2016 has certainly been a year to remember – good for right-wing demagogues, but bad for europhiles, pollsters and political pundits, though their discomfiture pales to insignificance compared to the travails endured by the unhappy citizens of Syria and Yemen. The Grim Reaper seems to have been unusually active amongst the denizens of the world’s artistic communities, and the jazz-playing cohort has not been immune to his unwelcome attentions. We’ll be entering the uncharted waters of 2017 without the leading lights of such veterans of the tradition as Rudy Van Gelder, Mose Allison, bassist Bob Cranshaw and Toots Thielemans to guide us, while the progressive edge has lost the inimitable voices of Bobby Hutcherson, Paul Bley and Alphonse Mouzon, and the wider international community is diminished by the loss of Nana Vasconcelos and Gato Barbieri. Jazz was also well served by the contributions of Billy Paul, Earth Wind and Fire’s Maurice White, and of course the inimitable and multi-monikered artist best known as Prince.
Closer to home, the sad loss of Bobby Wellins is to be lamented, even as his imperishable legacy of world-class music making is to be celebrated. Another local legend of the same generation, Pete Burden, equally respected by all who heard his bop-inflected alto playing, also sadly left us shortly after Christmas. It makes the survival of such genre-shaping innovators as Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter – the latter returning to London in November to perform at the EFG Jazz Festival – all the more to be treasured. Shorter of course has a famous association with another veteran, Herbie Hancock, and the latter’s confirmation as a headliner for the 2017 Love Supreme Festival, along with the king of smooth grooves, nifty fretwork and pencil moustaches George Benson, is a real coup for the festival as it celebrates its fifth year. What aspect of his prodigiously long and varied career will Herbie be presenting? There was plenty of debate over the viability of a greenfield jazz festival when Love Supreme started back in 2013, so it’s a real pleasure to see it thriving. The Bandstand Stage will be returning as well with its customary mix of the best of local and up-and-coming artists – we look forward to news of more acts as it arrives, and send out a request for clear skies, warm winds and, much as we love the open, cross-over vibe of the booking policy, perhaps a little more ‘straight’ jazz on the bill this year. The challenge is to get jazz players and fans engaging with different aspects of the current music scene, re-contextualising jazz as a part of the mainstream without diluting the essence of the music so much that it loses its identity, and despite the naysayers Love Supreme continues to lead the field in having a good old go at doing exactly this.
Returning indoors for a look around, the Verdict continues to bring us a weekly dose of the very best of UK jazz, with ever more international artists beating a path to its door as its reputation continues to spread. Something else to celebrate is the extension of the Arts Council’s support for the New Generation Jazz programme, bringing the best of the UK’s new jazz artists to the Verdict once a month for a gig and a workshop – that’s now set to run all the way through 2017 and beyond, so prepare to be dazzled by the impetuous brilliance of youth on a regular basis. Heartening as well to see how the Verdict has now enfolded both the noble traditionalism of Small’s Jazz Club and the fearless experimentalism of Safe House Collective beneath its ever more splendidly accommodating wings – the key to survival is surely to reject factionalism and embrace as many aspects of the ever-diversifying legacy as possible.
2017 is already set for something of a theme of triumphant returns – let’s hear it for the South Coast Jazz Festival, back for the third year running and now spreading its welcome attentions away from its home-base in Shoreham’s Ropetackle Centre to bring a whole host of exciting events to Brighton including a great spread of local talent. It’s a real achievement for Julian Nicholas, Claire Martin and the team, and another welcome sign of the willingness of the Arts Council to support jazz after the demise of Jazz Services.
Meanwhile for your quotidian needs there’s a host of grassroots gigs on offer as well on most nights of the week, from bar gigs to jam sessions – check the back pages of this publication for more details. Let’s not be tempted to rest on our laurels though – 2017 promises to deliver a hefty dose of political and economic uncertainty, and the arts will need continued support. There’s more diversity and vitality in the South Coast jazz scene than there has been for a long time – let’s not forget to mention the burgeoning scenes in Hastings, Margate and Rye as well, as some of our finest players seek refuge there from the increasingly unaffordable cost of London living – but if we don’t use it, we’re going to lose it, so keep coming to the gigs!
South Coast Jazz Festival
16th – 29th January 2017
Love Supreme Festival
30th June – 2nd July 2017
Rye Jazz Festival
Margate Jazz Festival
New Generation Jazz
The Verdict, Brighton