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The 30th Anniversary of the Founding of
Tomorrow's Warriors

by Howard Lawes

 

 

 

Tomorrows Warriors

 

In 1954 the American drummer Art Blakey formed a band called the Jazz Messengers and popularised an exuberant style of jazz known as hard bop but which incorporated traditional music genres such as blues, gospel and African percussion.  Whether by design or serendipity the Jazz Messengers, over a period of 30 years, became a nursery for aspiring jazz musicians who not only acquitted themselves admirably with Blakey but who went on to form their own bands and establish outstanding careers of their own - examples from the 1950s include Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter while in later years both Wynton and Branford Marsalis were members.  

Art Blakey visited London in 1986 to perform at the Camden Jazz Week where the music was complimented by the IDJ dancers - who danced a style of jazz dance that developed within the Black communities of London and was described by historian Jane Carr as a mostly underground movement of marginalized Black people seeking their own means of expression and freedom:

 

 

 

 

 

Gary Crosby

 

 

Like Blakey, a drummer, John Stevens, provided mentoring to aspiring British jazz musicians in the UK and one who benefitted from his guidance was Courtney Pine who was able to accompany Art Blakey on tour.  Pine released an album, Journey To The Urge Within (1986) with considerable success, winning a silver disc for selling more than 250,000 copies while members of the band who play on the album became known as the 'Jazz Warriors', one of those musicians was bass player Gary Crosby. During the 1980s there was a period of renaissance of interest in jazz and the Jazz Warriors certainly struck a chord with a new jazz audience. Around the same time another acclaimed large collective called 'Loose Tubes' received considerable attention and the accolade of a BBC Proms concert in 1987. 

Gary Crosby

 

 

 

Here is Part 1 of a documentary about Art Blakey and the Jazz Warriors.

 

Like Pine, Gary Crosby was born in London with Caribbean heritage, he enjoyed the ska and reggae music of that region and also the jazz guitar of his uncle, Ernest Ranglin who, with Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander, is featured in this link - click here. Trained as an electrical engineer, Crosby also played bass and became a member of the Jazz Warriors, now a collective of musicians that had been established through a community organisation promoting Black music and culture in London called Abibi Jazz Arts. The Jazz Warriors showcased most of the best Black jazz musicians of the time, many of whom went on to enjoy successful, independent careers with national and international recognition, their music included influences from throughout the African diaspora such as funk, reggae and township and they produced the album, Out Of Many, One People (1987). Both the Jazz Warriors and Loose Tubes were able to practice at a venue in Newington Green, North London known as the Jazz Cafe and owned by Jon Dabner. In 1990 Dabner took on much bigger premises in Camden Town, also called the Jazz Cafe, but sadly this venture Jazz Jamaicawas to prove unsuccessful.  Nevertheless, as Gary Crosby recounts, while the club operated he was employed in the house band backing internationally renowned musicians and was also permitted to use the large stage for practice and jam sessions.

 

Jazz Jamaica

 

In 1991 Gary Crosby formed two bands, Nu-Troop and Jazz Jamaica. Nu-Troop has been called "a conscious attempt to imitate Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers". The 1980s and early 1990s was a rather bleak period in the UK following a worldwide recession from 1980-1983,  inflation, failed businesses and austerity disproportionately affected Black communities with unemployment among Black British males exceeded 30% in the early 1990s.  It was in this context that Crosby, who had been associated with training electrical engineering apprentices, diversified into mentoring young musicians to provide opportunities for what had become a very disaffected generation and Tomorrow's Warriors was born. At around the same time, the band Nu-Troop became professional in 1994, while Jazz Jamaica specialised in classic and modern jazz alongside traditional music from the Caribbean. Inspiration came from saxophonist Joe Harriott, who arrived in the UK from Jamaica in 1951 and pioneered free-form jazz, through Ernest Ranglin to Courtney Pine.  The band included distinguished musicians such Rico Rodriguez, Eddie ‘Tan Tan’ Thornton, Michael ‘Bammie Rose’ and Tony ‘Groco’ Uter.

The first album from Jazz Jamaica was released in 1993 with album cover art work by photographer Janine Irons.  Janine worked in finance in the City of London, forsaking a career as a singer in a funk band for something less interesting (but better paid) and photography was her hobby. Their precise recollection of events differs but Gary and Janine tell me that they met at the Union Janine Irons and Gary CrosbyChapel in London in 1993 at an event to celebrate Jamaican Independence Day. The event featured Cedella Booker (mother of Bob Marley). A third band became J-Life in 1997. Nu Troop was for the more experienced musicians while the name J-Life was adopted by another group who had previously been known as Tomorrow's Warriors.

