Last December saw the culmination of the Heritage Lottery funded Jazz Music Education Project Jazz Alive, with performances in London and Birmingham. Since September 2008, the project enabled 25 young people from South London to create and perform modern jazz music, to explore the history of Jazz music in the UK and the contribution of key British Jazz artists to popular music.
The multi-disciplinary programme saw students working with the likes of Soweto Kinch, Julian Joseph, Gary Crosby and Orphy Robinson. Jazz Alive Director Clive Powell says, “I knew Orphy from a previous encounter. I didn’t know Soweto but it was so weird how we met. I was working in Birmingham when I was conceptually planning the project in my spare time. I always took the evening train from Euston to Birmingham New Street station. On one trip back to Birmingham, I bumped into Soweto and he said, ‘I’ve seen you before, are you Clive?’
“I don’t know where he had seen me or what he knew of me, but it was ironic as I had been talking to his ex-record label bosses about needing to talk to him about the project but I wasn’t having much success tracking him down, until then! I had interviewed Julian and he kindly said that if he could be of any help in the future, just give him a call. So I did!”
Through Jazz Alive the students attended the London Jazz Festival and performed with other young groups as part of the “Herbie Remixed” sessions which existed to provide young musicians with a stage to re-interpret Herbie Hancock’s compositions. Herbie actually performed later that day. The students also visited the BBC’s Studio in Maida Vale, to create the repertoire that they will perform live and professionally record.
Powell says the project originated off the back of his radio jazz show for Colourful Radio, “Nu Jazz Frontierz.” He says, “When it got axed (as most jazz shows do!) I thought of a way of channeling the contacts, momentum and exposure the show was creating. The reason for all this is that I believe passionately in the beauty and character of the music and in the uniquely transformative quality of improvisational music and what that can give to young people. The purpose of the group is to take them on an unforgettable journey into jazz music that shapes their musical and personal future.”
Promoting jazz to youths may seem like a hard sell because of its image. Powell says, “It seen as for old, white, middle class men! It’s not “sexy” and too elitist and complicated to get into. Of course, these are all myths as anybody attending this year’s London Jazz Festival can attest to. I think it’s a lot to do with what we are exposed to and how it’s marketed. If Soweto Kinch was signed by Sony BMG and became the new “poster boy” of jazz-rap, I think it could propel a whole generation into the music. Look at the success Jamie Cullum has had and he admits that he is not a “jazz” artist, but it hasn’t done his profile any harm.”
Powell, who needs to raise funds to run the scheme in 2009, seems to have found the right way to position jazz in the youth market. According to him his students love jazz and appreciate its many different sides.
By Fiona McKinson
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