Why is British jazz always the Cinderella when it comes to tales of ‘Swinging London’?

 

Share
Related Topics

As Grace Slick once remarked, ‘If you remember the sixties, you weren’t there!”

True maybe, but with a combination of deep meditation and even deeper research, it is just possible to recover some notion of those heady days and ask, ‘Why is British jazz always the Cinderella when it comes to tales of ‘Swinging London’?”

Read any British jazz history and it’s as if what happened outside the scene was, well, ‘out there’. Read any British history of the sixties and look up ‘jazz’ in the index. Perhaps you’ll find John and Cleo, a reference to Ronnie Scott’s Club and, probably, the ‘Trad Boom’. But that’ll be it. No Joe Harriott, Mike Westbrook, John Surman or Keith Tippett and yet these guys were an important part of the story. 

Sometimes, history gets written in the margins and that certainly seems the case with British jazz in the sixties. But where would R&B have been without jazz? Jazz musician, Chris Barber, and promoter, Harold Pendleton acted as midwives when they brought Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson to the UK. It was at the National Jazz Federation’s Marquee Club headquarters (then) in Oxford Street that Alexis Korner held sway in 1962 and from 1963 onwards the club became the home of British R&B.

And what of the jazz musicians, who crossed over? Graham Bond was playing alto in saxophonist Don Rendell’s Quintet when he joined, first, Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated and then formed the Graham Bond Organization. His band mates came exclusively from the jazz scene. There was bassist Jack Bruce, drummer Ginger Baker and John McLaughlin on guitar, later replaced by saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith. Baker still argues that his band Cream were a jazz group. Nor were these cats alone. Alexis Korner’s various line-ups read like a ‘Who’s Who’ of British jazz and even chart-toppers Manfred Mann started out playing jazz.

A separation between jazz and rock had begun by the mid-sixties but it was a decade before it became absolute. Right through the ‘Prog Rock’ era, jazz musicians continued to work in rock and with its increasing emphasis on improvisation their skills were in high demand. After all, what were Soft Machine if they weren’t a jazz band? Even Ronnie Scott thought so. And from the other side, band leaders like Mike Westbrook, Ian Carr, Mike Gibbs and Keith Tippett were quick to call on the services of rock guitarists like Chris Spedding, Brian Godding and Gary Boyle and even, on occasion, bassist Jack Bruce.

Then there were the drugs – the jazz woodbine, Peruvian marching powder, speed, smack. How many jazz musicians had opened their lungs, nasal passages and veins to mind-altering substances long before John Lennon went Cold Turkey and felt obliged to tell the world? In many ways, British jazz got there first only to find its younger siblings claiming the territory for their own.

Freedom? Yes, we all demanded it but it was jazzers like drummer John Stevens, saxophonists Evan Parker and Trevor Watts and guitarist Derek Bailey that placed it at the very heart of their music.

Race? Whilst rock debated whether white men could sing the blues, black and white jazz musicians like Joe Harriott, Michael Garrick, Shake Keane, Ian Carr, Dizzy Reece, Harry Beckett and Tubby Hayes were too busy taking care of business to bother talking.

The sixties were wonderful years when boundaries were stretched sometimes to snapping point. And few pushed harder than the guys playing at Ronnie’s, the Marquee and legendary left-field clubs like The Old Place and the Little Theatre Club all within the square mile of Soho. Isn’t it time to give them their due and allow them a place of honour in the their own decade?

Duncan Heining is author of Trad Dads, Dirty Boppers and Free Fusioneers: British Jazz, 1960-1975

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss