Young Pilgrims + Trope @ The Sun at the Station, 23rd October 2015

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An Ode to Jazz in Birmingham

Jazz it is rumoured to be at its lowest level of listeners since records began. Just for the record, no pun intended, the statement is complete and utter bullshit. Such is the eclectic nature of the form music, the business sharks have always struggled to package and sell it. Jazz is not a genre; it is a lifestyle and a way of thinking. Critically acclaimed albums like, To Pimp A Butterfly or Black Messiah will back up my defence or even bands like The Internet, Hiatus Kaiyote  and Snarky Puppy.

Moving on, every great city is built on a river, lucrative for imports and exports of ideas and people. You are able to tell a lot of the cultural side of things, by each city’s respective approach towards this bewildering and multi-layered form of music. The city I was in tonight has no river, but it built the canals, and recent property developments seen two of its much loved Jazz venues close: The Yardbird in Paradise Forum, and Churchill’s located just in front for Birmingham latest architecture spectacle Grand Central, whose development resulted in the venue closing down.

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The Jazz scene in Birmingham is being carried, curated and performed by the next generation of musicians: Jonathan Silk a drummer, promoter, teacher and band leader, and his right hand man Richard Foote who wears just as many hats as his amigo Mr Silk; the only difference is that he plays Trombone.

We had arrived at The Sun at The Station and it was packed from front to back, and after 30seconds of being there it was easy to see why. The music was loud and the musicians unapologetically bold in their playing. Young Pilgrims had the undertaking of starting the proceedings and this nine-piece band was going to make sure that you feel the force of the Jazz music on the night; they went for it in every possible capacity.  The Pilgrims are force of nature with their watertight set they certainly left a good impression my guest and I, leaving us wanting more. This was our first time at The Pilgrimage, it will not be out last though.

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The second band on the night was TROPE; the headline act, a five piece funky jazz band. Playing some classics from Stevie Wonders catalogue of hits, they carried itoff with the utmost possible respect. There is nothing worst than watching someone murdering a classic, but TROPE was the complete opposite. They breathed new life into some very highly regarded classics by Mr Wonder. Most notable was a rearrangement of As. It was a near flawless performance with much praise going to TROPE’s lead singer Cherise Adams-Burnett. Her timing, tone and range were astoundingly precise with the band complimenting her perfectly. She is a true Jazz standard singer, of the ilk of the late and great Amy Winehouse. What this space!

The Majority of tonight’s performers are alumni of the illustrious creative hothouse that is the Birmingham Conservatoire. It makes you wonder how a city with arguably one of the best music schools in the world does not have a Jazz club in its city centre.  What I simply cannot understand why Birmingham goes in the opposite direction of its motto, “Forward”. It is supremely “Backward” when it comes to all things cultural. But people are trying. The same guys who are The Pilgrimage, Jonathon and Richard also run the Jazz at The Spotted Dog in Digbeth, which gets a wealth of talent and is packed out very quickly every week.

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Jonathon is devoted to all things Birmingham and Jazz and was once the former bandleader of Birmingham legend Andy Hamilton’s The Notebenders, a community band ran on pure soul, spirit dedication and hard work of volunteers.
Google Reuben James is a former Notebender, student of Jonathon Silk and former resident of Birmingham. A contemporary of many of the musicians who are on display tonight, he is now a internationally recognised jazz pianist, playing for Sam Smith on his six-time Grammy award-winning album, and for all his sins an avid Aston Villa fan; here he is doing his bit on the piano new Bond theme.
If Birmingham took some time to count its cultural stock instead of constantly trying to compare itself to London, which if we are going to be perfectly honest is a country pretending to be a city, Brum would well and truly realise how much it has going for it musically. I have high hopes for the future of Jazz in this unpolished diamond of a city, the leaders of this Pilgrimage have a great sense of direction, and epitomises what it means when creativity, ambition and a long term vision is in action.

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Jonathon has two Jazz nights in his hands, a bit like his drum sticks, on the right you have Jazz @ The Spotted Dog for the more technical Jazz fans and on the left we have The Pilgrimage which is  happening once a month next nights being on the 20th of November and the Christmas special on the 18th of December. Dress light it will be rammed and bring your dancing shoes, you will feel random fits of jubilant dancing with when pure Jazz of this calibre hits you.
Silky we love the beat, just keep playing, making and curating! Andy would be a very proud.


Review: Chadwick Jackson

Photographs:  Iza Korsak Photography


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