Black jazz musicians mainly residents of the West Indies had played in Britain since the 20’s, but probably the first British born Black musician of world renown was Courtney Pine. He was born in London in 1964 of Jamaican immigrants.
He is the principal founder of the seminal black British big band the ‘Jazz Warriors’, which he established in 1985 through the community organisation ‘The Abibi Jazz Arts’. The Jazz Warriors developed out of the ‘Abibi All-Stars’ community band that did a series of performances at London’s Royal Festival Hall foyer during the summer of the International Youth Year 1985, but prior to this in 1981 had played with the cult reggae band ‘Clint Eastwood & General Saint’.
“There have been many pioneers in the black British community – people who have defined an era, changed societal perceptions and made it easier for those who follow to progress in their field. Courtney Pine is such a trailblazer” – The Voice
No musician more embodies the dramatic transformation in the British jazz scene over the past thirty years than saxophonist Courtney Pine. The ground breaking, multi- instrumentalist has led a generation of exciting and innovative players who have broadened their styles to take jazz out to a wider audience.
In the 80’s he was one of the first black British jazz artists to make a serious mark on the jazz scene when his first album “Journey To The Urge Within” charted and some 30 years on (now with an OBE and CBE for services to music) he continues to break new ground with a string of highly acclaimed recordings and numerous prestigious Industry awards. His album “Modern Day Jazz Stories” was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2000 and he was the recipient of the Gold Badge award in 2002.
He has released 16 studio albums to date and continues to tour Worldwide with his award winning band playing clubs, concert halls and festivals from Glastonbury to Fuji Rock, Montreux to Cape Town.
His numerous TV and radio presenting credits include “Mandela Living Legend” for the BBC and the Sony Award winning long running specialist jazz show – Courtney Pine’s Jazz Crusade for BBC Radio 2. He was most recently commissioned by The Tate to compose and perform a unique piece inspired by the work of artist Henri Matisse, as part of Tate’s ‘Matisse Live’ broadcast in cinemas across the UK.
In 1986 a 22 year old Courtney Pine appeared on the front cover of the iconic British music publication NME, he is the only Black British jazz artist to do so – the last quote in a two page interview read “You know I’m doing this for a reason” – some 30 years later he still is…
“I believe in letting the musicians decide what is and what isn’t jazz. And for me, not to open my heart and play everything that is in my head or reflects my experiences, is just wrong.” Courtney Pine
By Rob Burns
Image at the top: Courtney Pine by Augustas Didzgalvis 2010