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Bristol jazz week (and Cardiff next week)

October 22, 2018
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The weekly listing from Tony B (up on Monday – hurrah) has a dozen tasty items to choose from here. I think the Sunday night pairing at the Hen and Chicken is of particular interest if, like me, you happen to be interested in how new jazz careers (and maybe audiences) are nurtured in the second decade of C21. The Jazz Promoters Network was set up a couple of years ago to try and improve the framework which this perennially marginal music is supported. It’s the first fruit of a scheme instigated by Jez Matthews from Sheffield, a chap of great taste and discernment who is seen at gigs down here from time to time. This double-header gig is one of a little tour that presents two bands you probably don’t know but might take a chance on for an evening – best case: you like both! Worth a punt, I reckon. All the details are here. I don’t really know any of the players, but am interested to get acquainted.

Otherwise, I want to mention an out of town gig (not far – Cardiff) early next week that ought to be special. Jason Moran, a towering jazz figure who is also creator of many more broadly based projects, comes to the Royal Welsh College on Wednesday with a piece inspired by one of the lesser-known pioneer jazz ensembles, James Reese Europe’s Harlem Hellfighters.


No, I’d not heard of them either, so just gonna paste the stuff provided here rather than summarise:


Jason Moran: The Harlem Hellfighters

Wed 31 October 7.30pm

The Royal Welsh College are delighted to welcome Jason Moran and his long established band The Bandwagon to Cardiff as part of Black History Month in Wales. On New Year’s Day 1918, James Reese Europe – an iconic figure in the evolution of African-American music – landed in Brest with the band of the 369th Infantry Regiment, knows as the Harlem Hellfighters. As well as their achievements in combat, Europe’s crack military music ensemble popularised the new spirit of jazz to a war-torn French nation fascinated with black culture.  And this is but the beginning of a story that continues to fascinate and intrigue.

A century later, composer, pianist and visual artist Jason Moran – himself a major and innovative force in today’s jazz – celebrates the legacy of a hero of Black music, in a multi-dimensioned reflection on the impact of the African-American presence in Europe in the closing years of WW1. He explores its resonance both in Europe and in the USA, with contributions from John Akomfrah, and visual materials from acclaimed cinematographer Bradford Young, in a new project specially commissioned for the final year of 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary.  The Harlem Hellfighters story provides the genesis of the extraordinary impact of African-American music on Europe and the Americas, and a century of profound cultural and political change that is still evolving.

The performing ensemble will include members of Moran’s long-established trio, The Bandwagon, and a group of brass and wind players drawn from today’s richly talented new generation of British musicians.  Moran himself has created projects that have offered a profound insight into the creative world of key figures in jazz history, Fats Waller and Thelonious Monk. His most recent UK performances included a two-night residency at Tate Modern with his long-term collaborator, performance artist Joan Jonas, and a duet with fellow pianist Robert Glasper at a sold-out Festival Hall.

James Reese Europe

A seminal figure in evolution of black music, James Reece Europe acted as MD for Vernon and Irene Castle and recorded in 1913/14 for Victor (Castle volunteered for British Air Service in 1915).  He was assigned to the French Army as part of the 369th Infantry Regiment and documented as marching across No Man’s Land playing Memphis Blues.  One concert was later described by band member Noble Sissle as having “… started ragtimitis in France”.  The band recorded in France and again in the USA after the War.

After his return home in February 1919, Europe stated, “I have come from France more firmly convinced than ever that Negros should write Negro music. We have our own racial feeling and if we try to copy whites we will make bad copies … We won France by playing music which was ours and not a pale imitation of others, and if we are to develop in America we must develop along our own lines”.His musical associates and band members included a number who continued to make a mark in the evolution of jazz and black music – vocalist/band leader Noble Sissle, pianist Eurbie Blake, bassist Pops Foster, trombonist Herb Fleming.  It is interesting to note that a number of band members have Latin names – there was a significant Puerto Rican presence in the army.  Europe was described by Eubie Blake as “the Martin Luther King of Music”.


Moran says this completes a trilogy of projects. The first, on Monk, was quite wonderful. I wasn’t blown away by the Fats waller extravaganza on record, but I bet it was great live. I bet this will be too. There are only three shows in the UK, and I’d guess this piece is unlike to tour again so…

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