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Jazz FM Awards 2015 | reviews, news & interviews

Jazz FM Awards 2015

Jazz FM Awards 2015

The legendary Hugh Masekela and the electrifying Loose Tubes are among the winners

Hugh Masekela: Lifetime Achievement Award-winner

Hosted by self-confessed jazz nut John Thomson, a.k.a. The Fast Show's “Jazz Club” presenter Louis Balfour, the winners of this year's Jazz FM Awards were announced on Wednesday evening in the atmospheric setting of the Great Halls at Vinopolis.

Produced by Serious, the evening kicked off with a thrilling call to attention by the House Gospel Choir, before musician, producer and comedian Ian Shaw presented the first of 11 awards for Vocalist of the Year to the great Zara McFarlane. Noting a positive change in the jazz vocalist genre over the past three or four years, Shaw said that, rather than merely turning up “in a nice dress or suit” and singing Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald covers, vocalists have now taken on a much more creative role. This was certainly true of McFarlane and her fellow nominees, Alice Zawadzki and Lauren Kinsella.

Pianist Jason Moran accepted his Jazz Innovation of the Year award wearing an oversized papier-mâché mask of Fats Waller's head

Instrumentalist of the Year went to Shabaka Hutchings, who generously thanked his fellow musicians for inspiring him to keep creating. Chosen by public vote, Album of the Year went to Dianne Reeves for Beautiful Life, while Jazz FM's Chris Philips presented newcomer Jarrod Lawson with Soul Artist of the Year, before Lawson dusted down Leon Russell's “A Song For You”. Jazz-meets-electronica trio Gogo Penguin triumphed in the UK Jazz Act of the Year category, in the face of strong competition from Polar Bear and Sons of Kemet.

Hotly tipped, but overlooked, at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards earlier this year, there were collective sighs of relief all round when Loose Tubes scooped the Live Experience of the Year gong for their much lauded Cheltenham Jazz Festival gig, getting the nod over the Blue Note 75th Anniversary celebration at the EFG London Jazz Festival and Jamie Cullum at Love Supreme Festival. Accepting the award, Tubes frontman Ashley Slater quipped: “We're going to need a hacksaw, cos we need to cut this into 22 pieces.”

In a recorded message from Harlem, NYC, pianist Jason Moran accepted his Jazz Innovation of the Year award wearing an oversized papier-mâché mask of Fats Waller's head (created for him by Haitian artist Didier Civil), which he dons when performing music from his superb tribute to the Harlem stride master, All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller (my 2014 Album of the Year for theartsdesk).

Rebecca Ferguson

The warmest applause of the night was reserved for the legendary Hugh Masekela, who was honoured with the PPL Lifetime Achievement Award. Dedicating his impassioned performance of “Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down And Out)” to Miriam Makeba, Masekela was joined on stage by pianist Larry Willis, one of a number of musicians with whom he forged a close musical bond in New York City during Masekela's 30-year exile from his homeland.

In a brief interlude, Ronnie Scott's MD Simon Cooke paid heartfelt tribute to Richard Wheatly, the Jazz FM chairman who died unexpectedly in April. In film footage recorded at the time of Jazz FM's relaunch, Wheatly remarked: “What will lift your mood? There's alcohol, there's drugs, and there's jazz. Now, in my book, jazz is both safer and cheaper.” I'm not sure that Wheatly had ever shopped in Lidl, but you took his point.

In another recorded message, Dr John tinkled the ivories and accepted his Blues Artist of the Year in his deep southern drawl, while the unstoppable rise of vocalist Gregory Porter continued with his second Jazz FM award for International Jazz Artist of the Year. Presented by vocalist Rebecca Ferguson (pictured above left), Breakthrough Act of the Year went to Snarky Puppy keys player and local hero, Bill Laurance (pictured below right). Remaining onstage, Ferguson paid tribute to Billie Holiday in her centenary year with a soulful take on “Fine and Mellow”.

Bill LauranceTo conclude the evening, Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow paid moving tribute to his friend Hugh Masekela, “a man who remains the most living and vibrant emblem of his revolutionary age in southern Africa. He spent years in exile in America and in Europe, but in that time that thread of gorgeous, South African-informed music remained an absolute constant. And for any of us outside, longing for change in South Africa, he was our theme, he was our bandsman, he was our leader.”

For his part, Masekela joked: “When you start getting Lifetime Achievement Awards, it's actually showing you the exit.” Having recently delighted the Barbican with “Grazing in the Grass”, “Stimela” and more, there's surely lots more music-making to come.

The full list of winners:

Album of the Year (public vote): Dianne Reeves, Beautiful Life

Live Experience of the Year (public vote): Loose Tubes at Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Jazz Act of the Year (public vote): GoGo Penguin

Breakthrough Act: Bill Laurance

Instrumentalist of the Year: Shabaka Hutchings

Vocalist of the Year: Zara McFarlane

Jazz Innovation of the Year: Jason Moran

International Jazz Artist of the Year: Gregory Porter

Blues Artist of the Year: Dr John

Soul Artist of the Year: Jarrod Lawson

PPL Lifetime Achievement Award: Hugh Masekela


For any of us outside, longing for change in South Africa, he was our theme, he was our bandsman, he was our leader

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