|Photo Credit: Chris Lince
London’s Cockpit Theatre has a long and distinguished association with jazz, writes Martin Chilton. The BBC recorded there in the 1970s and it is where 16-year-old Amy Whitehouse attended rehearsals with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra back in 2000. Now, as the setting for the monthly ‘Jazz in the Round’ concert evenings, it is a hub of modern creativity, featuring some of the best contemporary music.
‘Jazz in the Round’ started in 2012 and has become a beacon on the British jazz scene. In the past two years the Cockpit’s jazz reach has extended beyond London including taking the ‘Jazz in the Round’ set-up to Love Supreme’s festival in Sussex, along with Jazz FM hosts Chris Philips and Jez Nelson. In September this year, they will be taking over the Emergence Festival in Hastings for three days of great jazz, the tag line being: “we do like to groove beside the seaside”!
The line-up for the festival includes saxophonists Jean Toussaint and Denys Baptiste, harpist Alina Bzhezhinska and pianist Elliot Galvin.
Dave Wybrow, the director of The Cockpit, Theatre of Ideas and Disruptive Panache, whose diverse body of work includes productions about everything from Tony Blair to Samuel Beckett, has been a jazz fan all his life and is excited by the emergence of new jazz in London.
Wybrow says: “There is a vibrant scene in London, with lots of musicians being trained well in colleges. London seems awash with drummers with off-the-planet skills. There is now a cohort of talented young players and an audience of young fans. With ‘Jazz in the Round’ we wanted specifically to cross genres and showcase young players. We were keen to provide a platform for jazz, a market that is very difficult, with jazz that is full of atmosphere and energy.”
The fact that the Cockpit Theatre is in the round – a set up meaning there is audience on all sides – is an important factor, Wybrow believes. “The physical layout of the venue reflects the totality of jazz. There is a connectivity between the musicians who are on stage and it works against the idea of a lead musician. A lot of the appeal about the festival in Hastings is that the whole line-ups are good, not just the headliners.”
The venue in Hastings is something special. St Mary in the Castle is an early 19th-century neoclassical fronted church, with original stained-glass windows, that is now a Grade II-listed building. Wybrow says that one of the reasons for taking the festival out of London was to “take the brand out and connect directly with new listeners because there are no geographical limits to the sort of jazz we are providing. This is a good separate platform to the Cockpit”.
They have Arts Council funding and are using the money to record, promote and get air time for the acts they have. Many of the bands they have hosted have appeared on YouTube slots.
FRIDAY: The festival starts on Friday 28 September with a concert by the Denys Baptiste Quartet. Baptiste, a Mobo award-winning tenor saxophonist, has recorded with some of the leading figures in jazz, including McCoy Tyner and Andrew Hill. He will be playing tunes from his highly-acclaimed album The Late Trane, which is a tribute to the music of John Coltrane. He will be joined by pianist Nikki Yeoh, whose innovations carry echoes of Alice Coltrane.
There will also be a solo set from the gifted pianist Elliot Galvin, whose sets are renowned for their innovation and playfulness and humour.
SATURDAY: On the Saturday evening, Grammy-winning saxophonist Jean Toussaint is set to delight the Hastings crowd with his punchy, sharply focused tenor saxophone solos. Toussaint, who was born in 1960, studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston and played with jazz greats such as Max Roach and Horace Silver. He rose to prominence when he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1982. Since moving to London in 1987, Toussaint has led a band and released some excellent post-bop albums. Toussaint will bring the Messengers’ spirit to the seaside. As he put it: “Art used to say that it doesn’t matter how complex you want to play as long as you swing and play from the heart.”
Also in action that night will be Arthur O’Hara (on electric bass) and his trio, featuring Chelsea Carmichael on saxophone and Ed Harleyon drums. Their exciting mixture of jazz, funk and rock have made them ‘Jazz in the Round’ favourites.
SUNDAY: On the closing Sunday night (30th), the headline acts are the Alina Bzhezhinska Quartet and Beat Replacement, a modern jazz fusion group led by talented young drummer Jamie Murray.
Bzhezhinska, a London-based Ukrainian-Polish harpist, has taught at the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow. Her critically acclaimed Quartet led the 80th Birthday celebrations for Alice Coltrane around the UK last year. Her new album Inspiration deals with her “fascination” with the Coltranes and she has paid tribute to the musicians who will make up her quartet – Tony Kofi on saxophone, Larry Bartley on double bass and drummer Joel Prime – saying: “I’m lucky to have them… the chemistry in the band is incredible. They’re not just knowledgeable and talented, they’re also really supportive.”
* * * * *
Wybrow is positive about the state of jazz at the moment and believes the reason the ‘Jazz in the Round’ series has been a success is that people connect with the emotional content of the music. “Genres have broken down now,” he adds. “The music scene is more fragmented and people are ready for something out of the box, music that is about something. We’re seeing so many musicians at ‘Jazz in the Round’ who are accomplished and playing energetic music that addresses the now world. We should all try to free our ears.” (pp)
Tickets are £12 per day or £25 for an advance weekend ticket that gives you access to all three days.
LINK/BOOKINGS : Emergence Festival