PREVIEW: John Stevens Anniversary Celebrations (South Bank Centre, three events, 22 Nov, EFG LJF)



John Stevens


John Stevens (1940-1994) Anniversary Celebration. 
(Southbank Centre, 3 events on Saturday 22nd November, EFG LJF. Preview by Andy Boeckstaens)

The death of John Stevens on 13th September 1994 was a gut-wrenching moment for jazz fans. An inspiring, controversial, volatile catalyst on the London scene - and arguably its greatest drummer - had gone, and a movement of improvised music which had focused largely on him for 30 years was changed for ever. Three events at Southbank Centre on 22nd November will celebrate Stevens’ music and teaching.

1) Search and Reflect with Maggie Nicols:  At 10.30 am in the Blue Room (Spirit Level), vocalist Maggie Nicols will lead a three-hour introduction to “Search and Reflect”, a series of performance and workshop pieces that Stevens devised during his long involvement with Community Music (where he nurtured nascent talent and taught the young Courtney Pine). This workshop is for those who hope to expand their improvisation technique and challenge their existing practice.

2) Improvisation and Action. Although the likes of Bryan Spring and Troy Miller have inherited some of his virtues, no-one who saw Stevens in action will ever forget the inimitable life-force that combined explosive energy, use of dynamics, innate swing and listening-led sensitivity. Improvisation and Action, taking place in The Front Room at 2 pm (admission free) will feature reflections on Stevens’ legacy via talks and short performances from musicians, critics and friends.

3) John Stevens - A Celebration.  Stevens had led numerous ensembles that exemplified the music of its time, including the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Away, Folkus and Freebop. He was a fixture at annual Ealing Jazz Festivals; a key sideman with John Martyn, and a member of Charlie Watts’ first big band. The most exciting things I heard him do were in trio format alongside Howard Riley and Jeff Clyne. In the 20 years since his death, many of his acclaimed colleagues have expanded on his innovative ideas and gone on to make a significant contribution to international jazz.

John Stevens - A Celebration, in the Purcell Room at 7.30 pm, reconvenes trumpeters Byron Wallen and Jon Corbett, saxophonists Trevor Watts, Courtney Pine and Ed Jones, trombonist Annie Whitehead, pianist Steve Beresford, bassists Nick Stephens and Gary Crosby, drummers Louis Moholo-Moholo and Mark Sanders, and vocalist Anita Wardell.

Stevens’ values of sincere, direct, in-the-moment performance will be honoured by his old friends throughout the day. One hopes that, like him, they will produce glorious sounds that dissipate in an instant, yet remain embedded in the consciousness for ever.

LINK: John Stevens discography

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