The streets of London (and, growingly, the rest of the UK) are currently engraved with the sound of hi-hatted triplets, and with the current wave of Brit-born jazz musicians taking flight, a shift in the underground sound of the capital is truly imminent.
Having been muffled by its inaccessibility or lack of mainstream prominence, UK jazz is experiencing the growth it so deserves. At the forefront of this renaissance are not only young artists—such as Nubya Garcia, Moses Boyd, and the band Ezra Collective—but also an increasingly large, young audience. Established club nights are now playing host to diminished chords, seventh notes, and unorthodox time signatures, allowing the space that seems to be exponentially expanding for the music and its performers.
Too often, young black artists attempting to experiment with their own music are dubbed as ‘afro-futurists’—and almost in response to this, UK jazz musicians have explicitly showcased their diversity and freedom, defying any critics’ pigeon-holing attempts. While jazz has always been recognised for its experimentalism and diverse sound, nothing before quite matches the variety of influences that it has been able to absorb. British jazz has been biding its time, and now with this invigorated spirit, it’s reflecting the sounds of now; within today’s scene, you can hear the intertwining of grime rhythms and Moses Boyd’s vibrant drumming patterns—or Shabaka Hutchins’ bashment-inspired bass lines.
More enriched by the ‘melting pot’ of diversity, jazz music is thriving in the UK, and especially in London. Before the emergence of bebop, Harlem in the 1920s was alive with dancing crowds led by fresh-faced, black jazz musicians, and this image has once again returned to our shores. In breaking down typically elitist attitudes, the sound has now become accessible to all. Previously a sound and social scene reserved for the more mature (middle-class) listener, artists from various backgrounds—both personal and musical—are drawing in new audiences, which can only be a good thing. Finally, we’re seeing talented musicians break free from the stifling assumptions that have surrounded jazz for many years.
The UK is alive with a new, young jazz movement which is only growing louder.
Instead of unsuccessfully attempting to get into the overpriced jazz clubs, with an audience only comprised of a limited demographic, now you can’t walk the streets of London without hearing the work of Kamaal Williams or Zara Mcfarlane. Jam sessions such as Church of Sound, Total Refreshment Centre and Steez are full of young participants, and online music platforms such as Boiler Room have helped to push the jazz message out. Take London-based saxophonist Nubya Garcia, someone who truly embodies the breaking down of boundaries: not only is she contributing to the current wave of stars, but also as a female player of the brass instrument, she defies any gender limitations assumed to surround the saxophone. Her raw improvisation and Caribbean influence-rich composition on her 2017 project, Nubya’s 5ive, is just one of the many projects that have spearheaded the jazz-driven entry into London culture.
In the age of collaboration, jazz is no exception. Be it the syncopated rhythms of Femi Koleoso’s drum kits, or Theon Cross’ tuba taking responsibility of the 808s at Kano’s live shows, UK jazz and its musicians are spreading like wildfire. While jazz and hip-hop have coexisted and cooperated since the first emergence of bars, these young musicians are taking it one step further. Tom Misch’s funk-infused jazz collided with Novelist’s liquid-like flow and formed an unexpected, yet incredible tune in “Feeling”. Novelist is already recognised for his versatile sound, however when asked about his thoughts on jazz, he urged other artists to branch out and experiment like he did on Misch’s project. Kamaal Williams’ link-up with grime’s Mez on “One Take Freestyle” also demonstrated how grime cadences work surprisingly well with electro-inspired ‘whipped cream’ jazz keys.
Not only are we seeing new sounds being formed, but as a result, the growth of jazz into previously undiscovered realms: Ezra Collective toured with Jorja Smith; Loyle Carner frequently collabs with jazz singer Jordan Rakei; and Moses Boyd and Binker Golding’s collab album, Dem Ones, perfectly encapsulates the genre’s essence. The UK is alive with a new, young jazz movement which is only growing louder. There is no specific direction, no ultimate aim, and most importantly, no restrictions—this free-flowing movement is the space for creativity that these on-the-rise musicians need. Pushing boundaries that have previously been set on the genre while broadening its reach, London is becoming jazz’s residency, and it’s here to stay.