I have followed Wynton's music since the 1990s, put him on the first cover of Jazzwise, met him once briefly backstage at the Festival Hall a few years before when I was working for long defunct magazine Jazz on CD, interviewed him at the end of the 1990s over the phone when he was still on Columbia and at the peak of his early career powers, he was stubborn and talked about Bach eventually being helpful I guessed by his tone although he does that regularly in interviews, seen him play concert halls, jam in the Vortex, and even rap at Ronnie’s. The last time I heard him play was when he shared the stage with Wayne Shorter at the Barbican and afterwards sat with the super connected publicist Judy Lipsey waiting for the great man to show (which he did not) at Smithfield cocktail bar the Oriole as Tom Farmer warmed the room and Wynton's musicians and entourage chilled.
These days because Wynton plays mainly in big band settings, often just sitting among the trumpet section not needing at all to conduct or even with the grandest symphony orchestras in tow the distant days when he led a small band seem remote although from time to time he does it still and is an inveterate jammer in addition always in small band settings opening up say with 'Sweet Georgia Brown'. Live I would contend that he is even better than on record but some records are stone classics. Black Codes for instance has influenced players from different styles, say Byron Wallen who emerged out of the Woody Shaw sound. Incredible technique, brilliant stage manner. I don't care for the didacticism and his close relationship with big business but that is nothing to do with music and I suppose you could argue you cannot build an institution and maintain one as he has done by not doing this. No one else hand on heart could challenge him as the greatest living jazz trumpeter all caveats aside.
A brilliant film composer, superb live, I have seen him in clubs and concert halls, never interviewed him but would love to, he writes operas, leads bands, brings on new players and encourages everyone. He talks tough, knows his politics and collaborates with leading academics, did a huge amount after Katrina to help New Orleans his home town in any way he could. Blanchard rocks. Album to get: Bounce.
On the phone once Hargrove put me on hold. He's a busy man and does not mince words! Hard bop fans forget often that his sound goes back to Clifford Brown. Trad guys might even hear Little Jazz in his sound. He's big in neosoul (D'Angelo), cool, has incredible players you may have never heard of in his bands and is the best dressed male jazz musician on the planet. Albums? Go back to the 1990s and find Diamond in the Rough.
Well, Stanko I have interviewed many times and visited his home in Warsaw where we listened to Cecil Taylor records and he made very nice tea. Last time I saw him was in Bath. He is an aesthete and is well read. I love his music and always will particularly when he plays free which he does not do much now or when he does wraps it inside disarmingly simple melodies. A fine composer, albums to get: Leosia or Music for K.
I have never heard Rava play live or met him. His sound like Stanko's belongs with the angels. A hero in Italy he has brought on many young players including Giovanni Guidi one of today's most individual pianists anywhere. Album to get: The Pilgrim and the Stars.
Ambrose Akinmusire First time I heard Ambrose was when he was a teenager and was playing in the Steve Coleman Big Band. He did not become a star until much later. He's a fine composer and small band leader. He reminds me of Kenny Wheeler. Album to get: RisingGrace.
Wadada Leo Smith
The most significant avant jazz trumpeter on the planet. Check out his sublime fairly recent work with Vijay Iyer.
I have only heard Eddie once playing a club set in an upscale pizza place and spoke to him far too briefly beforehand a few years ago. We talked about Miles Davis, you got to have a gimmick Miles advised him! Eddie is a very intellectual and interesting person to talk to and like David Murray is good at deadpan tongue in cheek chat. We moved on to chat a bit about psychiatry an expertise of his and inevitably the Mwandishi band he was important in with the Herbster. Henderson has a lovely buttery sound and plenty of fire power. Go for his Capricorn period or any record that he is on.
Unique Japanese influenced sound involving the timbre of a flute, electronics and massive amounts of space.
Brilliant tone, Eastern language filtering in and quarter tone technique. Open sound.
Unique jazz rock and prog sensibility absorbed into her compositionally driven sound. Stratospheric rise with Dinosaur.
Mainstream Cubop. Influenced by Dizzy Gillespie. First bandleader I ever saw in Ronnie Scott's. A revelation.