 

Janine Irons MBE and Gary Crosby OBE

 

While Tomorrows Warriors started as a jazz workshop with Crosby successfully directing the artistic side of the organisation, Janine Irons developed the professional image and business know-how to survive in the infamously competitive music industry and initially it was their own money that kept the operation afloat. However Gary and Janine were on a mission to use music, specifically jazz music, to improve the lives of young people, and although their efforts were directed primarily towards the Black community and to inspire young women, their jam sessions were open to all. They adopted a philosophy of 'demystify,  democratise, and diversify'; to demystify jazz and show that it was accessible to all, to democratise giving everyone the opportunity and to diversify thus encouraging young people of all colours and gender to participate in an activity largely dominated by white males.  Another concept was "each one, teach one", that is to say, as musicians advance and prosper they should pass on their knowledge and skills to those following along behind.

Eventually, with the help of Arts Council funding, Nu Troop produced a demo disc intended for promoters, but the lack of interest from established record labels persuaded Crosby and Irons to start their own label which they called Dune Records, named after a book that happened to be in their bookcase. The first album on the new label was called Migrations (1997) by Gary Crosby's Nu Troop with a striking picture of Gary by Janine on the album cover. The title refers to the movement of African people across the World, either forced by others or seeking a better life for themselves and one particular track composed by Crosby entitled Gorée Island refers to the island in Senegal which was used to process slaves on to ships for the journey across the Atlantic Ocean.  The album had Tony Kofi and Denys Baptiste on saxophones, Neil Yates on trumpet, Alex Wilson on piano, Gary Crosby on double bass and Robert Fordjour on drums.

 

Listen to Gorée Island.

 

 

 

 

The second album on the Dune Record label was called Tomorrows Warriors Presents from the band J-Life which, as explained in a 1998 article in Jazzwise magazine, was called J-Life rather than Jazz Life because in the 1990s jazz was considered by many to be old-fashioned and not worth listening to.  The collective that played on the album (each musician playing on at least one track) was Alex Wilson, Andrew McCormack and Robert Mitchell on piano, Jason Yarde and Denys Baptiste on saxophones, Sean Corby on trumpet and flugelhorn,  Johnathan Enright on trombone,  Dave Okumu on guitar,  Oroh Angiama on bass,  Owen Uwadiae and  Darren Taylor on double bass, Tom Skinner and Daniel Crosby on drums, Philip Harper on percussion and Julie Dexter on vocals. J-Life enjoyed considerable success winning the International Jazz Federation 16th European Jazz competition at Leverkusen, Germany and the 1998 Perrier Award for Young Jazz Ensemble of the Year, as well as Julie Dexter winning the Perrier Award for Young Jazz Vocalist of the Year. Gary Crosby described J-Life as playing "with the heart of yesterday, the ear of today and eyes on tomorrow" and Julie Dexter described J Life albumthe hard work they had to put in having secured a weekly residency at Rhythmic in Islington after leaving the Jazz Cafe in 1995. Not to be outdone in 1998 Nu-Troop won the award for Best International Ensemble at the Jazz à Vienne Concours International d’Orchestres in France.  

Over the next few years Tomorrows Warriors and Dune improved their status and visibility, Tomorrows Warriors providing the training, mentoring and performance experience while Dune concentrated on artist development, marketing, publicity and fund-raising, but both Gary and Janine were fully aware that all this effort would be of little consequence without an audience for the product being sold.  Audience development results from publicity and performance which in turn comes through exposure in the music press, radio, television and social media, funding via sponsors, donation and institutional funding (arts councils, artist development), and revenue.  It can be exhausting and demoralising for young artists who despite exceptional musical talent are unable to access the audiences that will provide them with an income. Luckily for the members of Tomorrows Warriors, Gary and Janine were able to relieve them of at least part of the work that artists need to do to progress.  Examples include a 2001 Nu Troop gig in Nottingham awarded a 5 star review in the Guardian and 3 years of funding from Greater London Arts negotiated by Janine, while in 2002 Dune records celebrated its 5th birthday being described as the most critically acclaimed independent label in the UK, with Denys Baptiste winning a clutch of awards and Jazz Jamaica winning the BBC Jazz Award for best band.

