After a hundred years of British history, jazz in every style continues to enjoy success despite limited media recognition.
New musicians continue to arrive on the British jazz scene and jazz courses in the music academies provide many more routes than in the past for young players to acquire the technical skills, versatility, and broad arranging, composing and improvising experience they will need if they are to sustain enduring careers in music.
In 2014 the BBC introduced its ‘Young Jazz Musician of the Year’ competition, providing further encouragement for newcomers.
Women musicians have gained an increasingly important place in the British scene. Among numerous artists attracting new recognition are trumpeter Laura Jurd and saxophonists Allison Neale, Tori Freestone, Camilla George, Josephine Davies, Rachel Musson, Nubya Garcia, Helena Kay, Trish Clowes and Amy Roberts. Other well established figures include pianists Zoë Rahman and Kate Williams, and saxophonist Karen Sharp.
Funk, hip hop and rap continue to influence Britain’s jazz scene encouraging regular crossover between these genres. And black British jazz traditions have been strengthened by the re-assessment of Joe Harriott.
Contributing to this have been the publication of Alan Robertson’s biography (2003, second edition 2011) of the once almost forgotten saxophonist, the reissue of many of his recordings and the autobiography (2002) of his collaborator, Coleridge Goode. Harriott is now viewed as a key pioneer and symbol of Black British jazz achievement and identity.
The list of British musicians who are adding their distinctive voices to jazz in the early decades of the 21st century is far too long and diverse even to begin to represent here.
As British journalist Brian Case once wrote, using the old ‘hip’ jargon of past decades, ‘We don’t deserve it, but the cats, they keep coming.’
Given the timeless validity of musical improvisation it would indeed be surprising if things were any other way.
Image: Soweto Kinch. Photograph by Brian O’Connor, 2005