What's behind the new UK jazz scene revival?

BY Sammy Stein

11th Oct 2022 Music

What's behind the new UK jazz scene revival?
The UK jazz scene is flourishing, thanks to young people getting excited about the genre again. We look inside the jazz revival and its newly diverse audience
The UK jazz scene has produced many influential musicians. Ronnie Scott, Humphrey Lyttleton, Tubby Hayes, Cleo Laine, Chris Barber, and Clare Teal are just a few. The current energy of UK jazz hubs is proving more influential than ever.
"The openness of the UK scene is fundamental and as natural for UK musicians as real ale"
We are in the midst of a powerful jazz revival fuelled by the talent and effervescence of youth, and the UK is providing audiences with innovative, outstanding young performers. These ripples from the UK are reaching Europe and the wider world.
Swedish saxophone player Mats Gustaffson comments, "The UK jazz scene has always attracted me with its variety of languages, dialects, and the impact of different cultures. The openness of the UK scene is fundamental and as important and natural for UK musicians as real ale."

The explosion of new young jazz players

The upsurge in the popularity of jazz in the UK owes much to our prodigious young talent, but also to improved jazz study programmes, the expansion of jazz summer courses, and initiatives to encourage young musicians.
When free jazz veterans the People Band played at London's Café Oto, the audience was enthusiastic—and youthful. In an interview for the BBC, one young man stated that he and his friends felt jazz played in the UK was authentic alternative music—vibrant, colourful, and a change from bland popular music.
"The UK jazz scene offers new music wearing the clothes of old music delivered by skilled old heads on young shoulders"
The UK jazz scene embraces genres familiar to young people. Orphy Robinson, vice-chair of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) and the Jazz Promotion Network says, "It has been said that the current UK jazz scene offers new music wearing the clothes of old music delivered by skilled old heads on young shoulders! 
"Today's UK jazz musicians have grown up acknowledging and utilising their audience's listening tastes, which strongly influence and are placed at the forefront of audio soundscapes enhanced by contemporary genres such as broken beat, afrobeat, drum & bass, trap and grime.
"Any music scene stands on its own when populated by composers providing consistent good music, and this scene has some wonderful composers that can provide the right canvas for the art form to flourish."

How the new jazz wave is fostering diversity

The intense energy of the UK jazz scene shows no sign of slowing. More young women are performing jazz, thanks to organisations like Women In Jazz UK and the F-list—a list of female musicians, their genre, instrument, and availability.
Reciprocal exchange visits abroad result in musicians bringing broader cultural influences to the UK. Venues like The Vortex, Café Oto, Jazz Café, 606 Club, Snape Maltings, and Ronnie Scott's provide platforms for younger musicians to perform.
Worldwide, young jazz musicians are making an impact. Chilean/US saxophone player Melissa Aldana, US bass player Esperanza Spalding and Cuban singer/composer Arema Arega are just a few currently raising the pizazz of jazz.
Yet nowhere is the strength of support of young jazz musicians as great as in the UK.
Tomorrow's Warriors, National Youth Jazz Collective, NYJO, and other organisations foster young talent. At a recent performance by NYJO under the direction of composer/conductor Sam Eastmond's in London, the audience was blown away by the high standard of the young players.
Many jazz festivals have realised that there is a burgeoning young jazz audience in the metropolitan areas, so rural festivals like Teignmouth in Devon invite bands from London to perform.
They seek out bands that include different ethnicities, young people, and women musicians they can showcase. This approach has benefitted festivals and players alike. There are more women and a broader cultural range in audiences, as well as more young people.

The growing success of youth jazz education

Credit: Aliyah Otchere. Ezra Collective have previously spoken about feeling pushed out by a white-dominated jazz scene, which they are now helping to diversify
Higher education initiatives begun years ago are now bearing fruit as graduate jazz musicians tutor in schools and colleges, so young people are exposed to the possibilities of jazz and jazz instruments.
Gary Crosby, co-founder and artistic director of Tomorrow's Warriors, comments, "The UK jazz scene has never been better. It's been simmering steadily for the past five years or so as artists like Moses Boyd, Shabaka Hutchings, Ezra Collective, and Nubya Garcia develop their artistry and catch the attention of media and audiences as they play around the world.
"Our 'Each One Teach One' ethos ensures that as you move through the programme, you come back and be a contribution to the next generation."
"The UK jazz scene has never been better"
More than anything, it is society that has instigated change. Young people want to see their peers performing music, and in UK jazz they find them playing music of outstanding quality.   
The UK jazz scene remains the envy of the world, brimming with talent, driven forward by the energy of youth. Young performers are emerging as some of the most creative artists you can find, and the rest of the world is watching.
One final thing—many young people in the UK no longer call it a jazz “scene”—they call it their jazz family. How cool is that?

50 Inspirational young UK jazz artists and composers to listen to

  • Ali Affleck—vocals                                                 
  • Yazz Ahmed—trumpet
  • Poppy Ajudha—vocals                                             
  • Moses Boyd—drums
  • Cherise Adams-Burnett—vocals                             
  • Alina Bzhezhinska—harp
  • Romarna Campbell—drums                                   
  • Keira Chakraborty—flute
  • Trish Clowes—saxophone                                      
  • Xhosa Cole—saxophone
  • Reuben Cookhorn—double bass                              
  • Dan Coulthurst—trumpet
  • Kit Downes—piano                                                  
  • Peter Edwards—saxophone   
  • Emma Fisk—violin                                                 
  • Elliot Galvin—keyboard/piano
  • Nubya Garcia—saxophone                                     
  • George Garford—saxophone
  • Daisy George—bass                                                 
  • Zoe Gilby—vocals
  • Binker Golding—saxophone                                   
  • Deschanel Gordon—piano
  • Sahra Gure—vocals                                                
  • Ashley Henry—piano
  • Alex Hitchcock—saxophone                                   
  • Finn Hori-Öhrström—trumpet
  • Shabaka Hutchins—saxophone                              
  • Rory Ingham—trombone
  • Laura Jurd—trumpet                                                
  • Jaz Kaiser—drums
  • Charlotte Keeffe—trumpet                                       
  • Dan Kemshell—guitar
  • Cassie Kinoshi—saxophone                                   
  • Mark Kavuma—trumpet
  • Sam Leak—piano                                                 
  • Joel Knee—trombone
  • Rob Luft—guitar                                                 
  • Sheila Maurice-Grey—trumpet
  • Fergus McCreadie—piano                                     
  • Olivia Murphy—woodwind
  • Kyle Osborne—piano                                          
  • Asha Parkinson—saxophone
  • Fergus Quill—bass                                               
  • Emma Rawicz—Szcerbo saxophone
  • Alex Ridout—trumpet                                          
  • Sultan Stevenson—piano
  • Noah Stoneman—piano/organ                             
  • Guido Spanniochi—saxophone
  • Shirley Tetteh—guitar                                          
  • Nahuel Angius-Thomas—bassoon
There are many more, but these are a good start.

Other UK jazz organisations to look up

Banner photo credit: Schorle, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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