Nothing succeeds like success and Tomorrows Warriors were appearing on the same bill as American jazz stars such as Wayne Shorter and Wynton Marsalis.  Festivals such as the 2004 Ealing Jazz Festival showcased Dune musicians with Robert Mitchell, Denys Baptiste, Soweto Kinch, Jazz Jamaica and Tomorrows Warriors all performing on the same day while in 2005 Jazz Britannia, a three-part history of British jazz that was shown on BBC television featured Warriors, old and new, including Courtney Pine, Gary Crosby, Soweto Kinch, Byron Wallen, Tony Kofi, Alex Wilson, Julian Joseph, Cleveland Watkiss and Omar Puente. In 2006, Janine Irons completed the Clore Leadership Programme Short Course on Cultural Leadership and, also in that year, was appointed MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to the music industry.

2007 was a big year in Black history as it was the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slave trading by the UK, although it took until 1833 to start actually emancipating slaves. Courtney Pine was commissioned to compose a piece of music for the occasion which was performed and recorded at the Barbican Hall, London in October.  The band was the Jazz Warriors and the resulting album entitled Afropeans (2008) included many members of Tomorrows Warriors and featured Courtney Pine, Nathanial Facey, Shabaka Hutchings, Jason Yarde (woodwind), Chris Storr, Byron Wallen, Jay Phelps (trumpets/flugelhorns), Harry Brown (trombone), Samuel Dubois (alto/bass steel pans), Ayanna Witter-Johnson (cello, voice), Omar Puente (electric violin), Femi Temowo (acoustic/electric guitar), Alex Wilson (acoustic piano), Darren Taylor (double bass) and Robert Fordjour (drums). 

 

Listen to We Are A Warrior from the Afropeans album.

 

 

 

Also in 2007 Gary Crosby won the BBC Jazz Award for services to jazz and in 2009 was awarded the OBE, but in between these two events, in 2008, he established the Tomorrows Warriors Jazz Orchestra with the challenging ambition of re-creating The Queen's Suite, composed by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn following Ellington's meeting with Queen Elizabeth II in 1958. Pianist/composer Peter Edwards led the orchestra and such was the enthusiasm from both audiences and musicians that Crosby decided that the orchestra should be established as a permanent ensemble known as the Nu Civilisation Orchestra to distinguish it from  the Tomorrows Warriors Jazz Orchestra which continued as an ensemble for younger musicians. 

 

Here is a video of the Nu Civilisation Orchestra playing Binker Golding's Half Close Your Eyes.

 

 

 

And it didn't take long for the youngsters to experience their own success when the Tomorrows Warriors Biggish Band won the under 19 category in the Yamaha Jazz Experience Ensemble competition at the 2010 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Also in 2010 Tomorrows Warriors was awarded National Portfolio Organisation status by Arts Council England which as well as providing some financial security, recognised them as a leading organisation in their field, with a collective responsibility to protect and develop our national arts and cultural ecology.  This they were better able to achieve as, after several years of using the music room at the Spice of Life in Soho, they were able to take up permanent residence at the Royal Festival Hall in London's South Bank Cultural Centre. At about the same time Dune Records released its last album by the band Rhythmica evoking memories of the Islington venue where Tomorrows Warriors had played.

 

Listen to Turner's Dream from the 2020 Rhythmica album.

 

 

 

 

In 2009 Tomorrow's Warriors secured a residency (initially for 6 months) at London's Southbank Centre. On 26th September they launched with Jazzploration "a fun day of open jazz jam sessions, performances and workshops for all ages and abilities". Tomorrows Warriors had always wanted to provide the opportunity for everyone to play jazz and even though a welcome was always there, it is perhaps understandable that young musicians would have found the experience of jamming at a pub in Soho somewhat daunting. 

It was also particularly difficult to persuade young women to take the plunge into jazz performance. The singer Julie Dexter and saxophonist Gail Thompson were involved in the early days, but saxophonist Camilla George was one of the first of a new generation of young women to get involved and take advantage of the Southbank facilities having played with Jazz Jamaica from 2009.  Another was Zara McFarlane who released an album on Brownswood in 2011 called Until Tomorrow accompanied by a band that included Camilla George, Binker Golding and Zem Audu on saxophones and Peter Edwards on piano.

Here is a video of Zara McFarlane singing Don't Stay Away with Jazz Jamaica including Camilla George, Shirley Tetteh, Gary Crosby, Moses Boyd and others at The Hideaway.

