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EARLY 80's JAZZ-FUNK & FUSION (by greg wilson for dj history)

gregwilson on February 08, 2012 15:42

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    Here’s something a bit different, a mix I put together in 2005, documenting music that was played on the Jazz-Funk scene in the UK during the early 80’s. It illustrates how things would radically change in the upfront clubs as the decade unfolded, Jazz giving way to Electro as the driving force on the black scene (although Jazz would continue to play its part). I appreciate that Jazz is a ‘difficult’ form, and not to everyone’s taste, so I’m sure it’ll come as a surprise to many that once, at the most cutting-edge club nights of their era (at least if you were a black music enthusiast), most of these were big big tunes.

    Here’s the piece that I wrote in March 2005, to accompany the mix:

    “When Bill Brewster asked if I could put together a mix for DJ History, I was midway through a pretty involved Electro mix, which I’d promised A Guy Called Gerald for his online Samurai FM radio show. Getting my head away from Electro, I immediately thought of a few tracks I’d like to include from the earlier Jazz-Funk period, stuff I hadn’t heard for a long long time. I’d originally intended to do a multi-genre type mix, but, digging through my old Jazz-Funk and Fusion, the idea of a mix that would capture the vibe of this era began to crystallise.

    Jazz-Funk had emerged during the 70’s, as a result of American Jazz musicians going for a funkier vibe. Names like Roy Ayers, Donald Byrd, Herbie Hancock and Lonnie Liston Smith were all held in high regard on the UK club scene. Specialist DJ’s took things a stage further and also began playing Jazz of a purer variety, usually the more uptempo tracks that would suit the dancers. These were often by South American musicians, adding a Latin flavour into the equation. Most of these tracks were only available on albums and never released as singles. Some weren’t issued at all in the UK, so if you wanted to be taken seriously as a Jazz-Funk DJ you had to be prepared to fork out a fair sum of money each week on expensive US imports. By the early 80’s an ever-growing wave of British Jazz-Funk groups had begun to make an impact in the clubs, including Light Of The World, Level 42, Linx and Freeez. To confuse matters further, ‘Jap Jazz’ was also in vogue, with labels like Flying Disk and Electric Bird releasing digitally mastered albums by both Japanese and International artists, which cost a small fortune to buy! Add into the melting pot the latest US Soul, Funk and Disco (or what would nowadays be classified as Boogie) and you had yourself a Jazz-Funk night playlist circa 1981.

    It was during this year that my reputation at a Jazz-Funk specialist really came to the fore. This was measured by the amount of All-Dayers you were booked to appear at, throughout (in my case) the North and the Midlands. My weekly Tuesday night sessions at Wigan Pier attracted people from a wide area and was regarded as one of the best nights in the country for this type of music. As a young up-and-coming 21 year old DJ, I was on a roll, with only Colin Curtis (in my opinion the best Jazz specialist of the whole era) having greater pulling power in our neck of the woods. Another notable Northern Jazz aficionado was Hewan Clarke, who was soon to play a totally different selection of tunes when he became the original Hacienda resident in May 1982.

    12 months later, everything had changed and I was at the helm of the two biggest black music nights in the North, adding Wednesday night at Legend in Manchester, whilst continuing on a Tuesday at the Pier. I’d embraced the new Electro-Funk sound and the scene would be turned on its head as a result, with Jazz-Funk no longer the dominant force up North. However, Jazz breaks remained an integral part of the night, with runs of three and four records for the ‘Fusion’ crews, brilliant dancers from the black community, who’d challenge each other at clubs and All-Dayers. These included Bulldog from Birmingham, Tay Narna from Manchester and his young friend who was still in his teens, but already a face on the scene – this was Kermit, who in 1983 would be one of the founders of Manchester breakdance crew, Broken Glass. Many of the Fusion guys would move onto breaking, the high level of fitness and agility needed for both styles of dancing being a crucial factor. Gerald was into his Jazz-Funk and Fusion before getting into Electro. Like Kermit, he was at Legend pretty much every Wednesday during 1982 / 1983, hence his request for me to record an Electro mix for him. I’m sure he’ll also greatly appreciate this Jazz one.

