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1980s - New music, new diversity

In the 1980s a new generation of black British musicians helped to re-energise the UK jazz scene, amongst them pianist Julian Joseph and saxophonists Steve Williamson and Courtney Pine.

In 1984 Pine formed Abibi Jazz Arts with the intention of interesting young black British musicians in jazz and a year later this led to formation of the Jazz Warriors which fused jazz with other musical styles.

As an active musical collective, the Jazz Warriors continued into the 1990s.

Many new stars emerged from the organisation and its off-shoots, including vocalist Cleveland Watkiss, flautist Phillip Bent, vibraphonist Orphy Robinson, bassist Gary Crosby (who in the following decade would become an important organiser and promoter on the British jazz scene), saxophonists Gail Thompson, Jason Yarde and Tony Kofi, trombonist Dennis Rollins, trumpeters Claude Deppa and Byron Wallen, and guitarist Tony Remy. Many subsequently gained international reputations.

For the first time, black British jazz musicians began to achieve a strong collective identity and presence.

In 1984, pianist, composer and arranger Django Bates became a founder member of Loose Tubes, an ensemble that presented a challenging and original fusion of styles and was the first jazz group to play at the BBC Proms in 1987.

Among its members who would have considerable influence in subsequent years were Julian and Steve Arguelles (saxophonist and drummer, respectively) and saxophonist Iain Ballamy. Other important musicians to emerge during the 1980s included saxophonists Tim Garland and Dave O’Higgins, and pianist Jason Rebello.

The 1980s were a breakthrough decade for British women musicians in jazz.

Networks of female instrumentalists had existed in and around London in the 1970s but an important catalyst for new interest was the emergence of the Guest Stars group in the early 1980s, eventually comprising saxophonist Ruthie Smith, guitarist Deirdre Cartwright, pianist Laka Daisical, bassist Alison Rayner, drummer Josefina Cupido, and conga player Linda da Mango.

The group was phenomenally successful through the decade, making several albums, and touring in the UK, Europe, the US, and the Middle East. Ending the myth that instrumental jazz improvisation was a male preserve, it inspired other women musicians, pioneered new ways of organising a jazz group and its musical presentation, and presented an eclectic vocal-instrumental idiom that offered something unique.

Among the most important organisational developments in the decade was the establishment of Serious Music by the energetic promoter John Cummings. Cummings had started the always forward-looking annual Bracknell Jazz Festival in the mid-1970s and through the 1980s it was an important support and showcase for British contemporary jazz. Serious, built from the experience of the Bracknell festivals and committed to jazz promotion, followed up with numerous major concerts and ambitious festival projects in the following decades.

The Association of British Jazz Musicians (ABJM) was established in 1987 and the National Jazz Archive (NJA) in November 1988. The NJA, located in Loughton, Essex, was founded by trumpeter Digby Fairweather with the aim of collecting the written and printed history of jazz, blues and related music, including periodicals, photographs, letters and personal collections.

Supported by Essex County Council, the Archive was re-launched in larger premises at Loughton Library in August 1993.

Another organisation, Jazzwise, was established in 1984 by guitarist-entrepreneur Charles Alexander to promote all areas of the music including educational publications. And, in the same year, Jim Godbolt published his pioneering two-volume History of Jazz in Britain covering the period 1919–1970.

Image: Photograph of Digby Fairweather with Interview by Mark ‘Snowboy’ Cotgrove. National Jazz Archive collection.

Download the full British Jazz Timeline written by Roger Cotterrell and Digby Fairweather

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