Tony Haynes of the Grand Union Orchestra writes about the orchestra’s upcoming gig at the Hackney Empire on 11th November 2012, 7:30pm
There are two basic ways to look at jazz. First, there is the literal, historical view – seeing the music as a chronological development from New Orleans roots, through its big band days to bebop and beyond. On the other hand, it can be seen as a revolutionary attitude to music-making – the emphasis on improvisation and the personality of the individual musician, and its capacity to absorb and treat creatively virtually any musical idea or tradition.
Liberation and Remembrance, Grand Union’s contribution to this great Festival, attempts to link both. It pays tribute to iconic figures in jazz history through whom the music developed, from the descendants of African slaves through Buddy Bolden and Jelly Roll Morton to Charlie Parker – that’s part of the ‘remembrance’ bit! – while celebrating the musical freedom jazz has opened up for us; and helping tell this story are some very fine present-day jazz soloists – Chris Biscoe, Tony Kofi, Louise Elliott, Paul Jayasinha, Byron Wallen, Kevin Robinson…
But that’s only part of the story, of course, as anyone familiar with Grand Union Orchestra shows will realise. Given the date, Armistice Day, it’s an appropriate occasion to acknowledge also the reality of war and the experience of those caught up in conflict or fleeing religious or political persecution. Among them are migrants and refugees now living in East London, and their culture, their music and their musicians are also woven into the show.
Jazz cannot but be identified with oppression and resistance, but like the music that emerged from New Orleans a century ago, the legacy of centuries of slavery, the music forged in this modern-day cultural melting pot is equally glorious and uplifting, full of energy and life.
So jazz is both the music of the liberated and the most liberated of musics; but what ultimately defines it, and distinguishes it from other musics, is that it’s also a music that must constantly re-invent itself – there can be no going back, it’s the most progressive of art-forms.
We shall certainly be true to that spirit on the Hackney Empire stage on November 11th!
Tony Haynes, Grand Union Orchestra