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Jazz in the UK now

Sammy Stein By

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The jazz scene in the UK is buzzing at the moment. Clubs whose managers not so long ago were faced with the difficult decision whether to continue offering new sounds to a dwindling audience or turn themselves into a wine bar—offering small slices of live music to appease their consciences perhaps—are finding it was worth hanging in there. It seems free music has been saved—not by record companies wanting to pour in their millions but by the very nature of British audiences. British music listeners have eclectic tastes. Of course, there are clubs full to the rafters every night offering popular music, big names and dance numbers but at the same time a loyal cohort remains who seek something different. They want their senses stretched and have a desire to hear sounds which challenge and kick back in the face of growing commercialism. This cohort was becoming older and less enthusiastic, but recently there has been an influx of younger listeners and new bands, and the industry is reaping the benefits.

London remains the centre of the revival but not the only hub. Across the UK, more people are going to live gigs and this has helped create one of the most interesting and diverse scenes in the world with room for everyone. It also means the smaller venues have found a market. Audiences have changed and young people are venturing into jazz clubs where they mix easily with the more experienced jazz audience. Musicians talk of a revival in the small club arena and the diversity of the music on offer. As cafes, small venues and bars turn their commercial minds to a wider clientele the scene is more diverse than ever with jazz, blues and other genres benefiting. It is the music which unites audiences and jazz is attracting a more diverse audience. Thankfully, the fact that venues have chosen to follow a more eclectic route means audiences get to see acts whose potential otherwise may never have reached audiences. The ripples created by the thriving scene in London are spreading across the UK. I spoke to several musicians to get their take on things:

Trumpet player Reuben Fowler leads his own big band and plays with other musicians. He comments, "The last gig I did with my own ensemble was in Hall 2 at Kings Place, London. It was with my contemporary big band playing pretty much all original material and we were very lucky that night as we played to a packed house of all ages—including some older members who came out to check out a big band and some students on the Royal Academy of Music Junior Jazz course. The gig we did before this was in the Clore Ballroom in the Royal Festival Hall. Over the last 12 months I've played at the Vortex, 606, Ronnie Scott's, Kings Place, The Pheasantry, The Pizza Express, the Forge and The Spice of Life to name but a few: so many nice venues in and around London. Whether I've played my own material, somebody else's or just some old tunes we all like it's usually fun, well received and to an attentive audience. There are plenty of venues getting live music out there and it's a really supportive atmosphere."

Fowler agrees the mood is encouraging. He says, "I think the scene is constantly changing, and a few people have come up to me and said that they feel there is definitely a wave of new musicians excited about jazz that have breathed new life into the atmosphere. I think there has always been a tradition of new people beginning to do the circuit, which raises the bar of musicianship and attracts new audiences. I know that the arrival of trumpet players Kenny Wheeler, Guy Barker and Gerard Presencer each did different things for the UK jazz scene and in their own way brought jazz music to a wider audience. The thing about jazz is it's such a broad art form. As a rule, people who don't like some of the early stuff might find that they really like more modern, fusion-based acts. I know for instance Troyka with pianist Kit Downes, guitarist Chris Montague and drummer Joshua Blackmore have done a great thing for jazz as they have played places that traditionally were not strictly jazz venues."


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