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Birmingham jazz scene
By Nick Byng, contributor
Brum has a long history with jazz music. Nick Byng takes a look at the past and reckons that, with the Town Hall about to re-open, the future is bright.
Two of the earliest jazz players were Ronnie Ball and Douglas “Dougle” Robinson, both born in Birmingham during the 1920's.
Ronnie was a successful pianist and a stalwart of the early scene. Douglas played alto sax, clarinet and flute and performed with jazz legends Bert Ambrose, Tito Burns, Teddy Joyce and Ronnie Scott.
Ronnie, along with composer Tony Kinsey from Sutton Coldfield, gained great recognition in London as one of the earliest British "modern Jazz" pioneers. Tony played local gigs with pianist Ronnie and later received drum tuition in New York from Cozy Cole. He regularly led his own quintet accompanying visiting American stars including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Oscar Peterson, Ben Webster and Harry "Sweets" Edison.
Birmingham Improvisers Orchestra
Tony also played with John Dankworth, Ronnie Scott, Tommy Whittle, Tubby Hayes and Arnold Ross and has recently been awarded the Worshipful Company’s Senior Jazz Medal for his contribution to jazz.
The only Ronnie Scotts outside London
By the 1970s BBC's Pebble Mill studios sometimes scheduled popular trad artists of the time such as Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball and Cleo Lane for live shows.
Jazz continued to simmer on a low heat, with the West Midlands favouring more acid jazz grooves which were popular with revelers at nights like Brothers & Sister and Fungle Junk.
Sugarbeats by Russ Escritt
Since the demise of Ronnie Scott's on Broad Street, Birmingham's venues have been thin on the ground. Jazz is fighting back in full reprise though. New venues and home grown talent are standing up heralding an exciting future for jazz funk devotees in the region.
Nu Jazz, Acid Jazz and Jazz Funk?
New contemporaries of Birmingham include Perry Hemus of Woodland records, multi instrumentalist Sowetto Kinch, Gilles Peterson acclaimed Sugarbeats, soulfull singers Chrissy van Dyke, Lupa and Lizzy Parkes, rap funksters Munchbreak, and fellow West Midlanders Will Holland (Quantic) and Russ Porter who now reside in Brighton.
Walsall Jazz Orchestra
Other tasty tunesmiths are Central City Groove, Silverchét, Julian Argüelles, Toyin Kinch, Tim Amann and Alan Davies. Members of Cantaloop study at the Conservatoire and Unity Gain Theory collaborates with Wayne Lotek of Roots Manuva fame, The Walsall Jazz Orchestra also play Brumside.
Many distinguished musicians coast their way through Birmingham's Conservatoire for professional tuition and the possibility of a rewarding future in Jazz. Other local organisations to "jazz it up" include Birmingham Improvisers Orchestra (BIO), Birmingham Jazz, Big Bear Music Group, BASS music, UKvibe.org and the Birmingham Jazz Festival.
Venues in the city comprise: The Yardbird, for international performers and DJ nights 'Foundation' and 'Funk Box', the Medicine bar, home to ’Leftfoot’ hosted by Different Drummer records, The Rainbow, presenting 'Bam Bam' and 'Munchbreak' (with live band), The Cross and Bull's Head in Moseley, The Jam House and The Boiler Room in the Jewellery Quarter, The Mac at Cannon Hill Park, Atticus in Bearwood, The Drum (home to live box) in Aston and CBSO, Waterworks & NIA in the city centre.
Gilles Peterson, Sowetto Kinch and the Town Hall
An exciting prospect for Birmingham's jazz scene is the reopening of the 18th century Town Hall which was home to Birmingham’s classical Triennial Festival that spanned over one hundred years, not to mention hosted performances by Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Courtney Pine and the BBC's own Humphrey Lyttelton.
The Town Hall was also a stage for jazz. A live CD box set "Boppin’ With Scott" is available, with two performances recorded in 1948 by an ensemble including: John Dankworth, Ronnie Scott, Jimmy Skidmore, Bernie Fenton, Jack Fallon and Carlo Krahmer. In the late 50s, jazz 'all-nighters' took place until 7am the next day.
Andy Hamilton and Soweto Kinch
An impressive line up has been penciled in for the two week long reopening festival in October 2007. Saxophonist Andy Hamilton moved to Brum from Jamaica in 1948 and has since performed along side many jazz greats and has entertained ever since his first musical instrument - a "sax" made from bamboo.
Andy will be playing for audiences in the Town Hall as will his saxy friend Sowetto Kinch. Other acts to watch out for during the festival include Ruby Turner (who now supports Jules Holland), Sugarbeats band, Kurt Elling, Cleveland Watkiss and acid jazz pioneer Gilles Peterson.
last updated: 14/07/2008 at 12:54
360° views across Birmingham