Nils Petter Molvær
Influential Norwegian future jazz charismatic player currently with a Sly and Robbie album out. Album to get: the classic Khmer.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah
Go for Anthem. Snappy dresser, very affable guy to talk to. Imaginative, brave, daring.
Nicholas Payton Controversial, radical trad, influential New Orleans figurehead digging deep into trad and mainstream terrain. Increasingly plugged in. Expect the unexpected.
16 Jeremy Pelt
Best hard bop stylist on the planet. Think Freddie Hubbard. Live, I have seen him in a school hall and in a club, he is a natural communicator.
I first heard him as an unknown in Robert Glasper's band. Now's the time. The new Roy Hargrove??
Innovative middle eastern sounds and a cool amalgam of compositionally driven concepts heralded Ahmed's remarkable rise. On Radiohead's radar.
His records are hugely collectable. I have only seen him once playing a theatre in Warsaw in the 1990s. That was unforgettable. Think Clifford Brown, think the song of singing.
Sligo residency for Soweto Kinch
I can’t think of a more imaginative choice for artist in residence at this year’s Sligo Jazz Project than the just announced saxophonist/MC Soweto Kinch (above, right pictured with Shez Raja and John Etheridge last year photo: marlbank). A long track record, ok pun intended, of albums such as The Legend of Mike Smith show the wit, skill and artistry of the 39-year-old bopper. And no stranger to Irish audiences either: the Birmingham player has toured with drummer David Lyttle appearing for instance at the Brilliant Corners festival in recent years.
The story started with Conversations with the Unseen in 2003, like a thunderbolt. A complete unknown then, Kinch had somehow come up with something that immediately ranked him as a significant player who in time may will be thought of as one of the greatest alto saxophone players the UK has ever produced (eg quick timeline to justify past and present: John Dankworth>Joe Harriott>Peter King>Kinch>Nat Facey). And his skills were picked up internationally as well, with Kinch collecting international plaudits at the Montreux Jazz Festival winning a hotly contested saxophone award, while going on to develop his dual saxophone/rapping concept to move him into a new space, in the process gaining the high profile backing of Wynton Marsalis who he played with popping up at venues such as the Jazz Cafe in Camden for instance I remember hearing him play, as Kinch also did appearing with Skain in the saxophonist’s beloved Brum.
When the Oxford University history graduate won the Peter Whittingham award back in the UK he used the money to fund the subsequently much sought-after single ‘Jazz Planet’, a catchy rap about an imagined topsy turvy world where jazz is the commercial music (last retooled in a Jazz Utopia version heard last year in Birmingham), and rock is the art music that no one really listens to. It’s amusing but makes its point felt. Kinch was underlining his ability as a lyrics man and a freestyler, at concerts often asking audience members to lob words (often very difficult rarely heard fiendishly polysyllabic ones) to build an impromptu rap.
Concept album A Life In The Day of B19: Tales of the Tower Block, his Birmingham album, was not so much of a success despite some good ideas, and was a bit of a curate’s egg, good in parts, but changing label and settling down into a better groove as his artistic direction changed The New Emancipation released in 2010 saw Kinch assert himself fully again and was met with positive reviews. The Legend of Mike Smith (2013) was once more a concept release, a double album built around the idea of the seven deadly sins with many short tracks spread over the two CDs, lots of humour, and role playing featuring characters that include Soweto speaking as his inner voice, his brother Toyin Omari-Kinch as album hero Smith, and skits plus full blown instrumental burn outs. Mike Smith is a hopeful MC looking for a deal but he has everyman qualities and faces everyman temptations, trials and tribulations. There’s lots more on this superb double album, funny little songs such as the fast food restaurant parody ‘Gula’ and its companion ‘Escape the Vomatorium’ and a certain historic time shuffling stepping back centuries before The Pharcyde via beats, baroque classical music programming, and a Milton-esque narrative sense. Kinch took over the reins at newly created Monday night Radio 3 show Jazz Now last year in the classical station’s most prestigious jazz slot and has also presented documentaries on Radio 4. His latest album Nonagram was released back in the autumn. Link to the Sligo Jazz site