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The 30th Anniversary of the Founding of
Tomorrow's Warriors

Part One

by Howard Lawes

 

 

Part Two of this article by Howard Lawes will be in our June issue.

 

Tomorrows Warriors

 

In 1954 the American drummer Art Blakey formed a band called the Jazz Messengers and popularised an exuberant style of jazz known as hard bop but which incorporated traditional music genres such as blues, gospel and African percussion.  Whether by design or serendipity the Jazz Messengers, over a period of 30 years, became a nursery for aspiring jazz musicians who not only acquitted themselves admirably with Blakey but who went on to form their own bands and establish outstanding careers of their own - examples from the 1950s include Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter while in later years both Wynton and Branford Marsalis were members.  

Art Blakey visited London in 1986 to perform at the Camden Jazz Week where the music was complimented by the IDJ dancers - who danced a style of jazz dance that developed within the Black communities of London and was described by historian Jane Carr as a mostly underground movement of marginalized Black people seeking their own means of expression and freedom:

 

 

 

 

 

Gary Crosby

 

 

Like Blakey, a drummer, John Stevens, provided mentoring to aspiring British jazz musicians in the UK and one who benefitted from his guidance was Courtney Pine who was able to accompany Art Blakey on tour.  Pine released an album, Journey To The Urge Within (1986) with considerable success, winning a silver disc for selling more than 250,000 copies while members of the band who play on the album became known as the 'Jazz Warriors', one of those musicians was bass player Gary Crosby. During the 1980s there was a period of renaissance of interest in jazz and the Jazz Warriors certainly struck a chord with a new jazz audience. Around the same time another acclaimed large collective called 'Loose Tubes' received considerable attention and the accolade of a BBC Proms concert in 1987. 

Gary Crosby

 

 

 

Here is Part 1 of a documentary about Art Blakey and the Jazz Warriors.

 

Like Pine, Gary Crosby was born in London with Caribbean heritage, he enjoyed the ska and reggae music of that region and also the jazz guitar of his uncle, Ernest Ranglin who, with Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander, is featured in this link - click here. Trained as an electrical engineer, Crosby also played bass and became a member of the Jazz Warriors, now a collective of musicians that had been established through a community organisation promoting Black music and culture in London called Abibi Jazz Arts. The Jazz Warriors showcased most of the best Black jazz musicians of the time, many of whom went on to enjoy successful, independent careers with national and international recognition, their music included influences from throughout the African diaspora such as funk, reggae and township and they produced the album, Out Of Many, One People (1987). Both the Jazz Warriors and Loose Tubes were able to practice at a venue in Newington Green, North London known as the Jazz Cafe and owned by Jon Dabner. In 1990 Dabner took on much bigger premises in Camden Town, also called the Jazz Cafe, but sadly this venture Jazz Jamaicawas to prove unsuccessful.  Nevertheless, as Gary Crosby recounts, while the club operated he was employed in the house band backing internationally renowned musicians and was also permitted to use the large stage for practice and jam sessions.

 

Jazz Jamaica

 

In 1991 Gary Crosby formed two bands, Nu-Troop and Jazz Jamaica. Nu-Troop has been called "a conscious attempt to imitate Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers". The 1980s and early 1990s was a rather bleak period in the UK following a worldwide recession from 1980-1983,  inflation, failed businesses and austerity disproportionately affected Black communities with unemployment among Black British males exceeded 30% in the early 1990s.  It was in this context that Crosby, who had been associated with training electrical engineering apprentices, diversified into mentoring young musicians to provide opportunities for what had become a very disaffected generation and Tomorrow's Warriors was born. At around the same time, the band Nu-Troop became professional in 1994, while Jazz Jamaica specialised in classic and modern jazz alongside traditional music from the Caribbean. Inspiration came from saxophonist Joe Harriott, who arrived in the UK from Jamaica in 1951 and pioneered free-form jazz, through Ernest Ranglin to Courtney Pine.  The band included distinguished musicians such Rico Rodriguez, Eddie ‘Tan Tan’ Thornton, Michael ‘Bammie Rose’ and Tony ‘Groco’ Uter.

