New musical compilation tells a colourful tale of the Cockney Jewish experience.
When some one says ‘Jazz Age’, beigels, bustling markets, and Jewish brides probably aren’t what spring to mind. But put flappers, bootleg liquor, and other F. Scott Fitzgerald-style excess aside for a moment, because we’re travelling back in time to 1920s-1950s Whitechapel, where a rather different flavour of jazz well and truly flourished.
The musician celebrates the 50th anniversary of Morrison’s Astral Weeks with a reimagining that draws out its latent jazz energy
I remember as a kid regularly going into the West End and spending all of my money on records – so much so that I wouldn’t have my bus fare home. I had a nice hi-fi system so all the local kids would come round to hear the latest albums. It was a ritual: we would sit on the sofa and play the whole thing. We’d want to know what the album was saying and we’d take it all in, from the liner notes to the artwork.
Astral Weeks wasone of those albums that had been floating around my mind in bits and pieces for years. I’d heard odd tracks, like Madame George or Cyprus Avenue, but I’d never sat down and heard it in its entirety. That was until two years ago when a friend, Colm Carty, approached me with the idea to do a whole concert of Astral Weeks. I went away and immersed myself in the record for about a month. I’m a late-night person, so I would come home after a gig at around 3am when the adrenaline was still firing, I’d stick it on and I really started getting into it.
There was a freshness. It felt like Van Morrison could’ve recorded it yesterday, even though this year marks its 50th anniversary. When something is good, it works at any time. I was fascinated by the background of the musicians – jazz artists like the drummer Connie Kay, who came from the improvisational Modern Jazz Quartet – and I liked this idea of music coming from people you wouldn’t normally associate with that genre [ . . . ]
The ‘token’ jazz, folk and avant garde nominees for the UK’s most prestigious music prize are the ones who stand to gain the most from it – but they are being ignored
The question posed most often, and most crabbily, in the history of the Mercury prize is: what’s the point of the “token” acts on the shortlist? Jazz, folk and classical nominees are only ever there to make the judges of the UK’s most prestigious music award look clever; they certainly never win.Talk to the acts themselves, however, and a different story emerges. “I don’t care if we’re called a token jazz act if we sell 3,000 more records,” says Shabaka Hutchings, whose jazz group, Sons of Kemet, are among the favourites to win. “And it might be a coincidence, but I’ve noticed things happening since we were nominated this year.” Their gigs are selling out more consistently and the band are getting better stages at events. They’re getting support they don’t get from the Mobos, Hutchings argues, as he has before, and don’t start him on the Brits. “That side of the industry doesn’t care. But this is like a little stamp: you are given a level of validation that reverberates. And if it sells more albums or tickets, it helps subsidise our music and push our scene as far as it can go.”