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Pianist, composer and teacher Huw Warren has been at the forefront of the Welsh jazz scene for the past 40 years and has worked extensively with the country's leading artists. We caught up with him during his Choro, Choro, Choro album tour to find out his thoughts on the current state of the jazz nation.

Is there such a thing as ‘Welsh Jazz’? Can a Welsh identity be expressed and identified in this genre?

The short answer is yes, absolutely! I've said in many previous interviews that a national identity can be expressed in a variety of ways. This can range from a sense of place, environment, language, community, to the actual music itself.

 

For me, this ties in completely with the bigger contemporary picture of jazz developing regional dialects worldwide; sharing  roots with the Afro-American origins of jazz but creating individual and local responses. You can see this clearly in the new generation of  UK urban musicians, creating new audiences and music whilst celebrating their African and Caribbean heritages, and the buzzing scene in Scotland celebrating a mix of trad melodies and improvising. Why not Wales?!

 

Of course, music can't happen in a vacuum, so any the scene needs to be nurtured, nourished and funded - a tall order in these current economic times. I also feel that  to be artistically authentic we have to support the innovators and create new forms. Every country will have a number of skilled stylistic 'copyists', but to create a genuinely Welsh jazz scene we need to create our own music, from the ground up.

Who would you consider to be the most significant figures in Welsh jazz?

Well, there have always been fantastic Welsh jazz musicians living outside of the country, from historical figures like Dill Jones to musicians of my generation such as Ian Shaw and Laurence Cottle, and younger players such as pianist Joe Webb and bassist Huw V Williams.

 

In terms of people living and working in Wales, Paula Gardiner has always been an important figure both as a writer, player and educator, and Tomos Williams has been making important and significant collaborations both with multicultural projects and exploring free jazz as welsh 'protest' music in his Cwmwl Tystion series.

 

I believe in describing jazz in the widest possible sense of genre. There are people like Patrick Rimes and Angharad Jenkins doing brilliant and creative things with traditional music plus singer songwriters like Kizzy Crawford and Lleuwen Steffan who are all adding to the scene with their work and ongoing collaborations. The success of the RWCMD jazz course has also created a vibrant local community of students and graduates, who are all contributing collectively to Welsh jazz.

Organisations such as Tomorrow’s Warriors offer opportunity for young jazz musicians in London – is there any equivalent provision in Wales?

There are some possibilities but we need more! I recently ran a workshop at Cardiff University in tandem with NYJO, Cardiff and Vale Music Education and Rhondda Cynon Tâf Music Service for around 30 school age players with limited or no jazz experience. It was fantastic, but we need much more of this provision, and spread across the whole country. Some of the local music services in Wales have offered excellent support for jazz, but in many places it has been cut back or disappeared completely. The best way to discover this music is to experience it close up and direct.

I'm also part of a fledgling national umbrella organisation for Welsh jazz - Jazz Explorers Cymru. We have already set up collaborative educational projects in Aberystwyth, Caernarfon and Pembrokeshire and ultimately hope to be able to link together musicians, promoters, educators, funders, journalists.

What should schools, music services and other educational bodies be doing to promote jazz in Wales?

Here, the simple answer is not to marginalise it. Experiencing it first hand is everything. I think jazz education is sometimes misunderstood - it's not really a style or genre, it's a process. Bill Evans said that it wasn't a style but just an emotion! Therefore the benefits can be incredible for young people being able to explore, and express themselves in a totally individual way.

 

Potentially it gives everyone a chance to assemble a  musical toolkit that they are then free to use in any kind of way, for the rest of their lives. This is such a deeper concept compared to music education which concentrates on learning to play the 'right' note at the right time, and can have profound all round influences way beyond  the music itself. In a society that seems to be trying to diminish the power and significance of the arts, this is important.

 

Of course it's easy to say we need more jazz in schools and music services, but this also has to be delivered on a local level. Which returns me to my 'nurtured, nourished and funded' aspect of the first question. From local to national level, we need more communication and joined up thinking between the educational bodies, musicians and venues.

How can those new to jazz start out? Where in Wales would you suggest they attend live gigs?

Sometimes its hard, but they are out there. Free gigs like RWCMD's AmserJazzTime are a great place to try it out for the first time. Then check local venues for regular jazz evenings, and arts centres and theatres for special events.

Are you optomistic about the future of Welsh jazz?

I am very hopeful as I feel there is a real appetite for all the points of national identity in jazz as previously mentioned. Also, through my educational work, I am lucky to work with extremely talented and enthusiastic young players, and I do believe the future is in safe hands.

 

Several of my students have gone onto really great things and there are numerous young players who already have a strong sense of identity in their music. These include pianists Eddie Gripper and Ross Hicks, saxophonists Coren Sithers and Dan Newberry, bassists Clem Saynor and Ursula Harrison. There are also a handful of students who are just about to emerge on the scene who I know will do amazing things and will be part of the scene in the future.

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Huw Warren

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Dill Jones was one of the first Welsh jazz artists to earn an international reputation

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Tomos Williams has been making important and significant collaborations both with multicultural projects and exploring free jazz

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Kizzy Crawford is one of the new artists

who are adding to the scene

Paula Gardiner.jpg

Paula Gardiner has always been an important figure both as a writer, player and educator

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Dan Newberry is one the country's new generation of talented jazz musicians

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