The Brit-Jazz scene was in constant flux this year with established bands such as Troyka, Neil Cowley Trio, Get the Blessing, and trioVD preparing for new studio albums, so the field lay wide open for more attention to be given to new bands often playing individual jazz clubs or festivals and making a buzz. Partikel and Kairos 4tet, which won the jazz act MOBO, were some of the bands to step into the breech, while other breakthrough bands like Acoustic Ladyland actually disbanded. Other instrumentalists like Gwilym Simcock (below, right), who was nominated for the Mercury prize, reached out to new audiences.
From his unique perspective as a figurehead from a previous generation of new UK jazz stars, the early part of 2011 for Courtney Pine saw an appearance not in London but at the Fife Jazz Festival in Scotland along with Scottish trailblazers Trio AAB, and free jazz avatar Evan Parker. A relative newcomer, the Fife event, which ran over three days in early-February, was Scotland’s first big jazz gathering of the year. Pine released his new album Europa shortly after Fife, an album that showed the ever increasing ambitiousness of a musician keen to shrug off complacency and rise to new creative challenges.
Places like the Vortex, Pizza Express Jazz Club and Ronnie Scott’s in London and Band on the Wall in Manchester were happy hunting grounds for the new breed. At the Pizza in February pianist Hans Koller assembled a dozen of London’s finest jazz musicians for the new Pizza Express Jazz Orchestra, led off on their debut by composer/arranger Mike Gibbs.
The first major gathering of the year for the new Brit-Jazz scene was the Loop festival at the Forge in March, but it was over at the Vortex in April that one of the breakthrough bands of the year would pitch up as part of their extensive nationwide tour. Signing to Edition records earlier in the year Kairos 4tet’s album Statement of Intent released on 4 April saw leader saxophonist Adam Waldmann (pictured, above) joined by new pianist Ivo Neame, while Phronesis leader and bassist Jasper Høiby and drummer Jon Scott made up the rest of the band, pushing ahead with spiky post bop flavoured by an obliquely melodic sense.
Ronnie Scott’s began its year with some innovative programming marked by a week of trio gigs at the famous Frith Street club. The intriguingly named Pianothon was a major plank of the concept, featuring several of the UK’s leading piano trios playing together while six-time Grammy-nominee Kenny Barron and Cyrus Chestnut also appeared.
While the UK scene is too big and disparate to have one specific centre of activity, Soho in March was again at the heart of the action, this time for the launch of Brit-Jazz Week at the Pizza Express Jazz Club where three nights of previews were held to launch the Brit-Jazz tour of Germany and Austria organised by the Air artist agency. With 76 gigs across 13 different cities and performances from a different band each night with styles and influences as wide-ranging as Indian music, hip hop, trip-hop and indie rock, the bands involved in the tour included Get The Blessing, saxophonist Jason Yarde, Indo-Jazz clarinettist Arun Ghosh (below, left), pianist Kit Downes, the Julian Siegel Quartet and rapper-saxophonist Soweto Kinch. For the first time a co-ordinated range of gigs were held during mid-March in big cities such as Munich, Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne and Vienna. The jazz expo and artist showcase Jazzahead in Bremen was another opportunity for the wider European jazz community to sample an early exemplar of the new vital UK scene in Partisans, while back in the UK Phronesis toured widely and continued to pick up more fans.
Another sign of the fast developing links between the UK and international jazz communities came early in the year with a live link-up from Ronnie Scott’s in London direct to the US launch of the Rochester Jazz Festival when details were announced of the latest British jazz to be featured at the festival. The Ronnie Scott’s All Stars, one of the acts taking part this year, also performed a few songs in between announcements joined by soul and jazz singer Natalie Williams. The third year of the Made In The UK strand in Rochester in June saw Soweto Kinch, Jason Yarde and Andrew McCormack duo, NYC-based pianist John Escreet and the Ronnie Scott’s All Stars representing England, guitar supremo Martin Taylor, singer Alison Burns, as well as emerging pipes/guitar duo Fraser Fifield and Graeme Stephen for Scotland, and pianist Huw Warren and bassist Paula Gardiner for Wales taking part.
A link to the original bebop generation and a symbol of UK/US jazz disappeared with the death of British-born pianist George Shearing, known for the standard ‘Lullaby of Birdland’ in February. From Battersea in London Shearing emigrated to the States in 1947 and quickly became known for his hit ‘September In The Rain’, and his quintet was a popular draw even turning on the Beats to jazz, memorably recalled in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road.
But the mainstream and bebop-related scene was cheered by news in the spring of the release by two of the UK’s leading jazz singers of new albums. For Claire Martin it was a great year because as well as receiving an OBE for services to music, the BBC broadcaster also released her new duo album Witchcraft with Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. Ian Shaw’s new album was, by way of contrast, recorded at Abbey Road and mixed standards such as Cole Porter’s ‘Get Out of Town’, Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Day Dream’ and Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well’ with more contemporary pieces from Joni Mitchell, Michael Jackson and the late Gerry Rafferty.
The Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2011 benefited from the additional bank holiday that marked the royal wedding. Now in its sixteenth year the festival welcomed a Best of British Cutting Edge series in the Town Hall’s Pillar Room and a second Norwegian strand across a number of venues including the Arena and Pillar Room along with names such as Pharoah Sanders, Tord Gustavsen and Jamie Cullum whose solo set in the Jazz Arena was beamed live to cinemas across the UK and Europe.
