SMALL BOY TALL WHERE RAP MEETS JAZZ
We had a couple of computer screens, carrying adverts, news, programme reminders and, often, calls to prayer, as well as two microphones and our own downloaded playlists. We presented from a tiny back street studio in Deeplish in Rochdale to a mainly Muslim audience. It was a surprise to each of us in a different way, I suppose, and there were certainly surprises for our listeners. At the end of our very first programme we found ourselves locked in the studio at ten o´clock at night as the presenter of the previous programme had left with the keys in his pocket, and we had to broadcast an SOS out on the air waves.
Our boss at Crescent Community Radio, Faheem Chishti, was a good guy who turned a blind eye on odd occasions when we forgot to play adverts, because we were so engrossed in the music we were playing or, even more often, in the interviews we conducted live with the movers and shakers of the local arts scene. The programme, he said, was ideal for his listeners who wanted to learn spoken English by listening to two blokes ramble on about nothing on the radio while they listened in their taxis, or grocery shops or in their kitchens. So librarian Ray Stearn and I would pre-record school children delivering a modified form of rap, or Small Boy Tall and The Just Poet, as Bewick and I were respectively known, would speak on air with guests like Michael Higgins about subjects like old Lancashire dialect. If any of our listeners did improve their spoken-English skills from us, there must be some very strange conversations these days among English residents on the streets of Deeplish !
By the time my ´retirement´ to Lanzarote brought the programme to a close, however, Steve and I had become firm friends and have stayed in touch ever since. Indeed, he and Mrs. Bewick have been over and stayed with us here a couple of times and Marlene has arrived laden with the poetry of Rochdale artists I remember fondly.
Recently, though, Steve´s whisper has become almost a roar of excitement. The guy who used to walk almost silently beside me as we explored the arts has now gone crashing on ahead in Indiana Jones style fashion looking for some sort of Holy Grail. It has sent him off in explorations of the works of Kurt Weil and putting out an offer to showcase rap artists as he seeks the place, the very place, where rap meets jazz. He has been touring Israel recently, which seemed an unlikely starting point perhaps. However, his correspondence from there suggested he felt close to his own personal Holy Grail, so I sent him an e mail asking a few questions about the sidetracks and detours Steve Brewick, radio presenter, visual artist and jazz buff has recently been taking.
WHO are the artists who have awoken your interest in rap music?
´Of course it has to be the success of Stormzy at Glastonbury that awakened this interest. He is a British rapper, singer and songwriter. In 2014, he garnered attention on the UK underground music scene through his Wicked Skengman series of freestyles over classic grime beats, a genre of electronic dance music that emerged in London early in this century. It developed out of earlier UK electronic music style called UK garage and draws influences from jungle, dancehall, and hip hop. The style is typified by rapid, syncopated breakbeats, generally around 140 beats per minute, and often features an aggressive or jagged electronic sound. Emceeing is a significant element of the style, and lyrics often revolve around what wiki describes as ´gritty depictions of urban life.´
The style initially spread among pirate radio stations and underground scenes before achieving some mainstream recognition in the UK during the mid-2000s through artists such as Dizzee Rascal, Kano, Lethal Bizzle, and Wiley. In the mid-2010s, grime began to receive popular attention in Canada and the genre has been described as the ´most significant musical development within the UK for decades.´Grime is generally considered to be distinct from hip hop due to its roots primarily being genres such as UK garage and jungle. What particularly interests me of course is that all these genres continue to flow in and out of jazz music. However, as I have said to my thirteen year old granddaughter, Holly, of late, in my defence of listening to the main man, rapping is not alien to jazz, but could be found as early as the examples of Gil Scott-Heron in the 70’s through to, `Bad, Not Good` today. Heron recorded a track that, in his obituary, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2011/may/28/gil-scott-heron- The Guardian said had ´come to be seen as a fore-runner of rap.´ The song the piece was referring to was The Revolution Will Not Be Televised from an album of spoken word pieces set to a sparse, funky tableau of percussion. It’s the way of jazz to influence and assimilate what is new in contemporary music. After all, jazz is the most innovative music of the 20th century. Init bro!´
You have often referred to the beat poets on your jazz programme, and Ii know you recently saw a production of Street Scenes by Kurt Weill, and now we have this growing interest in the rap artists too. WHAT is it that you take from these art forms?
´It’s the extension of me as a person. For whom ´jazz is not just music it’s a way of life.´ Was it Nina Simone who said ´It’s watching what’s going on, what’s new, what the protest is on the street.´?
I’m an unreconstructed socialist. Rap through hip hop is the new word of protest on the street. As were the Beat Poets and Kurt Weill in his time commenting on poor American folk.´
Apart from your love of these art forms I know you also love creating your own visual arts too. I have enjoyed seeing a few of your pencil sketches, with their drama and light and shade even of pastoral scenes, and I suppose I could detect a jazz attitude in them. Now, though, I understand you will soon be holding a joint exhibition. WHAT sort of work of yours will be shown and how does it fit with the work of your fellow exhibitor? I wonder, too, whether any of that work will be collaborative.
´I am influenced by perceptions that people give and take from seeing new things, and hearing new sounds. It’s become an expression recently of empiricism through digital art, an exploration of things at their simplest level of lines and structure.
Buli Corby has been my mentor in discovering how to use and adapt the tools of Elements from Photoshop. Bouli has become adept at utilising these tools as a starting block to her acrylic work, although more recently she has been working in water colour. I like your suggestion of collaboration but to date it has been a student mentor relationship for which I have been very grateful and impressed with her pre-knowledge of this stuff.´
I´m sure readers of this interview will want to know the name of that exhibition and WHEN it will open to the public and perhaps you could add details of venue and dates of that exhibition.
´We are working to an Autumn deadline at the Coach House, Littleborough, Rochdale, England. We shall share the space we are allocated and it’s a big space. I have lots to do, yet as my work is new and developing, whereas Buli has a back catalogue to choose from.´
From WHERE does jazz travel to and then from Israel, and are there Israeli jazz musicians making careers for themselves?
´I was surprised to discover, as perhaps your readers will be, that Tel Aviv in particular is the powerhouse of jazz in the Middle East. It has developed differently to that of jazz in the west, European jazz in particular. It has also had to deal with semi isolation due to the politics of the Middle Eastern region. The Arab drum and drone sounds, themselves unacceptable to the ruling families of the Arab countries, replace the drum and bass of Africa upon American jazz. American brass and swing bands have been a big influence, along with classical music. It’s a rich mix of improvisation below the macro level of jazz standards and be-bop.´
The correspondence I received from you whilst you were visiting Israel, made it obvious how much you were enjoying the visit. You have since put out a request to artists working in this genre to let you have details of performances and recordings so that you might publicise and play their work on your Hot Biscuits jazz programme.Were you aware that jazz is alive and well in Israel and if so is that WHY you chose the destination and WHY do you see a relationship between jazz and rap?
´I was not. It came as a big and pleasant surprise to me. It was a chance opportunity to visit the country. Buli has dual nationality and makes an annual pilgrimage back home to Tel Aviv. This time I tagged along. Buli checked out the jazz scene for me via her old friends and Google, bless its monolithic soul, took me to Beit HaAmundim which became my second home during my stay. Buli, however, hates jazz!´