Lesson #4 – Take Us Away Hiromi Uehera!

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It is important especially for young girls, to see amazing female musicians performing, writing and producing their own music.
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Lesson #3 – I Got Rhythm

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I Got Rhythm was written by the great American songwriter George Gershwin in 1930 and is being performed here by the Benny Goodman Quartet in 1959.
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How Women Took Over The London Jazz Scene in 2017

2017 saw the beginning of a new generation of young women establish themselves as the new voices and faces of the male dominated UK Jazz scene.

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From left to right: Cassie Kinoshi, Sheila Maurice-Grey, Richie Seivwright (source)

The collective Nérija released their self titled EP in late 2016 and were awarded the Jazz Newcomer Parliamentary Jazz Award 2017 in addition to their Jazz FM Breakthrough Act of the Year 2016 nomination. The eclectic nature of the EP reflects not only the different ethnicities and broad influences that the individuals bring, but showcases writing, arranging and improvisational skills reflective of young musicians who are not just improvisers, but keen students and lovers of the music they play. Though many in the band have studied and performed with some of the best jazz musicians in the country, there seems to be a strong sense of purpose to use those lessons and experiences to push boundaries and create an authentic reflection of the cultures these musicians come from.

‘Making sure that people can view jazz as an accessible, down to earth music that is meant to be relatable is really important to me…’ – Cassie Kinoshi

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Cassie Kinoshi at SEED ensembles EP recording (source)

This thirst for knowledge, exploration and educating their audiences is exemplified in the work of Cassie Kinoshi, the alto saxophonist for Nérija and leader of the 10 piece band SEED Ensemble. Her politically charged music is encased in harmonically complex passages and lively rhythms, with each composition specifically written in response to situations she has either personally encountered or wider issues such as the lack of recognition for the contributions of Caribbean, African and Asian soldiers during both world wars in the UK. She appeared on my podcast earlier this year and spoke about her wide range of influences including Langston Hughes and Jackie McClean, as well as her views on many issues surrounding the state of jazz today. Cassie was joined by other band members including tenor saxophone and flautist Chelsea Carmichael (who could be seen performing at the BBC Proms this year) as well as trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey to recorded SEED’s eagerly anticipated debut EP earlier this year. Don’t be surprised come summer to see them performing at festivals not only across the UK, but hopefully around the world too.

I’ve had the pleasure of performing with Sheila Maurice-Grey for almost two years and I am constantly blown away not only her musicianship, but by her work ethic. Booking, organising, performing, and writing alongside other projects are just some of the activities that these women do almost daily. It’s not just about the ability to perform that separates these musicians from many others, it’s a statement about work ethic that is familiar to many people of colour; you have to be twice as good to get half as much. Sheila performed with rappers Little Simz and Kano this year, as well as with Nérija and leading the band KOKOROKO to cement her place as a musician to keep an eye on in 2018.

KOKOROKO’s front line consists of Cassie Kinoshi and trombonist Richie Seivwright who play music ‘inspired by Fela Kuti, Ebo Taylor, Tony Allen and the great sounds that come out of West Africa’. This cultural influence is not only heard but seen in how many of these musicians present themselves on stage, removing themselves from the traditional aesthetics of suit wearing musicians and cocktail sipping audiences by wearing West African prints, singing, dancing and inviting their audiences to do the same. As Cassie told me, this is not the result of detailed marketing strategies and planning but rather one of comfort and personal taste; headwraps and jazz are no longer mutually exclusive.

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Nubya Garcia’s 5ive album artwork (source)

Saxophonist Nubya Garcia appears in a headwrap on the artwork of her EP entitled 5ive which also features Sheila Maurice-Grey on the track Lost Kingdoms, a tune which has over 200,000 plays on Spotify alone to date. Since the release in May 2017, she has gone on to perform in Brazil, appear on BBC Radio 6 with Gilles Peterson, headline at Ronnie Scotts as well as playing in the band, you guessed it – Nérija. She has appeared in numerous articles detailing her work and career path, all seemingly vying to speak to one of the faces of the new London jazz scene before she becomes an international star. Her EP reflects her eclectic influences, with her laid-back style of improvisation and rhythmical interaction with her band engaging the listener without the use of clichéd licks and phrases. Like the music of her contemporaries, you can hear an underpinning of a solid jazz theory education, but diffused into the many different styles personal to members of Nérija, SEED and KOKOROKO. Nubya received a British Jazz Rising Star nomination in 2017, a category which also included fellow saxophonist Camilla George. Camilla’s debut album Isang earned her glowing reviews in the Evening Standard and The Guardian, paving the way for her to support legendary singer Dee Dee Bridgewater at the EFG Jazz festival in November 2017 amongst numerous other gigs up and down the country. Next year promises to be another fruitful one Camilla who Jane Cornwell referred to as ‘the girl with the golden touch’.

