Black History Month is an annual observance originating in the United States, where it is also known as African American History Month.
BHM began as a way of remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. Celebrated in February in the United States and Canada, it is observed in October throughout the UK and Europe.
We’re happy to announce that this years’ observance will coincide with the start of a brand-new History section on the NYJO website, which we will continue to add to each month via a host of different voices and perspectives.
Over the next four weeks we’ll navigate the first gathering of enslaved Africans in Congo Square and the early brass band tradition; follow the music as it spreads both throughout the United States and across the seas to Europe; and focus on some of the key protagonists and their unique stories and artistic endeavours.
We’ll also take a look at the most famous jazz-couple from this period: Louis and Lil’ Hardin-Armstrong; the significance of Louis’ role as a soloist in the groundbreaking Hot 5/Hot 7 recordings; the echoes of African-origin culture in both sung and played improvisation; as well as the vital black female influences that helped to shape the artform during its formative years.
Taking us on this journey is pianist; composer; musical director; and our Black History Month guest-writer, Peter Edwards.
Peter graduated with a Masters in Jazz from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in 2009. Participation in the Tomorrow’s Warriors young artist development programme gave him the opportunity to sharpen his performance and compositional skills under the guidance of Gary Crosby OBE. Now the leader of their Nu-Civilisation Orchestra, Peter is also a NYJO Associate Educator who has worked closely with the Darlington Regional Academy, as well as other Learning & Participation projects.
Did you find yourself learning something new whilst developing this work?
I learnt much more about New Orleans brass band tradition and its importance to the origins of jazz. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the city and took part in a small brass band procession with my melodica and so reading more about it reminded me of the joy of New Orleans’ traditional jazz.
Are there any characters you covered that resonate with you personally?
Fletcher Henderson – who I’ll be covering this month. He was a pianist, composer and music director who worked with some of the best musicians of the 20th Century, such as Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman. His music influenced so many generations of composers and arrangers that followed. A pioneer of the big band ensemble style and an incredibly dedicated pioneer of the artform.
Why is it important for people to understand the roots of jazz music?
Jazz was the first globally popular music and it has influenced every style of popular music that came after it. Understanding where it came from and how it developed will give people an insight into its massive historical significance.
If you could have written a piece of music covered in this project, what would it be?
‘King Porter Stomp’ by Jelly Roll Morton. It’s such an influential piece of music that has inspired some of my favourite composers and arrangers – and it’s a great tune!
If you had to choose a piece of music to perform for this years’ Black History Month, what would it be?
I’d choose ‘St Louis Blues’ because it’s a perfect hybrid of jazz, blues and what Jelly Roll Morton called “the Spanish tinge”.
What it is about jazz that clicked with you?
I’ve always enjoyed the art of improvisation and the freedom of spirit that Jazz inspires. It’s full of interplay, interaction and the possibilities of the music are endless!
A Jazz FM ‘Breakthrough Artist’ nominee, Peter leads the Peter Edwards Trio who have released 2 albums, both of which received favourable reviews in publications such as the Guardian, Evening Standard and MOJO. In 2019 Peter developed an electric trio that uses keyboards, samples and loops. This new sound palette has stretched the imagination and opens new sound worlds for the group to explore.
Peter has directed the Nu Civilisation Orchestra since its inception in 2009, with performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Ronnie Scott’s and the Royal Northern College of Music. In 2019, Peter made his BBC Proms conducting debut performing the sacred music of Duke Ellington and worked with the BBC Concert Orchestra directing his arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Chelsea Bridge’ at London Jazz Festival.
Peter relishes the challenge of collaborating with artists from a range of genres inside and outside the music world. He is currently working with Angolan Percussionist Tello Morgado on an audio-visual project that uses footage from traditional dance cultures from all over the world and scores it with electro acoustic soundscapes. The footage is slowly manipulated and reimagined in sympathy with the music.