    Snowboy is currently writing a book about the scene and its impact (published in 2009 as ‘From Jazz Funk & Fusion to Acid Jazz -The History of the UK Jazz Dance Scene’). He was out and about in London during the same period, when Soul Mafia DJ’s including Chris Hill, Bob Jones. Jeff Young, Tom Holland, Chris Brown and Pete Tong held sway on the Southern Jazz-Funk scene. The Soul Mafia rejected the new Electro sound, marking the beginning of the end of their era of domination.

    This mix certainly reflects the period from a Northern perspective. The majority of these tracks were huge, not just in the North, but also in the South, although some were definitely Northern specials, originally dug out by Colin, but also in some instances by myself. Unlike the Soul and Funk we played, the Jazz stuff didn’t have to be the latest imports. Often ‘new’ tracks being played on the scene dated back a number of years and, like Northern Soul and Rare Groove, there was definitely an element of digging deep to unearth hidden gems.

    Anyway, I hope you enjoy the mix. Even if the music is not to your taste it should help give you a greater insight into this important era for the underground black music scene, which slots between Northern Soul / Disco and Electro in the scheme of things.”

    Full tracklisting can be found at Electrofunkroots:

    Wigan Pier Jazz-Funk Oldies plus other lists on this page:

    Greg Wilson – February 2012


    53 timed comments and 16 regular comments

    • gregwilson
      gregwilson at 1.06.25 on February 10, 2012 01:54

      @paulgarland: Bob is mentioned, in the list of Soul Mafia DJ's.

    • paulgarland
      paulgarland at 1.06.25 on February 09, 2012 21:02

      @gregwilson: Thanks Greg very enjoyable watch and listen as are your always very good notes that you post with your mixes and reedits.Bob Jones deserves a mention as welll

    • Tiago Rangel
      Tiago Rangel at 24.54 on February 09, 2012 19:38

      eee.. salve Gil!! i play a lot this track Greg!

    • bowdeeni fish
      bowdeeni fish at 45.33 on February 09, 2012 13:22

      Oh my gosh x I would suggest peoples read the bloggi bit x Greg there is nothing a fish can say........master at work and services to sound x seem a poor accolade when compared to the countless flippin amazin vibes you create sir x big loves from the pond

    • kelzo
      kelzo at 30.21 on February 09, 2012 11:45

      @gregwilson: Amazing stuff, thanks..! :)

    • Jinters
      Jinters on February 09, 2012 10:46

      Loving this Greg - thanks so much for the download! I used to go to the Electric Ballroom and have always loved my jazz funk and fusion - still do!. Although it was predominantly black a few of us whiteys love our jazz too! xx

    • Jinters
    • Jinters
    • Omegaman
    • gregwilson
      gregwilson at 30.21 on February 09, 2012 00:52

      @kelzo: It's David Matthews & The Electric Birds 'Cosmic City' from one of those ridiculously expensive Japanese albums I mentioned:

    • nerstylist
      nerstylist on February 09, 2012 00:49

      great read and thanks for the music!

    • kelzo
      kelzo at 30.21 on February 09, 2012 00:20

      this is awesome..! ;) ID..?

    • kriss 87 france
    • the tailor
      the tailor at 7.16 on February 08, 2012 21:20

      thanks for into the jazz scene in london a little later when gilles got paul murphys record collection.those dance battles could be fearsome a bit like the northern soul scene no place for a novice to be caught on the wrong bit of dancefloor!

    • luckysperm
    • brian camarena
    • slavinskas
    • Steve Varcoe
      Steve Varcoe on February 08, 2012 20:00

      Greg sent me this mix on old CD technology a few years back just because I sent him an email about jazz! What a nice man :)

      BLAZING ENCORE at 1.12.02 on February 08, 2012 19:38

      Fav'd this earlier and only just listened to it - my heart lifted! Also .....glad to see some decent banter about it.

