**This piece was originally published by the digital platform jazzed and has since been expanded on by Orphy for the NYJO website**
On the fourth national Windrush Day, and 73 years since the SS Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks, Orphy Robinson MBE expands on his thoughts relating to the Caribbean’s profound influence on jazz music in the UK.
In 1948, 802 Caribbean’s immigrated aboard the captured former German cruise ship that had been used to transport German troops during the second World War and had now been renamed the HMT Empire Windrush, originally stopping over in Jamaica to collect British servicemen. Passage was offered to the locals at the just about affordable price of £28.00 to travel on the troop deck area to England. Eventually making a few stops on the way picking up many others from other Caribbean islands. Finally arriving at Tilbury Docks on the 22nd June 1948. Thus, started the 1948 to 1971 era historically referred to as the ‘Windrush generation’. The famous moment was recorded perfectly by Pathe News and captured in song by the Trinidadian Calypsonian Lord Kitchener who had composed “London is the place for me” during the arduous the journey, to celebrate the moment.
“They told us the streets were paved with Gold but instead they must have meant cold” were the words my own father used to describe the culture shock when he travelled to Britain a few years later. Meaningful employment, decent living accommodation, the openly displayed ‘No Blacks, No dogs, No Irish’ welcoming signs, all presented their own hurdles to settling in the motherland. Music however always played a very significant and important part in the lives of the Caribbean and influenced their well-being in their new surroundings.
London attracted some of the Caribbean’s best musicians, who in turn provided a high level of musicianship to enrich or create many genres of music in the UK to this day.
Jazz of course was the music of the time when the Empire Windrush landed at Tilbury Docks. There had been some West Indian Jazz musicians present in the UK before World War I and during the intervening years between the two great wars. Names like the Guyanese clarinetist Rudolph Dunbar who gained a reputation for moving easily between music styles. Dunbar made a name as both a composer and a conductor of note in the Classical idiom. Dunbar was seen as a ground-breaker who among many “firsts”, was the first black man to conduct the London Philharmonic in 1942, and the first black man to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic in 1945.
The Marcus Garveyite, multi-instrumentalist Leslie Thompson, who toured with Louis Armstrong; trumpet players Leslie ‘Jiver’ Hutchinson; Wally Bowen from Jamaica; clarinetist Carl Barriteau from Trinidad; the talented Alpha Boys alumni and Bertie King the tenor sax player from Jamaica, had made their mark on the local scene in that period with their own bands like Ken “Snakehips” Johnson’s Rhythm Swingers who became The West Indian Orchestra and also the resident band at the Café de Paris. Unfortunately, Ken Johnson and other members of the band were killed during a performance at the Café de Paris when a Luftwaffe bomb fell on the upper building on the night of 8th March 1941.
Other notable bands included “The Emperors of Jazz” led by Leslie Thompson who would use the term “Ultra-Modern Dance Music” to describe the music they played in order to avoid disagreements with some BBC managers who disliked swing numbers and a troublesome four-letter word “Jazz”.
After the second World War other names became synonymous with Jazz in the UK, like the Jamaican pianist/arranger Yorke de Silva, the Trinidadian guitarist Lauderic Caton and the Jamaican virtuoso bassist Coleridge Goode, whose versatility led to him working across the Jazz world with Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli, Ray Ellington, Chris McGregor, Dudu Pukwana, Michael Garrick and an integral member of various ground-breaking Joe Harriott bands and recordings. His ingenuity and background in Engineering led to him designing one of the first ever dedicated electric pick-ups for double bass, so that he could enhance his sound and volume playing in loud groups where important parts of the bass frequencies could be lost.
Composer/trombonist Herman ‘Herrington’ Wilson arrived in London in 1951 with the seasoned pianist Ozzie Da Costa from Jamaica, where he soon connected to busy London scene. He played with Tubby Hayes, Jimmy Deuchar and fellow Jamaican Leslie Jiver Hutchinson and Dizzy Reece. In later years he taught composition and worked more in academia. The all-Black big band the Jazz Warriors, toured his suite “Joe gone, man gone” in 1987 on a tribute tour for fellow Jamaican Joe Harriott with composing details shared between Wilson and the trumpeter Harry Beckett.
In 1964 the Jamaican guitarist Earnest Ranglin arrived in London, he was already a seasoned professional musician and was a hit when he managed to sit in with that night’s band at the central London Jazz club Ronnie Scott’s. After his unscheduled appearance, Ranglin impressed so much so that he was invited to become the club’s resident guitarist. He accepted and stayed for around nine months, backing numerous artists as well as being invited to appear on occasions with the Ronnie Scott’s Quintet and Quartet. He was invited back to the club many times and was rewarded in 1966 by the readers of the music paper ‘Melody Maker’ as the winner in the Jazz guitar category of 1964 Reader’s Poll.
Although London was the main focus for the majority of the West Indian Jazz musicians heading to the UK, it was by no means the only city that had a strong pull due to its West Indian community. Other West Indian Jazz musicians settled in cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and Liverpool.
