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