews
Year in Review
Live Reviews
Album Reviews
Interviews
Album Reviews
Talking 2 Musicians
Building a Jazz Library
Live Reviews
Book Reviews
Talking 2 Musicians
Album Reviews
Book Reviews
Book Excerpts
Album Reviews
Read more articles
John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring - Live in San Francisco

John McLaughlin and...

Abstract Logix
2018

buy
Live at Ronnie Scott's

Live at Ronnie Scott's

Abstract Logix
2017

buy
Where Fortune Smiles

Where Fortune Smiles

Esoteric Recordings
2017

buy
Paco and John - Live at Montreux 1987

Paco and John - Live...

Eagle Eye Media
2016

buy
The Boston Record

The Boston Record

Abstract Logix
2014

buy
Now Here This

Now Here This

Abstract Logix
2013

buy

Related Articles

Book Excerpts
Mosaics: The Life and Works of Graham Collier
By Duncan Heining
August 28, 2018
Book Excerpts
Jazz Bursts Forth in Delaware Water Gap, PA
By Debbie Burke
September 8, 2017
Book Excerpts
Go Slow: The Life Of Julie London
By Michael Owen
June 30, 2017
Book Excerpts
A Conversation with Mike Mainieri
By Anthony Smith
June 2, 2017
Book Excerpts
The Royal Roost: Birthplace of Bop
By Richard Carlin
March 30, 2016
Book Excerpts
Spirits Rejoice! Jazz and American Religion
By Jason Bivins
September 24, 2015
Book Excerpts
Zappa and Jazz: Did it Really Smell Funny, Frank?
By Geoffrey Wills
September 15, 2015