Various ‘Keep It Light: A Panorama Of British Jazz – The Modernists’ 3CD (ÉL) 4/5

For anyone who remembers the jazz being made at this time or anyone who is curious to hear what British jazz was like at the time, this is an indispensable release.

Clearly taking its influence from the modern jazz masters in the USA, one can start to hear British jazz forming its own identity.

Opening in upbeat manner with the Don Rendell Jazz Six and ‘Hit the Road to Dreamland’ with clear West Coast influences and the ghost of baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan is never far away. More adventurous however is ‘Ignis Fatuus’ by the same group.

This is a 3 CD anthology of British modern jazz spanning the decade from the mid-fifties until eclipsed by the advent of The Beatles, R&B and Beat.
The early jazz modernists of the late 1940’s such as Johnny Dankworth were clearly influenced by such American masters as Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. The rise of the modernists coincided with the opening of the original Ronnie Scott’s Club in Gerrard Street in London’s famed Soho district and saw the birth of a new generation of exceptional musicians who were to create a musical identity for British jazz, laying the foundations for what was to come in the late 1960’s and beyond.

This three-disc set includes so many gems from the period that it is impossible to comment on them all and so I’ll pick a few personal highlights to give a flavour of what you can expect to hear.

‘Bellini’ by vocalist Annie Ross with the Tony Kinsey Quintet follows with clever contemporary references in the lyrics.

Its not until disk two that we start to hear true originality with the emergence of the Joe Harriott Quintet. Four tracks from the quintet are included here.

Featured artists include Ronnie Scott, Jimmy Deuchar, Tubby Hayes, Stan Tracey, Tony Crombie, Cleo Laine, Jack Parnell, Humphrey Lyttelton, and many more.

Although it is good to have this collection available and it is a valuable document of what was happening in British jazz at the time, I feel that this was a period when the British musicians had not yet established an identifiable sound which one could call ‘British’. Except perhaps with the exception of Joe Harriott and Stan Tracey, many of the other artists featured here were still in the shadow of their American counterparts. The really exciting times for British jazz were just months away and it would be good to have those moments documented too, perhaps in a companion set.
Much of the emphasis here is placed on the big bands of the time, perhaps to the detriment of those more adventurous musicians of the next generation of musicians who were just starting to emerge onto the scene.

Alan Musson