The first album from Jazz Jamaica was released in 1993 with album cover art work by photographer Janine Irons.  Janine worked in finance in the City of London, forsaking a career as a singer in a funk band for something less interesting (but better paid) and photography was her hobby. Their precise recollection of events differs but Gary and Janine tell me that they met at the Union Janine Irons and Gary CrosbyChapel in London in 1993 at an event to celebrate Jamaican Independence Day. The event featured Cedella Booker (mother of Bob Marley). A third band became J-Life in 1997. Nu Troop was for the more experienced musicians while the name J-Life was adopted by another group who had previously been known as Tomorrow's Warriors.

 

Janine Irons MBE and Gary Crosby OBE

 

While Tomorrows Warriors started as a jazz workshop with Crosby successfully directing the artistic side of the organisation, Janine Irons developed the professional image and business know-how to survive in the infamously competitive music industry and initially it was their own money that kept the operation afloat. However Gary and Janine were on a mission to use music, specifically jazz music, to improve the lives of young people, and although their efforts were directed primarily towards the Black community and to inspire young women, their jam sessions were open to all. They adopted a philosophy of 'demystify,  democratise, and diversify'; to demystify jazz and show that it was accessible to all, to democratise giving everyone the opportunity and to diversify thus encouraging young people of all colours and gender to participate in an activity largely dominated by white males.  Another concept was "each one, teach one", that is to say, as musicians advance and prosper they should pass on their knowledge and skills to those following along behind.

Eventually, with the help of Arts Council funding, Nu Troop produced a demo disc intended for promoters, but the lack of interest from established record labels persuaded Crosby and Irons to start their own label which they called Dune Records, named after a book that happened to be in their bookcase. The first album on the new label was called Migrations (1997) by Gary Crosby's Nu Troop with a striking picture of Gary by Janine on the album cover. The title refers to the movement of African people across the World, either forced by others or seeking a better life for themselves and one particular track composed by Crosby entitled Gorée Island refers to the island in Senegal which was used to process slaves on to ships for the journey across the Atlantic Ocean.  The album had Tony Kofi and Denys Baptiste on saxophones, Neil Yates on trumpet, Alex Wilson on piano, Gary Crosby on double bass and Robert Fordjour on drums.

 

Listen to Gorée Island.

 

 

 

 

The second album on the Dune Record label was called Tomorrows Warriors Presents from the band J-Life which, as explained in a 1998 article in Jazzwise magazine, was called J-Life rather than Jazz Life because in the 1990s jazz was considered by many to be old-fashioned and not worth listening to.  The collective that played on the album (each musician playing on at least one track) was Alex Wilson, Andrew McCormack and Robert Mitchell on piano, Jason Yarde and Denys Baptiste on saxophones, Sean Corby on trumpet and flugelhorn,  Johnathan Enright on trombone,  Dave Okumu on guitar,  Oroh Angiama on bass,  Owen Uwadiae and  Darren Taylor on double bass, Tom Skinner and Daniel Crosby on drums, Philip Harper on percussion and Julie Dexter on vocals. J-Life enjoyed considerable success winning the International Jazz Federation 16th European Jazz competition at Leverkusen, Germany and the 1998 Perrier Award for Young Jazz Ensemble of the Year, as well as Julie Dexter winning the Perrier Award for Young Jazz Vocalist of the Year. Gary Crosby described J-Life as playing "with the heart of yesterday, the ear of today and eyes on tomorrow" and Julie Dexter described J Life albumthe hard work they had to put in having secured a weekly residency at Rhythmic in Islington after leaving the Jazz Cafe in 1995. Not to be outdone in 1998 Nu-Troop won the award for Best International Ensemble at the Jazz à Vienne Concours International d’Orchestres in France.  

