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It's Our Generations

It's Our Generations
Bruce Lindsay By

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It's been a strange summer here in the UK. To be fair, that description can be applied with no trace of irony to almost any British summer—and the summer of 2011 seems to have been a strange one for much of the world. But this is a JazzLife UK article, and parochial concerns are paramount, thus the strange British summer takes precedence. One aspect in particular. Because it's a very positive aspect, a cheering and upbeat and oddly synchronous part of jazz life—the ways in which jazz can cross the generations, to benefit both the old and the young as it does so.

Of course, many people might talk about jazz "crossing the generation gap" at this point. But I don't buy the gap idea, especially in jazz. I routinely hear bands with players in their late-teens and their eighties, artists who name-check inspirations from the '30s and '40s as well as from this century. The Sax Massive that played at the 2011 Norfolk and Norwich Festival included mothers and daughters, and grandfathers and grandsons. I have many middle-aged friends who firmly believe that jazz is dreadful, and my sons have many friends in their early 20s who share that view. Jazz brings the generations together in numerous ways.

Much of this sharing simply happens, a by-product of the music. But when the jazz community acts deliberately to bring the generations closer together, then it can achieve some truly worthwhile things. Over the summer months, the UK scene has been full of examples of this sharing, of jazz as a genuine community of people.

Keeping It In The Family

An obvious way of spreading the word across the generations is to keep it in the family, and there are plenty of great examples in jazz. Here in the UK there's Stan Tracey and his drummer son Clark Tracey; Yes guitarist Steve Howe and his drummer son Dylan Howe; and father and son saxophonists Charlie Parker and Evan Parker (OK, perhaps not that one). Above all, there's the Dankworth dynasty: the late composer and saxophonist Sir John Dankworth; his wife, singer and actress Dame Cleo Laine; bassist son Alec Dankworth and daughter Jacqui Dankworth—singer, songwriter and actress. They don't just keep it in the family, either: Sir John and Dame Cleo have supported the development of jazz in many ways including the establishment of The Stables Theatre in Wavendon.

If the notion of the jazz community as one big family is acceptable, then there are many different examples of parents and grandparents helping their enthusiastic but inexperienced offspring. Norwich played host, during August, to one of the best examples, with some of the UK's finest jazz musicians passing on their expertise and advice to a younger generation.

The National Youth Jazz Collective Summer School At Norwich

The finest jazz has always struck me as a cooperative endeavor; musicians working together, firing off each other's playing, driving each other to greater and greater heights. Such cooperation also shows itself in the ways in which older, more experienced, musicians support and encourage the up-and-comers, the new recruits. The National Youth Jazz Collective is a fine example.

The NYJC—led by its Founder and Executive Artistic Director, composer/saxophonist/educator Issie Barratt and, with bassist Dave Holland as its President—seeks "to support the creative and educational needs of the young jazz musician." One of the NYJC's key annual events is the Summer School, which took place this year at the University of East Anglia, in my home town of Norwich.

Following a series of auditions across the country, over 30 young musicians aged 14 to 18 years were selected for the week-long event, with another dozen or so attending a shorter preparatory program. The teenagers came from as far away as Cornwall in the southwest and Kendal in the northwest (about as far from Norwich as it's possible to get and still be in England). There were drummers, bassists, horn players, pianists and guitarists. The tutors included top flight British jazz musicians such as pianist Liam Noble, guitarist Mike Walker, saxophonist Mark Lockheart (pictured right) and pianist Nikki Iles.

I was invited to the Summer School's closing concert, and when I arrived I was forewarned that there would be some "seriously good" playing—but the tutors would say that, wouldn't they? The students had spent the week working in five small combos, each under the care of two tutors, and for the concert each ensemble performed three or four tunes.

There was some seriously good playing. And it was a joy to hear.


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