From the buzz around Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming Great Gatsby adaptation to the flapper frocks that colonised last month’s Fashion Week, jazz has burst out of its earnest middle-aged-esoterica box and into the youthful mainstream. Last October’s London Jazz Festival - which has grown from humble origins to become the capital’s largest ten-day city-wide music festival - was notable for the volume of excellent home grown talent on display, such as Mobo-winning quartet Empirical and virtuoso saxophone and jazz duo McCormack and Yarde.
In parallel, the renaissance in spoken word events around the capital, which have been deservedly hyped over the past couple of years, show no sign of abating. Book Slam, “London’s first and best literary nightclub” is packed every month and even offers merchandise from a cloth-bound hardback annual to tote bags and T-shirts. Literary Death Match, the raucous American competitive-reading smackdown, has chapters in 36 cities across the world, and London’s is as vibrant as any. And last month, Shoreditch House’s Literary Salon featured Alexandra Shulman reading alongside Chris Cleave, Colm Tóibín and Richard Holloway. If this is a trend, it’s not only rather old, it’s one that has serious legs.
So could the hottest place to be seen in April be Phraseology, a new Tuesday night event held at Shoreditch’s Bar Music Hall? The brainchild of saxophonist Dee Byrne and author Elanor Dymott, Phraseology combines exciting new jazz acts with literary readings and short films in what Byrne calls an “attentive and supportive” atmosphere. “Jazz is composition in real time through improvisation,” Byrne explains. “Poetry or novels take much longer to complete but are essentially an improvisation with words that took months or years to complete. Spoken word is probably the closest to an improvising jazz musician, where the artist is putting phrases together in the moment. The idea was to create a cross media audience.”
Of course, the combination of jazz and poetry is not a new idea.