Over the next few years Tomorrows Warriors and Dune improved their status and visibility, Tomorrows Warriors providing the training, mentoring and performance experience while Dune concentrated on artist development, marketing, publicity and fund-raising, but both Gary and Janine were fully aware that all this effort would be of little consequence without an audience for the product being sold.  Audience development results from publicity and performance which in turn comes through exposure in the music press, radio, television and social media, funding via sponsors, donation and institutional funding (arts councils, artist development), and revenue.  It can be exhausting and demoralising for young artists who despite exceptional musical talent are unable to access the audiences that will provide them with an income. Luckily for the members of Tomorrows Warriors, Gary and Janine were able to relieve them of at least part of the work that artists need to do to progress.  Examples include a 2001 Nu Troop gig in Nottingham awarded a 5 star review in the Guardian and 3 years of funding from Greater London Arts negotiated by Janine, while in 2002 Dune records celebrated its 5th birthday being described as the most critically acclaimed independent label in the UK, with Denys Baptiste winning a clutch of awards and Jazz Jamaica winning the BBC Jazz Award for best band.

Nothing succeeds like success and Tomorrows Warriors were appearing on the same bill as American jazz stars such as Wayne Shorter and Wynton Marsalis.  Festivals such as the 2004 Ealing Jazz Festival showcased Dune musicians with Robert Mitchell, Denys Baptiste, Soweto Kinch, Jazz Jamaica and Tomorrows Warriors all performing on the same day while in 2005 Jazz Britannia, a three-part history of British jazz that was shown on BBC television featured Warriors, old and new, including Courtney Pine, Gary Crosby, Soweto Kinch, Byron Wallen, Tony Kofi, Alex Wilson, Julian Joseph, Cleveland Watkiss and Omar Puente. In 2006, Janine Irons completed the Clore Leadership Programme Short Course on Cultural Leadership and, also in that year, was appointed MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to the music industry.

2007 was a big year in Black history as it was the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slave trading by the UK, although it took until 1833 to start actually emancipating slaves. Courtney Pine was commissioned to compose a piece of music for the occasion which was performed and recorded at the Barbican Hall, London in October.  The band was the Jazz Warriors and the resulting album entitled Afropeans (2008) included many members of Tomorrows Warriors and featured Courtney Pine, Nathanial Facey, Shabaka Hutchings, Jason Yarde (woodwind), Chris Storr, Byron Wallen, Jay Phelps (trumpets/flugelhorns), Harry Brown (trombone), Samuel Dubois (alto/bass steel pans), Ayanna Witter-Johnson (cello, voice), Omar Puente (electric violin), Femi Temowo (acoustic/electric guitar), Alex Wilson (acoustic piano), Darren Taylor (double bass) and Robert Fordjour (drums). 

 

Listen to We Are A Warrior from the Afropeans album.

 

 

 

Also in 2007 Gary Crosby won the BBC Jazz Award for services to jazz and in 2009 was awarded the OBE, but in between these two events, in 2008, he established the Tomorrows Warriors Jazz Orchestra with the challenging ambition of re-creating The Queen's Suite, composed by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn following Ellington's meeting with Queen Elizabeth II in 1958. Pianist/composer Peter Edwards led the orchestra and such was the enthusiasm from both audiences and musicians that Crosby decided that the orchestra should be established as a permanent ensemble known as the Nu Civilisation Orchestra to distinguish it from  the Tomorrows Warriors Jazz Orchestra which continued as an ensemble for younger musicians. 

 

Here is a video of the Nu Civilisation Orchestra playing Binker Golding's Half Close Your Eyes.

 

 

 

And it didn't take long for the youngsters to experience their own success when the Tomorrows Warriors Biggish Band won the under 19 category in the Yamaha Jazz Experience Ensemble competition at the 2010 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Also in 2010 Tomorrows Warriors was awarded National Portfolio Organisation status by Arts Council England which as well as providing some financial security, recognised them as a leading organisation in their field, with a collective responsibility to protect and develop our national arts and cultural ecology.  This they were better able to achieve as, after several years of using the music room at the Spice of Life in Soho, they were able to take up permanent residence at the Royal Festival Hall in London's South Bank Cultural Centre. At about the same time Dune Records released its last album by the band Rhythmica evoking memories of the Islington venue where Tomorrows Warriors had played.

 

Listen to Turner's Dream from the 2020 Rhythmica album.

 

 

 

 

To be continued .....

 

 

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