When I launched this blog, one thing I had on my list was Jazz re:freshed. There’s a whole heap of words been written on-line, in recent times, about the UK jazz scene so I thought a nice “little” on-line interview with Justin ‘TopRock’ Mckenzie and Adam ‘Rock’ Moses might shed some light on what can be done with vision, a lot of heart and hard work. Here we go!
How long have you been doing Jazz Re: freshed now?
We’ve been doing Jazz re:freshed for around eight and a half years now, since May 2003.
When you started it did you think it was going to be a long term adventure?
When we first started out, I guess we never considered the long term future. Like with any other music promotion we’d done before (and since), we always had a mentality of enjoy it whilst it lasts and when we lose enthusiasm for it we’d retire it. After the 2nd year of Jazz re:freshed, I think we knew that this was something more than just a short term music promotion and started thinking long term.
In acity where the DJs dominate the cultural landscape what convinced you to do live bands?
We were DJing a lot in the late nineties and early noughties in several different genres of music and we had already started to mingle the live aspect at quite a few events before Jazz re:freshed. Playing out and having to make people dance all of the time was starting to get to a few of us in the Uprock crew. We needed an outlet or a pressure valve, where we could be free to play without pressure and explore our large (and ever increasing) jazz collections. Funnily enough, Jazz re:freshed was originally going to be just a DJ night, but the availability of the stage at Mau Mau’s made us think differently and we explored the possibility of putting on live bands. Live music had always interested us and from a selfish point of view, this was the perfect opportunity to put on stage people we wanted to see play live.
Who were the first bands you put on? Do they remain part of your ever expanding roster?
The first band to perform at Jazz re:freshed were called Beat Box Theory. We used them as a tester, to see if doing live was viable in that venue. The first line-up of bands included (if I can remember) Mark de Clive Lowe & Bembe Segue, Vanessa freeman, Kaidi Tatham and The Organism. We always have time for bands who have already played at Jazz re:freshed, in fact we expect them to play again and again. Due to the frequency of Jazz re:freshed, we can have a good mix of new bands and returning bands, so even if there is a little bit of a wait, we’ll always find a space for returning bands. Also, the audience demands the return of certain bands and who are we to deny them.
You both possess eclectic musical tastes, do you feel that in your programming that you have to engage with the moment. For example, do you feel the need to embrace the more abstract side of dub step?
We are very eclectic in our music tastes and this is reflected in the diversity of acts we have performing at Jazz re:freshed and who we choose to work with recording wise. We don’t however, feel the need to jump on the latest sound for the sake of it. We are very fortunate to know an unbelievable amount of innovative musicians who are not afraid to explore and experiment with old and cutting edge sounds, so whatever the current flavor is, we’re sure to have a band or two performing their own interpretation. That said, our approach has always been, “Do we like the music we are hearing?” and “Is it of a good enough standard?” be it Dub Step, Broken Beat, Brazilian, African, funk, Hip Hop, Be bop… whatever! If it’s good and in the spirit of jazz, then it’s usually good enough for us. Having a jazz sensibility is essential, however we try our best not to restrict or impinge upon the creative expression within that. It’s also extremely important that we highlight socially relevant jazz, reflecting the times we’re living in – as Be Bop was in the 60’s and Fusion was in the 70’s. For jazz to survive, it has to reflect the present and the future, as well as the past.
Living in the city and operating from the heart of the Grove, do you think that has contributed to an all embracing approach to jazz… Trane, Tribe Called Quest, Count Ossie, Mulatu, Eddie Palmieri, Fela, Art Ensemble of Chicago… Kaidi Tatham, Jose James, Bembe Segue
Born, grown up and living in London (particularly West London) has definitely informed our musical tastes and shaped our approach to jazz and music generally. The Ladbroke Grove area has a lot of history in terms of music and musical movements, as has London generally and we definitely feel proud to be a part of that. London is probably the most culturally diverse city in the world and this is reflected in the numerous music scenes around the city. It’s a special place for musical innovations and is closely watched (and envied) by the rest of the world for its creation of new genres and the diversifying of existing ones. Although the city’s jazz scene (whatever that is) may not be as healthy as it should be in terms of promoting itself, it’s blessed with a ridiculous amount of talented musicians and innovators, pushing musical boundaries in the same spirit of diversity and eclecticism.
