Our Friday columnist, trumpeter/ bandleader/ composer/ promoter Jack Davies writes about the vibrant young big band scene in the UK.
The young jazz scene in the UK is strong, and growing. And, although there appear to be no viable statistics anywhere, the number of big bands - and young big bands in particular - is increasing too.
Given that the conservatoires are turning out large numbers of incredible and (despite what some critics may assert) individual players, and with a myriad of British role models, such as Kenny Wheeler, the London Jazz Orchestra, Django Bates and Colin Towns..... perhaps this contemporary big band boom should not be a surprise.
Speaking personally, I am grateful that my big band has given me the chance to work with large numbers of players I really admire. If I use the saxophone section as an example, the band has allowed me to write for and work with players such as Martin Speake, Mike Chillingworth, Josh Arcoleo, Joe Wright and Rob Cope. Each of these guys has such a strong musical personality, it makes writing for them a pleasure. I’m able to leave gaps for them to fill with their musical wizardry – an example of which is a new piece which will feature Joe Wright and his saxophone / electronics setup, something he has also honed in a duo with drummer James Maddren.
When there is such an incredible depth of enthusiasm to draw on, and very little expectation of money, who could resist?
Some audience members are still surprised by the contemporary big band sound (one gentleman once said to me post-gig “I thought big bands were supposed to sound like Glen Miller?”), but the same aesthetic that permeates modern small-group jazz can be found in the music of John Hollenbeck, Mike Gibbs, Hans Koller, the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra amongst others.
The Manchester-based band Beats N Pieces, who released a new EP yesterday, have received glowing press reviews recently, including this from John L Walters:
“Movers and shakers such as [Colin] Towns, Matthew Herbert, Darcy James Argue and [Ben] Cottrell demonstrate that large ensembles remain a vital force in contemporary jazz.”
But there are many other young, adventurous bands out there. To name a but a few of the band leaders: Matt Roberts, Calum Gourlay, Freddie Gavita, Jay Phelps, Callum Au, Tom Hewson, Pete Ibbetson, Reuben Fowler, Ben Cottrell.......
My own band (along with 3 other big bands - Stan Sulzmann’s, Ed Puddick’s and Gareth Lockrane’s) is in the Spice of Life’s London Jazz Festival programme. The London Jazz Festival also features the Matt Roberts Big Band, and a set from Hermeto Pascoal with a British big band including Julian Siegel, Chris Batchelor and Henry Lowther.
Jack Davies Big Band at the London Jazz Festival