 

 

 

The Southbank residency was a great success and it wasn't long before the temporary arrangement was extended and it continues to this day. This began a very busy period for Tomorrow's Warriors as young musicians rapidly developed while the great popularity of the Southbank inevitably encouraged a new audience for the jazz they played. The Tomorrow's Warriors website lists a selection of Sheila Maurice Greyevents from 2013 (click here) giving a taste of their achievements and activities.  These included Gary Crosby's new band called Groundation with Nathaniel Facey on alto saxophone, Shirley Tetteh on guitar and Moses Boyd on drums. Nathaniel Facey also won the Jazz FM award for Instrumentalist of the Year; The Nu Civilisation Orchestra performed Duke Ellington's Harlem with the BBC Concert Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre; the all-female group Nerija formed with Cassie Kinoshi (alto saxophone), Nubya Garcia (tenor saxophone), Sheila Maurice-Grey (trumpet), Rosie Turton (trombone), Shirley Tetteh (guitar), Scarlett Stewart (piano), Inga Eichler (double bass), and Momoko Gill (drums) and performed at the Southbank Centre Women of the World Festival; and members of the Youth Warriors and music leaders took part in a sharing session with SAMYO – the UK’s National Youth Orchestra for Indian Music.

 

Ms Maurice (Sheila Maurice-Grey)

 

As part of the Young Artist Development Programme,  Janine Irons and Gary Crosby attended a royal reception for prominent members of the British Caribbean community hosted by Prince Charles, The Prince Of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall at St James’ Palace; Tomorrow’s Warriors small ensemble Ezra won the National Festival of Music for Youth in Birmingham; Shabaka Hutchins won the Best Jazz Act Award at the MOBOs (only one of the five nominees was not a Tomorrow's Warriors alumnus); and Ezra Collective performed highly acclaimed sets at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Grand Finale of the National Festival Of Music For Youth and as part of the London Jazz Festival.

In 2014, Arts Council England shook up the jazz community by withdrawing funding from the umbrella organisation, Jazz Services, and re-distributed extra funds to organisations such as Tomorrow's Warriors. Several bands that had  passed through the Young Artist Development Programme released albums and gigs were happening regularly.  These bands included Ezra Collective [Femi Koleoso (drums), Dylan Jones (trumpet), James Mollison (tenor saxophone), TJ Koleoso (double bass), and Joe Armon-Jones (keyboards)]; Empirical [Nathaniel Facey (alto saxophone), Tom Farmer (double bass), Lewis Wright (vibraphone) and Shaney Forbes (drums)]; Sons of Kemet [Shabaka Hutchins (saxophone and clarinet), Theon Cross (tuba), Tom Skinner and Eddie Hick (drums)]; Nerija; and Binker and Moses [Binker Golding (tenor saxophone), Moses Boyd (drums)]. 

 

A video of Ezra Collective playing You Can't Steal My Joy at Glastonbury in 2019.

 

 

 

In 2015, Tomorrow’s Warriors commissioned trumpeter Yazz Ahmed to write an extended work, to be performed by members of the Nu Civilisation Orchestra on International Women’s Day for a concert at the Women of the World Festival, at London’s Southbank Centre. Yazz Ahmed describes the piece as a celebration of female courage, determination and creativity.  The piece, entitled Polyhymnia was released as an album - 25 musicians play on the album, the majority of them women, and it went on to win Jazz Album of the Year at the Jazz FM awards in 2020.

In 2017 Tomorrow's Warriors initiated the Jazz Ticket project which was a ground-breaking national jazz education outreach and concert touring project celebrating the music of 6 legendary jazz artists: Tadd Dameron, Ella Fitzgerald, Mongo Santamaria, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Buddy Rich. Working with 28 partners over 2017/8 in 8 cities – Brighton, Bristol, Hull, Leicestershire, Luton, Southampton and Manchester it culminated in a National Grand Finale at London‘s Southbank Centre in April 2018. 150 workshops were delivered to 718 young musicians (not including the young people participating as audiences) across Key Stages 2-5 and 62 music teachers, from 54 schools working with 16 music leaders from Tomorrow’s Warriors and 22 jazz artists from the Nu Civilisation Orchestra. They reached live audiences of 5,493 people at 14 concerts in professional venues. 

 

A short video about the finale of The Jazz Ticket.

 

 

 

In the same year, Tomorrow's Warriors were nominated in 7 categories at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards winning 4 of them, Jazz Vocalist of the Year was Cleveland Watkiss; Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year, Shabaka Hutchings; Jazz Newcomer of the Year, Nerija and the Jazz Education Award went to Tomorrow's Warriors. In the following year they won 3 awards - Jazz Album of the Year for The Late Train by Denys Baptiste; Jazz Newcomer of the Year was Shirley Tetteh and the APPJAG Special Award went to Gary Crosby OBE. At the 2018 Jazz FM awards Ezra Collective collected two awards for UK Jazz Act of the Year and Live Experience of the Year; Shirley Tettehsaxophonist and clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings picked up the award for Jazz Innovation of the Year;  Zara McFarlane won Vocalist of the Year for the second time, (she also received the honour in 2015) and Nubya Garcia won Breakthrough Act of the Year.  A further award for Gary Crosby in 2018 was the Queen's Medal for Music followed in 2019 with an honorary fellowship of Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, he had also been awarded a BASCA Gold Badge Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Music Industry and is a member of the Jamaica Jazz Hall of Fame for consistent contribution to Jamaican Music.