As the months and years continue to pass are you amazed at the flow of amazing music that falls under the banner of jazz keeps on coming and continues to blow you away. On the DJ front do you feel it’s hard to rock a session playing jazz based/influenced music.
We are always amazed by the quality of music that comes to us and often wonder why some of these tunes are not played out in the clubs! When most people (in the general public) think of jazz music, they have a preconceived idea of what that will sound like, and I often agree that the sound they usually reference is not going rock any parties, anytime soon. However, jazz music is so diverse that when you play certain facets of jazz/jazz derivative music, all of those preconceptions melt away and the only thing left to do is to dance! The difficulty is not with the music itself, it’s with the preconceptions and once you can smash those and open people minds (and ears), then the proliferation of jazz based music would be far reaching. I guess I’m fortunate to be on a scene where jazz based/influenced music continuously rocks the dance!
Broken Beat is a global phenomenon but it is associated with the West -side… how did the emergence of bruk beat influence your thinking and programming?
Big subject! I remember being in the Bugz studio in 1999 and Daz I Kue playing me some dance music that blew me away. It had no name at the time, but all I remember thinking was, this is like nothing I’d heard, yet it had elements of jazz, boogie, fusion, Brazilian, Afrobeat, House, etc… It single handedly rekindled my faith in new music – particularly new dance music. We remained close to the scene, as it grew into what became Broken beat and to this day there are numerous tunes that still leave me in awe of the sheer musicality. I would say that Broken and the Broken mentality influenced our programming heavily, particularly in the early days and to some extent still does. The Future Jazz (for want of a better term) sound of Broken was perfectly suited to live and in particular, highlighted Jazz re:freshed’s ethos for showcasing diverse and cutting edge jazz sounds, as well straight ahead classical stuff. It gave a jazz skeptical audience something more than standards to think about.
Has your audience changed over the years… does it constantly shift around but with a hard core of regulars? Are they predominantly young (20s /early 30s or older)?
Our audience has changed somewhat over the years, however it can also be quite cyclical and there are certain acts that will always bring out certain people. We do have a core of regulars and semi-regulars, but being a weekly event, we don’t expect the same people to attend every week (as much as we’d like them to!). The age of our audience is as diverse as the bands we put on, from late–teens to fortysomethings, and I believe that is part of the beauty of Jazz re:freshed. I would say the average age group over the years is probably around the late 20s. We’re always looking to expand our audience and in particular to bring through young audience members – not at the expense of any other age group, but in addition to.
You champion the up ‘n’ coming players… over the past period who has blown you away with their sets? Are there any super memorable nights when the club got tore down by the music? If so who?
Wow! There are way too many bands that have blown us away and way too many special moments to mention and we are constantly being amazed by what some of these bands are capable of. I’ll just mention the first special moment that comes to mind… The Rebirth 2006. The band was playing the intro to their seminal track “This journey In”, when the crowd started shouting “wheel” and were bawling for a rewind. You could see the band had never experienced anything like this before and were totally confused and stopped playing. They restarted the intro and stopped playing when the verse was supposed to come in and a 200 strong audience carried the tune until the band kicked in – a very special moment for all in attendance I assure you… well. I guess you had to be there! Lol Incidentally, an almost identical situation occurred when RAMP played the Mau Mau stage.
With Chaser, from day one it was always about connecting the visuals with music… the energy, the sense of improvisation and constant change… you’ve captured that in the web site, the short films, the graffix – the tees and the 5ives EPs …
Having two visual artists in the crew meant that the aesthetic aspect has always been extremely important for us when putting on any event – ie. Having a decent flyer, a strong visual concept, etc. However, the importance of the visual aspect in Jazz Re:freshed has definitely grown since it’s conception and continues to grow in importance. I think after the 3rd year, we started to look at Jazz re:freshed more in terms of branding and were a bit more deliberate in considering our styling and the importance of the relationship between the artwork and the music. The aesthetic style of Jazz re:freshed has evolved slowly but organically, hopefully in some way reflecting ourselves and the music we promote. The only problem for me is time, I’d love to spend more time over the artwork and perhaps that will come, but it’s definitely getting closer to where we want it to be in terms of synergy. I also think that jazz and art have a unique relationship, sharing many concepts and attributes such as, originality, virtuosity, technical skill, etc. and we feel it’s extremely important to showcase this.
