Skip to main content

Home Music Music Features

A love letter to UK jazz from BPI chair YolanDa Brown

It's fair to say that UK jazz is having something of on overdue moment in the sun, with Ezra Collective winning the Mercury Prize last year. Here, acclaimed saxophonist and BPI chair YolanDa Brown pays tribute to the genre...

By YolanDa Brown

Yolanda Brown performs the Night of the proms at Barclays Arena on December 9, 2022 in Hamburg, Germany. (Photo by Tristar Media/Getty Images)

Jazz to the regular music fan is often considered a swear word! Society has woven a narrative around you that is entirely misplaced. 

Yet, in truth, you are the epitome of beauty, sincerity, vulnerability, euphoria, and sentimentality. 

You are ever-changing, alive, and pulsating with energy. You are not just a genre but a verb, culture, and a living, breathing entity. The unfortunate reality is that Jazz has just had bad PR for far too long.

Yes, it’s time for a rebrand. But here’s the exciting news: the rebrand is already in full swing. Jazz has never been more popular or accessible than it is today. Look at the incredible range of artists and bands that are bringing new life to the scene here in the UK. 

Now side by side you can listen to both UK and US artists and appreciate them equally, from Nubiyan Twist to Kamasi Washington, Sons of Comet to Samara Joy, Kamaal Williams to Cory Wong.

The ever-amazing Ezra Collective who not only won the Mercury Prize last year but also sold out the Royal Albert Hall and are booked to headline at Wembley Arena. 

In case you missed that, a jazz artist headlining an arena is a monumental shift.

Here in the UK, this movement has been quietly building momentum for quite some time. Much of this progress can be credited to the tireless efforts of community platforms like Tomorrow’s Warriors and Jazz Re:freshed. 

These organisations have nurtured a new generation of jazz musicians, equipping them with their instruments and sending them into the world like Marvel superheroes. 

The legacy of these platforms is evident through their alumni who are now releasing music, touring, and making significant impacts on the global stage.

Jazz is constantly evolving, and this evolution is what keeps us all so captivated. Across the seas, you’ll find a delightful mix of genre-bending artists like Domi and JD Beck, Jacob Collier, Snarky Puppy, Jazzmeia Horn and in the UK my playlist includes Emma Rawicz, Alfa Mist, Ni Maxine, Rosie Frater Taylor, Kokoroko, Plantfood, Cherise, Nubiyan Twist add them to your also and thank me later.

The so-called “Jazz police” might argue that some of these artists don’t fit the traditional mold of Jazz. But who appointed these gatekeepers as the ultimate authority over this ever-evolving genre? It’s the audience, the people who attend gigs, listen to the music, engage with the merch, and immerse themselves in the culture, who should have the final say. This is their court, and no one else should be judge and jury.

The beauty of Jazz lies in its ability to transcend boundaries and defy categorisation. It’s a genre that thrives on innovation and experimentation, constantly pushing the envelope and embracing new influences. Whether it’s the soulful improvisations of a saxophone, the intricate rhythms of a drum solo with a UK grime artist riding the rythmn, or the harmonious blend of voices in a gospel choir with a jazz quartet, every element of Jazz tells a story. These stories are deeply personal yet universally relatable, resonating with listeners from all walks of life.

As an artist and broadcaster deeply entrenched in the Jazz scene, but also fusing the genres of reggae and soul to my music, I am constantly inspired by the incredible talent and creativity that surrounds me. It’s a privilege to witness the evolution of Jazz first hand and to be part of a movement that is reshaping perceptions and breaking down barriers. The future of Jazz is just beautiful, and I am excited to see where this journey will take us.

In conclusion, UK Jazz, you are not just a genre of music but a way of life. You are a testament to the power of creativity and the resilience of the human spirit. Your influence is undeniable, and your legacy is ever-growing. As we continue to celebrate and honor your rich history, let us also embrace the new directions you are taking us. Here’s to a future filled with endless possibilities and boundless creativity.

With all my love and admiration to all the venue and promoters, festivals, broadcasters and journalists, artists and record labels and of course the audience, who keep this scene alive.