Ahmad Jamal and Ramsey Lewis perform at first Jazz FM Awards

Neil McKim visits the inaugural jazz event

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Ahmad JamalFor the five years since the former BBC Jazz Awards was discontinued, the UK has had no major jazz awards ceremony. But now broadcaster Jazz FM has taken the brave decision to institute a new one, the Jazz FM Awards 2013.

At the stylishly converted Holy Trinity Church, now known as One Marylebone, I dropped in to join an audience of over 270 to witness the proceedings. ‘Tonight we are going to recognise and celebrate the best jazz talent both in the UK and internationally,’ announced Jazz FM CEO Richard Wheatly.

The Awards demonstrated a balanced selection of nominees and winners. With former BBC Jazz Award-winning vocalist Ian Shaw presenting, the evening got off to a great start with a wide range of performances, notably from the house band, the Ross Stanley Trio, who at one point were joined by saxophonist Nathaniel Facey (UK Instrumentalist winner) and Shaw himself for a rousing performance of jazz standard ‘I Remember You’.

But what gave this new Awards its cornerstone of credibility was the evening’s inclusion of two legendary jazz pianists. First up was Ramsey Lewis (winner of Outstanding Contribution to Jazz), famous for his 1960s groove-based hits including ‘Wade in the Water’. He performed three pieces, including the standard ‘Body and Soul’, and showcased a wide range of jazz styles including boogie, stride and gospel. He played John Coltrane’s ‘Dear Lord’, explaining, and beautifully demonstrating, how it was one of Coltrane’s ‘meditative’ later pieces. The evening culminated with Ahmad Jamal (Lifetime Achievement winner), now 82 (pictured above), who can count, among many others, Miles Davis as a former fan. (The trumpeter once claimed: ‘All my inspiration comes from Ahmad Jamal’). Jamal was joined on stage by pianist and Radio 2 presenter Jamie Cullum, here on vocals, for a crowd-winning performance of ‘Blue Moon’.

Jazz FM has had various guises since its original launch in 1990 at the Albert Hall, when Ella Fitzgerald performed. The original station became Smooth FM in 2005 but Jazz FM has soldiered on since its relaunch in 2008, recruiting a host of UK jazz talent, including presenter Helen Mayhew, formerly of digital station The Jazz.

Perhaps one of the lasting messages of the event was a wake-up call from saxophonist Courtney Pine, who applauded the new Awards for recognising young talent: ‘There’s an African saying that is particularly relevant. If you do not give the youngsters a chance to contribute to the village, they will burn it down,’ he reflected. And in keeping with the station’s ongoing commitment to promoting live events, appealing to a wide age range, it is promoting a new festival, the Love Supreme Jazz Festival, near Brighton, which will include current UK Jazz artists such as the Neil Cowley Trio (Jazz artist of the Year Award) combined with international heavyweights such as saxophonist Branford Marsalis and bassist Marcus Miller.

 

Ahmad Jamal is featured in BBC Music Magazine’s 100 Jazz Legends by Geoffrey Smith. He will be performing at The Barbican on 8 February.