Braving an icy wind on a December Saturday morning… a new generation of jazz-orientated musicians defied that late sleeping, nighthawk stereotype and gathered on the Southbank to add to the lexicon of photos inspired by Art Kane’s legendary Great Day In Harlem. Later that evening those same musicians gathered under the Tomorrow’s Warriors banner at the QEH to celebrate 30 years of activism and dedication to the collective musical exchange that resides at the heart of this thing called Jazz. It was indeed heartical!
Photography by Steve Leigh aka Steve Funkyfeet / Tomorrow’s Warriors
As this story is all about a continuum, let’s begin with the London jazz scene post WW2. Caribbean born musicians like Joe Harriott, Coleridge Goode, Ernest Ranglin and Shake Keane were all incredibly active and hugely influential in the post Windrush era. These musicians, along with a community of players from West Africa… mostly Ghana.. and later South Africa paved the way for a new generation to emerge. They would become known as the Jazz Warriors.
It was during the mid Eighties that a collective of young black Londoners surfaced to blaze a radical new path. The Jazz Warriors were schooled on reggae, soul and funk. Formed out of Abibi Jazz Arts in 1985 they regularly came together in the Atlantic in Brixton in order to pursue the way of jazz… and hone their skills. The Jazz Warriors produced their one and only album, ‘Out Of Many, One People’ in 1987 and the opening track of ‘In Reference to Our Forefather’s Fathers Dreams’ still sounds as majestic today as it did the first time I heard it. That LP introduced the nation to the talents of Courtney Pine, Steve Williamson, Orphy Robinson, Cleveland Watkiss, Ray Carless, Alan Weekes, Philip Bent, Julian Joseph, Rowland Sutherland, Adrian Reid, Claude Deppa, Harry Beckett, Kevin Robinson, Michael and Mark Mondesir, and Gary Crosby. What a crew and I’m honoured that many of these players featured in the pages of Straight No Chaser… the “designer fanzine” that we launched in the summer of 1988.
It was one of the original Warriors, bassist Gary Crosby, who along with Janine Irons, was to build on the experiences of his generation and launch Tomorrow’s Warriors. That was in 1991. It began with a weekly jam session at the Jazz Cafe and the concept evolved to offer “a pioneering, comprehensive programme of learning and training throughout the year which, in particular, champions and supports young people from the African diaspora, girls and those whose financial or otherwise challenging circumstances would tend to lock them out opportunities to pursue a career in the music industry – 100% free at the point of access.”
“I know there are young people from a similar background to me who, if given the opportunities, can create great art. It’s not curriculum style, because what we are dealing with is art. the individuals are artists, I want to hear what they have got to say.” Gary Crosby.
The Great Day In London celebration at the QEH was to do exactly that. The place was buzzing with youth who all seemed to carrying instruments… from drum sticks to a tuba.to a basson! Bucket hats carried the swing. The place was alive with greetings and enthusiastic conversations… it was like the flood gates had opened after those strict Covid rules and long periods of enforced isolation.
It was down to the Junior Band to kick the show off with ‘Oyinbo’. It was genuinely touching to witness Gary Crosby – not long recovered from a stroke – on the bass. It was a master and apprentice vibe as the understudy looked on and took in the rhythm Gary that was laying down before being handed the instrument to continue the piece. The impact on the audience of 13 year old Nahuel Angius-Thomas on bassoon was immediate. His sound was deep! As their set progressed flautist Keira Chakrobarty, trumpet player Fin Hori-Ohrstrom and pianist Kyle Osbourne were joined by the mighty duo of Shabaka and Theon Cross. At the back of the stage excellent young drummer Nico Sargese was joined by Tom Skinner on another kit. The energy and intensity reached another level that was felt throughout the room. ‘Inner Babylon’ was deep ‘n’ funky.
Next up came a 10 piece ensemble by the name of the Soon Come orchestra. ‘Thank You’ by Sultan Stevenson was an angular complex composition and they carried it off with confidence and finesse. Zara McFarlane’s ‘I Am Warrior’ followed and the three vocalists, including Zara, were more than ably accompanied by the likes of Camilla George on alto.
The next set came from Female Frontline, five bold young women who homed in on Jeff’ Tain’ Watts’ ‘Autumn Leaves’. The quintet were eventually joined by Tomorrow’s Warriors alumni, Binker Golding, Moses Boyd and bassist Alex Davies. What a treat! Binker has a tremendous presence on tenor and his rapport with Moses – his regular co-p – wrapped around their fellow musicians and pushed the music to new heights. Once more, I was loving the energy and power of two drummers and seeing Birmingham based Romana Campbell breaking into a huge smile as she locked in with Moses was a joy to behold.
The Violet Room All Stars united the tenors of Shabaka, Nubya Garcia and Ruben Fox with the alto of suited and booted Nathanial Facey and the trumpet of Kokoroko’s Sheila Maurice Grey. Shirley Tetteh shone on guitar and props goes to Hamish Nockles-Mooe on bass. ‘Sonny Rollins’ Tenor Madness’ was pure old school and I have to say that this homage to the age of tuff tenors and the easy snappin’ rhythmic pulse of those smokey late night 40s/50s clubs felt real good.
Nu Troop should need no introduction and while Gary Crosby held down the bass slot over two compositions – ‘Greater Love’ and ‘Wee’ – the interplay between a front line that featured Jason Yarde, Nathaniel Facey and Deny Baptiste was supa-chilled. They looked like they were having a real good time.
Pics Above: Cherise + Nubya Garcia
A duet between our compere, Cherise, and pianist Jonah Gumbley resulted in a stirring version of ‘Round Midnight’. It paved the way for the stage to be occupied… rammed to capacity with 20+ musicians. Led by vibe controller/conductor, Binker Golding, the Soon Come Orchestra delivered that final blast of words, sound and power that would send most of the audience off into the night. Composed by Denys Baptiste, the finale was appropriately titled ‘Warriors Rise’. That said, the partying in the foyer did continue with an endless queue of Warriors desperate to play on the “jam session” stage…. and, on reflection, having spent a few hours earlier in the week soaking up the excellent Life Between Islands exhibition at Tate Britain and and several hours in the QEH … I’d say that London is the place to be.