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Camilla George (source)

#jazzmum was a hashtag used by Nubya herself to describe pianist Nikki Yeoh who won Jazz FM Instrumentalist of the year in 2017. Although she is not new to the scene having performed with the likes of Chick Corea and Courtney Pine, I’m excited to hear great things from her in 2018, having seen her live with Denys Baptiste earlier this year. Honourable mentions go to Yazz Ahmed who released her album La Saboteuse this year to critical acclaim, guitarist Shirley Tettah who is one of the driving forces in Nérija and pianist Sarah Tandy who features in the Guardians top 40 newcomers of 2018.

One of the most striking aspects about all of these musicians’ success is the sense of community. Most of these musicians mentioned have played together either with Tomorrows Warriors or Jazz Jamaica, and still supporting each others’ projects, contributing to the London sound which is gaining international attention. It’s encouraging to see these women utilise the resources available to them and producing music which is able to speak to so many people on a multitude of different emotional and intellectual levels.

It’s not hard to see that Jazz in 2017 belonged to these remarkable women. In addition to creating great music, they carry a sense of humility that seems to acknowledge what they are doing, but realise that the possibilities are endless, and that 2018 looks set to see a continuation of the new London jazz sound as led by these talented and hard working women. 

Miriam Makeba

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Miriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 9 Nov 2008)

Miriam Makeba was born in South Africa, but spent the first 6 months of her life in jail after her mother was arrested and sentenced for selling homemade beer. She first started singing in her primary school choir, and was due to sing for the visit of King George VI, but he drove by her and her choir while they stood waiting for him in the rain. At the age of 18, not only gave birth to her daughter, but was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately, she was treated successfully by her mother who was a traditional healer-herbalist.

Her musical career got a big break when she was first featured on a poster, and sang with the South African jazz group called the Manhatten Brothers. In 1956, she recorded and released the song Pata Pata, which made her a household name in South Africa, and over 10 years later, her album Pata Pata peaked at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US in 1967. She recorded over 100 songs with the Manhattans, which allowed her to sing with artists like Dorothy Masuka, Abigail Kubeka and Mary Rabatobi. She toured Africa for 18 months after being recruited as a soloist in the African Jazz and Variety Review and became the female lead role in the South African musical named King Kong.

Her career continued to take off and she appeared in a film entitled Come back Africa. She was invited to the screening at the 1959 Venice film festival, and later flew to New York and played the Village Vanguard jazz club. She met and sang with Harry Belafonte at John F. Kennedy’s birthday party at Madison Square Garden and met the President later that night. her South African passport was cancelled and she testified against apartheid at the United Nations, with Guinea, Belgium and Ghana offering her passports. She won a Grammy in 1966 for her album with Belafone called An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba, and other songs such as The Click Song and Malaika became famous worldwide.
This all came to an abrupt end when she married the Black Panther Stokely Carmichael in 1968 as her record contracts and tours were cancelled. She relocated to Guinea where she became their official delegate to the United nations, and in 1975, addressed the United Nations for the second time.

Everybody now admits that apartheid was wrong, and all I did was tell the people who wanted to know where I come from how we lived in South Africa. I just told the world the truth. And if my truth then becomes political, I can’t do anything about that.

Her career includes performances at the Rumble in the Jungle fight between Ali and Foreman in 1974, and the Graceland Tour. She went on to record with artists such as Dissy Gillespie, Hugh Masekela and Nina Simone, performing at Nelson Mandelas 70th birthday tribute, and even appeared in an episode of The Cosby Show in 1991. She was nominated Goodwill Ambassador of the FAO of the United Nations in 1999, and won the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold by the United National Association of Germany in 2001. When she died in 2008, she the world mourned a woman who had stood up against apartheid, one of the first internationally famous African vocalists ever, and recorded music that still has relevance today.