In Scotland Tommy Smith, with his newly formed group Karma, released an album in late-April that marked a shift towards jazz-rock fusion, and later in the year Smith went on to pick up the jazz educator award at the Scottish Jazz Awards. Described as “Smith’s toughest and most creative group yet” by The Scotsman, Karma featured two of the hottest new players on the Scottish scene, with electric bass virtuoso Kevin Glasgow and drum hotshot Alyn Cosker making their mark. The Glasgow Jazz Festival celebrated its 25th anniversary in late-June with Dame Cleo Laine, Michel Legrand, and Ramsey Lewis, headlining. Then the Edinburgh Jazz Festival later in the summer presented Tommy Smith and other big names including Courtney Pine, James Carter, Trombone Shorty, and the Magnus Öström Band.
Bands reactivating again this year included saxophonist Tim Garland reuniting his Storms/Nocturnes trio with US vibist Joe Locke and pianist Geoffrey Keezer touring and releasing new album Via. Garland also performed at the premiere of his concerto for saxophone and percussion with the London Symphony Orchestra in the Barbican. But it’s not often that a new teenage sensation appears on the UK jazz scene, but following on from a buzz that developed on the other side of the Irish sea, Slovakian gypsy guitarist Andreas Varady made his mark at Ronnie Scott’s on his debut in March, while the same month saw Jazz FM broadcasting on a nationwide basis via DAB building further on its ever growing audience.
In the north east of England one major highlight of the year was the Gateshead Jazz Festival with Debbie Harry joining avant jazz group Jazz Passengers and the Northern Sinfonia, with Martin Taylor and Soweto Kinch also on the bill. It was a varied year for Kinch who in April performed a special collaborative concert with students from the Southampton Guildhall and in the summer presented a well received Joe Harriott themed concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall as well as appearing at many festivals and clubs around the world. In Kinch’s hometown of Birmingham the Mostly Jazz Festival brought over Booker T, and other big names taking part in July included the Matthew Herbert Big Band. Tony Dudley-Evans’ development agency Birmingham Jazz and Brummie jazz club The Yardbird curated a stage, and clubby jazz names such as The Cinematic Orchestra, DJs Craig Charles and Gilles Peterson went down a treat.
While the Coventry scene is still missing its long running jazz festival, the Oxford Jazz Festival, which ran over the Easter weekend, stepped up a gear featuring concerts all over the historic city with venues including the Ashmolean, the North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford Town Hall and St Michael at the North Gate. The Zara McFarlane Quartet, Norma Winstone Trio and Kit Downes Sextet and Natalie Williams were among the strong line-up. Later in the year singer McFarlane made her own well received solo debut.
The London scene mourned the death of Ray Smith whose Shaftesbury Avenue record shop Ray’s Jazz, was a mecca for jazz fans and record collectors for nearly 30 years between 1975 and 2002. But on a more upbeat note and a further example of the multi-faceted nature of the new Brit jazz scene the F-IRE Collective (the big brother of the Loop Collective scenesters) held their latest mini-festival in May at Kings Place with Jonny Phillips’ Oriole, and a F-IRE New Generation Band taking part. A significant figure on the British jazz scene in the late-1960s and since made a rare return to Ronnie Scott’s for some heavily in demand shows in July. John McLaughlin (above) duly appeared alongside fellow Brit Gary Husband, Etienne Mbappé, and Ranjit Barot.
At the Parliamentary Jazz Awards the big winners this year included Brian Kellock, Brass Jaw, Hideaway, Coleridge Goode and Dame Cleo Laine, while the Manchester Jazz Festival in July steered a typically individual path with a special commission from pianist Adam Fairhall, the launch of new album Distilled by Cinematic Orchestra guitarist Stuart McCallum joined by a 15-piece ensemble, and an appearance by Richard Iles’ Miniature Brass Emporium featuring Iain Ballamy. In August the Brit-Jazz scene was rocked by the death of London-based trumpeter Richard Turner, who died tragically of a seizure while swimming aged just 27.
The summer saw the marking of the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain, with a trio of major jazz shows at the Southbank Centre, while having just turned 70 earlier in June Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts played two special nights at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London before playing the 606 in Chelsea later in the year. Wales’ leading jazz festival at Brecon, whose future is currently up in the air, saw Phronesis debut their challenging new project Pitch Black, which featured the trio performing in total darkness as they set out to explore the nature of our sensory relationship with music. Ronnie Scott’s Brit-Jazz Fest joined the dots between different generations of UK improvisers with the first week including a celebration of Humphrey Lyttelton, with the Lyttelton band and later in the fest Chris Barber appearing for a rare Frith Street show.
Back at Pizza Express Jazz Club Jamie Cullum paid poignant tribute to Amy Winehouse just days after the Back to Black singer passed away, by segueing effortlessly from ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ into his own cover of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Lover You Should Have Come Over’. Keith Jarrett played four encores with his Standards trio at the Festival Hall as he made a triumphant return to the London stage and later in the year Empirical became artists in residence at Trinity College of Music.
The London Jazz Festival in the autumn, the UK’s biggest jazz festival, had a distinctive avant garde flavour this year with Steve Coleman, Henry Threadgill and Ornette Coleman all featuring and big audiences turning out across the capital for a feast of jazz. Notable second half of the year album releases included the Robert Mitchell 3io’s The Embrace in September, while other impressive debuts included pianist Sam Leak teaming up with bassist Calum Gourlay and the Golden Age of Steam’s James Allsopp joining drummer Joshua Blackmore for the London launch of their debut Babel label album Aquarium. Also at the Vortex Matthew Shipp impressed in duo with Evan Parker in September, Seb Rochford and Tom Skinner made a mighty din alongside Shabaka Hutchings in the Sons of Kemet, but sadly the year was also marked by the passing of Graham Collier and Michael Garrick (above, right), both hugely influential figures on the course of jazz in this country.
– Stephen Graham