In 1949 the Jamaican tenor saxophonist Andy Hamilton had arrived in the UK after spending some time as a stowaway. Hamilton had worked in Jamaica as the musical arranger for the Film star Errol Flynn at his hotel ‘The Titchfield’, as well as on his yacht the Zaka. Once in Birmingham he steadily built a new life and contributed greatly to the cultural hub of the city. Hamilton established residencies in various bars such as the Silvershine Club and the Bear pub. These popular residencies soon became known for attracting visiting American Jazz musicians like Harry Sweets Edison, David Murray and Art Farmer.
Hamilton supplemented his income by teaching successive generations of young musicians at his Jazz workshops, his own gigs and Jam sessions. These sessions provided a welcome open platform to continue that education on the bandstand. Among some notable musicians to have benefited from those opportunities were award winning saxophonist Soweto Kinch, and clarinetist/saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, both of Barbadian heritage, they in turn influenced fellow younger Brummie musicians, these include the 2018 BBC young jazz musician of the year the saxophonist, Xhosa Cole.
Hamilton went on to record his own first album named after his residency “Silvershine” at the age of 73 receiving much critical acclaim that resulted in a couple of best Jazz album of the year awards. He went on to record two more albums. In 2008 Hamilton received national recognition with an MBE.
Manchester was just the place for the Jamaican Saxophonist Granville Edwards who had travelled to the UK on the HMT Empire Windrush. In Manchester he shared many stages with other Windrush alumni such as the trumpeter and fellow Alpha Boys alumni Dizzy Reece and the Trinidadian Calypsonian Lord Kitchener who was also the double bassist in one of Edwards bands, before setting out on his own very successful musical journey. Visiting musicians sat in nightly with Edwards and his bands at many afterhours late-night sessions, these included top UK jazz musicians like Tubby Hayes and alongside fellow Jamaican Joe Harriott.
For a while Edwards also co-led a band with Harriott’s teacher, the celebrated Jamaican band leader and alto saxophonist Eric Deans, who spent a short while in the UK before returning to Jamaica. Edwards became a familiar face on the Manchester Jazz scene and for some years led his band at the Granada TV studios hospitality events providing his version of New Orleans swing.
Windrush first generation X saw talented Vocalists and musicians establish notable careers throughout the music industry in many popular styles as session musicians, these included the saxophonists Ray Carless, Gail Thompson, Brian Edwards, Michael ‘Bami’ Rose, and trumpeters, Kevin Robinson and Colin Graham. The incredibly versatile flautist Rowland Sutherland, clarinetist David Jean Baptists, the trombonists brothers Dennis and Winston Rollins, the celebrated pianist/composer Julian Joseph, vocalists’ Juliet Roberts, Sharon D Clarke, Anton Brown, Randolph Matthews; guitarists Tony Remy, Cameron Pierre and Ciyo Brown; bass players Gary Crosby and Michael Mondesir, Larry Bartley; drummers Mark Mondesir, Robert Fordjour and Pete Lewinson, Winston Clifford and Cheryl Alleyne are some of the musicians who have gone on to have successful international careers and in many cases were associated with the 1980’s all-black-big-band the ‘Jazz Warriors’.
The Jazz Warriors
The Jazz Warriors were formed around 1984 by a group of young black musicians whose background was predominantly of Caribbean heritage. Originally set up through saxophonist Courtney Pine’s Abibi Jazz Arts organisation, the founders alongside Pine included saxophonists Ray Carless, Gail Thompson, pianist Adrian Reid, trumpet player Claude Deppa, as well as the experienced and respected elder the Barbadian trumpet player Harry Beckett, a direct historic connection to the Windrush generation.
The collective of musicians put together a 25-piece big band that very soon captured the imagination of the UK Jazz scene and picked up in the bargain a lot of influential jazz and mainstream press attention. The Warriors attracted some of the best talent of the day and very soon became an essential fixture across the music scene as a whole and provided what seemed like a conveyor belt for emerging young Black talented Jazz players, many of whom went on to their own solo careers, signing to famous and prestigious Jazz labels like Blue Note, Verve, Warner and GRP. These included Courtney Pine, Steve Williamson, Cleveland Watkiss, Phillip Bent and Orphy Robinson.
The big band continued in different forms until disbanding in 1994, releasing one album (Out of Many, One People) in 1987 and an EP (Chameleon) in 1993. Another album was recorded by the next generation of Jazz Warrior and will we hope one day be released from the vaults!
That next generation also included some more accomplished musicians like St Lucian descendent saxophonist Denys Baptiste, and two Guyana descendent musicians the saxophonist Jason Yarde, bassist Anthony Tidd, vocalist Julie Dexter, pianist Robert Mitchell, bassist Neil Charles, Darren Taylor and the maverick trumpet virtuoso Byron Wallen who has his roots in the Caribbean island of Belize. Finally, not forgetting, the Lewinson brothers, the bassist Steve Lewison and drummer, Pete.