And why is our music called world music? I think people are being polite. What they want to say is that it’s third world music. Like they use to call us under developed countries, not it has changed to developing countries, it’s much more polite – Miriam Makeba

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Rudolph Dunbar

Rudolph DunbarRudolph Dunbar (26 Nov 1907 – 10 June 1988)

Rudolph Dunbar was born in Guyana, and began playing the clarinet in the British Guiana Militia Band after being inspired by their arrangements of Wagner and Elgar when he was 14 years old. He moved to New York at the age of 19 to study at the Institute of Musical Art (now Julliard), majoring in composition, piano and clarinet. He became involved in the Harlem Jazz scene and featured on recordings by The Plantation Orchestra.
He moved to Paris in 1925, and spent time in Vienna, studying with some of the top musicians in Europe including Felix Weingartner and Louis Calusac. He was once invited to give a private recital to the widow of Claude Debussy of members of the Paris Conservatoire. He then moved to London and set up the first ever clarinet school, which lead him to write the textbook Treatise on the Clarinet (Boehm System) which became the standard reference work for the clarinet.

In London, he made pioneering recordings with the All British Coloured Band and Rudolph Dunbar and his African Polyphony. He also composed a ballet score Dance of the Twenty-First Century, which was broadcast nationally. In the years following, he became the first black man to conduct the London and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras, as well as conducting in Russia and Poland in the late 50’s and early 60’s.

Unfortunately, he has never truly been recognised as a pioneer not only of classical music, not only of British classical music, but of Caribbean music too. With so much focus on the likes of Louis Armstrong and other African-American musicians, the feats of many Caribbean musicians in Europe and indeed has gone under the radar. Let’s help change that.

#hiddentalent

Why Ed Sheeran IS the most important act in Black and Urban music.

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What do Benny Goodman, Paul Whiteman and Elvis Presley have in common? They have all been labelled as Kings of their craft.

The King of Swing, The King of Jazz, The King.

They were all White musicians, coronated standing on the shoulders of Black artists like Fletcher Henderson, Jackie Wilson and Count Basie.

Ed Sheeran joins the list of those White musicians who have risen to the top of music originally made by Blacks. Its nothing more than history repeating itself.

As I read inflammatory articles and status updates talking about BBC 1Xtras decision to name Ed Sheeran at the top of the list, I sat and smiled. People are getting too hyped about the inevitable its unreal. This post isn’t to knock Ed Sheeran as an artist at all. There is no doubt that he is talented and no doubt that he deserves all the recognition for his hard work. This is about the Black reaction to the list.

Q: How can a White man be the most important act in a category for Black people?

A: If the category isn’t representative of Black music.

What is Black music anyway?

Can you really define a genre of music by the colour of some peoples skin? If so, where is the White Music category? Brown Music? Somewhere-inbetween-Beige-and-Caramel-Music?

What is Urban Music?

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adjective \ˈər-bən\ : of or relating to cities and the people who live in them (Merriam-webster)

Why get annoyed?

‘Black music’ has always transcended physical, emotional, spiritual and legislative barriers. If the BBC decide to anoint Ed Sheeran as the King of Urban Music 2014 then so be it. If Blacks continue to identify with categories not defined by themselves, their identity will be lost and will only be resurrected by the next batch of Caribbean, African American or African immigrants whose identities are reflected even by their names. As much as you want to laugh at so called ghetto names like De’Vondra or TiAndre, maybe that expression of identity is not so different to Ornette Coleman and ‘The Shape Of Things To Come’ . It says ‘I refuse to be labelled as what you say I am, I refuse to do the norm. Here’s something different. Something I define and my people understand’.

Maybe the BBC needed to crown Ed in the Black and Urban music category because they didn’t know how else to define the music Blacks are making. Maybe they picked one of the most popular singer songwriter around today and unwisely compared him to a pioneers like Wiley and Dizzee. It shouldn’t have happened. But the fact that it did, shows that ‘Black and Urban Music’ is no longer for and no longer made by the very people it originated from. Lets all move on and keep calm.