It was Saturday 4 December and we’d billed our 30-year anniversary of Tomorrow’s Warriors headline event at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, not only as ‘the largest gathering of Warriors ever’ but also as ‘the biggest London jazz happening in a generation’.  A Great Day in London had a lot to live up to.

The day had been inspired by Art Kane’s iconic 1958 photograph A Great Day in Harlem, an iconic image capturing the most influential jazz musicians of their generation on the steps of a New York brownstone building.  We were about to undertake our own interpretation of Kane’s image – but not with 57 jazz musicians.  No, we were getting ready to greet over 100 Warriors past and present, including many of our award-winning alumni, for our photograph to honour this seismic moment in British jazz history. 

And, we’d ask them to come to register for the event at 9.30am!

Already running on adrenaline and fuelled by the start of the day’s caffeine intake we nervously prepared for their arrival.  Just how many jazz musicians could we expect to rock up at 9.30am?  We hadn’t even mentioned the free croissants! Is it going to rain?  And, anyway, just how much can you entice a jazz musician to do for a free croissant?  The questions were endless, the activity levels high, the nerves even higher.

But then, as 9.30am arrived so too did the first of the Warriors. 

“There’s a couple of the Junior Band.” 

“Ahhh Denys Baptiste has arrived.”

“Moses is here.”

“The Soon Come Ensemble are hanging out together.”

They came and oh wow, they just kept coming!  The atmosphere was incredible in the Foyer as Warriors who hadn’t seen each other for weeks, months or even years lit up the room with smiles, embraces and so much love.  The croissants were munched, and the chatter grew more excitable.  This wasn’t just the registration to the photoshoot, it was a homecoming, a family get-together; this was the build-up to the main event – the musical gathering of Warriors for that evening was beginning and what lay ahead was already feeling like a very special event.

As the clock struck 11am the assembled Warriors made their way to the steps behind the Hayward Gallery for acclaimed photographer Suki Dhanda to choreograph ‘the picture’.  Far from herding jazz cats, all the musicians were on top behaviour as they grouped together chatting, laughing and smiling on the steps, ignoring the December cold with the warmth of the occasion carrying the mood.  As Suki gave the musicians their directions to look forward, stand still and smile, the skies cleared, and the sun shone on us all.  No need to have worried about the rain after all!

Then it was time for each of the evening’s various groups and ensembles, their TW Music Leaders and alumni to head to their rehearsal spaces. The day was a creative hurricane of talent with new collaborations coming together, exchanging ideas, trading licks and readying themselves for the evening.

Come 6pm and (whilst a few of us were asking where the day had gone already) the Junior Development Group and the Advanced Development Group took to the stage in the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer and immediately set a high musical bar as the evening’s audience began to arrive.

Then it was time for doors and the audience to take their seats in the main auditorium.

For those of us lucky enough to catch a glimpse of soundcheck, we knew what was in store.  The Junior Band were first on stage and tore it up as they were joined by Sons of Kemet members Shabaka Hutchings (tenor saxophone), Theon Cross (tuba) and Tom Skinner (drums) throwing down one big shout of ‘FOLLOW THAT’ to everyone coming next!

And that’s just what happened, every subsequent musician came out with the intention to build on what had gone before and then pass the baton on to the next in line, never dropping in standard or intensity.

Soon Come Ensemble were joined by Zara McFarlane (vocals) and Camilla George (alto saxophone) before Female Frontline lined-up alongside Alex Davis (double bass) and Binker Golding (tenor saxophone), with Romarna Campbell trading drumbeats and jousting with Moses Boyd as they sat at their respective kits. Binker and Moses then closed this set out with their unique explosive attack.

Violet Room All Stars saw Shabaka Hutchings and Theon Cross return to the stage with Nubya Garcia (tenor saxophone), Mark Kavuma (trumpet), Ruben Fox (tenor saxophone), Shirley Tetteh (guitar), Hamish Nockles-Moore (double bass) and Sam Jones (drums), all renowned and established artists at the forefront of the renewed popularity in British jazz, they effortlessly exchanged solos and smiles on stage.

Next it was time for Warriors’ co-founder Gary Crosby on double bass to lead out his legendary group Nu Troop, featuring Jason Yarde (soprano saxophone), Nathaniel Facey (alto saxophone) and Denys Baptiste (tenor saxophone) to lay down some chilled vibes mixed with scintillating interplay.

Backstage was charged with frenetic energy – musicians assembling in the wings, finding some corridor space to warm up or buzzing with a post-performance high as they came off stage. All the while our MC for the night, CHERISE, was an amazing host, staying calm and on point, but still maintaining the pace and the vibe, which was especially amazing as she still had to perform a show-stopping duet of Round Midnight with pianist Alex Ho.

In a pause to catch our breath, both of our Tomorrow’s Warriors founders spoke to the audience and performers alike, thanking everyone for the support that has made the TW 30-year journey possible and taking the opportunity to share a first preview of that morning’s photograph of the gathering of Warriors.

There was only ever going to be one song to finish the night, Warriors Rise by Denys Baptiste which instantly became the anthem of the evening.  Performed by the twenty plus ensemble that is Soon Come Orchestra, conducted by Binker Golding, and featuring Cara Crosby-Irons, Loucin Moskofian, Zara McFarlane and CHERISE on vocals, the audience took to their feet and joined the call… Rise Warriors Rise!

The night continued with an after-show party back in the foyer with an incredible Warriors jam session curated by Deji Ijishakin and DJ sets from Tony Minvielle (Jazz FM) creating a beautiful opportunity for all the musicians to reflect on the day together and party on down.

With so many musicians on stage and so many involved in the build-up and production of this event it is impossible to thank every single person here… but thank you to everyone who took part and helped make A Great Day in London happen. It more than lived up to its billing of the largest gathering of Warriors, the head count for the photograph was 114.  Was it the biggest London jazz happening in a generation?  It is most definitely up there, but perhaps that’s not for us to judge!

But what is undeniable is that this was a unique opportunity for our current Warriors to share the most amazing day with our award-winning alumni, to hang together, play together and to share a stage on a very special night indeed – the most remarkable example of the Warriors’ ‘each one teach one’ ethos that we could ever have imagined.

And finally, a special thank you to everyone who bought a ticket, a tee shirt, poster or who donated.  Without your continued support Tomorrow’s Warriors would not be able to maintain our unique artist development programme free of charge and inclusive to all and continue our mission to support the next generation of young jazz talent.

Thank you and here’s to the next 30 years.

If you would like to find out more about supporting Tomorrow’s Warriors visit our Support Us page.

Links to further reviews:
Ancient To Future

Jazzwise

Telegraph (paywall)

Marlbank

Photographer Credits:

George Nelson images: 1,2 & 6

Daniel Devlin images: 3,4,9,10,20,25,26,28 & 32

Graeme Miall images: 5,7,8 & 16

Funky Feet Photography images: 11,12,14,15,17,18,19,24,27,29,30 & 31

Tatiana Gorilovsky images: 13

Jessica Ross images: 21,22,23 and header image at top of page

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