Encouraging Signs for Jazz in Europe, So Why Not in the UK?



by Trevor Stent

In this challenging article, Trevor Stent, leader of the Anglo French Good Time Jazz Band, focuses on the achievements of young jazz musicians in Europe, and raises the question “Why not in the UK?

Joan Chamorro with his protege Andrea Motis

The recent Jazz&Jazz feature, “Voila! Jazz à l’Ecole!” provoked great interest in our project here in Brittany which is going from strength to strength.  However, it is as nothing compared to what is happening in Spain. There in 2009 a brilliant local jazz musician, Joan Chamorro, launched a jazz band in a school at St Andreu, a suburb of Barcelona.

Take a look at these two videos and you will see that the results are stunning.

A Film About Kids, Jazz and Music

Featuring The St Andreu Jazz Band

Breathtaking! So many great young performers in just one school! There are many other clips of them on YouTube. And one of them has emerged as a true star. Her name is Andrea Motis and she plays trumpet and sax and sings like an angel. And she got 200,000 YouTube hits last year alone.

Just take a look at this one for starters. And read the CD review in the February, 2013, issue of Just Jazz magazine (page 10):

I Can’t Believe You’re In Love With Me – Andrea Motis And Joan Chamorro Group

“Fest Jazz” at  Chateauneuf du Faou, Brittany
A pause here for a shameless plug!  Andrea Motis and Joan Chamorro are starring at our very own Fest Jazz 26/27/28 July here in Brittany this summer. So if you want to see these talented young musicians live, visit our Fest Jazz site for details of a coach from England to the festival with hotel/Chalet accommodation organised. It’s a fabulous opportunity to see for yourselves a new generation of jazz musicians and the huge strides being made on the European jazz scene.

All set for Brittany’s 2013 Jazz Fest

So why not in the UK?

The Barcelona and, to a lesser extent, the Brittany success story provoke several questions about jazz in the UK.

First, the music played by Joan, Andrea and her friends is based on the roots of our own music; it may well develop into other styles but it is clearly and firmly founded on the origins of jazz. I always get the impression that in the UK the roots of jazz have been disregarded or even despised. Indeed, the recent BBC programme “Jazz is Dead” confirmed this. Everything has to be “current” and “exploratory” which sadly usually mean self-indulgent pretension which interests nobody but the pretentious, young or old.

Secondly, many of the musicians playing traditional jazz in the UK have got to get real. The Tea Party Tendency among the British Traditional jazz movement has very nearly killed it off. The 1950’s have ended, get over it! Just because young musicians don’t sound like Ken Colyer, perform Tin Roof Blues every bloody night or play numbers written after 1930 doesn’t mean that they should not be encouraged and respected.

Linked to that are some very encouraging signs here in Europe (and I believe in the UK) that young people are turning to the roots of the music because so much of the “new” jazz played in the last thirty years is increasingly considered to be old-fashioned and unappealing.

Groups like “Caravan Palace” in France, “Good Night Circus” from Berlin (also appearing at Fest Jazz), the amazing “Flap!” from Australia and “Billy Not on Holiday” (seen here busking  in Turkey) are very popular. I believe the upsurge in interest in Lindyhop dancing is also part of this groundswell.

These young groups tend not to play “The Chant” or sound like Chris Barber in 1957 but there is a spirit, a buzz and swing that is undeniable and it must not be despised.

A final thought…

There are I know some wonderful young musicians in the UK.  I am awestruck by the talents of Jamie Brownfield, Amy Roberts and others but I have the impression they have emerged in spite of the UK jazz scene rather than because of it.

How many like Andrea Motis lie undiscovered in schools in the UK that don’t have a Joan Chamorro to find them?

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  1. Peter Butler says:

    Thank you, Trevor, for this impressive article. It’s wonderful to see the jazz revival in Spain and France and indeed across Europe. Now we need jazz luminaries to take up the challenge in the UK.

  2. Pete Lay says:

    Who are the jazz luminaries who are likely to step forward to the challenge. Probably only those who still believe jazz started with Charlie Parker or even John Coltrane. Music colleges are to blame. Their courses don’t base their instruction on anything pre-1940, except lip servioce to Louis Armstrong. Similarly, Johnny Boston, James Evans, Adrian Cox are playing our music despite everything else, certainly not helped by their peers.
    I have just witnessed this past week-end a band from Enkhuizen, The Revivalists, which has Johnny Boston on clarinet, tenor sax, and vocals. What exhuberance from five youngish lads (if you want to include the drummer’s dad on string bass). Here was spirit personified, all played extremely well, and it was our music!!!
    Sorry, but us old farts will have to fade away in this country before the young musician decides it is time to revel in the music of Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Bunk Johnson, George Lewis etc, but please not another bunch of Colyer copyists – there was only one Ken Colyer, and as Percy Humphrey said of him: “he knows”.

  3. Peter Butler says:

    That truly sums it up, Pete.
    Note: Pete Lay is the Editor of Just Jazz magazine.

  4. Peter Butler says:

    I’m posting this comment from my Facebook Jazzers Group made in response to this feature and to Pete Lay’s comment:
    DixieMix Jazzband “Trust me there are a lot of great younger musicians out there who have not come out of The university “mainstream” mould and who have in fact come to traditional jazz through old fashioned gigging apprenticeships. I was massively influenced by Pat Halcox and it was guys like him who took time to help me and encourage me.
    “There are a few brilliant young trad bands I know of but biggest problem I face is its nearly impossible to get the festival circuit because a) there are less festivals due to audiences dwindling and b) they are very much a closed shop with the same bands and often the same musicians rotating to make different line ups at the festivals.
    “Getting the break seems near impossible. Maybe down to the organisers? I appreciate bands don’t want to give up their slot to someone else but until younger bands become part of the circuit the younger audiences are going to stay away. Something needs to be done to keep traditional jazz alive in this country.”

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