Courtney Pine by Mez Galaria

When Hip Hop broke out from the Bronx, many individuals, groups and societies called for it to be banned, believing it to be damaging to society and culture. It came over to this tiny island in the ‘80s, around the same time Courtney Pine was blowing up the jazz scene. Not so long ago he played Leeds Student Union, as part of the House of Legends tour. Nicole and I went along to see him.

He looks friendly, seeing him up there with his long black dreads, big eyes and bright yellow sweatshirt.

The place seems full and as we get to a spot so we can see him, I look around a bit more and clock that a lot of this crowd are white and middle aged. The music he begins to play is hot. This stuff is not your regular jazz.

There’s a carnival feel to it, I hear Reggae, Calypso and South African sounds.  It’s strange that these influences are not as pronounced in Jazz more often. This music was after all spawned in the deep south of New Orleans in the USA. A bustling port town, allowing the spicy sounds of the Caribbean and Mexico to infiltrate a large well established black population.

So I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that someone like Courtney Pine, a Black British descendant of two Jamaican parents, who is often cited as ‘ a person who embodies the dramatic transformation in the British Jazz scene, over the past 20 years’ would want to give us a little sutting sutting extra.  It’s as if the set takes us on an oh so eloquent historical tour. Signposting the only way Jazz can, the sometimes forgotten roots of Jazz.

Jazz came to the UK at the end of WW1. British musicians were influence by Swing and then Bebop in the 1930s and ‘40s. Then there was an influx of players from the Caribbean during the 1950s mass migration to the UK. The 60s and 70s were a quieter period for this black music and found many white innovators and players but there can be no doubt, that this music comes from a black ghetto experience, by black people. Nearly all the art form’s greats have been black. To deny that would be like saying the history of soul music was white. One of the great driving forces of this music was a music that came from someplace other than conventional white sensibilities.

Many critics have suggested that what Pine in now recording and playing is a departure from Jazz altogether. But hearing the sounds I can’t help think of the old Bebop greats, taking on the role of poet and philosopher. Courtney Pine’s amalgamation of sound and soaring solos makes me believe he’s a poet and his approach makes me sure he’s channelling some big ideas. The song comes to a gentle end and we hear Pine say something about shared futures and he raises his fist in the air. I giggle at the ‘Black Power’ reference. He asks the audience to join him, a majority white audience. They raise their fists and smile, and why not?  Love and open mindedness is not about colour.

But he’s not a politician. At the age of 16, Pine was already travelling the country at weekends with the Reggae band Inity Rockers. Later, in other non-jazz outfits, band members recall how he was always off practising. He still works 8hrs a day on music with a permanent red mark on his lip from his dedication.

In the 80s, whilst still working with Reggae band on TV, he recalls being baffled by the lack of musicianship in some pop musicians,  “I thought what’s going on, you have this person miming on stage and getting paid six grand and you’ve got a musician like the great Harry Beckett playing in a pub for change.”

Towards the end of the night Mark Duggan, a young British Black man who was shot and killed by police is remembered by Pine and the mention of this injustice brings huge applause and strong comments from the crowd. Pine seems closer to the streets than most of his Jazz contemporaries. Although this album focuses on the roots of Jazz he’s often worked collaboratively with drum and bass and Hip Hop artists.

Lets not forget that when Jazz first came into being many individuals, groups and societies called for it to be banned. Believing it to be damaging to society and culture.

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