    • gregwilson
      gregwilson at 1.06.25 on February 08, 2012 19:20

      @paulgarland: There's a fascinating interview with Colin that's just gone online at Electrofunkroots:

    • gregwilson
      gregwilson on February 08, 2012 19:17

      @gregwilson: Here's some footage from a few years later, with a young Gilles Peterson interviewed (Gilles was heavily influenced by Colin Curtis and what he was doing at Berlin in Manchester circa 83/84, and also by Paul Murphy, the great Jazz DJ from the Electric Ballroom). It features footage of IDJ, the classic London crew:

      A little known fact concerns House music, and how, during the pre-Rave period, it was the black kids in the North and Midlands who first got into the early releases, adapting the Jazz Fusion style in the way they danced to them (so different to the 'big box little box' type of dancing that most people associate with House - that came later, when the House crowd became mainly white). Manchester's Foot Patrol were pioneers of this Fusion style - you can see them in this remarkable footage from Moss Side in 1986, at a time when House music was very much the domain of the black clubs in city's like Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and Nottingham, and Ibiza was but a faraway isle:

      For further insight check out the Colin Curtis and Hewan Clarke (to be uploaded tomorrow) interviews here:

    • gregwilson
      gregwilson on February 08, 2012 18:52

      @djmertz: I suppose it worked on 2 levels - the best dancers (and there were some really amazing dancers) would sometimes challenge each other, especially when the faster tracks were played (dancing in a circle with people surrounding them), but others would just dance to the side and do their own thing. When I started on the Tuesday Jazz-Funk sessions at Wigan Pier in 1980, there'd be around 350 - 450 people in there every week, a really passionate dedicated crowd who loved this music - the type of stuff in this mix was at its most popular during 80/81, it was the dominant music on the black scene at this point. However, bear in mind that this was broken up with all the other strands of black music that were played within the context of these nights - it was only usually in a specialist Jazz room at an All-Dayer where, as here, this vibe was constant. On a normal club night it might be a handful of jazzier tracks followed by a handful of Soul or Funk tracks - the music would revolve in this sort of way.

      Later, in 82/83, with the rise of Electro-Funk, which would then become the dominant, you might have 2 or 3 Jazz breaks in a night, each Jazz break including 3 or 4 tracks. By this point there were always challenges going on - it was very competitive between crews from places like Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford, Leeds etc. As I said in the accompanying text, a lot of the Jazz dancers pioneered breakdancing in this country, with different types of battles ensuing. The level of dancing is something that you just don't see these days - as a particular DJ might be known and respected for the music they played, the best dancers were similarly revered on the scene.

      Just found some footage from the Jazz Room at the Electric Ballroom, one of the legendary London clubs of the time. Not great quality, but will give you an insight into the type of moves that went down:

    • Andrusca
      Andrusca at 1.17.59 on February 08, 2012 18:43

      this is what I call music :)

    • soulfood
      soulfood on February 08, 2012 18:42

      super selection !!! thx for the dL

    • msamayoa
      msamayoa on February 08, 2012 18:32

      love it! VERY refreshing!

    • paulgarland
      paulgarland at 1.06.25 on February 08, 2012 18:21


    • gregwilson
      gregwilson at 25.14 on February 08, 2012 18:15

      @blog54-net: It's Gilberto Gil 'Maracatu Atômico' - he'd later, between 2003 and 2008, serve as Brazil's Minister Of Culture. It's from this album:

    • The Eclectic Circus
      The Eclectic Circus on February 08, 2012 17:33

      absolute quality as ever greg... brilliant

    • mmmmaven
    • Northern Rascal
      Northern Rascal at 0.05 on February 08, 2012 17:32 a youngster i used to record the "jazz break" on Mike Shaft's Piccadilly show. A top class mixture. Imagine if you could get away with this gear in a club cool would that be. If Carlsberg made gentlemens clubs..........................

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