Jazz: A fabulous fusion of eras

Sunday's Brighton Jazz Bop is Russ Dewbury's baby. James Maycock finds out how it came into being
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Indy Lifestyle Online
"If someone had told me at 18 that I would end up making a career out of jazz music, I would have laughed at them," says Russ Dewbury, who has organised the Brighton Jazz Bop for the last 10 years. Yet this DJ has unearthed a deft formula to lure a tirelessly enthusiastic audience of young people to the event. With an emphasis on jazz that is funky and danceable, the Brighton Jazz Bop effectively combines contemporary acts with older, but still revered, groups interspersed with appearances by some formidable DJs.

This Sunday, the vibrant Snowboy and the Latin Section, Valerie Etienne, the former singer from Galliano, Funk Inc, one of the most inventive funk groups of the early 1970s, and a new rap group, The Freestylers who perform with 30 breakdancers, will all play at The Brighton Jazz Bop. Both the jungle act, 4 Hero, and Russ Dewbury, himself, will be DJ'ing.

In 1984, although Russ Dewbury adored soul music and the blues he was suspicious of investigating jazz because of the leaden, studious image that many critics had impressed on it. The now mythic Paul Murphy DJ'd at the Electric Ballroom in Camden and played obscure, funky jazz from the 1960s and 1970s to a small but obsessive following. Russ Dewbury attended one of these events and found the experience revelatory: "That really was the roots of the Jazz Bop."

In 1987, he started DJ'ing in Brighton, a town he considers "a traditional place to go and have a good time". The following year, he decided "the obvious step was to take some of our heroes and put them on live". He chose Art Blakey because, "he was known by the older scene but also by the younger scene as well". That night, Russ Dewbury watched, stunned, as 2,000 people danced to Art Blakey. He remembers, too, that Art Blakey "was totally amazed".

But, the first concert to be labelled the Brighton Jazz Bop arose several months later in October 1988. Although only contemporary British acts like the James Taylor Quartet, the Tommy Chase Quartet and the Jazz Defectors performed, this occasion, too, was a triumph. With the breakthrough of these two separate events, Russ Dewbury sensed that: "We've done well with Art Blakey being the old side and we've done well with the new side, why don't we fuse the two together? and that became the Jazz Bop." It was this arrangement of placing modern bands with older groups, coupled with DJs playing in between the acts, that Russ Dewbury describes as a "fabulous combination".

Russ Dewbury scours America, asking funk and jazz groups from the 1960s and 1970s to perform at the Brighton Jazz Bop. Some reform solely for the occasion, while others, like Terry Callier, find their musical career is unexpectedly resuscitated. This is the most satisfying element of his work: "It's quite an emotional thing sometimes, when you bring these guys back and they've had 20 years in obscurity and they're maybe in hard times and they're maybe on welfare and you put them on in front of 2,000 people that love their music."

Funk Inc, from Indianapolis, will play at The Brighton Jazz Bop this Sunday and Russ Dewbury admits with glee, "it'll blow their minds when they come over here". Gilles Peterson, who has DJ'ed at the Brighton Jazz Bop, was fired from Jazz FM for playing the song, "Let's Make Peace and Stop the War", by Funk Inc during the Gulf War. The Brighton Jazz Bop has evolved parallel to the growth of acid jazz and to the increasing incorporation of elements of jazz into other musical styles, as Russ Dewbury explains: "Jazz is now a crucial part of club music, you hear it in everything." Along with Gilles Peterson, Paul Bradshaw and others, Russ Dewbury is one of several people who have helped to deflate the image of jazz as inaccessible, elite and dull, the very factors that had originally intimidated him.

Brighton Jazz Bop Sunday, 12 April, at The Event. (Box Office 01273 732 627)

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