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Jazz in the UK now

Sammy Stein By

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Tenor saxophonist Mussinghi Brian Edwards was a member of the Jazz Warriors in the mid 80's and of Jazz Jamaica during the 90's. He has played with guitarist Alan Weekes quartet every Sunday at The Haggerston Pub for the past 18 years. He says, " The jazz scene in the UK is very healthy and getting stronger all the time, especially since Ronnie Scott's started having nightly late jams, giving young and sometimes not so young musicians a chance to play on the stage of this legendary club. There are many places to play in London. New places are popping up all the time since they relaxed the licensing laws but it's still hard to get a good fee from many places and sometimes we might just play 'just to play.' The level and understanding of the music has risen greatly in the last 15 years, each new generation brings more highly talented individuals from saxophonist Soweto Kinch to pianist Reuben James and jazz vocalist Michael Mwenso. There seems to be a lot more respect and love amongst the musicians. Nobody cares where you're from or what you look like, it's all about the music. We are just trying to keep it swinging, interesting and fun. Are new musicians getting platforms? Yes, there are always one or two who can't be denied."

Away from London venues across the UK such as Jazz at the Albert in Bedminster, Bristol, and Manchester's Band on the Wall offer opportunities to musicians. Snape Maltings in Suffolk, traditionally a home for classical music, is more open to jazz and other genres now. Players like Andy Sheppard and the Congolese jazz ensemble Staff Bindi Bililli are included alongside orchestra and brass ensembles. Miss Peapods in Cornwall and Ipswich Jazz Club in Suffolk showcase new talent alongside major players. Hubbs like Manchester and Leeds are now important in their own right. Peter Haughton is a singer and blues player based in Leeds. He has been a semi-professional club singer in the northern club circuit and fronted bands as well as teaching. He now concentrates on Northern Mississippi blues. He comments, " Leeds has many venues willing to support music in all its diversity including the Hi Fi Club, The Wardrobe, Sela Bar and Smokestack as well as The New Roscoe, the Irish Centre, and The Grove Inn. There is a vibrant music scene in Leeds, providing enthusiasm for retro-style genre music from people where age isn't a consideration and the audience mix is young and old. At this more cosmopolitan level you are less likely as a player to encounter negative issues as you are playing to a liberal-oriented audience, whose priority is good, originally presented, music. I think the kids are all right. It is, ultimately, your own mindset which describes the current music scene for you. For all its shortcomings, the current advent of venues catering for audiences looking for something a little special or different, the future I think is good."

However, what of the future? What about funding which Gustaffson and others mentioned? I spoke to double bassist John Edwards recently, who commented that Europe was still the best place to play for money. Fowler comments, "one of the limitations of smaller venues is the cost of large groups of musicians. If I stop looking at the scene from the perspective of a trumpet player and more as a band- leader, it's pretty hard as there isn't really the budget. I'm very proud to say that the people who play in my band are some of the finest in the UK. At times, when you're playing with a full big band of amazing musicians you feel a little guilty asking them to do a pub gig for door money. You may feel embarrassed that at the end of the night you can only offer them £20 each or something: I know most of the time they don't mind. We're all on the same road but sometimes you feel that taking into the account the size and reputation of the venue, the size and the quality of the ensemble, maybe it's a little unfair that you aren't paying everyone more and the venue isn't supporting that project a little better. Maybe that's just me, but so many people are discouraged to write music on a larger scale because they know that unless you get funding to tour, promote, and gig that ensemble then no venue is going to offer you a good deal because it's such a risk."


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