 

Shirley Tetteh

 

It sometimes seems that Tomorrow's Warriors can do no wrong but sad things happen, one of them was Gary Crosby suffering a stroke in 2018 that affected his ability to play, and in 2019 and 2020 it became necessary to supplement Arts Council funding. 'I Am Warrior' appeals raised over £200,000, a sum sufficient to allow free tuition to continue as it always has, ensuring that nobody is deprived of the opportunity to learn because they are unable to afford tuition fees.  On top of that came the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 which not only prevented face-to-face tuition but forced the cancellation of 148 gigs that would have provided a valuable income.  

Recent notable achievements for Tomorrow's Warriors have been a BBC Prom Concert in 2019 when the Nu Civilisation Orchestra performed extracts from  Duke Ellington's Concerts of Sacred Music; and in 2020 the EFG London Jazz Festival was entirely streamed due to the pandemic but one of the standout performances of the whole festival was a performance of the music of Charlie Parker by Groundation with Gary Crosby able to play his double bass again. During the pandemic there have been some great concerts, live-streamed from the Barbican by Tomorrow's Warriors alumni Cassie Kinoshi and her SEED Ensemble and the Moses Boyd's sextet, but nothing beats the truly live performance with audience and as pandemic restrictions are relaxed further live-streamed concerts have been organised and advertised on the Tomorrow's Warriors website.

 

A video of SEED Ensemble playing Interplanetary Migration live at the Hyundai Mercury Prize 2019.

 

 

 

Janine Irons summed up the purpose of Tomorrow's Warriors by referring to the Spike Lee film Do the Right Thing where a character in the film asks about the absence of pictures of African-Americans on a "Wall of Fame" in a Brooklyn pizzeria and is told that if he wants pictures of African-Americans portrayed he should build his own wall. The Tomorrow's Warriors wall of fame has been extended many times, it is testament to the success of Tomorrow's Warriors that one of their most successful protégés has just been featured in Vogue Magazine (click here), not to mention many other musicians on front pages and inside many other magazines and other media.  Gary Crosby emphasises that they can never rest on their laurels, particularly when other organisations have paid Gary Crosby and Janine IronsTomorrow's Warriors the sincerest form flattery by imitating them and so Gary and Janine, along with their team are determined to continue to provide the best route for aspiring young jazz musicians to realise their dreams.

 

Janine Irons MBE and Gary Crosby OBE

 

The Tomorrow's Warriors Artist Development Programme is hugely popular with a waiting list for applicants. In the 30 years since Gary and Janine started their groundbreaking venture some 10,000 musicians have passed through, many have become nationally and internationally renowned and their testimonials as quoted on the Tomorrow's Warriors website bear witness to their gratitude to Gary and Janine and the great affection they have for Tomorrow's Warriors, its people and what it stands for.  Moses Boyd said "People from all walks of life can come and just experience music without having to worry about financial constraints. Music was all I had so, for many of us, Tomorrow’s Warriors – led by Gary – was a much-needed safe and positive space."  Nubya Garcia said "One of the most special things about Tomorrow’s Warriors is their unwavering support. Their ethos is ‘each one teach one’. It’s about diversity in terms of ethnicity and gender. That’s what they champion and have been championing for over 20 years. There’s no-one like them basically. I love them!". Paul Gambaccini said "Gary Crosby, through his organisation and outstanding teaching has achieved in 20 years what many would think takes a lifetime in regards to ethnic minorities and gender imbalances."  

For those of us who love jazz, Tomorrow's Warriors has been a huge success story providing great music from a diverse group of exciting young musicians.  It has also inspired new, young and diverse audiences to appreciate a truly great, worldwide artform, streaked with the uniquely cosmopolitan culture of London, that had at one time seemed destined to fade away as predominantly white, male musicians and predominantly white, male audiences became ever older. 

Here is a video of the full concert of Gary Crosby's Groundation celebrating the centenary of the legendary Charlie Parker as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival 2020 [1 hour 52 mins].

 

 

 

The next generation of young people is being trained and mentored even now, learning to work together, learning to achieve, to communicate and to express themselves musically and peacefully, but for it to continue its great work Tomorrow's Warriors needs donations, never more so than now as the pandemic has robbed it of vital income.  Donations can be made through the website (click here) while forthcoming performances are shown here.

 

Tomorrows Warriors 30 years

 

 

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