Jazz in the UK has strong regional activity, which in recent years has been boosted by student and graduate activity in cities with a jazz conservatory. The Cardiff jazz scene has been enlivened by graduates and students of the Welsh College of Music such as pianist and bandleader Dave Stapelton, who formed his critically acclaimed quintet and a highly professional record company called Edition Records, initially to present his own music but quickly expanding to embrace up-and-coming local musicians including bassist Paula Gardiner. The scene around Leeds College of Music includes the LIMA Collective – an acronym for Leeds Improvised Music Association – with pianist Matthew Bourne, also a lecturer at Leeds College, bassist Dave Kane and guitarist Chris Sharkey and bands such as Minghe Morte who in turn have inspired a younger Leeds-based collective, Big Filthy Jazz which has produced ensembles such as Death Qunt.
In Manchester, bassist Jon Thorne (also a member of Lamb), whose debut album Manchester Road with his band Oedipus Complex received laudatory reviews in the national press, and guitarist Stuart McCallum are at the forefront of an exciting scene in England’s northwest. The Cobweb Collective emerged from musicians in the Birmingham conservatory, while drummer John Randall’s album Insomniac also received fine reviews in the national press. The city boasts a jazz scene that many local observers claim is the equal of London, and point to the Friday night Rush Hour Blues session and bands such as saxist Chris ‘Beebe’ Aldridge’s Quintet with an all star Birmingham lineup of Bryan Corbett on trumpet, Levi French on keyboards, Roger Inniss on electric bass and Neil Bullock on drums which have no connection to the conservatory at all. Musicians such as Chris Bowden, Pete Harris, Ben Markland Edgar Macias, Tom Hill, Ray Butcher and many others have made their base in Birmingham or the surrounding area and contribute to a vital local jazz scene.
In Scotland, Glasgow’s jazz underground has produced the free jazzers Tight Meant, but perhaps the leading figure in Scots jazz is saxophonist Tommy Smith, who studied at the Berklee School of Music and was formerly a member of Gary Burton’s group. Signed by the Blue Note label on graduation, he has since played with some of the greatest names in contemporary jazz and on returning to Scotland he launched the Scottish Jazz Orchestra. Equally, the scene around the Bancroft brothers, saxophonist Phil and drummer Tom, named in List magazine’s Top 100 of “Movers and Shakers” on the Scottish Arts scene, have helped provide a focal point for Scottish jazz. Tom Bancroft formed Caber Records which brought welcome attention to musicians north of the border until funding lines sadly dried up. The brothers are members of Trio AAB, and Caber artists included pianist Dave Milligan, guitarist Kevin Mackenzie, John Rae’s Celtic Feet and trumpeter Colin Steele who all successfully integrated aspects their Celtic heritage of traditional Scottish music with jazz. Virtuoso pianist Brian Kellock plays in more straight ahead realms, and was described as “a powerful new force in UK jazz” by the Guardian.
The group Brass Jaw describe themselves as “a cappella” horns, and are made up of Ryan Quigley (above right) on trumpet, Paul Towndrow alto sax, Konrad Wiszniewski tenor sax and Allon Beauvoisin on baritone sax. Described as “Top notch” by the Financial Times, their mix of meticulously arranged originals and standards ranging from The Police to George Gershwin quickly built them a following after a national tour in 2005 and the release of the first album Burn. In 2007 they completed their second national tour to growing critical acclaim.
In Northern Ireland, composer, arranger and arch conceptualist Brian Irvine leads an ensemble that includes leading members of the Northern Ireland jazz scene including Paul Dunmall, Phil Lavery, Richard Mawhinney, Michael Keeney and Andrew Lavery. Taken together, all these exciting bands and musicians contribute to a regional jazz scene in the UK that has never been stronger or more diverse.