the shuffle generation are making jazz cool – again

Think of jazz and you might think Miles Davis, or Charlie Parker, or even The Simpsons's Bleeding Gums Murphy. You probably don’t think of a cool London underground scene that is slowly weaving itself back into the cultural tapestry.

by Matthew Whitehouse
03 July 2017, 9:40am

Dieser Artikel erschien zuerst auf i-D UK.

In the basement bars of London, a jazz revival is taking place. From the avant garde vibrations coming out of Dalston's Total Refreshment Centre, to the left-field gatherings at St James the Great Church in Clapton, a new generation of artists are coming together to reclaim the genre from its storied old guard, taking influence from afrobeat, jungle, house and grime to create a sound that reaches far beyond its traditional parameters. No longer confined to the concert hall, jazz is suddenly everywhere. On NTS, on Boiler Room, on stage at Glastonbury where Kano invited tuba player Theon Cross join him last weekend. It's raw, it's DIY, it is, rather improbably, the sound of the clubs. So why is everyone listening to jazz?

For Adam Moses of Jazz re:freshed, the attention has been a long time coming: "It's a bit of a strange one from our perspective in the sense that we've been doing this for a long time."

A prominent figure in the UK jazz scene for the last 14 years, Jazz re:freshed has grown from a group of friends with a background in sound system culture to a record label, annual festival and now legendary club night at Mau Mau Bar on Portobello Road. "We've been doing a weekly residency for 14 years now so we've seen certain artists peak and trough," says Adam. "But we've definitely got a younger audience now than we ever have."

Adam puts the explosion in interest partly down to the world of online streaming, a culture that places tracks by certain artists into the playlists of listeners who may never have previously considered themselves to be jazz fans. "Back in the day, if you were into jazz you were into jazz. You listened to it, you collected it, that was your only thing," he describes. "Now, with what I call the shuffle generation, you'll have a hip hop tune or a pop tune or a jazz tune and it'll just shuffle right through. We've always said the aim is to make jazz part of the tapestry of people's listening and, now more than ever, it's acceptable to have a jazz track in that mix. It's credible and cool. Not jazz cool but actually cool."

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The streaming figures certainly back up the theory. In June of 2017, jazz received 56% more plays on Spotify in the UK compared with the same time period last year. Artists such as Binker & Moses, Shabaka Hutchings and Yussef Kamaal have seen gains partly through their inclusion on catch-all playlists such Sweet Soul Sunday and Chillmatic, as well as more genre-specific lists such as the influential State of Jazz. The style, it seems, is entering more people's worlds, whether they know it or not.

"That search for the new, something different, people are looking for that in all music scenes," says Crispin Parry of British Underground, an initiative that arranges funding and support for UK musicians at international showcases. "With jazz, it not only feels like the most interesting thing to listen to, but if you like heavier music, you can find heavier stuff. If you like more melodic stuff, you can find more melodic stuff. People who might be more into club music normally, have found this as a live alternative. They might not even know it's jazz, but they're picking it up."

Eighteen months ago, Crispin was integral in arranging SBTV's first-ever appearance at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas; grime artists Stormzy, Section Boyz and BBK's Frisco making their US debuts at an arena better known for rock and film. "I was sitting there thinking, well, what are we going to do next?" he says. "I'd already had conversations about jazz, but never really found my way in. Then I met this guy called Moses Boyd. He was talking about it as if there was this huge scene that I don't know about."

In March, Crispin teamed up with Jazz re:freshed for a showcase that saw Moses, along with saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings and percussionist Sarathy Korwar perform a packed out show just a matter of blocks away from Drake's main stage set. "It was extraordinary," says Crispin. "No one would have expected that of jazz. You had some very big names at SXSW that weren't able to draw anything like that, but the jazz show was packed out.

"It's almost as though the sound has been reclaimed from the old guard," he continues. "It looks different, it feels different and the deeper you go into it, the more you find. It's an independent movement. They're not worrying about whether they can get money from the Arts Council or if they can put a gig on at the Barbican. It has a lot of that grime DIY spirit of 'let's just do this thing and put it together and people will turn up and have a great time'."

At the forefront of that philosophy is Binker & Moses. A duo comprised of Catford born Moses Boyd on drums and Tottenham native Binker Golding on saxophone, they draw on record collections as diverse Fela Kuti and Jimi Hendrix, P-Funk and Guns & Roses to create a noise that, like Brit Funk or Lovers Rock before it, could only have come from the multi-sound, multi-cultural melting pot of London. "When I was getting into jazz it was kind of like, oh, I'm into house, I'm into electro and then there was jazz," says Moses. "Now, it's just another part of everybody's taste. It's kind of rejoined the conversation. It was an outsider, and I don't even mean just musically; in terms on the scene, where it was played, clubs, festivals. It was almost operating on its own. Now I'm seeing it more often."

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Both Moses and Binker credit musicians taking the style out to different settings with its sudden ability to reach a younger, more mainstream audience. "The thing that they teach you at jazz college is that it's all about Ronnie Scott's," describes Binker. "Which is a very good venue and does a really great job, but when you take the blinkers off, and you start looking outside of that, you realise that there's a whole music world out there. I think a lot of younger people have looked at it in a slightly different way and said, well, where else can we play? Why can it not be a friday night thing? If it's lively enough, you can put it under people's noses and they usually respond, even if it's not a genre they typically listen to."

That kind of breakdown in genre seems to be the crux here. For Binker & Moses, to ringfence what they do as "jazz" is to miss the point. In a world where online streaming has blurred those traditional genre allegiances, and more and more musicians are willing to take the sound outside of its typical framework, perhaps the answer to the question 'why is everyone listening to jazz?' is simple: They're not. They're just listening to really, really good music.

"I'll play to anyone who's willing to listen and take it in," agrees Binker. "I don't care about anyone's prior musical history or knowledge. It doesn't matter if they've been listening to house for years and never heard a Coltrane record in their life. I'm just glad they're listening to us now."

Journey to the Mountain of Forever by Binker & Moses is out now.


Text Matthew Whitehouse
Photography Elliott Morgan

music interviews
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binker & moses
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british underground
crispin parry
jazz london
jazz re:freshed
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journey to the mountain of forever
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