How did the 5ives series come bout… it’s a great idea… 5 quid, five tracks… love that…vinyl! How are they doing?
The 5ives idea came about from discussions we were having on how we could assist artists who we believe people needed to hear, but were struggling for whatever reason to produce a recorded product. This would be highlighted when a band would come off stage and people would be asking us if they had any music for sale. The idea was then to produce a low run of CD’s that could be sold on the night (and at any gigs they were doing) at a reasonable price. With Jazz re:freshed backing/branding – whatever value that might add – and with us doing the manufacture and promotion, the CD could also be used by the artist or band as a demo and a start to their catalogue. This idea was expanded to fall in-line with our policy of mixing the established with the undiscovered, initially to add cache to the series, but also to put out artists that we wanted to hear more from. The idea, like everything Jazz re:freshed is evolving and expanding, but I won’t say any more than that for now. The 5ive’s are doing very well, probably better than expected, so we’re very pleased, although we know that not every 5ive will have the same targets for what will be considered a successful release. We’d love to do the 5ive’s or indeed any other Jazz re:freshed release on vinyl and intend to very soon, but at the moment we couldn’t justify it financially – but it is coming.
Richard Spaven and Kaidi both have strong roots in the club. Would you say, right now, they reflect the Jazz Re: freshed vibe or are they a taste of what’s on offer?
Spaven and Kaidi are definitely two stalwarts of Jazz re:freshed and in our opinion, they’re up there with the best musicians in the world right now in terms of their musicality and ability. I would say they both reflect the Jazz re:freshed vibe and are also a taste of what’s on offer, if that’s possible. They bring a vibe and a sonic experience that makes you want to move, in the same way that Jason Yarde will bring a raw powerful jazz energy that leaves you stunned or a band like Meridian will bring a haunting coolness that lingers in your ears. I consider all to be different, whilst still reflecting the diverse Jazz re:freshed vibe.
The list of musicians that have performed at the club is amazing but there hasn’t been much interaction with the Jazz Warriors generation… it’s kind of the post Quite Sane… Robert Mitchell onwards. In terms of illuminating the legacy and the evolution of this thing called jazz in the UK is that something you’d like to address?
We’d definitely love to have more of the Warriors generation, no doubt! To be fair we have had Jason Yarde (several times), Rowland Sutherland and I think Orphy’s played there. At the moment I believe Adam is in discussions with a few of the members about doing a night… I’m not sure if I’m supposed to leak that! Lol
I think history and legacy is extremely important, especially showing the evolution from what others have started, to understanding where we are today, appreciating the contributions many have made, learning from their creativity and from their mistakes. I think it’s equally important to see that the forerunners are still a big part of the present and are not consigned to the history books. If we had the money, time and resources, we would love to shoot a series of documentaries on several aspects of UK jazz history and jazz present, including the dance aspect – perhaps that is a future project for Jazz Re:freshed.
Finally, how do you see the future… how do you see the new generation… are you fired up and optimistic?
Personally, I try to shape the future as best as I can and in that same breath, I try not to think about the future too much. That may sound a little contradictory and bleak, but the reality is, in spite of the immense volume of talent out there, there’s an awful lot of work to be done in order to put this music where it deserves to be and to get jazz and jazz derivative music in a healthy state. Healthy in terms of public perception, recognition, appreciation and co-operation… and we know what happens when a body is unhealthy! The new generation is talented and hungry enough to join the fight and carry this forward, however they still need a platform and guidance from the present and previous generations. If I’m totally honest I’m not really into generational divisions, I’m just interested in the music.
As far as Jazz Re:freshed is concerned, we’re still fired up for the fight, some days requiring more fire than others, but the quality of the music keeps us passionate and motivated. We’ll just keep on task, keep being creative in how we do our thing and keep moving in the right direction.
Here’s a couple of you tube clips & there are hundreds more online!