I Like Jazz

Cash for Ash

dizzy gillespie

Did I say that out loud? I certainly didn’t when I was at secondary school surrounded by wood shavings of the letters A, C, D & C carved into wooden desks with bare finger nails. It’s alright being an individual but in some instances you’re much better blending in. Keeping schtum.

They had all the logos, the t-shirts, the mullets, the denim jackets, the patches.

I was 13 and my English teacher asked a packed class, "who likes Jazz?" and went on to describe the intense pleasure of placing the needle on a Billy Holiday record, opening a bottle of wine and getting smashed. I got it instantly and immediately wanted to stick my hand up, to "come out" in some musical sense.
Now, if he'd been some roguish Sam Shepard type of literary figure, I might have thrown my lot in with him.
However, he was a Mr Bean type literary figure. I weighed up my options and instead threw him under the bus.
However, to this day I remember the desire to raise my hand, stand tall and say “I like jazz - who the fuck wants some!!??”
But it didn't happen. The mob won.

Looking back I realise what the real problem was.
They had all the stuff, the logos, the t-shirts, the mullets, the denim jackets, the patches.
I had nothing. I couldn't pin a badge on or draw a logo on a copy book to subtly signal my love for the dominant seventh flat five.
At that stage my only option was to stand up in class and confess to it in some sort of soviet show trial.

Years later I eventually found the only other person in town who liked jazz.
I made some merch, a pin badge of Miles Davis' On the Corner cover cut out from a review in The Wire magazine.
I wore it into into a pub in town one night.
Iggy Beattie, prog rock aficionado, came up and offered me £1 for it. He too had a secret love for the jazz. I gave it to him.
It turned out I had Bitches Brew, he had In a Silent Way… the mix tapes flowed.

About 5 years later I was at a gig at the Queen‘s University Arts Festival.
They had a jazz festival - one of the best in Europe at the time.
The venue was known as the Guinness Spot (John Scofield named a song after it).
The band was Stan Tracey's Hexad. I think it was £3 in (Pete King was on Alto).
There was the English teacher - left of the stage. He spotted me and came over during a break.
"I never knew you liked Jazz" he said.
"You never asked" I said.

So I‘ve made the perfect t-shirt for the closet jazz lover. The t-shirt I needed when I was 13.
To the mob it just looks like an accountancy firm.
To those in the know it's got jazz written all over it.

Miles Davis' 2nd great quartet

Trawl for the best protest songs of all time and chances are you’ll not find one Fela Kuti song. A search for the best political musicians of all time returns a long list of musicians not fit to brush Fela’s fur coat.

…you'll find a long list of people not fit to brush Fela’s fur coat.

I’ve been obsessed with Fela Kuti since I first saw him on The Tube back in the 1980s when I was about 14 - wearing a fur coat and probably nothing else but speedos (him - not me). Having no money - it was straight to the library the following Monday to look for some Fela music. They had one tape - Fela live with Ginger Baker (Black Man’s Cry NEVER fails)… and so began a life long obsession.

I used to play Fela Kuti LPs before we went on stage back in the 90s. I remember putting on Coffin for Head of State. A bunch of people got up and started dancing. A girl came over and asked what he was singing about. I said “he’s singing about his mother getting thrown out of her bedroom window by the army and subsequently dying” - “You’re joking - right?”.

That’s the power in his music. It uplifts, it empowers, it inspires. It never preaches.
At it’s very core the music is satirical. He poked fun and burst bubbles. He gave ordinary Nigerians a chance to laugh and sing about the corruption the lived amongst.
Poking fun and bursting bubbles in a democracy is easy.
Poking fun and bursting bubbles in a military dictatorship is about as ballsy as it gets.

Cash for Ash

We need an Ulster Afrobeat Orchestra right now - to poke fun and burst bubbles.
The list of song titles and source material is endless.

Auditions begin in Spring 2019

Fela Kuti single, Brexit Brexit

I saw Google celebrating Dizzy Gillespie's Birthday a few weeks back. It was surprising I suppose, as he seems to have been largely forgotten. The popularisation of black american music and more importantly culture more or less starts with Dizzy Gillespie.

If Google really wanted to honour him they'd have placed a small MP3 clip beneath his image.

Louis Armstrong probably softened up the ears of a mostly white middle class but Gillespie took jazz to a whole new audience and similar to Hip Hop, BeBop was as much about style as music.
BeBop is hard going, it can be a hurdle most people never overcome. When faced with the breakneck speed, odd harmonies unhummable melodies, most give up at the first. It can be dense, frenetic, relentless and extremely sophisticated, as the best Hip Hop can, so in order to have caught on in the way it did it needed more access points, more hooks. Gillespie supplied all the hooks.

It was the photos of the beret, horn-rimmed glasses, goatee beard and suits that initially made you sit up and take notice. The style was more or less imported from trips to Europe (France) and it was this re-exported style that the Europeans latched on to. Anyone could 'look' like DIzzy Gillespie because you definitely were never going to sound like him.

In the early 50s he was pictured with the bottom button of his shirt undone, by chance. After it was printed, the 'beeboppers' began leaving their shirts partly undone. He pioneered the 'crumpled look', again by chance, when forced to sleep over night on busses between concerts he'd show up on stage with his suit in a mess. Because his music was so meticulous and virtuosic the devotees assumed he'd applied this to every aspect of his appearance, assuming a profound meaning behind everything he did.

The bullfrog cheeks and the trumpet pointing to the heavens are the things he'll be most remembered for rather than the earth shattering music he pioneered. If Google really wanted to honour him they'd have placed a small MP3 clip beneath his image.


Dizzy Gillespie announced his candidacy in 1963