Soho Nights 4

 

What is Nu Jazz? It’s about 15 years since I really started earnestly to make a career out of my own songwriting rather than just teaching music, or the many other randomly musical things I could have done. I fell into teaching at a high level at a very young age, whilst still learning, and could have continued with just that. I’ve had many forking life paths. Still here doing it. Having to promote, package and present what I do to the world. Sometimes I get the smallest window just to zoom back and view the journey.

In the beginning, I had much feedback telling me that what I do isn’t jazz. But I think I can safely say – I’m here to stay. I call my music Nu Jazz, as it’s the most accurate I can get. It’s definitely a kind of jazz, containing too many jazz reference points not be jazz. But really it’s just an unusual, new artistic flavour with a contemporary feel which is perfect for our times. Many of my songs, people don’t believe are original – they already sound like standards. And I hope that they will be, one day.

Born in Wales, of Irish/Scottish ancestry, I come from a folk tradition and I always thought I would write in that idiom, although life had other plans. But what is folk? (‘World Music’ is, to me also folk music – traditional instruments, stories, lineages, voices and modes of expression, ancient/modern fusions, political, social, lyrical – of every genre from all over the globe.) I started off listening to Joan Baez and Bob Dylan – but when I moved to London my music teachers were Gospel musicians. (Gospel is surely a musical folkway in itself) Once this influence hit my folk background, the cocktail started fizzing and it was just a steady road to where I am now.  Via Junior Mance, Duke Ellington, Santana, Chick Corea, Kirk Franklin, Herbie Hancock, Yolanda Adams, Diamanda Galas, Bjork, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Jhelissa Anderson, Horace Silver, Dianne Reeves, George Duke, Dinah Washington and every big jazz diva of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s plus a nice dose of helpfully termed – and extremely jazzy – ‘Nu Soul’ tapes featuring Mica Paris, D’Angelo and Erykah Badu, which made a big impression on me. Jazz is a huge genre. Acid Jazz, Jazz Soul, Latin Jazz, Jazz funk, Trad Jazz, Jazz fusion, Jazz rock, Jazz blues. Take any instrument or discipline and put ‘Jazz’ in front of it.  Jazz poetry. Jazz dance. Jazz cinema. Put it in an elevator or advert, you have an instant vibe and evocation of time and place. Classic Jazz. Modern Jazz. Free Jazz. Jazz Hip Hop. Be Bop. Doo Wop. Lindy Hop. All that Jazz.  Jazz it up. We have endless permutations and examples of where ‘jazz’ of some kind is present and the associations that it conjures.

Genre definitions can be cumbersome. One of my biggest influences, Nina Simone, hated being defined as jazz, and never chose that herself. She called herself a classical musician, generically transcendent, actually. Maybe one day her legacy will birth an entirely new word – a new definition altogether.

What is Nu Jazz? A defining moment for me was being invited by Juliet Kelly to share the bill with herself and Ayanna Witter-Johnson at the Bull’s Head, in London. Juliet had called the night ‘Nu Jazz Divas’. Who was I to argue? That’s good enough for me. The common theme amongst us was a loose jazz style – but not prescription, and original, ‘Nu’ writing.

Sometimes, in the full swing of a song, at the piano, or guitar, I feel right in the heart of my journey, held by spirits of those who went before. With enough wordplay to recall Cole Porter.  Just enough bluesy snap, crackle and heartache to evoke Etta James. Enough stride to recall Ray Charles or Scott Joplin. Enough theatrics to summon up a bit of Otis. Enough space age beatnik hyper poetry to bring some Donald Fagenish Americana into the mix. And some Judy Garland high camp. The recipe starts to cook. And it can be what I say it is. It’s right at the edge and that edge expands as I want. I can talk my creation into being.

When I tried to sell the concept of ‘fusion’ to a well-known (folk) music manager, she said she didn’t get what I was fusing.  But I do. I do have a vision. It involves quite a lot of rhythm and blues, hypnotic groove, lyrical melodic flow and interruption, lush harmonic extensions contrasted with sparse geometric furnishings and colourings. Slidey, snake-like Wes Montgomery guitar stylings, structural blocks and themes, improvisational flights, the bittersweet longing of the plucked string. The smoothest and roughest textures that the voice can make. Paradox. Nu-Vintage and retro-newness and sepia toned novelty and yin/yang alchemy.  Plus some universal but specific stories of love, loss, conflict, inspiration, struggle and redemption that I’m unafraid to tell. It’s Nu Jazz, baby. It just won’t leave me alone.


 

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