5 UK jazz musicians you don't want to miss

Hugh Morris 14 April 2021

The UK Jazz scene is experiencing a renaissance, and these 5 musicians are leading the way

Jazz in the UK has always been stylistically varied and culturally diverse. From free through funk to groove-fuelled beats, it’s a cultural celebration grounded in the creativity of Black culture. But it’s only recently that the big players from the UK crowd have found mainstream acclaim—figures like Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia and Moses Boyd and bands like Ezra Collective have inched their way towards household name status.

2020 marked a breakthrough for a movement that sometimes struggles for media attention. The BBC resurrected its Jazz 625 programme for November’s London Jazz Festival, there was a Mercury nomination for Moses Boyd Exodus and the world-renowned jazz label Blue Note Records dedicated a compilation to a celebration of sounds from the UK. A movement for so long described as “emerging” seemed to finally take off.

Then the pandemic hit. Jazz is an art form that’s vitally live: it relies on the spontaneous invention of live performance, where players can bounce off each other and feed off the energy of the audience. Especially towards the freer end of the spectrum, that atmosphere is almost impossible to replicate over Zoom, or even at an appropriately social distance.

"Jazz is an art form that's vitally live"

Undeterred by the lack of gigs, these five creators have forged ahead during lockdown, and represent some of the UK’s most exciting developments on the scene.

Camilla George

MOBO-nominated, Nigerian-born saxophonist Camilla George is one of a number of notable graduates from Tomorrow’s Warriors, a weekend school for young jazz performers run by Janine Irons and Gary Crosby out of the Southbank Centre.

George recently appeared alongside tubist Theon Cross as part of Jazz Re:freshed’s SXSW showcase from Abbey Road Studios, and is fresh from recording her third album, following her two critically acclaimed releases Isang and The People Could Fly. Listen out for her heady blend of jazz and hip-hop, bound together by Afrofuturist tendencies.

Emma-Jean Thackray

Thackray is what some might call a multi-hyphenate. After growing up in Yorkshire around brass bands, Thackray got the jazz bug via Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain. Now, her work spans beatmaking and production, composing and DJ-ing, trumpet-playing and running her own label Movementt. Like many of her colleagues on the UK scene, Thackray looks inside and outside of the American jazz tradition for inspiration. Her 2020 collection UM YANG typifies that, spanning sounds inspired by LA’s experimental hip-hop scene, Chicago House, beats by revered beatmakers J Dilla and ideals derived from Taoism. 

Jas Kayser

Kayser studied with some of the greats of jazz drumming at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, including Terri Lyne Carrington, Danilo Perez and the late Ralph Peterson. Now back in the UK and balancing her time between London and Panama City, Kayser is one of the most exciting young drumming prospects in the UK, appearing with Jorja Smith, Poppy Ajudha, Nubya Garcia and Ashley Henry.

"Kayser is one of the most exciting young drummers in the UK"

Along with Camilla George, Kayser is closely associated with Women in Jazz, an organisation dedicated to providing opportunities to young women in the discipline, and aiming to solve some of the problems with the genre’s under-representation. Through the scheme, she’s appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and has featured in The i paper and Jazzwise Magazine. Check out her new track “Feel It”, dedicated to Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti.

Emma Rawicz

Having a strong online presence is becoming essential for young performers, and the jazz world is slowly waking up to that fact. One performer ahead of the curve is Emma Rawicz. Her regular Instagram updates see her share impressive “shedding” (a jazz term for practising hard) videos to her some 35,000 followers, along with singing and composition clips.

Rawicz is a member of NYJO Jazz Exchange, a new ensemble created by the National Youth Jazz Orchestra that provides young professionals with a space to experiment outside of the traditional big band format. A semi-finalist in BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year in 2020, listen out for developments from Jazz Exchange and her own debut album billed for later in the year.

Rosie Turton

Trombonist Rosie Turton is another one of the Tomorrow’s Warriors cohort, out of which came Nerija, the seven-piece featuring the likes of Shirley Tetteh, Cassie Kinoshi and Sheila Maurice-Grey. Turton became interested in Indian Classical Music in 2015, taking a journey to North India to join the dots between jazz and Indian ragas—the musical outcome draws on a rich creative heritage that includes Alice Coltrane, John McLaughlin and Yusef Lateef.

The result is Rosie’s 5ive, released in 2018. Described by The Guardian as one to watch, look out for Turton’s creative force once things begin to open up—check out her London Jazz Festival feature filmed at Stoke Newington’s Total Refreshment Centre for a shape of what’s to come.

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