Saturday, August 08, 2020

Hilly Fields Jazz Police?

Summer evenings this year have seen some remarkable gatherings on Hilly Fields. In the area by the park's stone circle - an ancient monument dating back to 2000 - a group of young jazz musicians have been playing improvised sessions watched by people relaxing on the grass. I believe the sessions have mostly been on Monday nights, though there was also one on July 12th linked to the Black Lives Matter event in the park that day.

Last week though (Monday 3rd August) the session was ordered to stop by the police. It is unclear whether this was due to concerns about Covid 19 regulations, licensing issues or a complaint about noise. The  musicians have a lot of support locally,  as expressed in one facebook comment: 'This event is something very special, the atmosphere is out of this world. Was taken out of London and floating on air. Smiles all round, warm energies, dancing to the amazing music on the air. Seeing the musicians all buzz off one another is incredible. Such a shame if it's shut down now'. The photo below, by Cath Dupuy, shows the scene last Monday before the event came to a premature end.
(photo by Cath Dupuy)

Hopefully a way forward can be found to enable something to continue, for now the musicians are considering taking their talents elsewhere (I have come across similar gatherings on Peckham Rye). 

The bigger picture for me is how amazing it is that in 2020 there should be a vibrant, multiracial community of young musicians playing jazz for an appreciative public! South East London is recognised internationally as a centre for this new movement that has spawned Ezra Collective and Catford's Moses Boyd among many others. A while ago Kate Hutchinson wrote up  'A sweaty night out in London's new jazz scene' in the New York Times (19 October 2018):  'In a tiny converted railway arch south of the River Thames, a mosh pit had formed in front of a three-way brass-off. The house band played from the floor, as if it were a punk show. Other musicians crowded around, waiting for their turn... In London, a new generation is challenging jazz’s stuffy reputation as the conservatory-honed noodlings of middle-aged musicians for affluent — and seated — audiences'. The night featured was a Steam Down session at Buster Mantis bar in Deptford.

As John Lewis highlighted recently in The Guardian, this new 'cosmopolitan vision of jazz' is very much shaped by 'The multicultural nature of London'. Key scene figure Shabaka Hutchings notes that it incorporates influences from  'Dub, dancehall, calypso, soca, Afrobeat, highlife, township jive, nyabinghi – all put through the filter of rave and house and hip-hop' (Add some township jive! How London's jazz scene set itself apart, Guardian, 27 May 2020). Many of the musicians are from South London,  either by origin and/or having studied on the influential jazz course at Trinity Laban college in Greenwich/Deptford.

You really have to go back to  the acid jazz clubs of 1980s/90s  or maybe even the jazz raves of the 1950s to find anything like a similar energy. And when was a jazz event last stopped by the police?  Punk gigs, grime nights, reggae blues parties and acid house raves have all felt the force of the law in the last thirty years, but let's face it jazz couldn't get arrested.  Surely there can be no surer sign of the rebirth of cool! 
(photo by @SwanAroundPhotos)


polmarfi said...

That looks really cool. We didn't get arrested back in the night of the day, but a lot of shutdowns. Raids were quite common. "Nah then Nah then. There's been reports of unlicensed syncopation going on."

Martin said...

The jazz in Hilly Fields has been really nice, a lovely vibe and the guys who do it clean up after and encourage people to keep social distance.
Sadly there are so many f***** nimbies around who call the cops to shut them down. Lot of small minded people about. Glad you're taking a stand on this one, the local Facebook group has 'rules' that mean they are against it.
If Damian Egan is serious about this Borough of Culture stuff he should be having a word with the cops about leaving it alone.

Anonymous said...

There is a man on NextDoor boasting about breaking this up. He is taking full credit for calling the police.

ian said...

As the Admin of the group that supposedly ' has 'rules' that mean they are against it.' I'd like to make clear that we have rules that we don't generally allow (a) promotion of park events that haven't been cleared by the Council or Glendales. That's a general response to some of the extremely problematic and anti-social activities, sometimes violent, that have occurred in parks during lockdown, and (b) don't allow posts attacking either the cops for taking action on park events or those who have report problems. On that basis we deleted a few primarily attacking posts and a few comments
The Illovese4 page actually has a number of posts, photos and reports about the jazz event.